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What the Jimmy V Classic could tell us about Illinois and Texas

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Match of the Day sees Illinois Fighting Illini travel to New York to take on the undefeated Texas Longhorns in the Jimmy V Classic, in a battle of two teams intent on making some noise in March. As we approach that game, let’s take a look at what each team has shown so far and what it could mean, both tonight and as we progress through the 2022-23 men’s college basketball season.

Illinois has won 47 regular wins over the past two seasons, but with just two tournament wins over that span, it’s hard to call either season a success. What changed? For three seasons with Kofi Cockburn in the middle, the Illini had an average ranking of 182nd. But with the big man now playing professional ball in Japan, Brad Underwood has his team picking up the pace and finishing 24th.

Last season’s Kansas Jayhawks and 2016-17 North Carolina Tar Heels are recent examples of teams that ranked in the top 15% of Division I in pace and won it all. Which makes this transition interesting for a team that has five players in rotation shooting north of 35% from 3.

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Marcus Carr finishes on 2 Creighton defenders

Texas have been impressive so far, with a beating from Gonzaga and a hard-fought victory last week over Creighton – despite missing 15 of 19 shots from deep. The Longhorns tick all the possible boxes. They have a pair of first-month top-10 wins behind a roster packed with NCAA experience, play at a slower pace and are trailed by three guards who combine to score more than half their points . But that exact phrase could have been said about Seton Hall last season, a side that finished seeded 8 and failed to win a tournament game. Which doesn’t mean that 2023 Texas is 2022 Seton Hall; rather, it’s just a word of caution assuming a lot of anything right now.

When it comes to evaluating the potential to shrink the Nets this spring, there are a few trends worth noting: Illinois and Texas rank higher in defensive efficiency than offensive efficiency (according to KenPom), a quality we haven’t had in a champion. since the UConn Huskies led by Shabazz Napier from 2013-14. On the plus side, both teams have covered two of their first three games (Illinois was 22 points better than the spread in those games, Texas 24.5 points above expectation) this season, lining them up on recent champions in jump overtaking. Will one or both make a Final Four? Only time will tell, but we get a very interesting data point tonight in Game 1 of the Jimmy V Classic.

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