Illinois vs. UNLV
Saturday, December 9th at 11 p.m. in Las Vegas
TV: ESPN2

A Saturday in Vegas may not pay out for the Illini, because UNLV is sneakily one of the best teams in the country.

Led by 7’1” Brendan McCoy and 6’7” Shakur Juiston, the Runnin’ Rebels have guys with a size-talent combination most mid-major schools dream of. In their first six games, the Rebels ripped up opponents by an average margin of 29 points. They lost squeakers to Northern Iowa (also really good) and Arizona (underwhelming, but still a great team) but rebounded with a 26-point victory over Oral Roberts.

When Illinois has faced talented bigs like McCoy and Juiston, it hasn’t gone well. Wake’s 7’1” Doral Moore scored 12 and grabbed 6 rebounds and pushed Michael Finke and Leron Black around at will. Likewise, Maryland’s Justin Jackson (6’7”) and Bruno Fernando (6’10”) had a combined 30 points and 14 rebounds against the Illini. With McCoy universally regarded as a first-round NBA Draft pick, he is surely the best individual talent Illinois has faced and maybe the best (depending on how much you like Miles Bridges of Michigan State).

Illinois would be UNLV’s best win of the year, if it happens, but it’s gonna take some real doing for Illinois to stop it. Prayers up for Finke and Black.