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Vitale: Illinois eyes ride to Final Four

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Elite Eight preview: Pitino eyes historic win


March 25, 2005 | NCAA Tournament coverage on ESPN.com

Wow, I can't wait for the Chicago and Albuquerque regional finals on Saturday. Two berths in the Final Four are on the line – yes, this weekend we'll find out who's going to St. Louis, baby! Here's my breakdown of the two games (team's seed in parentheses):

This game is a rematch of a 2001 regional final, when No. 2-seed Arizona beat No. 1-seed Illinois 87-71 in San Antonio. The Wildcats are a No. 3 seed this year, but they want the same upset result.

Lute Olson
Lute Olson
The Illinois backcourt is the envy of a lot of NBA teams – that's how good the trio of junior Dee Brown, junior Deron Williams and senior Luther Head is. Those three and the Chicago crowd give Illinois the edge.

There is also balance in the Illini's starting five. On any given night, those guys are all capable of scoring 20 for coach Bruce Weber. Junior big man James Augustine has been underrated.

It's the bench that has to come through a little more. Guys such as sophomore Rich McBride and seniors Jack Ingram and Nick Smith did little against Wisconsin-Milwaukee. They need to produce against the Wildcats.

Arizona coach Lute Olson got some production out of junior Chris Rodgers and freshman Jawann McClellan against Oklahoma State. Senior guard Salim Stoudamire goes to another level late in games – he wants the ball in his hand at crunch time. He showed his clutch play again by hitting the winner against Oklahoma State. Senior center Channing Frye has to excel inside against the Illini.

Illinois is trying to make its first Final Four since 1989. Arizona last made it in 2001.

The Cardinals figure to be too tough inside. Junior Francisco Garcia, senior Ellis Myles and freshman Juan Diego Palacios will be key versus the Mountaineers.

Rick Pitino
Rick Pitino
Junior guard Taquan Dean has an ankle injury, but he's a tough kid, having overcome the adversity of losing his mom, grandparents and uncle over the years. Dean is a major reason Louisville is in the Elite Eight.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino measures each situation and adjusts and adapts. Change – and the ability to handle it – is key for him. He is one win away from being the first coach to take three schools to the Final Four.

Pitino led Providence to the Final Four in 1987, and his Kentucky Wildcats won the national championship in 1996 (they fell just short in the 1997 title game).

West Virginia coach John Beilein also has done an amazing job. His motion-like offense makes the Mountaineers dangerous. Plus, they have the ability to step back and hit the trifecta.

Junior center Kevin Pittsnogle has been key for West Virginia. He scored a team-high 22 points in the Sweet 16 victory over Texas Tech.

The Cardinals are looking to reach their first Final Four since winning it all in 1986. West Virginia's last Final Four was in 1959, when the Mountaineers (led by Hall of Famer Jerry West) lost in the title game to California, 71-70.

Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question to Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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