Every time I turn on the television or get on Twitter the news is always about web gems, basketball free agency, or "X number of days until kickoff." I think it is time that the attention is shifted to something that seems too far off but yet feels like it is right around the corner--college basketball, something it's never "too early" to discuss.
On that note, it's never too early to take a look at the opponents for next season, in this case being the upcoming Villanova vs Illinois match-up.
The Jimmy V Classic is an annual tournament hosted in Madison Square Garden that caps off ESPN's Jimmy V Week. It's a tournament that always has high-quality participants, with this year's squads being the Villanova Wildcats, Louisville Cardinals, Indiana Hoosiers, and Illinois Fighting Illini (Illinois took the place of the Maryland Terrapins, who backed out because of scheduling conflicts). It's a doubleheader tournament, with the Cats facing off against the Illini in the early game of the night.
Villanova is coming off of an extremely successful season that ended all too soon after suffering defeat at the hands of the Connecticut Huskies -- formerly of the Big East Conference -- in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Led by James Bell and Darrun Hilliard, the Wildcats seemingly dominated a conference that certainly is not as strong as it once was.
Villanova may have dropped some big-time players and thus, talent from their team after a few key departures, but their recruiting has them poised to do some damage against whomever they go up against, including Illinois. With the addition of two four-star recruits in Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth, the Wildcats have reloaded their talent base and are easily going to be able to take on the Fighting Illini.
Illinois, however, will be adding some major young talent to a team that certainly underachieved last season, going 20-15 and losing early on in the NIT. The Big Ten Conference is arguably the toughest in the nation, so consistency with success is key in staying on top, something Illinois did seemingly well early on in Coach Groce's tenure. Despite their sub-par 2013-2014 season, Groce managed to show off his recruiting skills and snag two four-star recruits, one of whom is Leron Black, the best basketball player in Tennessee in the class of 2014.
Honestly, I don't see Illinois pulling out a victory come December 9. I know it's early and perhaps foolish to be saying something like that less than five months from the actual game, but Villanova trumps Illinois in most every category, from offensive efficiency to crashing the boards, to shooting skills. Villanova will be one of the top teams in the nation next season and their success from last season will surely roll over. That's not to say that they're going to come out of the gate guns blazing, but they're going to at least find their groove before December 9. When that happens, Illinois had better be prepared for this match-up. If they're to win, they're going to have to employ that signature half-court offense that we all know and love.