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North Carolina is the Vegas favorite, and rightfully so, I think.

See, this is exactly the sort of thing that grates on those of us who don't live in ACC-land.

The Illini have lost exactly one game this year, by one point, on a three-point shot with under six seconds to go. They're 37-1 and have an average margin of victory of about 17 points. It's hard to imagine how they could have played any better this year. They caught some flack for playing in a "down" conference, yet the Big Ten has requited themselves exceptionally well in the NCAA tourney (top 3 teams in the Elite 8). In notable non-conference games they beat Wake Forest by 18 (and it wasn't that close), Gonzaga by 17, and Cincinnati by 22. Against Top 25 teams this season they went 9-0 with an average margin of victory of 13.1 points.

By contrast, North Carolina went 7-3 against ranked opponents, with an average victory margin of 5 points. Against common opponents, the Illini were 9-0 with a 13.6 point average margin, North Carolina was 5-1 with a 9.7 point margin. Even if I strip away the "extra" games U of I played against Big Ten opponents of UNC and take the Illini's worst effort against those teams, I wind up with Illini 6-0 against common opponents, with an average margin of 15 points.

And, even if I subtract out Wake Forest (who Illinois destroyed, but who UNC lost to by 13 points), I STILL wind up with both teams going 5-0 against all other common opponents (again, choosing Illinois' worst game if they played more than one against a "common opponent"), with an average victory margin of 14.4 compared to UNC's 14.2.

Now, I don't mean to knock North Carolina. They're a great team with some great players who has played a superb season. But as someone who's wathced as U of I has so far put together a season that ranks with the best of the last 15 years at least, I have to wonder...

"Why the heck aren't they at least favored in the Championship game? What do they have to do to earn some respect?"

I mean, it appears that U of I has to beat UNC to show that they really did deserve that number one ranking, that it's not just a fluke. Argh! Again, I have nothing against UNC in general and think they've had a great season, but so far U of I has been the better team this year. Not that UNC can't beat them (they sure as heck can!), but fer cryin' out loud, what would U of I have to do to actually be favored in this game?

Which might explain why some of us make comments about the general East Coast bias in college hoops reporting. The ACC is a damn fine conference, and so is the Big East, but it seems that if you're playing outside of there you're the underdog no matter how well you play.

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