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Illini guard trio reminiscent of 'Zona's '97 group


March 30, 2005 | NCAA Tournament coverage on ESPN.com

Big men such as Kevin Garnett, Kwame Brown, Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler and Dwight Howard have all gone straight from high school to the NBA in recent years – and we've seen a change to guard-oriented play in the college ranks.

Teams today better be able to perform on the perimeter, especially with the 3-point shot so important in the NCAA Tournament.

Dee Brown
Shout it out, baby! Illinois guard Dee Brown and his backcourt mates are ready for the Final Four.
Just look at West Virginia's 3-point performance in the Big Dance: The Mountaineers made 18 of 27 trifectas (66.7 percent) in their 93-85 overtime loss to Louisville in the Elite Eight.

And does anybody excel on the perimeter more than Illinois? Do you think the Illini would be in the Final Four with a 36-1 record if it weren't for juniors Deron Williams and Dee Brown and senior Luther Head?

Illinois' super trio has been reminiscent of Arizona's 1997 group of Miles Simon, Mike Bibby and Michael Dickerson. With Jason Terry helping off the bench, those Wildcats had their own Fab Four on the perimeter (remember, Arizona won it all in '97).

Without question, backcourt play will be important for every team in St. Louis.

Louisville has senior Larry O'Bannon and junior Taquan Dean, who are solid players indeed, on the perimeter. Junior Francisco Garcia is multi-talented, so the exterior is well-covered by coach Rick Pitino's club.

North Carolina has one of the nation's premier point guards, junior Raymond Felton. He effectively runs the ball up court in transition and shows his superb quickness by creating opportunities for his teammates. Felton also can penetrate and create his own scoring chances, while junior Rashad McCants is Mr. Versatility as an offensive weapon.

Michigan State features the quickness of sophomore Shannon Brown, who scored a career-high 24 points against Kentucky. Diaper dandy Drew Neitzel has made a difference as a ball handler and distributor of the rock.

The Spartans have three seniors who can rotate on the perimeter. Alan Anderson is multi-dimensional and Kelvin Torbert is tough and experienced, while Chris Hill needs to rebuild his confidence in his outside shot. Overall, Michigan State is set on the perimeter.

There's no doubt that outstanding guard play will be essential in St. Louis. Yes, some talented big men will be at the Final Four, but the national title will probably be determined by the perimeter players who perform the best.

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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