Illinois-Chicago at Illinois State
Redbird Arena - Normal, IL
8:05 PM EST
Here's a very interesting tilt between two Illinois programs who have been dormant in recent years, but are having breakout seasons heading into play in their respective conferences. If the NCAA field ends up being littered with Land of Lincolners, which team will President Obama root for?
UIC (7-2, 1-0) won two Horizon titles in three seasons during the early part of the decade, but became a decent, non-threatening team as Milwaukee and Butler rose to prominence. This could be the year that everything comes together again. HL fans know all about senior Josh Mayo
(20.4 ppg) and his array of loop-de-doop drives, he definitely hasn't received the national pub that his talent deserves. But the Flames are not a one-man show by any means, thanks to a tough front line that features 6-10 senior Scott VanderMeer
, who has 9.1 boards per contest. UIC has been winning its games by an average of 10 points, including a couple of huge Red Line Upsets at Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech.
We don't really know how good 10-0 Illinois State is yet, because their schedule has been surprisingly tame (witness its No. 330 strength of schedule). Which is surprising -- the Redbirds feature a Missouri Valley POY candidate in junior Osiris Eldridge
(15.3 ppg) and a potent transfer power with ex-Oregon Duck Champ Oguchi, who is leading the team with 16 ppg and 6.7 rpg. This is all to say that this isn't a young team that needs coddling and soft wins to boost its confidence. Illinois State ripped through its first eight opponents, but there have been warning signs in the past week with a six-point home win
against the OVC's Morehead State, as well as a dangerously close 72-69
road win at MAC West milquetoast Central Michigan. It could be that the team is getting bored and is looking ahead to next weekend's Valley opener at Missouri State, but this UIC team will provide a good yardstick as ISU tries to make the Tournament for the first time since 1998.Basketball State Preview/Box