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InsideHoops [NCAA Home]

NCAA Tournament Preview





/ Mar. 14, 2005

The 2005 NCAA Basketball Tournament promises to be as action-packed as fans have come to expect. Here's a preview of the NCAA Tournament's Chicago region of competition. The teams in the "Who's looking sweet" section are predicted to reach the round of Sweet 16.


1. Illinois
2. Oklahoma State
3. Arizona
4. Boston College
5. Alabama
6. LSU
7. Southern Illinois
8. Texas
9. Nevada
10. St. Mary’s
11. UAB
12. Wisconsin-Milwaukee
13. Pennsylvania
14. Utah State
15. SE Louisiana
16. Fairleigh Dickinson

Who to watch out for: St. Mary’s, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, LSU

Who’s looking sweet: Illinois, Oklahoma State, Arizona, Boston College

This is the toughest region for the middle range of seeds. There is not that much that separates the seven through 12-seeded teams, and a load of first round upsets is not out of the picture. Those middle range teams won’t have much effect on the outcome of the Chicago region, though, as it is very top-heavy, with Illinois, Oklahoma State, and Arizona ranking among the best teams in the country. Illinois is the team to beat, as they have been all year, but they won’t have an easy road to St. Louis. Oklahoma State and Arizona are more than capable of pulling off the upset. Both teams feature senior stars with talent and experience. Arizona revolves around shooter-extraordinaire Salim Stoudamire, and center Channing Frye. The two stars are complemented by the high-flying Hassan Adams, point guard Mustafa Shakur, and forward Ivan Radenovic. This team has yet to experience the glory expected from them in the past few years, and is hungry to give Coach Lute Olson his first winner since Mike Bibby and Miles Simon lead the Wildcats to the national championship in 1997.

Oklahoma State returns virtually everyone from its Final Four team from a year ago, and is fresh off its second straight Big 12 tournament championship. Freshman JamesOn Curry is a great complement to John Lucas in the backcourt, and Joey Graham is a versatile threat who can take over a game. This much talented experience is quite the asset in the NCAA Tournament.

Another storyline in this region is what will happen with last year’s tourney darling, Nevada. Their front line is anchored by Nick Fazekas, one of the premier big men in the country who gets next to zero press coverage. Freshman guard Ramon Sessions and senior Kevinn Pinkney are very good supporting players, and Pinkney has the experience from last year’s run to help will the team to victories. It’ll be tough for the Wolf Pack to provide as many sparks as last year, though, because if they get by Texas in the first round they’d go head-to-head with the Illini.

The St. Mary’s Gaels are a team to watch. They come from the West Coast Conference, like Gonzaga, and have two stars that could have a breakout tournament. Junior Daniel Kickert and senior Paul Marigney both average around 17 points a game and can be lethal from beyond the arc. If the perimeter offense is clicking, the Gaels are capable of pulling off an upset or two.

Wisconsin-Milwaukee is dangerous as a 12 seed. Head Coach Bruce Pearl is among the new crop of coaches waiting to go to an elite program, and he runs a great show behind the play of senior guard Ed McCants (17.4 points a game). The Panthers are 17-1 in their last 18 games, and 5th-seeded Alabama should be put on notice that they have no cakewalk in the first round.

Boston College’s struggle for national respect suffered a huge blow when the Eagles went 4-4 in their last eight games. This might work to the Eagles’ advantage, though, as Coach Al Skinner will have his players motivated to play in the underdog role, where they excel the most. Craig Smith, Jared Dudley, and Co. are capable of shocking Illinois in the Sweet 16 should they make it there. The Eagles have the low-post player in Smith that Illinois has trouble playing against, and if the Eagles can defend the perimeter, unlike how they defended in losses to Notre Dame in the regular season and West Virginia in the Big East tournament, the game is theirs.

With all that being said, Illinois has the advantage of playing in front of an Illini crowd in each stop all the way to St. Louis. Much like Syracuse did in 2003, Illinois will be playing in arenas within close driving distance to home, and the Illini’s opponents will have to deal with the crowd in addition to stopping the top team in the land. The three-headed guard monster known as Lutheeron Hebrilliams (aka Luther Head, Dee Brown, and Deron Williams) will prove to be too much to contain, just like they have all year, James Augustine will continue his solid play down low, and they’ll have the corks popping in Champaign-Urbana.

Prediction of Region Champion: Illinois Fighting Illini

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