Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Doyel Says it Best.....

Taken from sportswriter Gregg Doyel on the Illini place in history after the gut-wrenching loss to UNC.

Rallying to beat Arizona in Chicago was a sign of greatness. Doing it against No. 2 North Carolina, with all those future No. 1 NBA Draft picks, would have clarified what should already have been clear: The 2004-05 Illini were one of the most impressive teams ever to play college basketball.

No one will say that now, even if it's true.

Fact of the matter, it might still be true. Illinois tied an NCAA record with those 37 wins, and 17 of them came against 2005 NCAA Tournament teams. They were 5.1 seconds from perfection, denied a 38-0 record entering Monday night by Sylvester's 3-pointer in Ohio State's 65-64 victory on March 6.

Until Williams, Head and Dee Brown this season, no team had seen three guards earn first- or second-team All-America honors.

A 15-point comeback in the final 3:50 of a region championship game against a team with Arizona's NBA talent and Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson? A 15-point comeback in the second half against a team with North Carolina's NBA talent and its (future) Hall of Fame coach, Roy Williams? These things weren't possible; yet for Illinois, they were.

The 2005 college basketball season will be remembered for its excellence.

At least 10 teams entered conference tournament week with a realistic shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament -- not because the country had so few dominant teams, but so many. The NCAA Tournament featured historic upsets like Bucknell over Kansas and Vermont over Syracuse, the second round finished off brackets all over the country, and three region championships went to overtime for the first time.

Months after a record number of high school players entered the 2004 NBA Draft, college basketball didn't just survive in 2004-05. On the macro-level, college basketball celebrated one of the best seasons ever.

It's too bad. Illinois, on the micro-level, almost did the same.

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