Saturday, March 26, 2005

If this was a down year....

If this was a down year for the Big Ten Conference, I can't wait to see an "up" year. We now know which teams have made it to the Elite Eight. From the Big Ten, we have Illinois, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. How many teams do we have from the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Conference USA, and the Pac 10? One apiece. That's right, one apiece. The "down" Big Ten has three times as many teams in the Elite Eight as the vaunted ACC, Big East, and the other power conferences. Hope all of the so-called "experts" are enjoying their crow this evening.

In all seriousness, I hope this shows people that the Big Ten was a good league this year, at least at the top, and that it gets the league a liitle more respect. Illinois should feel even better and more confident after seeing what has happened so far in the NCAA tournament. Not that the team needed to have what they accomplished during the conference season validated, but I think it is nice to have some vindication.

I am very proud to have three teams in the Elite Eight with a chance for all three of those teams to make it to the Final Four. The odds are against all three of them advancing but most people never thought we would have anyone but Illinois in the Elite Eight.

Some upcoming game thoughts (but no outright predictions--wouldn't want to jinx anyone):

Illinois and Arizona. This will be a tough one Illini fans and there are certainly concerns about Luther's hamstring. But the Illini have come up big in every major game this year and I don't expect that to change. It will be a close, hard-fought game, but as I have said all year, I believe.

Louisville and West Virginia. Louisville has to be the favorite but whoever thought West Virginia would make it this far. They seem to hang around in every game. Louisville has a good chance of advancing but this game may not be the blowout so many people think it will be and could even turn out to be the upset of the weekend.

Michigan State and Kentucky. When the tournament began, most people, including me did not expect Michigan State to make it this far. However, they are playing great right now and I believe that have a very good chance of beating Kentucky. It could go either way but as a Big Ten guy, I would love to see Michigan State get another victory.

North Carolina and Wisconsin. After watching North Carolina barely squeak by Nova, I am not sure they even deserve to be in this game. Nova missed some great opportunities but give Carolina credit, they won the game. As much as I would love to see the Badgers knock off the Tarheels, I think that may be asking too much. But then again, they have been underestimated before.

A couple Illinois thoughts:

Deron Williams play in Thursday's game once again illustrated how masterful he is at managing the game and serving as the glue that holds the Illini together. He just makes so many good decisions and runs this team so well. I can see why Coach Weber has said he is the one guy the team could not afford to be without. Even when he isn't scoring, he has a huge impact by making everyone else around him better. If you haven't paid attention this year, just watch how the team functions when he is on the court vs. when he is on the bench. This is not a knock on any of our other guys, just a compliment to our great point guard.

Finally, make sure that you are taking time to enjoy this run and each game. I know it is the tendency of fans, including myself, to always be looking ahead to the next game or the next step, but don't forget to enjoy the moment. This has been and continues to be a special season--make sure you are taking the time to savor and appreciate what this team is accomplishing.

Good night and Go Illini.

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