Illinois Men’s Basketball missed the NCAA Tournament again this season, marking five years in a row without a bid for the Illini. Since we still have March Madness fever at The Champaign Room, we’re holding our Greatest Illini Men’s Basketball Player Ever Tournament this month, and you’re going to decide the winners.
Today we’re continuing with the Dee Brown Region and its Round of 32. Brown was ranked the tournament’s No. 2 overall seed by our staff.
Check out our preview of each matchup and then vote for which player you think deserves to move on in our bracket to the Sweet 16. Voting will be open for one day.
Player’s seeding is in parentheses. Entire bracket is below.
Dee Brown (1) vs. Donnie Freeman (16)
The Headband. The Braids. The Mouth Guard. The Jersey Pop. The One-Man Fastbreak. Dee needs no introduction or statistics to backup his four legendary seasons in Champaign. Dee Brown was the face of the 2005 Final Four team that lost to UNC in the NCAA title game, and one of the most iconic players in the last 20 years of college basketball. Brown is 4th in school history in career points (1,812), 2nd in career three pointers (299) and steals (231), and 3rd in career assists (674). Brown is the winningest player in Illinois history with 114 victories in his four years. In 2005, Brown was named the Sporting News National Player of the Year, Big Ten Player of the Year and was a consensus First-Team All-American. In 2006 he was a consensus Second-Team All-American while also winning the Bob Cousy Award and the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award.
Donnie Freeman’s jersey hangs in the SFC rafters alongside Dee Brown’s. Freeman, a 6’3” guard, played at Illinois from 1964-66 and left Champaign as the university’s all time leading scorer (he now ranks 16th with 1,449 career points). He is third all time in Illini history in scoring average at 20.1 points per game and 10th in total rebounds (742). Freeman earned First-Team All-American and All-Big Ten honors in 1966 after averaging 27.8 points per game. Freeman would go on to play 9 seasons professionally in the ABA and NBA where he averaged 19 PPG and made 5 All-Star teams.
Dee Brown (1) or Donnie Freeman (16)?
This poll is closed
Dee Brown (1)
Donnie Freeman (16)
Demetri McCamey (8) vs. Brandon Paul (9)
McCamey played four seasons for Bruce Weber and had a tough act to follow. The do-it-all guard led Illinois to two NCAA tournaments from 2008-2011. McCamey was named to the Second-Team All-Big Ten team in 2009 and 2011 and named First-Team All-Big Ten in 2010. He ranks 7th on the Illini career scoring list (1,718), 2nd in assists (733), and 4th in three point field goals made (236). McCamey never made it the NBA but has played all over the globe including the D-League. McCamey now plays in Italy for Fortitudo Bologna.
McCamey’s opponent was a teammate of his in his final two seasons with the Illini. Brandon Paul ranks just behind McCamey on the all time scoring list in 9th with 1,654 points. Paul had many highlight moments during his Illini career, including a buzzer beater against Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament that helped secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament, and a 35 point game in a winning effort in a top-15 matchup at Gonzaga in that same senior season. However, he had no bigger moment than his 43 point game in Champaign to upset #3 Ohio State during his junior season. It is the third highest scoring total an Illinois player has ever put up in a single game. Paul is only the 2nd player in Illinois history with 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists and 100 steals. Paul made two All-Big Ten Third Teams and is currently in his rookie season in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs after bouncing around Europe and the D-league.
Demetri McCamey (8) or Brandon Paul (9)?
This poll is closed
Demetri McCamey (8)
Brandon Paul (9)
James Augustine (5) vs. Efrem Winters (12)
Let’s pivot away from the scoring guards and head to the low post for this matchup. James Augustine was a four year starter and teammate of Dee Brown and was the anchor down low during the magical 2005 season and back to back Big Ten Championships. Augustine is tied with Dee Brown for the most wins in program history with 114. Augustine is Illinois’ all time career leader in rebounds with 1,023, which is 114 more rebounds than second place on that list. Augustine also ranks 6th on the all-time blocked shots list with 139. Augustine was drafted in the second round by the Orlando Magic where he played 27 games over two seasons. Augustine is still playing overseas where he has had very successful professional career.
Efrem Winters played in Champaign from 1983-86 and was a four year starter for Lou Henson. The McDonald’s All-American played on some great Illini teams in the mid-80’s with teammate Bruce Douglas, another Illini great in this tournament. The 6’9” forward’s Illini teams won 20 games every year and made the NCAA Tournament every season. Winters is 3rd on the Illini career rebounding list with 853, 12th in scoring (1,487), and 8th in blocks (103).
James Augustine (5) or Efrem Winters (12)?
This poll is closed
James Augustine (5)
Efrem Winters (12)
Malcolm Hill (4) vs. Roger Powell, Jr. (13)
Malcolm Hill is the most recent player on this list and he led a unique Illini career because he never made it to an NCAA Tournament. However, that doesn’t mean he didn’t cement himself as an all time Illini great. Hill finished his career with 1,850 points, which was good enough to surpass Dee Brown for third all-time. In his junior season Hill led the Illini in points, rebounds, assists, steals and was one-shy of the team lead in blocks. Hill could do it all and had to do it all during his time in Champaign. Hill made two Second-Team All-Big Ten Teams and earned an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention during his sophomore season.
Malcolm Hill is on upset alert as he is going up against the final starter of the 2005 Final Four Team. Roger Powell, Jr. was the starting power forward and not unlike Hill, he could do a little bit of everything. The Rev averaged 9 points and 4 boards for his career and shot 57% from the field for his career which ranks 5th in Illini history. Powell was a two-time All-Big Ten Honorable Mention and was the fourth leading scorer (12 PPG) and second leading rebounder (5.7 RPG) on the national runner-up team. Powell could also take over games and be the team’s best player if the trio of guards needed a break. The most memorable such game,was the Final Four win over Louisville. Powell had 20 points and 5 rebounds on 9-13 shooting in the easy 15 point victory for the Illini. Powell is now a top assistant coach under Bryce Drew at Vanderbilt and has helped secure a top flight 2018 recruiting class. The Rev has a bright coaching career.
Malcolm Hill (4) or Roger Powell, Jr. (13)?
This poll is closed
Malcolm Hill (4)
Roger Powell, Jr. (13)
Below is the entire bracket prior to the start of the Round of 32.
Let us know how or why you voted the way you did in the comments!