N. Illinois-Illinois Preview
Illinois may need to rely on youth to be successful this season. Based on its season opener, that might not be a bad thing. Boasting a pair of impressive freshman starters, the 23rd-ranked Fighting Illini look for a second straight victory when they host Northern Illinois on Tuesday night. Making their collegiate debuts, Brandon Paul scored 22 points and D.J. Richardson added 14 in Illinois' 96-69 rout of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on Friday. Paul's effort broke the record for most points in a freshman debut held by Deon Thomas, who scored 21 in 1990. Paul, from north suburban Chicago, and the downstate Peoria product Richardson are the first freshmen to start at the same time for the Illini since the trio of Deron Williams, Dee Brown and James Augustine in 2002. Combined with junior starters Mike Davis - who had 10 points and 10 rebounds Friday - 7-foot-1 Mike Tisdale and top returning scorer Demetri McCamey, Illinois may speed up the tempo after averaging 64.8 points per game during its 24-10 2008-09 season. "Everybody on our team, you never know who's going to score the most points," the 6-foot-3 Richardson said. "We have a team of players that can do a variety of things." Paul could remain the main go-to option for the Illini, who were ranked in the preseason Top 25 for the first time since 2005. He was 8 of 15 from the field - including 4 of 6 from beyond the arc - and had four rebounds and four assists against SIU-Edwardsville. "We wanted to come out with a lot of energy. We all came out really excited to play," Paul said. "I just wanted to come out and put points on the board. I just want to keep playing hard." Illinois shot 55.4 percent from the field in its opener and scored its most points since a 105-79 win over Longwood on Dec. 27, 2004. "I was definitely excited about the game, how we played with high energy," said coach Bruce Weber, who returned nine letterwinners, including three starters, from last season's team that was upset by Western Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA tournament. "The whole thing was energy, excitement and get off to a good, early start, and we did all those things." Weber hopes his squad can do more of the same when it faces Northern Illinois in the first-ever meeting between these schools separated by 170 miles. Northern Illinois faces its second straight Big Ten opponent after losing 77-55 at Northwestern on Friday. The Huskies are 6-37 overall against Big Ten schools, including 1-29 on the road with the lone win coming at Michigan State on Dec. 1, 1970. Trying to improve on those records won't be easy, especially without junior guard Xavier Silas, who will miss at least two weeks after breaking his right hand during Friday's contest. Silas had 18 points and Darion Anderson added 15, but Northern Illinois - seeking to finish better than last season's 10-20 mark - shot only 40.9 percent from the field overall and went 2 for 18 from 3-point range.