February 22, 2005
Why Illinois Will Win it All
In the NCAA tournament, Illinois is going to be the team to beat no matter what ACC-biased yelling comes out of Dick Vitale's mouth. Why you ask, because noone can match up with them that's why. Come tournament time (barring injuries or suspensions) the best two teams will be Illinois and North Carolina
North Carolina may be the closest to the Illini, talentwise, but they don't succeed in playing as a team nearly as well as Illinois. It's a cliche I know but in college basketball it matters a lot. A lot of people look at stats and realize that NC is ahead of Illinois in a majority of categories, although not by a lot, especially the offensive stats. The way I see it, it makes sense that NC should be ahead of them statistically. Look at their respective conferences. The ACC plays, by and large, a much more offensive-oriented game, usually more closely resembling NBA basketball. The Big Ten plays a much slower, more physical game. Look at the scores of the games in each conference. While I didn't take the time to look, I'm sure that if you took the average total scores, the ACC would be about 20 points higher per game. Illinois has proven time and again that they can play the faster style very well (especially wins over Wake Forest, Oregon, early, and Michigan State) I prefer to look at how the teams match up by position:
Rashad Mccants is the leading scorer for NC and a good bet for first-team All-American. The reason: his size (6'4" 207) and his athletic ability. He shoots over most guards and runs by most forwards. The answer: another good pick for a first team All-American, Deron Williams. Williams is the same size and quickness. The difference between them is Williams has better vision and is smarter. An X-factor in this match-up is whether McCants, who has a history of being a hothead, can handle some physical play from Illinois. My advantage here: Illinois
Next is Raymond Felton, the three-point specialist for NC. The Illini answer with Dee Brown. While Felton may be a better shot, Brown's quickness makes up for it. I'm going to call this a draw because I give offensive edge to Felton but the defensive edge to Brown.
The third guard is where Illinois dominates every team. In this case, NC's Jackie Manuel can't hold a candle to Illinois's Luther Head. Head dominates this match-up in every way, Advantage Illinois.
Jawad Williams begins the frontcourt matchups, which is where North Carolina starts to have a chance. Roger Powell can match up with Jawad Williams in every way: size, speed, scoring ability, all of it. This is a draw, but....
Sean May is where Illinois could have trouble. James Augustine is a very solid player, but I think he lags behind May just a bit. May's size could allow him to push Augustine around, although Augustine is a couple inches taller. Sean May having a big day could hurt Illinois
The last factor is bench strength. NC is a bit better because their backup forward Marvin Williams can contribute a bit more scoring than Nick Smith and Jack Ingram, although Smith and Ingram would be an integral part of shutting down Sean May.
Barring injuries or a major let down, these two will play in the National Championship in St. Louis. When they do, Illinois is going to win, 84-80, and Dick Vitale will be screaming his way all the way back to the east coast so he can begin to hype next year's ACC