Tuesday, January 25, 2005

38-0 vs 19-0

What are those numbers? As I am sure everyone knows by now thanks to the media repeating it over and over, 38-0 is the Wisconsin Badgers home-court winning streak while 19-0 is the Fighting Illini's record so far this season. Tonight one of these streaks will end and there will be a blemish where the 0 is now. The question is which streak goes down? For my money, I believe that when all is said and done, the numbers will stand as follows: 38-1 and 20-0 (I'll get back to why I believe this later in the column).

I have talked with numerous college basketball fans over the past week and also read a variety of newspaper articles about this game andI get the distinct impression that I may be in the minority on this opinion. Many people and columnist believe that this is where the Illini go down. I have had some who even think the Illini will get blown out. For them and all the cheeseheads out there, let me say this: A blowout is NOT GOING TO HAPPEN (unless it's the Badgers on the losing end).

Wisconsin will not be the best team Illinois has played this year but they are a very good team that plays hard defense and is very disciplined. They also have an excellent player in Mike Wilkinson, who was the Big 10 player of the week for the 2nd consecutive week. Despite them not being the best team Illinois will have played, this is likely the toughest game the Illini will have faced to date because of the fact that it is a road game. While they were great victories, Illinois' biggest wins this year have been at home or on neutral courts. They have not faced a team as good as Wisconsin on the road.

I have heard all about the Kohl Center and how tough it is to play there, how Illinois has lost its last 5 games there, how Wisconsin has the longest home winning streak in the nation, etc. On the flip side, Wisconsin is 1-14 against #1 ranked teams, having last beaten a #1 ranked team (Ohio State) 43 years ago. Frankly, I don't care about any of those facts and I think they can all be thrown out the window. What matters is this year.

Wisconsin has lost 3 games. Illinois has lost 0. Coming off a tough win at home against Iowa, I think the Illini will be more focused than ever. They also have a very bad taste in their mouths from getting blown out at Wisconsin last year and from getting beat by 1 point in 2003. All of Illinois' starters and many of their reserves remember both of those games and would like to avenge those losses as well as their loss to Wisconsin in the Big 10 Tournament last year. Illinois is hungry for this game and want it badly. Although they haven't said it publicly, according to Coach Weber, he believes his players were happy to see Wisconsin rally to score the last 8 points and beat Michigan State at home a week and a half ago to keep their streak alive. The Illini wanted the opportunity to be the ones to know off the Badgers and end their streak. Now they have it. The Illini should be well rested both physically and mentally (as Chief mentioned in an earlier post, kudos to Coach Weber for shutting off media access until after this game--the team needed a break from the spotlight). We will see what the Illini do with this opportunity--Illinitalk believes they will rise to the challenge and thrive, just as they have in all of their big games this year. It may be a close one, but the Badgers streak ends tonight.

Random Thoughts:

--Props go to the Chief for carrying the load while I was gone the last week.

--It is miracle but Dick Vitale finally put the Illini #1 in his V-Poll/Sensational 16. He also has a nice article on the possibility of Illinois going undefeated (I believe I posted a column on Illinitalk about that possibility several weeks ago but we will cut him some slack) as well as a reasonably unbiased preview of tonight's game (although he still managed to throw in a compliment to Duke in the article. Oh well, at least he jumped off the Kansas bandwagon for awhile).

--Great, great article by Jeff Shelman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune on ESPN.com about the Illini's unselfish play. If you haven't read it, check it out here.

--Disappointed that Luther Head wasn't one of the choices in ESPN's vote for last week's Big Man on Campus. After the way he played against Iowa, he should have been given some consideration. He was the main reason Illinois pulled out that game.

--A columnist who shall remain nameless as he does not deserve publicity for the following has posted his predicted outcomes of a mock final four between Illinois, Kansas, North Carolina, and Wake Forest on site that shall also remain nameless. He has Illinois losing to Kansas in the semi-finals using just plain silly reasoning. Thus, it is not worthy of a link. This is Illinitalk after all.

--ESPN Sportsnation is conducting a poll on the best/toughest gyms to play in/at. I was disappointed to see that they did not list the University of Illinois' Assembly Hall under questions 3 and 5 but I would still encourage you to go vote for Assembly Hall under question 1. Right now Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium is winning and we just can't have that.


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