Busting Brackets

Illinois Basketball: 3 keys for Illinois victory versus Iowa State in the Sweet 16

Illinois’ offense will be tested against a stubborn Cyclone defense for a spot in the Elite Eight.

Duquesne v Illinois
Duquesne v Illinois / Michael Reaves/GettyImages
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The Illinois Fighting Illini are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005, snapping a 19-year drought to mark their first second-weekend appearance under seventh-year head coach Brad Underwood.

To get to the second weekend, Illinois utilized a second-half spurt in the final 14 minutes to put away a pesky Morehead State squad in the Round of 64 behind a triple-double from Marcus Domask — the first triple-double in the NCAA Tournament since 2019 with Ja Morant.

In the Round of 32, Illinois didn’t have much to sweat about, beating 11-seed Duquesne comfortably, 89-63, behind a 30-point effort from Terrence Shannon Jr.

As the stage gets bigger and the lights get brighter, Illinois has a mighty challenge on its hands if it wishes to continue its season and extend its postseason run. 

Tasked with facing Iowa State — college basketball's top defensive team, according to KenPom — the two contrasting styles of play give this game immense intrigue. With that said, here are three keys for an Illinois victory with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.

#1: Get out in transition 

It is no secret that Terrance Shannon Jr. is one of the best — if not the best — players in college basketball at running the open floor in transition. Shannon’s ability to run the floor to get a basket and/or get to the foul line is a crucial reason for Illinois' impressive efficiency on the offensive side of the floor.

The bottom line, when Illinois is in transition, it is when it can be at its best. According to Hoop Math, Illinois’ transition effective field goal percentage is 60.7%, placing them near the top of college basketball. Because Illinois is so efficient in transition, it will not only help them play to their strength but also limit the effectiveness of Iowa State’s imposing half-court defense.