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Fighting Illini will take trophy

If the one-man fast break, the chainsaw and the reverend all come out to play, there’s no doubt the Fighting Illini will go home with the championship trophy on April 4.But that’s not saying they, or anyone else, have an easy road ahead of them. There are a few teams out there to look to for the upset, and they may just be the ones who spoil your office pool bets. UTEP’s point guard-forward combo of Filiberto Rivera and Omar Thomas are two players to watch for. Rivera knows how to pass (he holds the school’s record for 18 assists in a single game) and Thomas knows how to score. Plus, they are just coming off winning the WAC tournament. New Mexico, with Danny Granger, will give Villanova a struggle. When Granger’s healthy, he’s consistently been the Lobos leading scorer and rebounder. Plus three-point threat Troy DeVries’ 47.5 percent trey average proves that he can be counted on for the long shots. Niagara’s high-paced game with MAAC player of the year, Juan Mendez, will take Oklahoma by surprise. Mendez is a scoring and rebounding machine. I’m guessing one of these teams will make it to the Sweet Sixteen.As for the final four, I’m picking Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Duke and Illinois. GT is a team no one wants to face in the tournament right now. They’re all healthy and have come ready to play, as evidenced in their latest regular season victory against UNC.As for UNC, Sean May scares me. And it’s not because he’s 6 feet 9 inches. It’s because he’s so good. And when paired with Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants, that’s a triple threat I wouldn’t want to guard. Duke is a regular at the tournament, and so is coach Mike Krzyzewski. He has spent so much time at the big dance that even Cinderella’s jealous. Although this isn’t a classic Duke team, guards J.J. Reddick and Daniel Ewing show that they are just as tough to beat. As for the Illini, they have a deep bench and with Dee Brown and Deron Williams at the helm, it’s a guaranteed fast-paced game. James Augustine has proved that he’s a force to be reckoned with down low, and Roger Powell, Luther Head and Jack Ingram show up to play when they’re most needed. But that’s the secret with Illinois: they all do that. No one is the consistent high scorer of the team. They play as a team, in a motion offense that leaves their defenders’ heads spinning. Their consistent Midwest style of play and tough defense will lead them to win the championship game. If only I hadn’t moved to Colorado, I, donning a bright orange sweatshirt, would be watching my team take home the trophy amid fellow alumni and fans in a sea of orange and blue.Kara Pearson is a 2003 University of Illinois graduate and wishes she had kept her season tickets for two more years.


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