Monday, March 21, 2005

8 of 16

8. That is how many of the tournament's top 16 seeds survived the first weekend. Four number 1's, two number 2's, one number 3, and one number 4. Casualties included 3 out of 4 of Good Hope Orange's final four picks. Ouch, that hurts. Thankfully, our beloved Illini are still standing.

Against Nevada, the Illini finally started to look like the team we've watched all season. Big time shout-outs to James Augustine and Jack Ingram for having career-high games for points scored. They stepped up big time. Deron Williams also had a great all-around game. However, if the Illini want to make it to the Final Four and win the Championship, they are still going to have to bring their play up to a higher level. Greg Couch has an interesting article in today's Sun Times about how well North Carolina played and the importance of Illinois getting back to what they were the best team in the nation at doing earlier this year: PASSING. Jay Mariotti also has an article on Illinois today about how they are crashing/can crash the college parity party.

Overall, there were some outstanding games this weekend. My favorite was West Virginia's double overtime upset of Wake Forest. That game should be showing up on ESPN Classic for years to come. NC State's win over UConn was a close second.

Looking at next weekend, here are some thoughts. North Carolina's Syracuse bracket got a lot easier with the 2, 3, and 4 seeds being eliminated. However, give credit to the teams that did the eliminating. Villanova is a solid team that won't play scared nor will NC State or Wisconsin in the game after that if the Tar Heels beat Nova. Don't concede this bracket to North Carolina just yet, although they definitely have to be the runaway favorite.

In the Austin bracket, Michigan State should be able to give Duke a game. Duke did not play all that well this weekend and will need to step up to survive State and a possible showdown with Kentucky in the Elite Eight if Kentucy survives a solid Utah team that knocked off Oklahoma. This bracket is up for grabs but I would make Duke a slight favorite.

In the Albuquerque regional, I would be shocked if the winner of the Washington-Louisville game does not go on to the Final Four. That should be an outstanding game. No offense to T. Tech or W. Virgina, but the winner of that game has to be the favorite for this region. Your guess is as good as mine as to which team it will be. Washington looked really good this weekend and so did Louisville. I will give the slightest of edges to Louisville but only because that may be a little of my bias against the Pac 10 coming out (Washington probably hasn't gotten the respect they deserve in most circles, including from Illinitalk).

Finally, the Chicago (Rosemont) regional. Of course, Illinois is the favorite here. The Illini should be able to take care of business against UW-Milwaukee and their coach (this is a you know who free zone today). The Illini should not underestimate this solid Horizon League team but it would be disappointing if they don't win this game convincingly. Then it will be on to play either Arizona or Oklahoma State. Both are very solid teams with different challenges for the Illini. It should be a good game between Arizona and OK State and, hopefully, they will wear each other out before one of them advances to play the Illini. I don't have a strong preference about which team Illinois plays but would lean toward Arizona as it would be very satisfying to beat them as payback for a few years ago when they beat us in San Antonio to go to the Final Four. In addition, in my opinion, they have fewer weapons, are weaker defensively, and are not as experienced as Oklahoma State. On the other hand, Oklahoma State does not have as much size and SIU gave them all they could handle. Either way, Illinois is the favorite in this region.

Illinois is not getting a lot of love right now compared to some of the other teams that are left, especially North Carolina. That should be some extra motivation.

Finally, here is an additional perspective about what could happen in the four regions. Remember that you can now comment without having to sign up or log on to the blog. We appreciate those of you who have started to comment (interesting perspective on Kansas' Wayne Simien under my Saturday post). Keep them coming.

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