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Illinois got the 'W,' but UNC gained confidence

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

Nov. 29, 2005

Both Illinois and North Carolina gained a lot from their ACC/Big Ten Challenge game Tuesday night.

Bruce Weber's Illini got an important "W" on the road. Roy Williams' squad gained confidence and experience against a tough, top-15 opponent.

Dee Brown
Dicky V says once Dee Brown is up to full strength for the Illini, watch out!

Illinois is a lot better than I thought. When the Illini get in sync, understand each other and learn to commit defensively, they will be an upper echelon Big Ten team for sure. They have active players on the baseline and the combination of Dee Brown and James Augustine is a tandem that knows about winning.

Yes, my friends, after almost losing a 14-point lead, Illinois got to the winner's circle because of experience and some clutch free-throw shooting from Mr. Brown, a member of my preseason All-Solid Gold team. Remember, Brown missed a lot of practice time after suffering a broken foot in the NBA predraft camp.

Once Brown is in top condition, watch out! Brian Randle, Shaun Pruitt and Warren Carter give muscle along the baseline. This is a very active squad, tough on the glass. Weber has a nice combination of experience and youth.

I loved the atmosphere at the Dean Dome as the fans were really into the game. In Blue Heaven, this Carolina unit hustles, scraps and claws, doing everything Williams wants. The lack of experience, the inability to hit the trifecta much of the night, and problems on the foul line proved costly.

The bottom line is North Carolina will be up and down because of its youth. There will be some nights when the Tar Heels stun some people, and other times when they fall to teams they should beat. The fact that the Tar Heels came back from a 64-50 deficit to make it a Maalox Masher bodes well. It was a confidence booster for sure.

Tar Heels fans already love Tyler Hansbrough for his work ethic and determination. He is already a special player, who will get better and better.

Marcus Ginyard was better than advertised. Known for his defensive ability, he also has offensive moves that were impressive. Bobby Frasor won't wow you with super quickness but he understands how to play the game. David Noel is the veteran leader who has to step up; he went from the seventh option to the first.

Williams will learn about his team this weekend when it visits Kentucky. The Tar Heels should be more confident, and given their schedule, I would not be surprised to see them 8-2 through 10 games.

While Illinois came out with the "W" on the scoreboard, Williams' team gained a lot with this experience.

Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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