Saturday, April 02, 2005

So how excited am I about the Final Four tonight?

In the first game, you have a potential classic as Illinois and Louisville clash, having come back from a combined 35 points in their regional finals. With the starting backcourts of Dee Brown, Luther Head, Deron Williams, Tayquan Dean, Francisco Garcia and Larry O’ Bannon, any one, or maybe more than one, of those players could drop thirty points in the game. James Augustine and Ellis Myles are both underrated post players, and between Juan Palacio’s glasses and Roger Powell’s ordained reverend status, you know things will be fun on the inside as well as the out.

Illinois’ Bruce Weber lost his mother before this postseason started, and one would assume he realizes as soon as this thing is over, one way or the other, he’s finally going to have to deal with that. His brother already own this year’s Illinois state championship at John Hughes’ and the lovely miss Christina Ginardi’s alma mater, Glenbrook North, a Chi-town suburb, so it only seems to make sense Dawn Weber gets honored by both her sons with dual championships.

Down the sideline will be Rick Pitino, who has his record third program into the Final Four, and always looks good, stylish and organized crime-like doing it. He’s got a major recruiting class coming in next year, but he’ll be losing a ton of talent, despite what Jeff Tillett tells me. Francisco Garcia, who lost his brother last fall and will be joining the NBA next year, will have to remember the feeling he felt when he fouled out with over four minutes left and his team losing in the West Virginia game. You don’t want your career to end, not one game short of the ultimate goal and never-ending fame in the annals of college hoops history.

In the nightcap, Roy Williams has been familiar with pressure like this. A team loaded with lottery picks and having more talent than any other team he’ll face on the floor, and now he’s got to try and seal the deal. In 2003, he ran into Carmelo Anthony. In 2002, it was Juan Dixon, Stevie Blake and the rest of the Terps. This year…Maurice Ager, Alan Anderson and Shannon Brown? They don’t exactly inspire fear in the heart of the average college hoops fan, but their smothering athleticism on defensive and sharing of the ball on offense makes you think UNC will have all they can handle when they face off against the Spartans.

Who is the pressure on? Certainly not Tom Izzo, who returns his team to the Final Four after a short hiatus. He’s vindicated the Big Ten and some of his own demons of recent history with the win over Kentucky, and now everything else is just gravy. Even Paul Davis might be playing lose, and if Raymond Felton isn’t 100%, then you’ve got Rashad McCants attempting to take things over, and that’s always interesting no matter who your rooting interest.

Sean May banging inside, Chris Hill trying to regain his stroke outside and fabulous freshman Marvin Williams both exciting Tar Heel fans with his amazing abilities and scaring them to death he could be gone after this year because he’s so far along with his skill-set. A team that barely survived Villanova and Wisconsin has to face the team that beat Kentucky and Duke in back-to-back games – think you might want to tune in?

My prediction? I can’t see anyone beating Illinois and I find it hard to believe even Roy Williams could lose to Michigan State with the team he has, so I’ll take the chalk and have the best two teams in the country squaring off in the national championship. However, I can see Louisville getting hot – plus Tillett guaranteed me they were winning, albeit in a slightly inebriated state, when we were partying over at Keough last night – and I can see the Tar Heel throats constricting, so I’m hoping I’m wrong.

The Elite Eight was magical, and the Final Four would have to be something magnificent to even attempt to give it a run for its money. On the first Saturday night in April, here’s hoping the quartet of squads vying to cut down the nets in St. Louis give us a few shining moments.

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