Who knew college basketball players were so good at holding a grudge?
Illinois fans have one big reason for hating North Carolina, and it goes beyond the school's hiring of Roy Williams from Kansas, which in turn caused Kansas to nip rising star Bill Self from Illinois. No, this one happened on the floor: North Carolina beat Illinois in the 2005 NCAA tournament title game, a game that was supposed to be the culmination of Illinois' brilliant 37-1 season. Instead, the Illini finished 37-2, and Illinois fans long desperate for a national title banner were left to rebuild yet again. (Hanging Final Four banners -- Illinois has five in the rafters at Assembly Hall -- isn't nearly as fun as the alternative.)
So, sure, Illinois fans probably don't like North Carolina. But who knew Illinois' players -- none of whom were around in 2004-05 -- would be feeling the hate so acutely? Via excellent Chicago Tribune Illini beat reporter Chris Hine, the Illini are taking this one personally:
"We have to stick up for the guys that came before us and try to steal one back for us," senior Bill Cole said. "Because we feel like they stole one from the program in 2005, so we're going to go try and hit them right back."
Senior guard Demetri McCamey said the game was "personal."
"Looking back, knowing that's the school you were going to, seeing them lose the championship, you get the feeling, 'If I was playing, we would have won,'" McCamey said.
One quick correction for Demetri: You're awfully good, but that team had Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head. You wouldn't have been playing. If you had, Illinois wouldn't have won. Just so we're clear.
Still, for those living outside the Champaign-Chicago Illini hoops nexus, be advised. Apparently, Tuesday night's ACC-Big Ten Challenge matchup is about more than the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. It's about more than a quality nonconference win. Heck, it's about more than this season. Apparently, there's an old score to settle, and while I'm not sure how winning a game against a young, unranked North Carolina team in November of 2010 counts as revenge for a runner-up finish, whatever. If it means even more intensity inside Assembly Hall, I'm all for it.