After Illinois finished with Louisville, we figured they were going to take
out whoever advanced. After UNC went nuclear on Michigan State in the second
half, we're no longer so sure.
No one has ever questioned UNC's talent, but their heart has been questioned
repeatedly. But given how well Michigan State has been playing, and the
immense heart they have shown, well, UNC can't win without at least as much
About the only complaint anyone could have is that they didn't do it for the
whole game. But they did get it done, and now they'll play Illinois on Sunday
night in what promises to be a great showdown.
Dee Brown is one of the few guys around who can come close to keeping up with
Raymond Felton, just on a pure speed basis, although Deron Williams has been
called by some the best defender left in the tournament. So they
have some stuff to throw at Felton.
What really impresses one about Illinois is the ball movement. They zip
the ball around and find the weak point in the defense and off it goes.
UNC will have to shut down the potent perimeter game of the Illini, and
Illinois will have to control Felton, May, Marvin Williams, and probably Jawad
Williams as well, and then there's the matter of Rashad McCants, too.
Coming in, we didn't think either team was playing their best basketball, and
both have been pushed. Arguably, Arizona should really have been playing
Saturday, and if they hadn't had a stunning collapse, they would have
been. Illinois gets credit for a tremendous comeback, but come on, Arizona
was up by 15. That's a dominant performance. What everyone forgets
is that Illinois was in fact down by 15.
Part of the reason they were down was because they couldn't control Channing
Frye. Arizona's big man pretty much had his way with them.
Sean May has the capacity to do even more damage, and it's hard to see how
Illinois shuts him down. Bill Russell says defense is only a matter of
inches, that what you should try to do is to move someone just a couple of
inches from where they like to operate, and then their percentages go down
sharply. Sean May makes that tough because he is really strong and so
fundamentally sound. He's made himself a superb basketball player, and the
Illini may not be able to counter him, much less Marvin Williams.
There is, though, a slightly different strategy. We'll call it the Al
McGuire strategy for short, because he summed it up best: if you cut off
the head, the body dies.
If you want to sum up this game, here's a way to consider it: UNC wins
if Sean May controls the inside; Illinois wins if they can control Raymond
Felton and keep him from getting the ball to May in the first place.
So this game turns, in effect, on how well Deron Williams defends Raymond
Felton. If he can't throw a blanket over Felton, then Sean May gets his
best birthday ever and a trophy to put on the mantle next to dear old Dad's.