Saturday, April 2, 2005

Illinois vs. Louisville

This game should the better of the two match-ups tonight. Both teams compare very well, and it will go down to the wire. Louisville has looked very impressive in each of their wins, including a come-from-behind victory over West Virginia, a game in which they were down by 20. Illinois did not dominate any of their games thus far, but showed a lot of resolve in their unbelievable win over Arizona, where they were losing by 15 with 4 minutes left, and ended up winning in overtime by one. Expect this one to be one of the top games of the tournament.

On the perimeter, the battle of the backcourts should be outstanding. Illinois is home to the top perimeter trio in the country, and showed it during the Arizona game. Deron Williams has demonstrated why he is the most important player on the Illini, and also the best. He can create for himself and others. Luther Head is a great scorer and is a very good defender when he is healthy. Dee Brown was only a second team All American, and is probably the fastest player in the country, end to end. He can change games with his quickness and has the ability to hit the deep three. Rich McBride provides shooting off the bench. Louisville will counter with the best shooter remaining in the tournament in Taquan Dean. He has been outstanding shooting the ball lately, and stepped up with a big game against West Virginia. Larry O'Bannon took over down the stretch in the Elite Eight, single-handedly carrying the Cardinals into the Final Four. He has developed into a great scorer. Francisco Garcia fouled out with four minutes left against WVU, but that might be the only thing that he has done short of perfect in the tournament. He has arguably been the best player in the country in the past four games. He will pose serious match-up problems for Luther Head with his height and length. Brandon Jenkins is a great defender and the best ball handler for Louisville off the pine.

The frontcourts for both teams are vastly underrated and overshadowed by their premier perimeters. Illinois has gotten wonderful inside play from James Augustine, who has developed into a very good post player that can dominate if he gets the ball close to the basket. He has been one of the more impressive players this tournament. Roger Powell has a nice inside-outside game, but has lost some confidence in his perimeter shot. He can still come up with some key baskets, though. Jack Ingram has become the top player off the bench. He can hit threes and rebound well. Nick Smith provides minutes and some shooting from his seven foot frame. Louisville has two very different players that mesh perfectly. Ellis Myles is the leader of the Cardinals, and dominates the glass, both offensively and defensively. He is the inside presence that they were missing a year ago. Juan Palacios is the lone freshman starter in this game, but could play a major role. He can run the floor and hit the three, but he also has trouble catching the ball. Otis George is a good rebounder off the bench.

Both teams are playing very good basketball, and Louisville might be playing their best of the season. Illinois still may have some momentum after their great comeback, but the Cardinals also are coming off a great turnaround in their Elite Eight game. Illinois might have the quickness advantage in the backcourt, but Garcia is going to a very tough match-up for either Williams or Head, although Williams did fine on Hassan Adams on the final play of the Arizona game. The inside tandems for both teams are going to have to come up big, and whoever wins the rebounding battle could end up victorious. I think that the ability of Louisville to match Illinois in the three-point category, in addition to having Francisco Garcia and better rebounders, will carry them to the title game.

Prediction: Louisville by 4

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