2012 Maui Invitational Preview: USC vs. Illinois


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USC Trojans vs. Illinois Fighting Illini

2012 Maui Invitational | Maui, Hawaii9:00 PM Pacific | ESPN2All-time Series: USC leads 6-2Last meeting: Illinois 90, USC 77 in 1997

The Trojans will make their second ever appearance at the Maui Invitational tonight, as they kick off the championship round of the tournament against perennial Big Ten power Illinois. USC is 6-2 all-time against the Fighting Illini, but the sides haven’t met since the first round of the 1997 NCAA Tournament in which Illinois defeated the 11th seeded Trojans.

Illinois, 3-0 on the young season, comes to Maui looking to build on some early season momentum and rid themselves of a collapse last season that saw the Illini go 6-12 in Big Ten play and lose 13 of their 15 games, despite starting the season 10-0.

The Fighting Illini are led by senior two guard Brandon Paul who is averaging 19.7 points so far this year, including 25 points in an overtime win vs. Hawaii over the weekend. Paul can be a lethal scorer for Illinois, as he scored a career-high 43 points vs. Ohio State last season in an upset win over No. 5 ranked Buckeyes. In that game, Paul was eight of 10 from distance, making him a home run threat when he gets going, much like USC’s J.T. Terrell.

In the paint, Illinois has one of the smallest front courts in the Big Ten, as evident by being 246th in the nation in rebounding last season. Against Hawaii, the Illini were out-rebounded 44 to 28, with center Nnanna Egwu grabbing just five boards in 29 minutes.

The Trojans on the other hand have been fundamentally sound on the boards in their opening two games, averaging nearly 40 rebounds per game, with redshirt junior Dewayne Dedmon leading the way with 11 per game. Dedmon is joined by Rice-transfer Omar Oraby in the paint, who has three blocks and 21 points in 34 minutes of play so far.

USC is led in the backcourt by fifth-year senior Jio Fontan at the point and have a slew of talented guards and swingmen, including Wake Forest transfer J.T. Terrell who has tied for the Trojans’ leading scorer honor in both wins over Coppin State and Long Beach State.

With the amount of depth that the Trojans have this season, Illinois should be a great measuring-stick game as they’ve looked vastly improved from a six-win season in 2011-2012. A win will give USC their first 3-0 start since 2001, when they wound up as a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Projected Starting Lineups