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Handicapping the Greatest Illini Ever Tournament Championship

Dee vs. Deron. What do we think?

The NCAA Tournament National Championship will feature the Michigan Wolverines and Villanova Wildcats on Monday night.

The Greatest Illini Men’s Basketball Player Ever Tournament Championship will ALSO take be taking place Monday!

TCR Site Manager Stephen Cohn and three of our writers, Tristen Kissack, Michael Berns and Matt O’Neall ranked their top-48 all-time Illini in early March, and we cut down their lists, based on a calculation (No. 1 = 32 points, No. 32 = 1 point) and created a bracket.

The Final Four didn’t feature any Cinderella Loyolas, but it had No. 1 overall seed Deon Thomas facing Deron Williams and Nick Anderson squaring off with Dee Brown. After the votes were tallied, Williams and Brown came out on top, and you will be deciding which of these former teammates will be named “The Greatest Illini Men’s Basketball Player Ever.”

But, before we get voting underway on Monday, let’s have our four staff writers share their thoughts on the tournament and who they think will come out victorious.

Stephen Cohn

Putting together my top 32 took a lot of research on the history of Illinois Basketball, and I learned there were guys like Ray Woods and Dave Scholz who really established what the Illini program would become. Then there were obviously the Dave Downeys and Kendall Gills of the world, followed by someone named Frank Williams and Kiwane Garris.

But there are always going to be those few names that stand out as an Illini fan, and those were our Final Four: Thomas, Brown and Williams and Anderson.

Now, before anyone argues that Thomas and Anderson were better — and more significant — to the history of Illinois Basketball, just remember that we only put the bracket together. You guys were the ones who voted.

So, we’re left with Dee and Deron. Personally, I would’ve chose Deon Thomas. Unless Trent Frazier has an exceptional three seasons, NOBODY will ever catch Thomas. If Malcolm couldn't do it, it’s likely not going to happen.

But Deon can’t win; it’s Dee or Deron. And I choose Deron. I love what Dee stands for, how he always carried himself and how he is associated with what it means to be an Illini, but Deron is the household name for basketball fans around the country. And there’s something about being able to associated one of the best point guards of the 21st century with Illinois Basketball.

Michael Berns

So it all comes down to Dee and Deron, the two heroes of an Illini team that still captures the imagination of a fan base yearning for some success all of these years later. From the outset, I had a feeling our Greatest Illini Men’s Basketball Player bracket would come down to these two players.

When Deon Thomas was playing basketball, I was more interested in watching Barney and Sesame Street than I was watching Big Ten hoops. Sure, that might handicap my overall mindset and line of thinking, but that doesn’t mean Deron and Dee are any less deserving of this spot.

YOU the fans voted, and you the fans know best.

Deron was the more talented player, but Dee played with a passion and love for the jersey more than any player I’d ever seen before. Dee gets my vote as the greatest Illini basketball player of all time.

Matt O’Neall

This tournament has gone about as I expected. The entire Final Four, as voted by the readers, were in my personal Top 5 rankings. I was thrilled to see my personal all-time favorite Illini, Frankie Williams, make a run to the Elite Eight, and I agree with our most popular complaint that he was a tad under-seeded. I thought Malcolm definitely deserved a spot in the Elite Eight (I had him ranked eighth overall), but was surprised he was able to knock off two 2005 starters. I think the voters got the Final Four right. They’re legends from great teams with the numbers to back it up.

As far as the championship game goes, I have to give the nod to Dee Brown. I had him ranked No. 1 overall, and I’m not about to change my mind. Deron was the better talent and had a better pro career.

But as far as their Illini career goes, the edge goes to Dee.

The extra year he has over D-Will puts him on all time statistical leaderboards, including the winningest player of all time. If you factor in Dee’s personality, charisma and overall brand, he clearly becomes the greatest to ever wear the orange and blue.

Tristen Kissack

This tournament has been a fun little engagement with you all, fellow Illinois die-hards. We threw together our top 32, and you guys decided who was THE guy. Illinois has a rich basketball history, with many greats, NBA stars, and even better people coming through the program. Any of the four remaining individuals are worthy of being the G.O.A.T. Nick and Deon definitely deserved their top-five finish, as did Dee and Deron. But only the latter two remain.

Deron Williams spoke on his Illini career when he came back to Champaign this year. He talked about the adjustment from coaches Bill Self and Bruce Weber, and how he didn’t always see eye to eye with the coaching staff at the beginning of his career. He stuck with the team, worked on his game and helped bring Illinois to the top of the college basketball world.

Dee Brown was Williams’ backcourt mate along with fellow Illini great Luther Head. These days, Dee is donning the red, white and blue for UIC, but his cornrows and orange headband will be a staple for Illinois fans forever. Although he didn’t have as impressive of a professional career as Deron did, we’ll never forget what he did for this team in his four years here with James Augustine. I feel like a parent being asked to choose their favorite child deciding between the pair. Dee’s extra year is the difference maker for me.