- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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Illinois was protected just like it should have been in the Chicago region. The Illini will play in Indianapolis to start the tournament and then likely move on to Chicago and possibly down to St. Louis for the Final Four.
But the Illini won't have an easy run to the Final Four. Alabama was a giant killer last year in taking out Stanford. The Tide has a shot to cause problems for the Illini, too. Illinois and Boston College were the story for much of the first half of the season and they're both in this region and set up for a possible Sweet 16 matchup if the Eagles can get past Alabama.
The committee did take care of the mid-major in this bracket -- putting Southern Illinois in as a No. 7 against Saint Mary's as a No. 10.
Strength of Region
The region has two teams that were discussed as possible No. 1 seeds in addition to Illinois.
Arizona might have earned a top seed had it won the Pac-10 tournament title. Oklahoma State could have been a No. 1 had it beaten Kansas and/or Texas in the previous weeks.
Boston College was also in the discussion for a possible No. 1 seed at one point yet the Eagles dropped down to a No. 4. Instead of playing in Worcester, Mass., they head to Cleveland. LSU also is dangerous. The Tigers have the SEC player of the year in Brandon Bass and the top freshman in Glen Davis.
No. 7 Southern Illinois vs. No. 10 Saint Mary's
The committee put together an intriguing matchup with these two teams. The Salukis have been a solid NCAA team all season while the Gaels made their case in the WCC. There are outstanding guards in this game in Darren Brooks for the Salukis and Paul Marigney for the Gaels. The winner probably won't get past Oklahoma State but they both have the confidence to advance.
No. 6 LSU vs. No. 11 UAB
This should be a wild affair. Both teams want to get up and run when they have the opportunity. The Blazers don't have the inside game to stop Bass and Davis but they could try to get them into a faster-paced tempo. This could end up being one of the most entertaining games of the first round.
No. 12 UW-Milwaukee vs. No. 5 Alabama
The Panthers came close two years ago. Alabama has the talent to get to the Final Four but the Tide has also proven to be vulnerable this season. The Panthers probably don't have the second and third scorers to hang with the Tide but Bruce Pearl will want to press and trap and try to cause them fits.
Player to Watch
Salim Stoudamire, Arizona
Stoudamire is shooting the ball well enough to carry the Wildcats back to the Final Four. If he's on then the Wildcats could pull off the surprise and beat Illinois. He's doing everything right since Jan. 1. He wasn't able to close out Washington but he's doing everything he can to carry this team on his shoulders.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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