Busting Brackets

Duquesne vs Illinois: 2023-24 College basketball game preview, TV schedule

Mar 21, 2024; Omaha, NE, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Terrence Shannon Jr. (0) drives against
Mar 21, 2024; Omaha, NE, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Terrence Shannon Jr. (0) drives against / Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Second round NCAA Tournament action finds Illinois facing off against upstart Duquesne; will the Fighting Illini or the Dukes advanced to the Sweet Sixteen?

TV schedule: Saturday, March 23, 8:40 pm ET. TNT

Arena: CHI Health Center Omaha in Omaha, Nebraska

These last few weeks have been a wild ride for Duquesne (25-11) and their head coach Keith Dambrot. The Dukes entered the A-10 Tournament as the 6-seed and won the whole thing, making their first trip to the Big Dance in nearly half a century. Dambrot announced he’d retire at season’s end, but his Dukes clearly don’t want that to happen, as Duquesne upset 6-seed BYU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.

The biggest piece of the puzzle for the Dukes continues to be Dae Dae Grant (16.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.5 apg), the senior guard who led Duquesne in scoring and dropped 19 on the Cougars in the first round. Joining him in an excellent backcourt is Jimmy Clark III (15.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.8 apg), a defensive standout who had 4 steals on Thursday. Another name to keep your eyes on is Fousseyni Drame (6.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg), perhaps the most talented piece in this frontcourt who had 8 points and 8 rebounds against BYU.

This recent spurt of winning has seen the Dukes rise to 80th in the KenPom rankings, though their defense rates significantly higher. They win these games with impressive defensive play, able to shutdown BYU’s long-range offense and contain their foes back during the A-10 Tournament. Duquesne forces turnovers and plays smart basketball and picked the right time for their best two-week spurt of the whole season.

On the other side was have a strong Illinois (27-8) squad less than a week removed from a Big Ten Tournament title. There have been several storylines around this Fighting Illini program this season and in recent years and their lack of postseason success is certainly notable. They took care of business on Thursday with an 85-69 victory over 14-seed Morehead State, but now Illinois seeks their first trip to the Sweet Sixteen in nineteen years.

It’s impossible to talk Illinois hoops without mentioning Terrence Shannon Jr. (23.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg). The senior guard was suspended earlier in the season but has come on strong in recent weeks, exploding in the Big Ten Tournament before dropping 26 points against the Eagles on Thursday. Another name we must mention is Marcus Domask (16.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.7 apg), a fifth-year senior who starred at Southern Illinois for four years before turning into a major weapon with the Illini. Against Morehead State he recorded the 10th triple-double in the history of the NCAA Tournament. Watch out for talented forward Coleman Hawkins (12.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg) as well; he’s not your average big by any means.

Nationally ranked for much of the season, the Illini earned that 3-seed in the Big Dance and have worked their way up to 10th in the KenPom ratings. This team is absolutely lethal on the offensive end, currently sitting 2nd in the league in offensive efficiency behind only UConn. The Fighting Illini do not force turnovers and have several defensive lapses each game, but have shown that they can win at times with offense alone, especially with this power-packed lineup.

There’s certainly a heavy advantage one way whenever the second round matches a 3-seed against the 11-seed and that’s certainly the case again this time. Duquesne has been brilliant in recent weeks, but this is a 6th place A-10 squad that simply hasn’t seen a player like Shannon in several months, if at all this season. How the Dukes handle Shannon in transition will have a major impact on this game.

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The pressure is certainly on Illinois here but they’ve been handling it well in recent weeks. Duquesne is playing with house money and have looked fantastic doing it recently. Their defensive prowess could be exactly what’s needed to slow down this Illinois team, but if the game gets played at the Fighting Illini’s pace then it could be a long day for the Dukes. Expect something in between with great games out of both Shannon and Grant.

Prediction: Illinois 79, Duquesne 70