Luther Head in the NBA Draft
In a recent post
, Illini Wonk let you know that Luther Head's draft status is somewhere in the middle of the second round. In most mock NBA Draft's he's listed somewhere between the 42nd and 51st pick.
The news from the Chicago Tribune
today is that Head signed with Chicago-based agent Mark Bartelstein in advance of the June 28 NBA draft
. In addition, Rob Lefko of Priority Sports will handle marketing opportunities for Head
According to DraftCity
, Head will be working out in Houston with the Rockets tomorrow.
UPDATE: Gregg Doyel of CBS Sportsline includes Head in a list of college superstars who aren't expected to go in the first round
and compares him to Cuttino Mobley.
Deron Williams declares for the NBA Draft
Breaking News: Deron Williams just announced at a press conference tonight that he hired an agent last weekend and will enter the NBA Draft this year.
Update: Williams' statement is available on the official Illinois site
Deron Williams to announce decision tonight
Yesterday, Illini Wonk brought you the expert opinions
of where Deron Williams will go in the 2005 NBA Draft. Tonight, at 7:30 p.m. CT., Williams, along with Coach Bruce Weber will hold a press conference on campus. No doubt, Williams will use this opportunity to announce that he is forgoing his senior year to enter the NBA Draft.
UPDATE: A source has told Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
that Deron Williams will announce that he is declaring himself eligible for the NBA draft tonight
Deon Thomas suffers serious injury
Suffering what Haaretz called a freak training accident
, Deon Thomas, the all-time leading scorer in Illinois Basketball history, may have seen his pro career come to an end. The Jerusalem Post
said a loud cracking sound was heard as Thomas landed after jumping for a rebound
and his left shin broke into two
. According to the Euroleague official website, Thomas broke his leg so severely in practice that he was to undergo an operation later Wednesday night
. No word on the Internet yet on how that surgery went. Our thoughts and prayers here at Illini Wonk are with Deon.
Fighting Illini in the NBA Draft
In case you were still clinging to the hope that Deron Williams might stay at Illinois next year, most mock NBA drafts are placing him in the top five. In the 2005 NBA Mock Draft from Hoops Hype
he's listed as the #5 pick overall which would give him a guaranteed contract and a salary of around $2.3 million.
The 2005 NBA Mock Draft
at CHN College Hoops also has Williams as the fifth overall pick and has Luther Head going 51st to the Chicago Bulls.
In the NBA Mock Draft at InsideHoops.com
, Williams is projected as the #5 pick and Head is in the second round.
Back on March 30, Illini Wonk posted an interview with Brendan McGovern on the NBA future of the current Illini
. Well, McGovern has updated his 2005 NBA Mock Draft
and has Williams going third. He projects Head as the 11th pick of the second round and #42 overall.
ESPN.com's Bill Simmons believes that Williams is a mortal lock for the top-7
. He also thinks Dee Brown could thrive in the pros and isn't sure about Head.NBADraft.net
projects Williams 4th and Head 43rd. DraftCity
has Williams 11th and Head 49th. An Early NBA Mock Draft
at HOOPSWORLD.com has Williams 5th
Illini Wonk in the off-season
Well, it's finally sunk in that the amazing season is over. There's still the banquet tonight (you can listen to the archived audio here
) and we find out from Mark Tupper's blog
that the team is going to be making some appearances at baseball games in Chicago and St. Louis. But those small things aside, the season really is over.
Illini Wonk is not an Illinois sports site. I don't particularly care about football or volleyball or any of the other sports played on campus (maybe soccer, but that season is over as well). So, with that in mind, Illini Wonk will mostly be relaxing during the off-season. There will be the occasional posts on recruiting news or the NBA draft, but don't expect too much.
There's an easy way to keep up with news from this blog without having to check in every day. On the right-hand column, there's a space to enter your email address so that blogmail will be sent to you whenever Illini Wonk posts something new. Of course, if you're looking for news on your own, the almost 100 links underneath that also provide plenty to whet your appetite.
I hope you enjoy the off-season as well. Take care.
Illinois' most excellent adventure
By now you obviously know that the 100th season of the Illinois Fighting Illini was their best. They won their first 29 and finished the season tying the NCAA record with 37 wins. They were the first Illinois team to make it to the championship game. Oh yeah, and they also won the Big Ten regular season title for the second straight year and won the conference post-season tournament.
Illini Wonk recapped the season prior to the Final Four here
and added a few more thoughts in subsequent posts. I found myself thinking today that this team was two three-pointers away from perfection and a place in history. If Matt Sylvester misses his in the closing seconds in Columbus and Deron Williams (or Luther Head) makes one in the last minute of the final...oh well, it was a great season none-the-less.
A look back at the season seems the thing to do among the pundits as well. Here are just a few:
John "Brumby" Brumbaugh said this season will live forever in the annals of Illinois Basketball history
According to Chicago Sun-Times
columnist Rick Telander, they're better even than that pesky 1989 Final Four Illinois team
.The 2004-05 Illini provided an experience unlike any other
to Bill Liesse of the Peoria Star-Journal
In the Philadelphia Daily News
, Dick Jerardi said there is no question that Illinois had a championship-level season. In fact, it was one of the great seasons in memory
CBS SportsLine senior writer Gregg Doyel said that the 2004-05 Illini were one of the most impressive teams ever to play college basketball
Of their joyful season, Phil Arvia wrote: Don't dismiss all that joy over one loss. Don't diminish the beautiful basketball Illinois played this season over this one scuff
Also in the Sun-Times
, Jay Marriotti says if any second-place team deserves a place in lore, it's the Illini
Mike Nadel of the Journal-Star believes the Fighting Illini deserve to be remembered for the thrills they provided, for the old-school unselfishness they exhibited and for the relentlessness they displayed
That's all I could find for now. I'm going to finish watching the Illinois/Arizona game before I go to sleep. That's the part of the season I really want to remember.
Illinois basketball = Instant Classic
The consensus about this year's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is that it was probably the best in the last decade or more. ESPN Classic agrees and is showing eight games this Saturday, saying: Never before has an NCAA Tournament been filled with more jaw-dropping action, back-and-forth battles, miraculous comebacks, and overall intensely played games
The two games that include the Illinois Fighting Illini twice show them erasing 15 point second half deficits. One of which they won...one of which they didn't. You can find the complete schedule here
(Warning: the picture at the preceding link is not suitable for some Illinois basketball fans).
Welcome home Illini
Yesterday, 20,000 people piled into Memorial Stadium in Champaign to welcome home the Illinois basketball team. For the few of you who were unable to make it in person, WBBM-TV in Chicago has video and pictures of the entire thing here
. I bet the football team wishes they could draw that kind of a crowd.
Fighting Illini Day
The latest passenger on the Illinois basketball bandwagon is none other than Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich who proclaimed today Fighting Illini Day
. Despite the obvious attempt of a politician to ride on the coattails of a popular sports team, the honor is well-deserved.
The Governor’s proclamation reads as follows: WHEREAS, the 2004/2005 season for the University of Illinois Men’s Basketball team is one to remember. Earning the country’s number one ranking after upsetting Wake Forest in the season’s fifth game, the Fighting Illini played their entire campaign at a level that most teams can only dream of; and
WHEREAS, after defeating all but one team they faced during the regular season, the Fighting Illini entered the Big Ten Tournament, and on March 13, 2005, they beat Wisconsin 54-43 to become Big Ten Champions; and
WHEREAS, now officially the premier team in their conference, the Illini set their sights on the NCAA Tournament, where they would continue their winning ways. After defeating Farleigh Dickinson in the Tournament’s first round, Nevada in the second round, Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the Sweet 16, and Arizona in the Elite Eight, the Fighting Illini made it to the coveted Final Four; and
WHEREAS, on April 2, 2005, Illinois defeated Louisville in their Final Four match-up by a score of 72-57. This victory marked a significant milestone for the Illini, as never before in school history had they made it to the Championship Game; and
WHEREAS, the Fighting Illini finished their 2004/2005 campaign just one win short of a national title. Their overall record of 37 wins, paired with just two 2 losses, ties an all-time NCAA record for most wins in a season; and
WHEREAS, because of his hard work and tremendous leadership, Bruce Weber, Head Coach of the Fighting Illini, was named by the Associated Press as Coach of the Year; and
WHEREAS, this State is extremely proud of Coach Weber and the University of Illinois Fighting Illini Men’s Basketball Team for their exquisite season, their tremendous post-season and for their all-around efforts to become one of the elite college basketball teams in the United States. This celebration today is a gesture of congratulations and gratitude to the Fighting Illini and everyone who was involved in the great success they achieved this year:
THEREFORE, I, Rod Blagojevich, Governor of the State of Illinois, do hereby proclaim Tuesday, April 5, 2005 as FIGHTING ILLINI DAY in Illinois, and encourage all citizens to join in “Painting the State Orange” in recognition of the University of Illinois Men’s Basketball team, and their stellar and truly memorable 2004/2005 season.
Illinois drops NCAA Championship to North Carolina
What a game. What heartbreak. After a lackluster first half, the Illinois Fighting Illini battled back to tie the game at 70 with 2:42 to play on a three-pointer by Luther Head. They would not score again in the game and drop a 75-70 decision to the North Carolina Tar Heels.
As they said on SportsCenter after tonight, it's a game of inches. Illinois' last four three-point attempts all hit the heel of the rim, perhaps the result of over-compensating for tired legs. If one of those four drop, the outcome might have been different. On the other end of the court, North Carolina wins when a wild miss by Rashad McCants is batted in by Marvin Williams with 1:28 on the clock. If the Illini grab the rebound, the outcome might have been different.
Illinois showed incredible poise to come back from 15 down to tie the game in regulation for the second time this season. For Illini fans it hurts all the more because, after such a special season, you expected this team to make the big shot one more time. But, it wasn't to be and the best season in the history of Illinois basketball came up one win short. They were valiant in the way they fell back and then attacked once more, giving it everything they had
said Mike Downey in the Chicago Tribune
. Also writing in the Trib
, Rick Morrissey said Remember them like this. Remember the second half
, and Skip Myslenski said the Illinois comeback was truly the show of shows
Illinois had such a large deficit to make up because they had a poor first half. Their shot selection was terrible as they continuously forced up shots early in the shot-clock. On defense they had at least three mental mistakes that all led to easy baskets for UNC: two on out-of-bounds plays and one dunk that Sean May beat the team down the floor for on a missed free throw. But by far the worst play of the first half was a three-on-one break that saw Illinois settled for a three-point attempt rather than take the ball to the hole.
Much of the post-game commentary on ESPN faulted the Illini for attempting 40 three-pointers, but that was not what lost them the game. Had they made 13 instead of 12 they might have been cutting down the nets earlier tonight. They took a lot of good shots from behind the arc and missed a few bad shots that they took inside it. Those same commentators who scolded Illinois for so many three-point attempts also neglected to mention that it was the makes from behind the arc that got them back into the game.
When you look at the shooting percentages of the two teams, it's amazing that Illinois was even in the game. UNC shot 52 percent from the floor and 56 percent behind the three-point line to Illinois' 39 and 30 respectively (complete box score here
). What kept them in the game was their trademark ball-handling which saw them post 18 assists against only 8 turnovers. They also outrebounded the larger Tar Heels 37-34.
Clearly, Illinois lost the game to Sean May. His 16 points on 10 of 11 shooting was more than Illinois could handle. The refs may not have cost Illinois the game, but it was frustrating to watch how they called the fouls on May. The UNC big man bumped and pushed the entire night, but when Illinois tried to give back what they were getting, the refs found their whistles. Illini Wonk was shocked to look at the box score after the game to discover that May had only one foul while James Augustine fouled out and Jack Ingram earned four.
As Illini Wonk said in a previous post, it's been a magical season for the Fighting Illini
. The Illini tie three other teams for the most wins in NCAA men's basketball history to win 37 games in a season. "I already think it was a successful season," star guard Deron Williams said after the defeat. But it leaves a bad taste in your mouth not being able to cut down the nets [as the victor]."
Mark Tupper has more on his blog
. On another positive note, the Illini won the Pontiac Game Changing Performance
for their win over Arizona, earning the school $100,000 for their general scholarship fund.
As for next year, the Illinois Fighting Illini open their season against South Dakota State University
. As for a repeat performance, Marlen Garcia says The Illini will have their hands full just trying to win a third straight Big Ten title
. In Garcia's account, Dee Brown is a probable return and Augustine is a lock. In case you missed it, Illini Wonk recently posted on the NBA future of the current Illini
Thanks certainly are in order for the most memorable Illinois team in Illini Wonk's memory. This team was a joy to follow and it's hard to imagine that another could duplicate it any time soon. Also, thanks to all of you readers. I'll post a little bit here and there during the off-season, but I can use the break too. For now, Illini Wonk is signing off.
Halftime down 13
It's Illinois' largest deficit at the halftime this season and only the third time they've trailed all year. The reason they're behind is quite clearly: shot selection. Early in the game they were rushing shots and later in the game they were relying on the three-point shot too heavily. Case in point is the time they had a three-on-one break and elected to shoot a three-pointer. Their bad shots have led to fast-break opportunities for North Carolina that have translated into the 13 point deficit at the break.
The good news: we've come back from further behind with much less time left. But this is a good team and we can't wait long to get it going.
Illini News on Championship Day
Stay tuned throughout the night as Illini Wonk will be updating this post with the news of the day...
Gregg Doyel of CBS SportsLine
says this might just be the greatest game of our lifetime
. We'll soon see if he's right...
Speaking of CBS SportsLine, they give the frontcourt advantage in the game to Illinois and the backcourt edge to North Carolina, meaning the ultimate edge is even
, UNC is leading 51-49 in the fan poll
While Dick Vitale has the Tar Heels winning by 3
and Eric Neel also picks the Heels
Add TheSportsAdvisors.com to the list of those who say the game is too close to call
Yoni Cohen of Yoco college basketball
blogging fame has a viewer's guide
to the game for FoxSports.com...
Andy Katz reports that the ILLINI ARE WEARING ORANGE TONIGHT!
On SportsCenter, they polled the pundits and here's where they stood: Digger Phelps and Jay Bilas both pick the Illini. You already know where Vitale Stands...
SportsCenter had Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim and Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun were on and asked their picks. Boeheim picked Illinois and Calhoun went with UNC...
NBCSports.com contributor Dan O'Neill says this will be the first Illinois team to win a national title
Jim O'Connell of the Associated Press picks North Carolina 88-78
In typical fashion, Big Ten Wonk
has every angle of the game covered...Sports Illustrated's
Seth Davis says we have two unbeatable teams
playing tonight and writes that he's going to stick with the team I have had pegged since Oct. 15: North Carolina
Clark Kellog is sticking with
the Illini-his pick when the tournament opened...
Steve Lavin, wearing an orange & blue tie, goes with North Carolina to win the game...
Chris West, of the Chris West Basketball Journal
blogs: I’d definitely take Illinois in an NBA-style 7-game series. Since it’s one game, though, I’ll gamble on Carolina showing up to play tonight, and take the Heels 85-79
Now...it's game time. Here's the link to: Gametracker
... Go ILLINI!!!
Vegas Picks the Tar Heels
With the NCAA men's basketball championship scheduled for tonight, one can only imagine the amount of money being bet on the game. Here's the Vegas Line
Stardust: UNC by 2
Caesars/Hilton: UNC by 2.5
MGM-Mirage: UNC by 2
Stations: UNC by 2
To which Luther Head says: We're not surprised. People have been saying North Carolina was the better team all year. Everybody will know [Monday] who the best is
It's about the Illini Nation
On his blog, the chronicler of Illinois Basketball, Mark Tupper, says tonight's game is about Illinois' fans
. He writes: I think the best storyline of them all is the long-time, hard-core Illini fans. I don’t think the national media has any idea what a fiercely loyal, sometimes-tortured group this is. Maybe it’s always fun and free-wheeling to be an Illini fan. But my perception is that it’s often a difficult, painful job that too often tests a person’s fortitude and willingness to stay the course
Also, Andy Katz has what it would mean for Illinois to win the championship
. Are ya gettin' nervous yet?
Illinois vs. North Carolina in NCAA Title
Illinois vs. North Carolina.
Fighting Illini vs. Tar Heels.
#1 vs. #2.
It's the game that college basketball fans have waited for all year and it hardly ever works out that way. It was 30 years ago when #1 last met #2 in the NCAA Tournament Championship. Big Ten Wonk says the title matchup was meant to be
How did we get to this point? First, Illinois downed Louisville 72-57
. There were so many reasons that Illinois won this game, that it's hard to know where to begin. The defense was outstanding, particularly on the perimeter. Louisville came into the game having scored 93 points in each of their past two games and were averaging better than 82 per game in the NCAA Tournament.
Deron William's defense shut down the opposition's best player for the second straight game. After controlling Salim Stoudamire in the Region Final, Williams did the same to Fransisco Garcia in the National Semifinal. Dennis Dodd, another CBS SportsLine senior writer (how many of those are there?), said on back-to-back Saturday's, Williams shut down perhaps the country's best shooter, and humiliated perhaps the country's best overall player
(Illini Wonk is not too sure about the label for Garcia, but the picture at this link is worth a look).
On the offensive end, the Illini were not bothered by the Louisville zone and Williams expertly controlled the tempo of the game. The seniors and the big men came through with big games. At CBS SportsLine, senior Gregg Doyel praises the big three: Augustine, Powell, Ingram
. He also said shame on everybody. Including us, who predicted a Louisville victory in part because of the Cardinals' thick, athletic frontcourt. Oops
. On his blog, Mark Tupper exclaimed Hail to the seniors! Hail to the ‘bigs!’
Although the entire front court played well, in the second half it was Roger Powell Jr. who stole the show. He had 18 points after the break and drew a big charge when the Illini were protecting a 10 point lead. Powell hit two of three three-pointers in the second half, but the most impressive one was the one he missed...and followed up with a dunk. That's right he followed up his own missed three-pointer-from 20 feet away-with a tip-in dunk. You had to see it to believe it. (Luckily for you, CSTV includes it in their highlights
). Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Tribune
said that Louisville got Powelled
. Kyle Veltrop of the Sporting News noted the divine way he played in the second half
. Of his congregation in Joliet, Powell said They're going to be shouting, praising the Lord
If you're looking for the thoughts of Coach Bruce Weber and the players, College Sports TV has the post-game press conference
. Joe Drape of the New York Times thought they were loose
(the accompanying slide show is good, but whoever compiled it might want to look at slide #3 which says: Bruce Weber reached the final in his first season at Illinois
In the second game, North Carolina finished off it's second straight Big Ten opponent with a 87-71 victory over Michigan State
. Although the two were this year's two best teams, their team history couldn't be more different. North Carolina is one of the most storied programs in NCAA basketball history.
Illinois has never even been to the final game in their 100 year history. Mike Downey of the Chicago Tribune
writes that, like the Boston Red Sox, the even longer-suffering Fighting Illini of Illinois
finally have a shot at the title. As an interesting side note, Illinois in the school with the most NCAA Tournament wins without a title. Roy Williams is the coach with the most NCAA Tournament wins without a title. One of those streaks will come to an end tomorrow night.
Illinois Fighting Illini in the Final Four
Can you believe it? The game is almost here. On his blog
, Mark Tupper says At last, here we go!
and gives an update on Illinois' open practice yesterday among other things. Big Ten Wonk says final-ly
the games are here. Elsewhere in the blogosphere that's worth noting is illinitalk's
plan to give live updates from the dome.
At ESPN.com, Pat Forde says Illinois will win the game because they are the only team with nothing but juniors and seniors among its top six
. Mike DeCourcy says, in order to win, Illinois needs to defend against Myles
and play like they did for the final four minutes of regulation against Arizona and the first three minutes of overtime
Here's the official Illinois game notes
and the link to Gametracker
. Gotta run. The pregame is on!
A Magical Season for the Fighting Illini
What a season! I have been a fan of the Illinois Fighting Illini for almost 20 years and I will never forget this season or this team. As the Illini prepare to take the court in St. Louis for the Final Four, Illini Wonk finds himself taking a walk down memory lane and thinking back on this special season. Once you reach this stage of the NCAA Tournament, any remaining team could win. In a one-and-done situation, the champion will be the team that plays the best for two nights in a row.
Regardless of what this weekend holds, Illini Wonk will always have great memories of this season. Permit me a recap.
It seems like centuries ago, but the team gave us the first inkling of how good they could be with a thorough dismantling of Gonzaga
, everyone's favorite mid-major. Gonzaga was ranked 24th at the time and Illinois took a 31-point halftime lead and coasted to a 17-point victory in the John Wooden Tradition at Conseco Fieldhouse. Their performance earned praise from Coach Wooden and prompted CBS Sportsline senior writer Gregg Doyel to remark no one has better guards. No one. Not even Wake Forest
Speaking of Wake Forest, it was only a few short days later that the #1 ranked Demon Deacons made a trip to Champaign. I remember watching this in the basement of my brother's house where we were all bouncing off the walls. I think I had made about 15 phone calls to friends and family by halftime as Illinois dominated Wake and took a 21 point lead into the second half. In the second 20 minutes they pushed the lead to 32 before letting off the gas for a 91-73 victory
After finishing off Arkansas 72-60
on the road, Illinois catapulted four spots to #1 in the Associated Press Poll. Much was made at the time of the fact that the Illini had only been ranked at the top twice in their prior 100 year history and lost their next game both time. Little did we know at the time, that the Illini would hold that spot in the polls for the rest of the season.
Over the next two weeks, Illinois posted victories over Chicago State
. It was the day following the win over Valparaiso, that Illini Wonk made his first mark in the blogosphere with this post
. It started as a blogger with a dream, a dream to be THE place on the Internet for fans of Illinois basketball to find all the news of their team. I started the blog knowing that we were in the midst of a special season, but having no idea just how special it would become.
Two days later, the Illini won their annual Braggin' Rights
border war with Missouri. They then entered the Las Vegas Holiday Classic where they posted easy victories over Longwood
and Northwestern State
to set up a championship game
against the undefeated Cincinnati Bearcats. Illinois sent another message in their last non-conference game, blowing them out by 22 points
. The Illini entered conference play with their best record since, well, since the last time they went to the Final Four. By starting 15-0, Illinois also closed out calendar year 2004 with a 33-5 record
The Illini started conference play as the overwhelming favorite to repeat as Big Ten champions and victories over Ohio State
, Penn State
got the started on the right path. Then the Illini entered their toughest stretch of conference play with games against Iowa and at Wisconsin followed by their Centennial celebration at home against Minnesota and a road trip to face Michigan State. They would win them all and send expectations through the roof.
The first was a tough overtime win against Iowa
that wasn't supposed to be that tough. The next would become the seventh most watch broadcast in ESPN history, a game that Illini Wonk dubbed the Struggle of the Streaks
, Illinois, winners of 19 straight games, vs. Wisconsin, winners of 38 straight games at home.
Illini Wonk live-blogged
the game, which turned out to be one of many memorable performances by this year's Illini. Midway through the second half, the Illini were facing an eight point deficit and a crazed crowd. Clutch shooting from Jack Ingram and great guard play rallied the Illini to a 75-65 victory
. Down the comeback stretch, Illini Wonk just about put holes through his basement roof due to the jumping and the fist-pumping, GLAVIN!
This is the 100 year anniversary of Illinois basketball and Illinois officially celebrated their centennial on January 29. Hundreds of former players came to Assembly Hall to watch a 89-66 victory
over the Minnesota Gophers. Talk about a way to celebrate! How about this entire season? If only centennials came around more often! The win led to a unanimous #1 ranking
that would last for several weeks.
Far from letting down, Illinois followed up with a practically flawless performance in a 81-68 win
at Michigan State. It was to be their only meeting of the season (thus far) so it was a "must-win" for the Illini and after the win, everyone was jumping on the Illinois bandwagon
. It also led to the first of two
major articles on the Illini in Sports Illustrated.
The Illini then went on to post victories over Indiana at home
, Michigan on the road
, and Wisconsin
for the second of three times this season. They then went on the road to defeat Penn State
before returning to Champaign for blowout wins over Northwestern
. All that stood between the Illini and the first undefeated Big Ten regular season in almost 30 years was a win at Ohio State. I don't have to tell you what happened
. On the positive side, Illini Wonk received a condolences phone call from a friend who loves Michigan and said "at least now you can hate Ohio State as much as I do." Indeed. Despite the loss, the Illini retained their #1 ranking
Illinois had to regroup in order to win the Big Ten Tournament, which they did with wins over Northwestern
in the quarterfinal, Minnesota
in the semifinal and Wisconsin
in the final. Despite winning the tournament, Illinois' offense lagged behind their usual performance, especially at the guard spots. James Augustine picked up some of the slack and was named the tournament's most outstanding player.
But the bigger news to come during the tournament was the death of Coach Bruce Weber's mother
, who passed away after their quarterfinal win over Northwestern. Weber elected to continue coaching
and the tears he shed during a moment of silence before the Minnesota game were one of the most touching moments of the season. They wouldn't be his last tears.
Illinois entered the NCAA men's basketball tournament as the overall #1 seed
and had the geographical path they had been playing for all year. Their first two games would be played in Indianapolis, their next two in Chicago and the Final Four would be held in St. Louis. All destinations were less than three hours by bus from Champaign and would be virtual "home-courts" for the Illini.
Illinois won their first-round game over FDU
and their second round over Nevada
to set up a Sweet 16 game in Chicago vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee and their hated coach Bruce Pearl
. The Illini dispatched WMU to set up a rematch of their 2001 regional final loss to Arizona. The game was said by 98 percent of the 285 voters in a poll on this site to be the best win in Illinois' 100 year history.
And what a game it was. With four minutes left in the game, I was despondent, as Illinois was facing a 15-point deficit. The Illini had no answer for Channing Frye and Hassan Adams and the scoreboard reflected that all too painfully. Then, the incredible happened. They staged one of the greatest comebacks in NCAA Tournament history and sent the game into overtime where they won by one point
. Now, with Illinois in the NCAA Final Four
for the first time since 1989, excitement is at it's peak.
It seems hard to believe that this weekend will be the last one in an Illinois uniform for Luther Head and Roger Powell, for Nick Smith and Jack Ingram, probably for Deron Williams and maybe even for Dee Brown. It's amazing to stop and think about what these guys have done for the program. So, before the tip-off tonight, Illini Wonk would like to thank the 2004-2005 Illinois Fighting Illini for a magical season. From the win over #1 Wake Forest to the come-from-behind magic against Arizona, this has been an unparalleled season for Illinois fans. Regardless of what happens this weekend, I just want to say thanks for the memories.
Now, BRING ON THE CARDINALS!!!