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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT

The First Look

March 10, 1997

USC (17-10) vs. Illinois (21-9)

East Regional, Charlotte, N.C.

Friday, TBA

* USC AT A GLANCE: This is somewhat uncharted territory for the 11th-seeded Trojans, who did not think they would make it in the tournament even the day the NCAA pairings were announced, and have not made the field since 1992. A 7-3 record in its final 10 games is likely what got USC in, and victories over Arizona, Stanford, California and at Oregon in conference helped. And, defeating North Carolina Charlotte early in the season looked good after its strong finish.

* ILLINOIS AT A GLANCE: Ranked No. 15 and among the nation's top 20 for four consecutive weeks, the Fighting Illini earned its No. 6 seeding with a 5-2 record against ranked opponents. They tied for fourth in the Big Ten with Wisconsin after losing to Purdue in the season finale. Victories over UCLA and Minnesota impressed the committee as both are now in the top 10. Also, went 7-3 to end the season.

USC PROBABLE STARTERS

F Gary Williams (6-7, 230) No. 3

F Stais Boseman (6-4, 200) No. 35

C David Crouse (6-11, 245) No. 41

G R. Rhodes (6-6, 220) No. 12

G Elias Ayuso (6-2, 195) No. 20

USC RESERVES

F Jaha Wilson (6-5, 210) No. 24

F Jarvis Turner (6-8, 215) No. 21

G Gary Johnson (6-0, 170) No. 5

G Danny Walker (6-1, 190) No. 33

USC runs more of a three-guard set than a true lineup, with Stais Boseman (16 points per game), Elias Ayuso, and Roderick Rhodes (12.0, four assists a game), who lately has been coming off the bench as a quicker defender, Gary Johnson, starts. Ayuso is the team's top three-point shooter (40%), but has been struggling of late and more minutes have gone to Danny Walker. David Crouse and Gary Williams know their roles, and when he is not in foul trouble Crouse (9.0, 5.4 rebounds) has proven capable in the middle.

Jaha Wilson is the team's third-leading scorer (10.7) and it's leading rebounder (6.3), and its most valuable reserve. Walker is nearly 100% after knee surgery in Jan. and gives the team another outside shooter. The coaching staff loves Jarvis Turner's athleticism but he is forever in foul trouble with spurts like Saturday against Washington, when he picked up three fouls in 2:15.

ILLINOIS PROBABLE STARTERS

F Kevin Turner (6-2, 162) No. 33

F Chris Gandy (6-9, 207) No. 45

C Jarrod Gee (6-8, 230) No. 32

G Matt Heldman (6-0, 180) No. 21

G Kiwane Garris (6-3, 195) No. 22

ILLINOIS KEY RESERVES

F Bryant Notree (6-5, 205) No. 25

F Brian Johnson (6-6, 196) No. 34

F Chukwudebe (6-7, 230) No. 00

Like USC, Illinois features more of a three-guard lineup, with the superb Kiwane Garris (19.2, 5.4 assists) leading the charge. He is one of the best point guards in the nation and the Fighting Illini have looked best when he on his game, he also was the main reason Illinois has the best turnover margin (+5.34)in the Big Ten. Chris Gandy (10.6, 5.3 rebounds) is the next scoring option, and also must supply some rebounding along with Jarrod Gee (6.3, 3.9 rebounds) for an undersized front line. Matt Heldman and Kevin Turner are the three-point shooters, both at 40%.

Bryant Notree (8.3, 3.7 rebounds) is athletic and can be a tough defender if he is motivated. Johnson and Victory Chukwudebe are there to help with the rebounding and to supply fouls, and let the guards and Gandy take the shots.

* GUARDS: Boseman is a great one-on-one defender and will have to be against Garris. Their matchup may be one of the best of the Southeast region's first-round games. When USC gets Rhodes breaking down defenses, Ayuso or Walker making outside shots, and Boseman slashing it has an edge over almost any back court. Garris is probably the best scoring point guard USC has faced but his supporting cast is lesser than Boseman's.

* FORWARDS: Gandy is a scorer, something USC lacks at either the power or small forward slots. The Trojans fill both positions with the undersized but gritty Jaha Wilson, foul-prone Turner and Williams, who deserves more credit. But Illinois is deep and has Gandy and more on the offensive end.

* CENTERS: If USC has a clear edge it is in the middle where Crouse is bigger than Gee and more of a true pivotman. He has played well of late and should not have trouble getting up for a tournament game as motivation was a problem early in the season.

* INTANGIBLES: USC is making its first tournament appearance since 1992, and only Rhodes has experience, and even that is iffy because he played terrible in the postseason while at Kentucky. Illinois made the field in 1995 with primarily the same players and was in the NIT last season.

* COACHING: Lon Kruger took Florida to the Final Four in 1994 and like USC's Henry Bibby got the program turned around in one year. He is 8-6 in the NCAA tournament, which is 14 tournament games more than Bibby has coached. Both have their teams overachieving, and Kruger is the surest bet to keep that going in the tournament.

* THE PICK: Rhodes could be the difference for USC. He scored over 30 in the last two games and proved unstoppable when he asserts himself. Yet, the Big Ten's abysmal tournament record the past two seasons didn't include a Kruger coached team, and despite winning three of its last four, Bibby admitted his team wasn't playing its best basketball, meaning Illinois is the safe pick.

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