Chicago Regional

March 14, 2005|By Ken Murray


Illinois' upset loss to Ohio State last week ended talk of an undefeated season, which takes some pressure off. The Illini withstood the death of coach Bruce Weber's mother and a scoreless outing from Dee Brown in the championship game and still won the Big Ten title. They'll face a likely regional final against Oklahoma State, but should complete the trip to the Final Four.


LSU goes into the tournament with momentum, winning seven of its past eight. The loss -- a 79-78 overtime decision against Kentucky in the SEC semifinals on Saturday -- easily could have been a win. Brandon Bass makes LSU dangerous, as witnessed by his 27-point effort in a win over Florida on Feb. 19.


After winning its first 20 games, Boston College reeled down the homestretch, losing four of its past eight games. Notre Dame ended the winning streak in South Bend, Ind., but the Eagles also dropped a 22-point decision at home to Pittsburgh, along with close losses to Villanova and West Virginia (in the Big East tournament).


Mark Fox was Coach of the Year in the Western Athletic Conference after leading Nevada to the regular-season title in his first year. The Wolf Pack had the WAC's Player of the Year in 6-foot-11 Nick Fazekas and the Freshman of the Year in Ramon Sessions. A last-second loss to Boise State in the WAC quarterfinals ended a 10-game winning streak, but the Wolf Pack gets a beatable Texas team in its opening NCAA game.


Dee Brown's game in Illinois' three-guard offense is frenetic and invigorating. As the Illini proved yesterday, they don't need him to score to win. But the quicksilver Brown has completed the adjustment from point guard to shooting guard, and from former coach Bill Self to Weber. He is terrific in transition and superb from the arc.


Utah State's Spencer Nelson, a 6-8 senior, is the Aggies' top scorer (16.4), rebounder (8.1) and leader in assists with 150. Nelson also has 36 steals and 16 blocks for the Aggies. He was first-team All-Big West Conference, and scored 16 points in a 65-52 upset of Pacific in the conference final Saturday night.


Because Arizona's Lute Olson and Oklahoma State's Eddie Sutton would have to meet before either team gets to the regional final and a likely date with Illinois, Weber has a chance to validate his coaching job in Champaign this month. Weber skillfully guided the Illini through the Big Ten as the nation's most consistent team. That's great coaching.

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