Elite Eight - 2001 vs. 2003
This is the kind of thing I was trying to avoid. "Would Brian Cook be able to guard... Brian Cook?" All of the teams in this bracket were at least two years apart, but it was impossible to avoid matchups like this. Perhaps I should have manipulated the seeding so that this side of the bracket would be 2001 vs. 1981 and then 1989 vs 2003. I guess I'm too fair and balanced to ever serve on the Committee.
(Can you IMAGINE me on the committee? "I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but I do not see how 28-4 Missouri is anything better than a 10-seed. If in the field at all. WHO HAVE THEY PLAYED?")
This is still a fun matchup, though. Brian Cook and Sean Harrington are on both teams, so this is more "which group was better around them? Frankie-Sergio-Marcus-Arch or Dee-Deron-Luther-Augie?".
Which says to me that this is a great example of how teams need to grow and develop over time. On paper, Dee-Deron-Luther-Roger-Augie-Cook-Harrington is the greatest Illini team of all time. But freshman Dee, Deron, and Augie (plus sophomore Luther and Rog) are completely different players than junior Dee, Deron, and Augie plus senior Luther and Rog. Just like freshman Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo will be completely different players once they're junior Adam Miller and junior Andre Curbelo. The key to college basketball - get Ayos and Derons for a second and third year and get Rogers and Luthers for four years.
OK I'm off track. Let's look at this matchup:
2001 breakdown was found in this post.
2003 breakdown was found in this post.
It sticks out, right? If this contest was "choose between these two rosters", 2003 wins the whole thing hands down. Take the only Illini team to ever make the title game and ADD BRIAN COOK. Actually, that's probably not true. The winner is probably 1987. On that roster (if we're just going by "players on the bench") you're combining Ken Norman, Doug Altenberger, and Tony Wysinger with Nick Anderson, Kenny Battle, Kendall Gill, and Lowell Hamilton. Maybe that should be the battle royale here. 1987 vs. 2003. Some of 1989 and 1984 combined into a superteam vs. some of 2001 and some of 2005 combined as a superteam. That's it - shut the bracket down. Let's vote on the 2003 roster vs. the 1987 roster.
The matchup in front of us is an interesting one because it's hard to think of freshman Deron Williams. We only think of junior Deron Williams. So when we talk about the Williams matchup (Frankie vs. Deron), we need to see it as the Big Ten Player of the Year vs. a freshman who averaged 6 ppg. It's not the guy chosen 3rd in the 2005 draft vs. the guy chosen 25th in the 2002 draft. It's redshirt sophomore Frank vs. true freshman Deron.
Same with all of the other matchups. Griffin v. Augustine. Dee v. Cory. If it's 2006, Dee and Augie dominate. But it's 2003.
Both teams had deep benches as well, with, again, experience being the difference. 2001 had a solid five starters plus Robert Archibald, Sean Harrington, Lucas Johnson, and Damir Krupalija off the bench. 2003 had Harrington as well plus Roger Powell, Luther Head, and Blandon Ferguson.
Perhaps the best way to paint this is age. In a rotation of nine players, here were the two teams.
2001: 2 seniors, 4 juniors, 3 sophomores
2003: 3 seniors (Blandon Ferguson a second year juco transfer), 3 sophomores, 3 freshmen
OK, so let's vote. Do that here. And then check again this evening for the other matchup, 1981 vs. 1989.