Anyone who knows me knows I love where I come from – Chicago. I’m not here to talk about the pathetic Bears, the declining Cubs or even the up and coming Bulls. Instead, the topic at hand is a school where anyone else from Chicago could attend – the University of Illinois.At 17-0, the Fighting Illini men’s basketball team is the No. 1 team in the nation. Not because I say they are, not because you say they are, but because every major poll in the country says so. Dee Brown, Luther Head and Deron Williams make up one of, if not the best, 3-guard tandems in America. Each is scoring in double figures with Head leading the way with 15.6 points a game. In the words of Detroit Pistons head coach Larry Brown, the Fighting Illini “play the game the right way.” Their style of play involves sharing the ball and getting out on the break, a style that resembles another leading team, the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. In what seems to be the resurgence of the Showtime era, it appears that the teams that can finish on fast break opportunities are the ones enjoying all the success. Illinois is a team that flies across the top of the radar but continues to be scrutinized. Some claim that it may possibly be overrated because it’s not in the almighty ACC. After all, anyone who makes that argument will point to the fact that the ACC does have four teams in the Top 25. It’s true, Illinois won’t see the likes of powerhouses North Carolina or Duke in the regular season. But let’s not forget that Illinois did give it to former No. 1 Wake Forest 91-73 on Dec. 1. Like any debate, the opposition has constantly had one more excuse: Illinois won the game at home. Since when has it mattered where you got the win? As far as I’m concerned, a win is a win.Illinois is a legitimate contender for the national title for a number of reasons. First, its quickness cannot be matched by anyone. I compare the quickness of Illinois to Rip Hamilton of the Detroit Pistons. Constantly moving without the ball, every player understands his role in confusing the defense with moving without the ball. There doesn’t appear to be a team that the Fighting Illini can’t wear down. So you better at least be the second best conditioned team in the nation when you face Illinois because that number one spot is already occupied. Another reason is the emergence of senior forward Roger Powell Jr. His 12.8 points and 5.1 rebounds, along with a muscle presence down low, has demanded the respect of opponents. I understand this is college basketball and the biggest upset your mind can fathom is never too far from reality. But it’s never too early to pick a team to ride with, especially when no one else in the nation has been able to touch them thus far.
LeMont Calloway is a junior newspaper journalism student from Chicago. He is the deputy sports editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.