Thursday, March 24, 2005

Sweet, Sweet Sixteen

The Illini and the Wildcats swing back into action today and tomorrow (respectively) ... along with 14 other teams, of course, in the NCAA regional semifinals. The games for both teams feature a great deal of historical baggage, some lurid, some memorable.

On the lurid side, the Illini take on Wisconsin-Milwaukee, coached by Bruce Pearl. Pearl still stands as the Great Satan to Illini fans with a long enough memory. It was Pearl, as an assistant coach at Iowa, who infamously (and illegally?) taped a phone conversation with 18-year-old recruit Deon Thomas during which Thomas made statements regarding inducements from Illinois to enroll in Champaign. Pearl promptly turned these tapes over to the NCAA, which launched an investigation.

Thomas later recanted this story, claiming that he merely wanted to remove himself from an increasingly uncomfortable conversation with Pearl. This was later borne out by the extensive and expensive NCAA investigation (most of the expense shouldered by The University of Illinois, of course) which found no evidence of wrongdoing. This, however, did not keep Chuck Smrt and his bullyboys from throwing two years of probation at the Illini for a nebulous charge of "lack of institutional control."

As Mark Tupper relates in this article, "The arrogance of the NCAA came to a head when sanctions were announced. Chuck Smrt, the NCAA director of enforcement, was asked how the NCAA could justify such harsh sanctions when the organization ruled "not guilty" on all major allegations. His comment still rings with absurd arrogance and convoluted logic. 'We believe the Committee (of Infractions) did not say the allegations were false, but they did not find that they were true.'"

While the national press still has a hard time understanding the long memories of Illini fans for this Pearl person, same Illini fans could hardly care less about the understanding of the national press. The boos will ring out long and loud from the Illini faithful tonight in Rosemont, and I say let them ring! BOOOOOO! BOOOOOOO!

The other history culminates tomorrow night at the Ervin Center in Austin, Texas as Kentucky takes on Utah. The history consists of the remarkable number of NCAA meetings between these two teams over the past dozen years.

Here's the rundown:

3/21/1993 - Kentucky 83 Utah 62 - NCAA Southeast Regional 2nd Round
3/21/1996 - Kentucky 101 Utah 70 - NCAA Midwest Regional Semifinal
3/22/1997 - Kentucky 72 Utah 59 - NCAA West Regional Final
3/30/1998 - Kentucky 78 Utah 69 - NCAA Championship
3/23/2003 - Kentucky 74 Utah 54 - NCAA Midwest Regional 2nd Round

Tomorrow's game will make it 6 NCAA tournament meetings since 1993. I haven't researched it, but I can't imagine that any other matchup has recurred with anywhere near that regularity. At the same time, if history is a guide, this certainly doesn't appear to be a matchup that Kentucky should fear. That's a 5-0 record, with an average victory margin of 18.8 points. Let's hope that history is not bunk, Henry Ford.


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