No.3 Gonzaga vs Illinois Preview and Prediction
No.3 Gonzaga vs Illinois Preview
Every year the Maui Invitational gives college basketball fans fantastic matchups that cannot be replicated. This year’s field is loaded and we have a treat in store for the first round games.
The final matchup of Monday’s slate pits No.3 Gonzaga (3-0) against Illinois (1-1). The Zags are one of three teams ranked inside the Top 10–No. 1 Duke and No. 8 Auburn are the other two — playing this week in Lahaina, Hawaii.
A potential semifinal matchup with Arizona, Gonzaga’s longtime rival for the unofficial title of Best in the West, also looms.
But the Zags swear they’re focusing on the Fighting Illini.
“We don’t want to look too far ahead,” Bulldogs sophomore wing Zach Norvell Jr. told the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review. “We’ve got a good Illinois team in front of us Monday. It is exciting knowing that if we get our jobs done, that we could possibly face those guys.”
Gonzaga has seen three different high-scorers in its three games. Rui Hachimura scored 33 points in a season-opening rout of Idaho State, San Jose State transfer Brandon Clarke had 19 against Texas Southern, and Norvell led the way with 22 as the Zags ran away from Texas A&M 94-71 on Thursday.
Hachimura is the player you will want to keep your eye on though. Coming into this season, Rui has been nationally recognized as a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft (if he chooses to leave) due to his athleticism and high-flying abilities. We have seen Rui become very comfortable around the rim as well as a good defender on both bigger and smaller opponents (especially off the pick-and-roll).
His growth from little-known Japanese recruit, to a projected lottery pick has been well documented. Give this article a read if you want to learn more about Hachimura.
6-foot-10 forward Killian Tillie is expected to miss another month with a fractured ankle. He could return around Christmas. Despite the Zags missing one of their best frontcourt mates, the Zags have a size advantage.
For Illinois, they lack experience and height when compared to the Zags–but that doesn’t scare Illini head coach Brad Underwood:
“You think I’m afraid to go challenge anybody with this group that’s going to continue to grow?” he said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “I’m excited the rest of the way for us.”
Freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu, one of eight newcomers on the Illini roster, had 25 points in an 88-80 loss to Georgetown on Tuesday.
Sophomore guard Trent Frazier, who missed the Georgetown game with a concussion, is with the Illini in Hawaii and is expected to play.
Big Man Matchup
Illinois is missing two 7-footers — graduate transfer Adonis De La Rosa is recovering from offseason surgery, and freshman center Samba Kane was suspended during the summer for academic reasons — and will start 6-9 Giorgi Bezhanishhvili and 6-6 Kipper Nichols.
The Zags will counter with Hachimura (6-8), Clarke and 6-11 freshman Filip Petrusev, who’s averaging 12 points and 1.3 blocks in 19 minutes per game off the bench.
The Gonzaga-Illinois winner will face either Arizona or Iowa State in Tuesday’s second round.
LINE: -14.5 Gonzaga
The Zags are the more talented, experienced and overall better team. Illinois has a bright future, but with eight new players, including a handful of freshman who contribute—this could be a long game for the Illini.
Lay the points and take Gonzaga over Illinois by twenty.
Gonzaga 84 Illinois 64