Follow along all afternoon as Illinois tries to win the Main Event in Las Vegas:
While Illinois and Virginia have never played, Brad Underwood has coached against both Armaan Franklin and Ben Vander Plas (while also trying to recruit the latter this past offseason). Here’s how Franklin and Vander Plas fared in their previous games against (not these) Illini:
– Franklin faced Illinois once during his freshman year at Indiana and was held scoreless in 5 minutes of playing time. He was more successful as a sophomore, scoring 23 points in a loss in Champaign and 11 in a home loss.
– Vander Plas played just once against Illinois during the 2020-21 COVID season in that arranged-out-of-thin-air MTE in Champaign. Ohio lost, but Vander Plas put up 20 points, five rebounds, four steals and two assists.
Just one St. Vincent-St. Mary’s kid shouting out another.
Yessir unc ‼️ https://t.co/hxgOh0rjYM
— Sencire Harris (@SencireH) November 20, 2022
Illinois freshman guard Sencire Harris, who attended LeBron James’ alma mater and also played for Dru Joyce II, was low key the Illinois MVP on Friday night against UCLA. Yes, Terrence Shannon Jr. tied the Illini’s single-game record with eight made three-pointers (on nine attempts, no less) and scored a game-high 29 points, but Illinois probably wouldn’t have been in position to win without Harris. He epitomized “spark off the bench” and changed the whole dynamic of the game with his defense.
Illinois is leaning in again on what should be the predominant color in the T-Mobile Arena stands this afternoon in Las Vegas by wearing orange.
Skyy Clark is the first Illinois player on the court. The #Illini are wearing regular orange alternates (i.e. not throwbacks). pic.twitter.com/gr26cyCHo8
— Scott Richey (@srrichey) November 20, 2022
It’s safe to say that Illini fans probably like 75 percent of the stands Friday night. Probably should have had a clue about that when the tickets in the primary Illinois section (all four fan bases got one) were sold out in an exceedingly quick timeframe.
Attendance on Friday was listed at 8,707. So, a little simple math means there were about 6,500 Illinois fans at the game. We’ll see what this afternoon brings. I’d anticipate more of the same.
There’s no better tournament “trophy” during Feast Week than the one handed out to the winner of the Continental Tire Main Event. It’s pure Las Vegas … an honest to God championship belt.
Whoever takes home said belt this weekend will have really earned it. The Maui Invitational, especially since it’s actually back in Maui, is still the premier Feast Week college basketball tournament.
In terms of sheer firepower, though? It was tough to beat the Main Event field in Las Vegas. All four teams were ranked in the top 20 of the latest AP Top 25, and the level of play in Friday’s semifinals lived up to those rankings. Virginia used a monster run to start the second half to beat a top 10 Baylor team. Then Illinois mounted its own second half comeback to beat … a top 10 UCLA team.
Illinois’ Dain Dainja is 30-35 from the field this season. That’s 85.7% for those of you keeping score at home.
The Illini will go toe-to-toe with Virginia in the finals of the Continental Tire Main Event in Las Vegas.
Who needs NETFLIX?
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) November 20, 2022
There were probably plenty who thought it would be Beas-Bruins in the title game. They’ll still play. It will just be for third place.
The championship is all orange and blue. Illinois and Virginia. Fitting, really, considering those two fan bases SHOWED OUT in Las Vegas. There were small pockets of Baylor and UCLA fans. Illinois and Virginia fans basically filled the arena (or at least the bottom half that’s not curtained off).
So it might be a noon Sunday game in Las Vegas with the Main Event title on the line, but the atmosphere should be wild. Love to see it.
Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).
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