Sunday, February 05, 2006

Bring it: Killer instinct

Some will say that this summarizes Illinois' game against Penn State and will point to all types of things like Augustine's foul trouble, the foul differential between teams in general and a myriad of statistics and other analysis as the reason for Penn State upsetting Illinois at home last night.

All that is probably true but I would argue all of that comes down to this. That's right. This game was a trap from the day it was solidified on the schedule. Played late on a Saturday in early February in Champaign against one of the weakest basketball programs in the Big Ten after our boys travel to Wisconsin and a week before they travel to Ohio State to try and avenge last year's only regular season loss.

I'll be even more specific than that. The second half was a very hungry and harmless Penn State team camouflaged as a cream puff playing ranked team after ranked team and sure to get a win sooner or later. Down double digits at the half and seemingly out of sight and out of mind, they were content to relax in a zone and dare Rich and Dee and Jamar to beat them.

In the end we beat ourselves. Illinois' problem with losing focus against much lesser competition and not sealing the game when they had the opportunity (see Northwestern and Purdue games) finally caught up with them.

It's not that this team doesn't have the killer instinct that last year's team had. Up until Wisconsin I wondered if they did. But down double digits in the first half to a tough Badger team in the hostile Kohl Center, this team showed it has the grit and determination to come from way behind and then stomp on it's opponent's throat and win big. As proof: We won by 15 at Wisconsin this year! Last year we only won by 10!

No, this team has everything it takes to be special and go deep into the tournament in March and I would argue (with a few breaks) even play into April. It's just a matter of staying focused and for the last 20 minutes last night, Illinois did not stay focused.

Yes, Big Ten title hopes may be gone with this loss. With our remaining schedule, it's going to be difficult to win it. But there is also a lot of basketball yet to be played by the other teams in the Big Ten as well so I'm not ready to give up just yet.

It's going to be really bad if Iowa wins it because as has been mentioned before in this space their fans-minus Young Man-are brutal. I already received e-mails from some of them stating that they are now an elite program.

End Sidebar

However, many of the top teams in the country have a bad loss like this. I am just glad it didn't come any later in the season. Let's hope Weber can use it to motivate the team.

If we take care of business the rest of the way-even if we lose a few games-I don't think it will hurt us too much. We will still be a very high seed in the tourney and can make a deep run.

It's all in how the team responds. Are they going to bring the killer instinct for 40 minutes every game or not?

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