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Preview: Illinois (6-0) at Wake Forest (2-4); 9PM ESPNU

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The Deacs welcome the Fighting Illini to Winston-Salem for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge

NCAA Basketball: DePaul at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Wake Forest (2-4) will look to get its first win of the year over a major conference team tonight when it takes on undefeated Illinois (6-0) at 9 PM in Winston-Salem. The game will air on ESPNU and could start a few minutes later than 9 if the Rutgers-FSU game goes over the time limit.

The ACC currently leads the Challenge 2-0 thanks to wins from Syracuse (over Maryland) and Virginia (over Wisconsin) last night.

Illinois is undefeated but has played the 10th easiest schedule to date, accruing wins over powerhouses like: Southern, Tennessee-Martin, Marshall, and North Carolina Central. I must admit that it is better to beat those teams than to lose to Drake and Liberty.

The best win for Illinois so far is an 82-73 win over Depaul.

KenPom projects an 81-76 Wake Forest victory, and the Deacs are currently favored by 4 in Vegas. If you really think Wake is a bad basketball team then tonight is your night to put your money where your mouth is. The advanced stats like the Deacs, while the eye-test clearly favors the Illini.

The Illini are coached by Brad Underwood, formerly of Stephen F. Austin and a brief stint at Oklahoma State last year where he departed shortly before and FBI investigation was levied towards the program.

He likes to play fast (34th in the nation), and also protect the ball, as well as rebound well. Basically everything that Illinois does well is to wreak havoc across the court and play as fast as possible. Wake Forest to date ranks 249th in tempo, but historically has played very quickly under head coach Danny Manning as well. I would expect this game to be pretty up-and-down and very sloppy at times too.

Illinois is ranked 136th in offensive efficiency, while Wake is 203rd in defensive efficiency. On the flip side, the Deacs are 35th in offensive efficiency and Illinois has a 78th ranked team as far as defensive efficiency goes.

The starting lineup for Illinois will almost certainly be:

PG - Jr. Te’jon Lucas (6-1)

SG- Fr. Mark Smith (6-4)

SF- Sr. Mark Alstork (6-5)

PF- Jr. Leron Black (6-7)

C- Jr. Michael Finke (6-10)

They will throw a fair amount of bench players at the Deacs, ranking 17th in bench minutes on the season.

Leron Black is a very skilled interior player who thrives on a strong inside game and rebounding. He is shooting 57% from the field on the season and is also a good free throw shooter at 86%.

What Illinois does well is slash to the rim and get to the foul line. This puts defenses on its heels early and allows the Illini to take advantage of the tempo. Illinois ranks 47th nationally in FTA/FGA at 47%. The good news is that Wake does not foul a lot, holding a rate of 31% on defense, but some of that comes from the type of games that the Deacs have played already, where teams preferred to sit back and shoot the three-ball.

Fortunately Illinois does not like to shoot a lot of threes, ranking 246th nationally. It takes 34% of shots from behind the arc, while Wake has seen 44% of opponents shots come from behind the three-point line so far this season.

Illinois has struggled shooting the three-point ball, which should come as a big relief to Wake Forest fans. It is at 31.2% on the season (263rd nationally), and most of that comes from 6-5 SF Aaron Jordan, who is 11-19 on the year.

The starting backcourt and SF are a combined 4-33 (12%) on the season. If you add in the 4 and 5 then the Illini are 13-57 (22.8%), as the center can step out and shoot the three decently well (9-23 on the season).

This could present an interesting issue as Moore may need to step out to defend the three-ball. If the Deacs are ever going to go with a zone consistently then tonight is the perfect time to start.

On the offensive side of things for Wake I would expect the same strategy as always—-take a lot of threes and try to get Moore the ball in isolated post situations for easy baskets. I would assume at some point that the Deacs would like to get up and going tempo-wise so look for Wake to try to match the pace that Illinois is setting.

If you see the Deacs try to slow it down tonight then it could represent a change of philosophy from Manning from the past few years, so that will be something to observe as well.

Overall I think this is a pretty good matchup for Wake Forest, especially since there is not a lot of threat from the Illini as far as the deep ball is concerned (of course Illinois will go 15-17 from behind the arc tonight).

I actually believe the Deacs will win this game and hand the Illini its first loss of the year with a 75-71 victory. Perhaps a bit optimistic, but I do believe the Deacs are better than what we have seen so far this season and that turnaround starts tonight.