Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Florida Atlantic Owls Pick & Prediction DECEMBER 5th 2023


When it comes to the perks Florida Atlantic earned following last season’s run to the Final Four, Tuesday’s ranks pretty high as the 13th-ranked Owls travel to New York to face No. 24 Illinois in the Jimmy V Classic opener.

FAU coach Dusty May couldn’t help but muse about his program’s good fortune shortly after the Owls knocked off Charleston on Saturday night in the final of the Field of 68 Tip-Off.

“I know that we have Illinois in (Madison Square) Garden on Tuesday in a doubleheader — and in an event I still have to pinch myself that we’re invited to,” May said on The Field of 68’s podcast. “We’re invited into that party. And you factor in Jimmy V and the legacy that he’s left and the impact he’s had on cancer research.”

A mid-major getting its chance in the spotlight at MSG in the Jimmy V Classic isn’t unheard of, though. Butler played Georgetown in the event in 2009 as a member of the Horizon League. That same 2009-10 Bulldogs team ended up going all the way to the 2010 NCAA Tournament title game.

The year before, Jimmy V officials rewarded Davidson and Stephen Curry for their 2008 NCAA Tournament Elite Eight appearance by matching the Wildcats up against West Virginia.

Other than that, the Jimmy V Classic has pretty much been reserved for the big boys. Illinois (6-1), meanwhile, will be making its second appearance in the event in as many years.

Of course, FAU (7-1) won’t be blinded by the glitz of the Garden. To get to last year’s Final Four, the Owls upset Tennessee and Kansas State in New York.

Seven-footer Vladislav Goldin (15.4 points per game) and superb wings Johnell Davis (13.6) and Alijah Martin (13.5) lead a balanced Florida Atlantic unit.

“Our guys are so competitive, we have to turn the scoreboard off in practice and only use the shot clock,” May told The Field of 68. “We say, even if we’re going to have winners, we’re not going to tell you what the score is because we don’t want you so consumed with the score. Just go out and get lost in playing great basketball.”

Illinois coach Brad Underwood likes to think his squad is made of similar stuff. He added three fifth-year grad transfers this season — Oregon’s Quincy Guerrier, Southern Illinois’ Marcus Domask and Utah Valley’s Justin Harmon — to a core that featured fifth-year wing Terrence Shannon Jr. and fourth-year forward Coleman Hawkins.

When Illinois thrashed Rutgers 76-58 on the road on Saturday afternoon, the Illini’s ancient five combined for 58 points and 35 rebounds as Illinois dominated the Scarlet Knights on the boards (55-27) and limited them to 33.3 percent shooting.

“Our saying (is) defense travels,” Underwood said. “Toughness travels.”

And Shannon (20.0 ppg, 4.4 rebounds per game, 2.9 assists per game) gives Illinois a wing who ranks as the nation’s ninth-best player this season — at least according to KenPom metrics.

“I think he’s the best two-way player in the country,” Underwood said. “Defensively he’s elite and (Saturday) we get 10 rebounds out of him. Terrence can do that every night and that’s what good players do, they find ways to stuff a stat sheet and help their team win and he’s doing it all.”

–Field Level Media

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