Busting Brackets

Morehead State Basketball: Preview of NCAA Tournament 1st-round matchup with Illinois

Morehead State v Indiana
Morehead State v Indiana / Andy Lyons/GettyImages

Ohio Valley Conference champion Morehead State faces the daunting task of facing Big Ten Tournament champion Illinois in Thursday’s opening round game here in Omaha. Preston Spradlin’s team played three Big Ten teams during the regular season. 

They lost all three road contests with the closest defeat coming by one point at Indiana. 

Morehead State (26-8) faces Illinois (26-8) at 2:10 on TruTV

The Illini are bigger, faster and stronger than the Eagles, but MSU defends. The Eagles rank in the top ten nationally in scoring defense (eighth), defensive field goal percentage (fifth) and ninth in three-point percentage defense. They’ll need a huge defensive effort as Illinois is tied for eighth nationally in scoring (84.4 ppg).

Morehead is led by OVC Player of the Year Riley Minix. The 6’7 guard is a walking double-double machine averaging 20.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. He is dangerous from deep and averaged over two assists per game. 

Jordan Lathon (15.4 ppg), Kalil Thomas (12.5) and Drew Thelwell (10.0) all averaged double figures. While Lathon is a 6’4 slasher, Thomas is a 6’5 marksman, making 44 percent of his long distance attempts. Thelwell is the team’s veteran presence and is the quarterback of the Morehead offense averaging 6.3 assists per game. 

Though the Illini can be turnover prone, they are a dangerous offensive team. Terrance Shannon Jr (23.0 ppg) was unstoppable in the Big Ten Tournament. He and Marcus Domask (16.0 ppg) are each 6’6 matchup problems for any team. 

Illinois plays a hard nosed brand of basketball espoused by head coach Brad Underwood. They average 41 rebounds per game and are far more physical than any team Morehead played in the OVC. 

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Pulling the upset will require the Eagles play a flawless game and their typical shutdown defense.