Illinois is rolling into the Elite 8, putting nearly 2 decades of March Madness disappointments in the rearview mirror! Now, the Illini are looking to punch their first Final Four ticket since 2005.

Unfortunately for Brad Underwood’s squad, the win over Iowa State — fantastic as it was — only sets up a date with dominance. That’s right, while most teams dream of destiny, Illinois must tangle with one of the most dominant postseason teams in recent memory.

No. 1 overall seed UConn.

Thursday night, the Huskies rolled into the Elite 8 by beating San Diego State. That sentence does little to fully evoke the way UConn won that game.

When it was all said and done, UConn dominated with a 30-point win in an 82-52 beatdown of the Aztecs. The Huskies recorded 10 steals, forced San Diego State to shoot 36% and saw 6 players score 8+ points in the rout. And if Thursday’s game felt mundane, it’s only because UConn has made a habit of blowing out opponents on the big stage.

During the current NCAA Tournament run, UConn is averaging a margin of victory of 28.66 points in 3 wins. Last season, the Huskies averaged a 20-point win while rolling to the national title, and no team got closer than 13 points in the Big Dance.

That type of portfolio can intimidate any player, so it’s at least a good sign the Illini are in the right head space for the game.

“I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily intimidating, but I think we have — personally I have more of a respect for them. I think it’s a higher level of respect,” said Coleman Hawkins when asked if the Huskies are a daunting or intimidating opponent.

“I think they’ve been playing great all year. I think they’re well-coached, and they do what they do.”

Marcus Domask echoed similar sentiments of respect for UConn after knocking off Iowa State:

“We’ve played a lot of college basketball. I’ve played a lot of teams that are supposed to beat us, if you say they’re supposed to beat us,” Domask claimed. “We’ll figure out how to guard them and how to score on us, but they have to do the same for well.”

Still, simply believing you can beat an opponent only goes so far. ESPN Bet has UConn as an 8.5-point favorite, and it’s fair to say the Illini have not faced an opponent of this magnitude in the postseason. Fans can continue to track all the NCAA Tournament odds via Tradition’s best Ohio betting apps.

How can Illinois pull it off?

Terrence Shannon Jr. must continue hot streak

Since the start of the B1G Tournament, Shannon is averaging just over 31 points per game in 6 games. Against Iowa State, Shannon was able to finish with 29 points and 3 steals despite missing a lot of the second half with foul trouble.

He stepped up once again in crunch time, stealing an Iowa State pass with a fastbreak dunk to clinch Thursday’s win:

Simply put, Shannon will need to continue lighting up the scoreboard Saturday night if Illinois wants to survive and advance. It’s no surprise he’s the heavy favorite to be the East Region’s leading scorer this weekend with FanDuel listing the Illini star at -1050, and Shannon will need to live up to his postseason streak to keep Illinois in the game.

Have an answer for Donovan Clingan

Donovan Clingan is 1 of 5 Huskies to average double figures, and he’s the team’s 4th-leading scorer at 12.6 points per game. He had just 8 points against SDSU, but he previously had 19 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists against Stetson and flirted with a triple-double while recording 8 blocks against Northwestern.

For Illinois, the best comparison to Clingan from this season is Purdue big man Zach Edey. While UConn does not rely on Clingan at the rate Purdue utilizes Edey, it is still the biggest mismatch for the Illini.

With a deep rotation of wings and guard play, matching up with Clingan is the biggest mismatch for Illinois, though the Illini were able to slow Edey with foul trouble during a regular-season matchup. Even with that foul trouble, Edey still posted a double-double with 10 points, 15 rebounds and 2 blocks.

How will Illinois attack Clingan offensively plus defend the big man with Coleman Hawkins and Dain Dainja? It won’t be easy, particularly for a team shooting 36% from 3-point range.

3-point shooting looms large

Speaking of shooting from range, the 3-point battle has a chance to level the playing field a bit in this one. The problem is UConn maintains a balanced offensive attack, and the Huskies are also efficient on defensive.

UConn has limited opposing teams to a 31% shooting effort from 3-point range, and that could pose a problem for Illinois. KenPom has the Illini as the No. 2 offense in the country per adjusted offensive efficiency, and that’s partly due to the team shooting 35% from deep. But, guess which team has the best adjusted offensive efficiency?

That’s right, it’s the Huskies, cementing Dan Hurley’s program as the most dominant team in the country with the nation’s best overall adjusted efficiency margin.

If Illinois wants to get to the Final Four, the Illini will need to defend the 3-point line while also finding a way to crack UConn’s elite defense.