Sunday, March 20, 2005


Here are some of my random thoughts after the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament:
  • It's not something the team should be particularly proud of, but Illinois seems to be playing about 10-12 points better than its competition. That's fine because a 10-12 point margin of victory's not such a bad thing. But it is troublesome because Wisconsin is better than Nevada, who is better than Minnesota, who is better than Penn State, who is better than Fairleigh Dickinson. Yet, the margin in each of those games was between 10 and 12 points. I hope the team really does know its throttle, and won't find itself in a hole with no gas in the tank. (In other words, I hope we that the team has the appropriate amount of motivation to come out against a very good but totally unknown Wisconsin-Milwaukee team. If we come out an play like we did against FDU, we're toast. If we come out and play like we did against Nevada, we're in a dogfight. If we come out and play like we did against Bucky, we should win.)
  • Speaking of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I hope the team realizes how much the Illinois fanbase despises UW-M coach and former Iowa assistant Bruce Pearl.
  • Surprises:
    • The overall strength of the non-major conference teams. I mean, Bucknell beat preseason number one Kansas, for goodness sake! Even the teams that lost in the first round showed plenty of pluck. Illinois was only up by a point on FDU at halftime. Delaware State kept within arm's reach of Duke for a goodly portion of the game. And, as we all know, UWM, Vermont and the aforementioned Bison all won.
    • The weakness of the Big East. Six Big East teams made the tournament, but only two remain.
    • The strength of the Big Ten. Five teams in the tournament. Three remain. Same as the ACC.
    • West Virginia. I thought Pittsnogle and crew would be done in by Dana Altman's Blue Jays. Oops!
    • N.C. State. I thought the 'Pack would find themselves Sendek'd much earlier.
    • Texas Tech. I'm not a Bobby Knight fan, but I am pleasantly surprised by his bringing the boys from Lubbock to the Sweet Sixteen.
  • Non-surprises:
    • Wake Forest's flameout. I bet a friend a steak dinner that Duke would last longer in the tournament than the _eamon _eacons. What's bizarre is that the friend is a Duke grad. Let this be a lesson to everybody: teams that don't play defense do not advance very far in the NCAA tournament.
    • North Carolina's dominance. North Carolina will absolutely kill teams that don't have the kinds of athletes it does. However, it will be bothered by athletic teams that play smart basketball and defense. In other words, look for them to have some trouble in the Elite Eight or Final Four, but not before. The 'Heels are still not where Roy needs them to be in the defense and decisionmaking departments. I wonder if they'll get there this year. If they do, they'll win it all. If they don't, not so much.
    • James Augustine. Auggie has been a quiet stud for Illinois this year, overshadowed, it seems, by the three guards and Rev. Powell. In the background, Augustine won two Big Ten Player of the Week Awards and was named a third team All Big Ten selection. Lately, however, he's gotten loud. Augustine was named MVP of the Big Ten Tournament. He dunks with authority, yelling and pumping his fist as he lands. And, against Nevada, he shot 9 for 11, scoring 23 points, had two blocks and four steals.
I can't wait till next week!

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