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Friday, May 24
The Indiana Daily Student

As pressure mounts, Fighting Illini respond

The last time an NCAA men's basketball team had a perfect season (our own Indiana Hoosiers of 1975-76), "Afternoon Delight" was the No. 1 song of the year, the United States was wrapping up a war overseas and "Three's Company" was a popular TV show. With the University of Illinois more than halfway to the Hoosiers' feat, it's time to look at how much things have -- um -- changed in 30 years. "Anchorman" just made "Afternoon Delight" popular again, we're at war and threes are certainly the Fighting Illini's best company right now. Bunches of them.\nSo does Illinois actually have a legitimate chance of running the table and staying undefeated through the entire season? Well, the odds are certainly not in their favor. Thirteen teams have gone undefeated during the season only to have their streak and season end in the tournament since the Hoosiers 1975-76 run. \nBut a record like this isn't impossible to attain, and the Illini have passed their biggest tests of the season rather easily so far. When Wake Forest was No. 1, Illinois smashed it by 18 points. The Illini also ran over a ranked Cincinnati team 67-45 in Las Vegas in December.\nThey were supposed to lose Jan. 25 against a Wisconsin team who had the nation's longest home winning streak at 38 games. They didn't. When they went into East Lansing Tuesday to play the No. 10 ranked MSU team, it was supposed to be a game. It wasn't. At one point in the second half, Illinois made 12 straight shots that spanned more than 10 minutes. I repeat, 12 straight shots. That's like a "Full House" episode ending sans a life lesson from Danny Tanner -- it just doesn't happen.\nThe thing that makes the Illini so good is that they are unselfish players who share the ball. The Illini don't have one player to look to in the clutch, they have a whole slew of them. Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head are all major scoring threats that can create plays for themselves and each other. They look to pick up the assist to the open man and not hog the ball for themselves. Four of Illinois' five starters have been named Big Ten players of the week. The Illini currently rank first in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage (50.1) and three-point shooting percentage (40.7). \nAfter being called underdogs for both the Wisconsin and MSU games, the Illini are looking for the respect they deserve. "I don't know what else we have to do to be favored," Deron Williams told the Daily Illini after the MSU game. "We are No. 1."\nWilliams is right, but most analysts still aren't giving the nod to the Illini for their champ this year. The Tar Heels of North Carolina are the favorite choice, and it's easy to see why. They have arguably the most talented squad in the nation with their stellar backcourt duo of Rashad McCants and Raymond Felton and Bloomington's own big man Sean May up-front. They will face a tougher schedule in the ACC than the Illini will in the Big Ten, which should help them once the tournament starts in March. They also lead the nation in points per game with 92.7.\nStill, as of now, I just can't pick against this U of I team. But March is a strange month. Favorites fall, underdogs ruin team's seasons and just when you think you filled out the winning bracket and are going to win your pool, there go two of your final four teams in one night. So the Illini better keep shooting lights out or they'll be No. 14 on the list of failures.

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