Illinois depth key to outlasting Texas

Tisdale and his fellow Illini bigs will have to keep the Longhorns off the boards. Jonathan Daiel/Getty Images

Your NCAA tournament prep beings now. All season long ESPN Insider will be previewing key games between tournament contenders from an advanced statistical point of view to see how teams really stack up. Keep these points in mind when the action starts Thursday night, but stick it in your bank of bracket knowledge for March, too.

There have been 134 games played in the first week and a half of the 2010-11 season, but perhaps no two teams match up as perfectly as the Texas Longhorns and Illinois Fighting Illini do in Thursday's Coaches vs. Cancer semifinal. Their backcourts are both full of guards capable of scoring 20 while also holding their opponent to single digits, and both teams featured extremely efficient offenses and defenses last season.

But stats aren't the only similarities in this matchup. Both squads are also trying to distance themselves from lackluster performances last season. Texas plummeted from a No. 1 ranking in the second half of the season, and Illinois vacillated throughout the entire year.

So in a game that could be called a push, with no team holding a distinct advantage at any one position, what is the X factor?