We all know Dee Brown is a straight-up warrior who is probably pissed that he's back for his senior year, definitely a good thing, and we all know James Augustine is a steady inside force who proabably hasn't even neared his potential yet.
Everyone knows that.
It's the rest of the Illini cast that currently carry no-name status. It's the guys who mostly sat on the bench last season and watched the starters march to the title game. It's those
guys everyone wants to know about.
The no-names. Richard McBride, Brian Randle, Shaun Pruitt, Marcus Arnold, Warren Carter and Calvin Brock. They all had a firsthand view of last year's joy ride, even if we rarely saw them. Now they're all getting minutes. Toss in true freshmen Chester Frazier and Jamar Smith and you have the rest of the puzzle.
They're all no-names. They all have something to prove.
So far? None too shabby. They're 6-0 and last night they beat North Carolina 68-64 in the very raucous and very light blue Dean Dome, never an easy task.
This is what I loved about the win: The Illini followed the exact same pattern to victory that was their hallmark last year, even if they almost lost the plot near the end before catching themsleves.
Last year's team often played competitive first-halves, building a minimal lead that slowly but surely got bigger. Then, by midway through most second-halves, you'd check the scoreboard and they'd be up by, say, 14 points, maybe more. Usually more. It was methodical and machine-like. They slowly gutted opponents, always mechanically builing on the lead, always. They rarely trailed. It was like clockwork and deadly.
Last night the "new" Illini - Brown, Augustine and the the No-Names - also built a 14-point lead midway through the second half. It was deja vu all over again. They followed the pattern and got right where they needed to be. On the road. In the Dean Dome. With Dick Vitale verbally fellating all that is North Carolina basketball only steps away.
And up 14.
They took the lead when Randle hit a trey to open the second half. They never trailed again.
Last year's pupils were utilizing their lessons well.
The bench as classroom.
Of course, they let the lead slip to a mere two points before sealing the win, but they're not yet masters. That will have to improve, and will. A killer instinct will come in time for a young team that was taking its first step into the bright lights this season.
Last year's team would never have let that happen. They would have kept stretching that lead like killers who don't care. This year's team will have to learn to do the same.
And when they do, we'll all know all of their names.