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Fighting for recognition

Wisconsin standing in way of Illinois' perfect season

Posted: Tuesday January 25, 2005 3:40PM; Updated: Tuesday January 25, 2005 5:48PM
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Roger Powell
Roger Powell averages 12.7 points per game for the top-ranked Illini.

Question: Who are James Augustine, Roger Powell, Luther Head, Deron Williams and Dee Brown?

The answer, if you happen to be a college hoops writer, is obvious. But most of the rest of us don't recognize those names immediately, and that goes for everyone from the passionate sports fan (defined as someone who reads this column) to the casual sports fan (defined as someone who writes this column).

Honestly, minus a Google search, would you bet $100 that these five aren't the male members of the "street smarts" team on The Apprentice 3? This quintet could hardly be more anonymous if they entered a 12-step program.

As it happens -- and as anyone from both Champaign and Urbana will tell you -- Messrs. Augustine, Powell, Head, Williams and Brown comprise the starting five of the undefeated, top-ranked University of Illinois basketball team.

Let's face it, you don't know the head coach's name, either: Bruce Weber.

Weber, in his second year with the Illini, has done a pretty decent job. Last year he led Illinois to 26 wins and the Big Ten title, the school's first outright league title in 52 years. A pretty decent job. Seriously, after such a fantastic start where could Weber go from there?

Up, it turns out. With forwards Head and Powell, center Augustine, and guards Brown (who goes by Dee as opposed to his given name, Daniel, and is the closest thing the Illini have to a recognizable name) and Williams starting every game together, the Illini have reeled off 19 consecutive W's entering tonight's match-up at Wisconsin.

You don't hear much about Illinois, or about its all-upperclassmen (three juniors, two seniors) starting five. ESPN, to its credit, nationally televised its overtime nail-biter win against Iowa last week. The entire lower bowl of Assembly Hall was clad in orange -- the Orange Krush, they're called -- and it was the type of evening that can propel a program to another stratum (or level, I just felt like using an SAT word there.)

Tonight's contest in Madison is another stratum-climber. No. 18 Wisconsin (13-3) has the nation's longest home winning streak at 38 games. The Kohl Center will be at Angus Young-volume. If the well-rested Illini can slip past the Badgers, they'll face only one more school currently ranked in the top 20 (No. 15 Michigan State next Tuesday in East Lansing) before the Big Ten tournament.

Entering your postseason tournament undefeated is not particularly important -- ask Saint Joe's -- but it does bolster confidence and galvanize media attention. Come March it would be nice to identify the season-long starting five of what very well could be the nation's top-ranked and only undefeated team. It would be nice if the average fan could pick this lineup out of a lineup.