By Benjy Lipsman in News on Apr 5, 2005 4:16PM
Illinois got a rude awakening from its dream season, as North Carolina won last night's NCAA basketball tournament 75-70. The Tar Heels took a 15 point lead early in the second half before Illinois staged a furious comeback. The Illini fought back to tie the game at 65-65, but could not get over the hump to take a lead. They had their chances towards the end, but the shots wouldn't fall and ultimately, the Illni did. The worst part of this? That all season long, Dick Vitale was right about the Tar Heels, and now he'll NEVER SHUT UP!
The Illini finish the season with a 37-2 record, and went farther than any University of Illinois had gone before. While falling short of the title, this season has moved the Illini and Bruce Weber to that elite level in college basketball. The Illni's recruiting should benefit greatly from the exposure. Which is good, becuase they'll need to build that pipeline of talent to continue to compete with UNC, Duke and Kansas each season.
Next year's team will be without a number of key contributors to this year's success -- starters Luther Head and Roger Powell graduate, as do subs Jack Ingram and Nick Smith. Deron Williams is likely to jump to the NBA and Dee Brown will be tempted to cash in on his collection of Player of the Year honors. He's stated previously he'll return, but will the chance to try again for an NCAA title outweigh the millions awaiting in the NBA? Let's hope so!
Of course, there's also the matter of keeping Weber happy in Champaign. A run like this will put him at the top of the list with any vacancy. Coming from Southern Illinois after Bill Self departed for Kansas, Weber signed a relatively modest contract. He got an extension and raise following last year's Sweet 16 run, but he's still making half of what other top coaches make. Things seem to be stable at the elite programs and his alma mater is only a mid-major school, but could somebody lure him away in coming seasons? Illinois might want to sweeten his package again! Based on that orange blazer, Chicagoist thinks Weber might be moonlighting selling used cars!
Chicagoist NCAA Tournament Challenge
With the conclusion of the NCAA Tourney, Chicagoist is proud to announce our first Tournament Challenge winner -- Brad Manuel's Chicago Bort entry! Brad can email me regarding his prize. Check here to see where you finished. Yours truly came in at 31 of 82 entries.
Image via fightingillini.com