By S.C. Zuba
It has been a long time since the 2005 University of Illinois men’s basketball team reached the National Championship game, but things are starting to look up for the Illini.
This season, Illinois has the talent and depth necessary to go deep—way deep—into the NCAA Tournament.
As senior forward Mike Davis says, things could get very interesting for the Illini this season.
“If we can get some quick points and play defense, we can be a scary team,” Davis said after Illinois’ 85-63 victory over Southern Illinois Saturday, Nov. 13.
Admittedly, Illinois is out for revenge after a disappointing 2009-10 season.
Before the 2010 NCAA Tournament, Illinois looked as though it would make the tournament after advancing to the finals of the Big Ten Tournament; however, Illinois failed to make the tournament, and ended up settling for an NIT appearance.
It’s quite clear Illinois underachieved last year, but this is a new year for Illinois—a second chance.
Illinois added one of the top freshmen classes in the country to a group from last year that didn’t graduate any seniors. Joining the Illini this season are 7-foot center Meyers Leonard and guards Jereme Richmond and Crandall Head (the brother of former Illinois great Luther Head).
With senior guard Demetri McCamey leading the group, there is no limit to what the Illini can achieve. Head Coach Bruce Weber has said that this team will play as the seniors play—that comment was especially directed at McCamey.
“If Demetri plays, we have a chance to be pretty good,” Weber said.
Illinois hasn’t played many games, but watching this team should make any Illinois fan excited.
They are big, they have depth and they are fast—everything a national contender needs.
My prediction? Illinois will advance to at least the Final Four in Houston. That’s been the goal since the end of last season for the Illini. This team is dedicated to doing whatever it takes to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
For Illinois, anything less than a Final Four appearance will be considered a failure.
ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb picked Illinois to win the Big Ten and advance to the National Championship game. That’s quite a bold prediction, but who knows, come March Madness, anything is possible.
The bottom line is that this team is good. Very, very good. Watch and see. It’ll be fun.
From the Nov. 17-23, 2010 issue