Illini guards, UNC big men will be key

Posted: Monday, April 04, 2005


BACKCOURTS: The three-guard system has been Illinois' strength all season and it will be tested by the Tar Heels. The point guard matchup of Deron Williams of Illinois and Raymond Felton of North Carolina should be a classic. Both run the offense — and run is the key word — and Williams has become a stalwart on defense, limiting the opponents' top scorer the last two games.

FRONTCOURTS: North Carolina's Sean May has been a certain double-double the latter half of the season and Jawad Williams showed Saturday night that he is over a nagging hip injury that bothered him since the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Illinois' frontcourt has been the question mark in a near-perfect season. Roger Powell Jr. had a big second half on Saturday after sitting with foul trouble in the first half, and May will be his responsibility on defense.

THE BENCHES: Both teams play eight-man rotations but North Carolina's is more versatile and 6-foot-9 freshman Marvin Williams makes for a matchup nightmare, forcing Illinois to either go to a bigger lineup if he heads inside or try to stay with him with a smaller player in the open court.

THE COACHES: North Carolina's Roy Williams is in his third national championship game, having lost in 1991 and 2003 with Kansas. He is 5-0 in tournament games played in St. Louis, having won regionals here with Kansas in 1993 and 2002. Bruce Weber has the Illini in their first title game in his second season.

PREVIOUS MEETINGS: Illinois and North Carolina met in each of the last two seasons, so these upperclassmen have faced each other. May had 23 points and 14 rebounds, Jawad Williams had 18 points and 12 rebounds, and the Tar Heels held Dee Brown to 3-of-17 shooting last season in North Carolina's 88-81 victory. In 2002-03, Illinois won 92-65 and the stars were Brian Cook (22 points and eight rebounds) and Sean Harrington (20 points, all but two on 3-pointers), neither of whom is around anymore.

THE SKINNY: North Carolina has a decided advantage inside while still being able to create mismatches everywhere but at the point. The Tar Heels will finally give Roy Williams his first national championship, 88-78.

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