All of a sudden the University of Illinois basketball team...number one in just about everybody's mind all year...is the second choice of the Las Vegas oddsmakers. Many a pundit in the media has also now jumped on the North Carolina bandwagon.
The miraculous comeback to beat Arizona was apparently accomplished by a team that suddenly is incapable of living up to its expectations. Were fatal weaknesses exposed that hadn't been there before? Did Deron Williams suffer a season-ending injury? Did Bruce Weber's screachy voicebox stop working altogether? Did Billy Murray's presence at the game in Chicago cast them as "Caddyshack" loveable losers? Did North Carolina pick up Shaquille O'Neal for the rest of the tournament? You know the answer.
So, what's different? I guess the Illini came too close to losing Saturday night for the betting crowd. Being down 15 with 4 minutes left certainly shows a capacity to come out on the losing end of a score. But, at the same time, they didn't come back to beat the St. Mary's 7th grade girls team. They did it against Ari-freakin-zona!! If North Carolina had pulled a similar comeback against Wisconsin would the shoe be on the other foot? The Tar Heels haven't exactly been blowing out the opposition in this tournament either.
Don't get me wrong, I totally understand the whys and hows of Vegas investing. Many are moving their money to what they consider a more secure place. I don't bet on such things. So I'm certainly more comfortable with my heart in the Illini corner. For the sake of Bruce Weber, and other nice-guy coaches everywhere, I hope the Fighting Illini are cutting the nets down at the Jones Dome Monday night.