Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Back to Mariotti

Good morning everyone! Sorry for the long delay in posts. As our regular readers know, Chief is out of town this week so I am carrying the load. Unfortunately, I have been under the weather the past couple of days and unable to put up any columns. I promise I will try to make up for it today and tomorrow.

On Sunday, I had some technical difficulties and mentioned that I would get back to Jay Mariotti's column in the Sun-Times from that day. So here we go. Jay's focus is that the spotlight will just keep getting hotter the longer the Illini remain undefeated. As Illinitalk has pointed out before, we oftentimes cannot figure out what Jay's position is on an issue. That seems to be the case once again in this article as evidence by the following quotes.

First Jay says, "I've quit pushing the idea that Illinois is better off losing a game before the NCAA tournament, realizing Illini Nation is too giddy to listen and really wants to give me a group wedgie. I'm done citing long-term trends about college hoops perfection -- that none of the last 13 teams to pull off unbeaten regular seasons have won the national championship, that none of the last five teams that remained as the lone unbeaten have won the national championship."

Then Jay says under the section 32-1 might be better than 33-0 the following:
"But that's just it. The Illini haven't had their smackdown yet. They've lulled everyone into a sense of security. A loss would shrink the bull's-eye and make them looser heading into the real season, allowing them to concentrate on the prize instead of the burden of staying unbeaten. It's enough of a weight to be considered the favorite by the hoops masses. It becomes an albatross to also have a fat zero attached to your name, much as the players insist they're ready."

So has he given up on pushing the idea that they are better off losing a game or is he still advocating that a loss would be better? Later, as he concludes, he says, "Please understand something. Just because I think Illinois is better off losing a game before the NCAAs doesn't mean I'm rooting for a loss." I am so confused!

Now that we have covered that, let's focus on the more important point Jay makes in the article. The very valid assessment he makes is as follows: "With every angle hashed and rehashed, stories are starting to appear about the lingering tarnish in the program." This is already starting to happen. Not just stories on past troubles certain players have had but also other distractions, such as the possibility of Deron Williams turning pro after the season.

These things could all be potential distractions to the team. They have managed to avoid most of these distractions during their time as #1 but the scrutiny will intensify as various media outlets look for different angles to cover during the NCAA tournament, especially if the Illini remain undefeated and ranked #1. Mariotti makes a valid point that these types of stories could become a concern if they distract the team. I don't know if these things will become a distraction. All I can say is this: There is something special about this team. They don't seem to be fazed by anything that is thrown at them and they stick together. They seem to have the make-up of a championship team. By the end of the night on April 4th, we will find out if that is the case.

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