The 38-0 Kentucky Wildcats are now two victories away from making history. It may not be a popular opinion, but I'll be rooting for them next weekend. Why you ask? It's mostly because I'm tired of hearing Indiana fans bragging about being the last undefeated team. Second, I think it'd be pretty damn cool to see a team go 40-0. "Oh, but if that happens Illinois will never be able to defeat Calipari's war machine in recruiting battles!" Guess what, we don't beat them anyway!
Kentucky is obviously a historically good team, but how would they fare against the best Illinois Basketball has to offer?
So in case you forgot, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said back in February that the 2004-05 Fighting Illini would defeat the Wildcats. I wanted to put that to the test using WhatIfSports' simulation engine.
If you're not familiar with the site, this program allows you to 'play' games between current and past teams--it's pretty cool if you're looking to waste some time. Each of the following matchups were simulated a total of ten times on a neutral court.
2004-05 Illinois vs 2014-15 Kentucky
This would be an extremely interesting game. To beat Kentucky an opposing team will need to have consistent and timely three-point shooting. Deron Williams, Dee Brown, and Luther Head provided exactly that for Illinois.
Kentucky's big men would most likely be able to control the paint, but they wouldn't be able to simply ignore James Augustine and Roger Powell. With two legitimate options down low, there'd be more room for Illinois' dynamic backcourt to operate.
Honestly, this game would probably be a toss up if played in real life and the simulations reflect just that.
Congratulations, Jay. You were right! After ten simulations, the Illini held a 6-4 edge over the Wildcats and won by an average score of 72-70.
1988-89 Illinois vs 2014-15 Kentucky
So how would Illinois' second best team do against Kentucky. I admittedly don't know a whole lot about the Flyin' Illini since I was born in 1995, but I feel it's safe to say they probably wouldn't do too well.
At 6'8, Marcus Liberty was the tallest player for Illinois; the Wildcats would have a huge height advantage. Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein would undoubtedly make their presence known. However I'm not so sure Kentucky's guards would be able to handle the defensive pressure from Illinois. When it's all said and done I could see this being a bit similar to Kentucky's Elite Game against Notre Dame.
Here are the results from one simulation.
After ten simulations, Kentucky went 7-3 against the Flyin' Illini and won by an average score of 81-73.
The series is tied after these two simulations so, naturally, we need some sort of rubber match, right? I had wanted to pit Illinois' 1915 'National Championship Team' against Kentucky, but the 1988-89 squad is the earliest one available. That's when I had a beautiful idea.
2014-15 Illinois vs 2014-15 Kentucky
Oh boy. The Wildcats would be a matchup nightmare for just about every team in the nation, but this would be especially miserable for the Illini. Let's quickly break down the matchups.
Andrew Harrison would tower over Illinois' guards. Like, Ahmad Starks realistically wouldn't be able to play in this game. Oh and then there's Tyler Ulis who's basically Jaylon Tate with a respectable jump shot. This complete and utter advantage at the point would guarantee Kentucky a win, but it gets so much worse.
Kendrick Nunn would need to play 40 minutes in this game for Illinois to have any chance; his two defensive assignments would be Aaron Harrison and Devin Booker. This may be the closest battle, but Kentucky still has a clear advantage.
Rayvonte Rice and Malcolm Hill pose problems for most teams, but Kentucky's length, lateral quickness, and athleticism would almost completely eliminate the threat.
So Illinois is looking somewhat decent so far and OH MY GOD LET'S SKIP THE FRONT-COURT AND GO STRAIGHT TO THE SIMULATION.
SEEMS ABOUT RIGHT. After ten simulations, the Wildcats were 10-0 and won by an average score of 76-59.
So that's that. The 2004-05 Fighting Illini are officially better than Kentucky and I'll be right back because I need to hide from the thousands of angry blue people that are converging outside my window.
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