Sunday, April 03, 2005

And Then There Were Two

Another Break From The Real Madness

Monday night's National Title game pits #1 Illinois against #2 North Carolina and from what was witnessed last night, it looks to be one of the best. These two teams were the dominant teams for the season on a national level and both showed why, in both of their semi-final games. This they did in spite of the fact, they both got the short end of the officiating in the first half of each game.

Illinois was really having to work especially hard, when their hot hand Powell was forced to sit midway through the first half. The Illini were called for 7 fouls before Louisville ever got whistled and it looked like most were ticky-tack fouls. Louisville seemed to gain the refs' favor early on; they were hammering the Illini, with no whistles. Both were being physical, yet it was the Illini that got singled out. When the Cardinals finally did get a whistle, the crowd cheered in a sarcastic manner making their displeasure well known. In spite of the favoritism, Illinois held up well, maintaining their composure and their lead.

But after the start of the second half, it seemed like the officiating crew had been replaced with fair and objective refs. They began to call a much more equitable game and in the end, Illinois was just too talented, too smart, and too athletic. In fact, this team reminds me of the last undefeated national champion, the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. Any starter on that team (as well as this Illinois team) could have a banner night, on any given night and burn you. They loved to exploit the mismatches and it was easy when you had a team of individuals that cared nothing about who was high man.

The North Carolina game was similar in that the physical play by Michigan State, was not whistled early on. That allowed the Spartans to rough up the Tar Heels a little, frustrating them and getting them out of their rhythm. But in the second half, NC came out and reestablished themselves with solid play from Sean May (son of Scott May, a forward on the 1976 Indiana team). Roy Williams certainly must have said something to his team at halftime, because they looked and played like a different team on both sides of the ball. They turned the tables on MSU, causing havoc on the defensive end. In fact, MSU hardly looked anything like the team that had beaten Duke and Kentucky.

This game will be good but in the end I believe Illinois will prevail, because of their extraordinary talent, their skills, and their willingness to get the ball to the open man. They make as many passes as necessary, to get the right shot and they are not a bit selfish. Bruce Weber has this team prepared and ready. And with only one loss all year long, they seem like a team of destiny.

If this the way it goes down, you have to feel bad for Roy Williams. He has been at this level before and had a stellar career, coaching some outstanding Kansas teams without one title to show for it. And then here comes Weber a newcomer to big-time NCAA basketball and in his second year as coach of a big-time program, he grabs the title with a special bunch of kids. If it happens, it will have to hurt.

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