Who saw this one coming?
Well, the North Carolina-Illinois matchup that, as Dids correctly pointed out, was ridiculously coveted by every casual college basketball fan in the country, has finally come to pass. Through listening to the radio and looking online, I see that the experts pretty clearly view this game as a toss-up. In every "expert opinion" I saw or heard about this game, the "expert" in question - without fail - said something to the effect of, "Well, I went with ________ before the tournament started, so I gotta keep backing them now." This information points to 2 conclusions: 1.) apparently, everyone in the world but me (I went with Oak State ... shut up) picked Illinois or North Carolina to win the title, 2.) neither team has done anything that made even one analyst change his or her position on the title game. All right, sounds good.
So I guess, in keeping with the last two weeks of tradition, we should put some picks up on here.
Okay, here's what you're gonna see tonight:
Roger Powell is gonna guard Sean May, putting James Augustine on Jawad Williams. At first, I was enormously apprehensive about Bruce Weber doing this, mostly due to the fact that this strategy absolutely murdered Illinois against the Buckeyes, as Terrence Dials ate Powell alive and Augustine was stuck guarding Matt Sylvester, and we all know how that matchup worked out. However, I just have a feeling about this one. I think they're gonna double May whenever he gets the ball, and my assumption is that the Illini will prefer to be bringing the taller Augustine as the double-man, presumptively affecting May's vision for passing out of the double. We'll see how this works out.
The rest of the time Carolina has the ball, Dee Brown will guard Raymond Felton, Luther Head will guard Jackie Jackson ... I mean, Manuel, and, in what might end up being the key matchup, Deron Williams will check Rashad McCants. This is, of course, assuming that McCants decides to show up and play, something he clearly wasn't interested in doing after the first 5 minutes of the Michigan State game, as he shot 4 wide-open jumpers, then lollygagged around lazily, to the point where he actually refused to get into multiple loose-ball scrums that happened right at his feet in about a 4-minute span. Out of a team full of guys who are recognized for it to varying degrees, McCants is the one who is most obviously just biding his time until he gets drafted.
On the other side, McCants will most likely match up with Head, with Felton on Brown, Manuel on Williams, May on Augustine, and J.Williams on Powell. I see no glaring matchup problems for either team here. It's gonna come down to whether or not the Heels feel like playing defense all game. When other teams work the clock, the Heels will become much more likely to have lapses. So if Illinois can play solid Big Ten basketball, working for good shots and running when they get opportunities, I think they can win this game by 6 or 7. But since I'm an idiot and can generally not be trusted to make accurate predictions ... no, I'm still going with Illinois. But I'll say it'll be closer than that.
Illinois 80, North Carolina 77
Edited to add: It bears mentioning that North Carolina is a 2.5-point favorite in this game. Hence, this #1-ranked Illinois team, a squad that only lost one game all year (and on a last-minute 3-pointer no less) and has an opportunity to break the all-time record for wins in a season, will actually be pulling an upset if they win tonight. The Carolina love knows no bounds.