Posted: Monday April 4, 2005 1:31PM; Updated: Monday April 4, 2005 1:31PM
Illinois Dee Brown has met his match in UNC's Raymond Felton.
David E. Klutho/SI
Illinois (37-1) vs. North Carolina (32-4) Monday, 9:21 p.m. EST, CBS Edward Jones Dome (46,469)
This is the game everyone has wanted all season and is the most highly anticipated NCAA final in 30 years. North Carolina has an edge in talent, but Illinois has been the best team all season. In a fitting end to a fantastic tournament, this battle of heavyweights should live up to the billing and could come down to the final possession.
Williams is the smartest point guard in college basketball and as unselfish as they come. He puts his teammates in a position to score and rarely takes a bad shot or makes a poor pass. In the win over Louisville, he scored only five points, but was brilliant with nine assists and took over when the game was tight. Williams is also the Illini's defensive stopper and his efforts in shutting down Arizona's Salim Stoudamire and Louisville's Francisco Garcia in the past two games were remarkable. Williams will start on McCants in this game, and should be able to contain the Tar Heels' explosive scorer.
You never know which player you're going to see when McCants takes the floor. The one who can dominate a game, or the one who forces shots and fades into the background. Against Williams, McCants can't afford to lose his head. There aren't going to be many easy shots and Williams will play him tight and physical. McCants has played under control lately and must continue that trend against Illinois, while staying aggressive and trying to get Williams in foul trouble.
Illinois' Dee Brown Jr., 6-0, 185 Stats: 13.3 points, 4.5 assists
There are few players who are as quick as Brown, but in Felton, Brown may have his match. Brown must have a stellar game on both ends and can't afford any silly fouls. He will also have to work harder for his shots and won't be able to sit back and hit open 3s. The Illini will benefit from having two point guards on the floor and Brown will be called on to make things happen by penetrating in the lane.
When Felton is on his game, the Tar Heels are difficult to beat. He's the perfect quarterback for North Carolina's secondary break and creates so many easy baskets for his teammates with his ability to break down the defense. He also brings another dimension shooting the 3-pointer. But he often plays too fast and can't afford to play out of control. Illinois will force mistakes, but for North Carolina to win, Felton has to keep them to a minimum.
Illinois' go-to scorer and best outside shooter, Head can light it up in a hurry. After scoring just six points in the first half against Louisville, Head exploded for 16 in the second and helped Illinois take control. He must continue to be aggressive and pick up screens because Jackie Manuel is the best defender he's seen all season. On the defensive end, Head may be called on to guard Felton and must keep the speedy point guard in front of him.
Manual's instructions are simple: shut down Head. Manuel has been counted on for his defense all season and must force Head to put the ball on the floor and go to the basket. If Manuel can avoid foul trouble and neutralize Head, Carolina will be in good shape. That won't be easy.