Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Clemson Tigers Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Illinois Fighting Illini (4-2 SU, 0-4 ATS) vs. Clemson Tigers (6-1 SU, 2-3 ATS), 7:15 p.m. EST, Wednesday, December 2, 2009, Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson, S.C. TV: ESPN
by Ryno of

Point Spread: Illinois +4/Clemson -4
Over/Under: N/A at time of print.

With the Big Ten/ACC Challenge heating up with a tight race, Illinois will try to keep the Big Ten in it when the Fighting Illini play on the road at Clemson. Illinois lost 76-74 to Clemson in the same event last season on the same exact date, so it is a revenge game for the Illini.

Illinois is trying to bounce back from two straight losses. The Illini lost narrowly to both Utah and Bradley on Friday and Saturday. They opened the season with wins over SIU-Edwardsville, Northern Illinois, Presbyterian and Wofford. But they haven’t beaten any real quality competition yet and even in the win over Wofford the Illini struggled for much of the game before pulling away in the second half.

Illinois has a very balanced team but two of its starting guards are freshmen, so naturally the Illini are going to struggle early in the season. Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson are two highly touted freshman guards who have lived up to the billing thus far. Paul is scoring 11.3 points per game and shooting 37.5 percent from 3-point range, while Richardson is scoring 9.5 points per game, dishing out 3.0 assists per game and shooting a remarkable 52.6 percent from beyond the arc. The three juniors in the starting lineup are Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. McCamey is a strong guard with excellent 3-point range. He has a knack for hitting the big shots. McCamey is leading the team in scoring and assists with 12.7 points and 6.0 assists per game. He is only shooting 31.8 percent from 3-point land, so McCamey needs to improve his shooting for the Illini to win some games. Davis and Tisdale form one of the best inside duos in the Big Ten. Davis is a strong mobile big man with good post moves. He can also hit the mid-range jumper. Davis is averaging 11.8 points and a team-high 10.0 rebounds per game. Tisdale is a 7-foot-1 lanky center who doesn’t have a lot of strength but he is able to use his length to score easy baskets inside. Tisdale is averaging 10.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. He has excellent touch on his shots as well. He is shooting 63.4 percent from the field and an incredible 92.9 percent from the free throw line.

Clemson is a team with high expectations this season despite losing K.C. Rivers and Terrence Oglesby from last season. With Trevor Booker, Demontez Stitt, David Potter, Andre Young and Tanner Smith back along with the additions of freshmen Milton Jennings, Noel Johnson and Devin Booker, the Tigers have a chance to finish near the top of the ACC.

The Tigers started the season with four easy victories, but then they had to face their first tough test in the 76 Classic against Texas A&M. The Tigers may have been too over-confident as they lost 69-60 to the Aggies. But since then, Clemson bounced back with wins over Long Beach State and Butler. The win over Butler was a hard-fought one-point victory in which the Tigers had to battle back in the second half.

Trevor Booker is leading the Tigers in scoring and rebounding with 13.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Stitt was expected to be a leader on this team and he is averaging 9.4 points and 4.0 assists so far. But Smith, Potter and Young have really stepped up for the Tigers. Smith is scoring 11.6 points per game and has been a matchup problem for many teams because of his length and versatility. Potter is scoring 10.7 points per game and is shooting a ridiculous 60 percent from beyond the arc. Young is averaging 9.7 points, 3.3 assists and shooting 48.1 percent from 3-point range. Jennings is the top freshmen thus far with 4.9 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. None of the freshmen are putting up terrific stats but expect all of them to step up more and more as the season goes on because it really is a very good recruiting class.

Ryno’s Pick: Clemson uses a full-court trap press against its opponents. The Illini have some good ball-handlers in McCamey, Paul and Richardson, and if they can get the ball downcourt, Tisdale and Davis can get some easy baskets. But Paul and Richardson are freshmen, so the press could be overwhelming for them. Also, the Illini don’t have much depth, so they are likely to get tired in the second half and allow the Tigers to pull away. Combine all of that with the home court factor and the Tigers should win rather easily if they can shoot like they have been lately. Take Clemson -4.