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Illinois Fighting Illini

1. Breaking The Social Contract. In a season that was riddled with repeated freak injuries and the thank-God-we-might-not-have-to-talk-about-the-Chief-anymore madness, the most bizarre story was the late-season car crash involving guard Jamar Smith and center Brian Carlwell. In case you've been fortunate enough to forget, during a severe ice storm, Smith — who was later discovered to have been drunk — skidded across the road and crashed into a tree, destroying his car and knocking Carlwell out. Smith, rather than call the police, drove the car home and went inside his apartment. Why? Because he thought Carlwell was dead. (Carlwell spent nearly a week in the hospital in critical condition; the police only knew about the incident because one of Smith's neighbors saw the car and called 911.) I'll say this: If one of my friends knocks me out in a car crash and leaves me for dead in the car (during an ice storm), it's unlikely we are going to remain friends.


2. This Is Not A Fun Team To Watch. Pity the poor Illini first-round opponent. Not because Illinois is a particularly formidable opponent — they're not — but because they might play the least visually appealing form of basketball in the country. Thing is, kids, Illinois is not an offensively skilled team — to say the least. The Illini have Shawn Pruitt underneath, Warren Carter slashing ... and four guards who either can't dribble, can't shoot or (more often) both. Illinois' defense is as solid as anyone's in the country — Chester Frazier is particularly nettlesome — but if you watched that wretched Big Ten tourney game against Wisconsin, you recognize that all the defense does is make the other team look as, or as nearly, offensively inept as the Illini. This makes for a lot of 53-48 games that are hideous to witness.

3. The Embattled Duck Man. Coach Bruce Weber, who looks, talks and walks like a duck but is not, in fact, a duck, came under considerable fire this year, not just for his team's off-court problems, but also for their lack of cohesion on offense. But considering how much of a shitstorm the season has been in every possible way, it's rather amazing the Illini are in the NCAAs at all. It's a testament to Weber's insistence on frantic defense — which is even more impressive considering Weber was known as an offensive specialist when he came to Illinois — that they could have made it this far. In an odd way, it might have been his best, if most taxing, coaching job yet. Now, about that recruiting ... — Will Leitch

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