Tuesday, January 31, 2006

On the road to special (UPDATED)

Illinois took a big step towards winning their third straight outright Big Ten title tonight. Winning by 15 points at Wisconsin is a huge statement to the rest of the league that the Illini have no intention of relinquishing their hold on the conference. The performance this evening brought back a lot of memories of last year's team. They are not the same by any means, but this year's team demonstrated the mental toughness, poise, and killer instinct that last year's team had in abundance.

In the first half, the Illini found themselves down 11 with Augustine in foul trouble, shots not falling, and Tucker playing well for the Badgers. Then, finally, the Illini pulled it together and decided enough was enough. They settled down and by the time halftime rolled around, they held a 6 point lead. They would not trail again. In fact, after being down by 11, Illinois outscored the Badgers 53-27 the rest of the way. I loved to see them finally show that killer instinct to close out the game decisively. Last year, Illinois won this game by 10 points. This year, they won by 15. Statement game indeed!

So how did the Illini do with regards to our keys to the game (see the post below for the keys)? Take a look:

1) Randle, with help from his teammates, did a decent job on Alando Tucker. Tucker got 19 points but he had to work for most of them and Illinois forced him into some bad shots at times. In addition, Randle was very active on the boards (13 to be exact) and had some nice baskets as well. Although he got into foul trouble late in the second half, he didn't have the early foul problems that usually plague him and with the way the game started, that was critical.

2) Dee and Augie didn't have partiuclarly great games from a shooting/scoring stand point but they provided the senior leadership that the team needed and steadied the team throughout the game. Dee did a great job playing the point on offense and really seems to have settled into that role and the responsibilities that come with it. His defense continues to be outstanding. On a side note, it was good to see the team still perform well despite an off shooting night for Dee (6 of 18 if I heard the stats right). As for Augie, he had some early foul problems and that probably helped Wisconsin build that 11 point lead. However, when Weber gambled by putting him back in the game near the end of the half, Augie played smartly and was key to the team turning it around. I think sometimes people underrate just how important it is to the team to merely have him on the floor but tonight showed how critical it is for him to stay out of foul trouble so he can be out there. Also, kudos to Weber for getting him out for the last minute or so of the half once Illinois had taken the lead.

3) The bench. I don't know that we necessarly wore the Badgers out but the contributions of Smith and Frazier were invaluable. Other reserves also gave the team key minutes while some of the starters battled foul trouble.

4) Fouls and free throws. Although Illinois had some foul problems tonight, their depth allowed them to weather it. You expect some of that when you are on the road and the team played through it. Free throws didn't cost the team tonight but they continue to be a concern.

5) Randle, McBride, and Smith stepped up. Each of them had very good all around games and picked up some of the scoring, which took pressure off Dee and Augie. I already talked about Randle but Smith shot 100% from the field (12 points I think) and McBride had his second outstanding game in a row. If he continues to play like this, it will be a huge boost to the team. Chester also played well as I mentioned earlier.

Overall, this was Illinois' fourth straight win over the Badgers and this was a great one. One thing I noticed was Weber used the 3 guard line-up again at times with Randle and Augie playing the 4 and 5 positions. The team looked good with this line-up. It is a nice change of pace and can cause some match-up problems for the other team. There are times when we need to go big with Pruitt or Arnold out there but it is nice to have this flexiblity. Finally, as Chief and I discussed over email, this may very well be a turning point in Illinois' season. This was a huge road win in a hostile environment and should provide them with a big boost of confidence when they have to go to Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State. They have put themselves in a very good position in the conference and can build on this moving forward.

Random Thoughts:

1) Did everyone hear Musberger compare Bo Ryan's looks to that of a Badger? Pretty funny stuff. I really like it when Musberger does the play by play for our games and Lavin and Andrews are good as well.

2) Overall, the officiating was seemed fair and that is all you can ask for (and often more than you even hoped for in a road game)

3) Joe Lunardi, ESPN's "Bracketologist," has Illinois as his fourth number one seed and that was even before tonight's game was over. He had some nice comments during his brief interview during the game and it is good to see the Illini, as well as the Big Ten, continuing to get respect from the national media.

I am sure we will have more on the game tomorrow but for now, good night and GO ILLINI!!!

Wednesday Update:

Not a lot to add from a commentary standpoint today but there is a lot of good Illini coverage in the Chicago papers today, especially in the Daily Herald. Only thing I will add to what I wrote last night is that I love Bruce Weber's motivational tactics. I like the idea of the new T-shirts that say "Illini Basketball--New Team, Same Result." We occassionally get to hear about how he motivates his players in different ways. This is a public way and I can only imagine the private and more subtle things he does behind the scenes. Anyway, click on the links below for today's articles:

Game Recap from the Daily Herald

Overview of Brian Randle's excellent performance from the Daily Herald

Lindsey Willhite wonders if the Final Four might be in reach again. Fun to think about but let's see how the rest of February goes first.

More on Illinois' appeal to the NCAA regarding the Chief (Daily Herald)

Game Recap from the Tribune

Skip Myslenski wonders which personality represents the real Illini

More on Illinois appeal to the NCAA regarding the Chief (Tribune)

Game Recap from the Sun-Times

More on Illinois' appeal to the NCAA regarding the Chief (Sun-Times)


Answers to some questions

Good afternoon everyone. We are rapidly approaching tip-off time for tonight's game with the Wisconsin Badgers. Previews can be found here, here, and here. Tonight we will get some answers to our questions about just how good this Illini team can be and whether or not they are ready to take that step towards "being special."

Illinitalk's keys to the game are as follows:

1) The Brian Randle vs. Alando Tucker matchup. Randle has the chance to show that he truly is a lock-down defender as he will have the primary defensive assignment against the Badgers best player. Randle's ability to stay out of foul trouble will be critical. A bonus would be if he could get Tucker in some foul trouble and/or frustrate him to the point where he forces things.

2) Brown and Augustine. Illinois is the only Big 10 team to win at the Kohl Center in Bo Ryan's tenure as Wisky's coach (5 years.). In a very difficult place to play, the leadership and performance of the two seniors will go a long ways towards determining who wins. The team cannot get rattled if things aren't going their way at times or if Wisconsin makes some runs. Dee and Augie have to keep the team focused and playing hard-nosed defense.

3) The Bench. Illinois is a much deeper team due to injury and academic issus that the Badgers have encountered. Hopefully, the Illini can wear the Badgers down by rotating guys in and giving Wisconsin different looks.

4) Fouls and free throws. Illinois needs to be smart and minimze their foul trouble while at the same time making their free throws when they get to the line.

5) ??? needs to step up. Assuming Brown and Augustine both perform the way they are capable, we need someone else to step up. At different times this year, it has been Randle, Pruitt, Smith, Carter, and (on Saturday) McBride. We need at least one of those guys to turn in a great performance tonight or else get solid efforts from all of them as a whole.

Last year, I predicted Illinois would end the Badger's Big Ten home winning streak. Now you might be thinking that was an obvious pick based on the type of team Illinois had last year, but keep in mind that when I made that pick, it was only the early to middle part of the conference season and no one had beaten Wisconsin at home in a conference game in four years. I think I made Chief pretty nervous when I made that pick. Thankfully, it turned out to be correct.

Tonight, it is a little harder to make a prediction. Illinois could win blow out Wisconsin, win or lose a nail biter, or get blown out. However, last year Illinois always seemed to be at their best in the biggest games that meant the most. This game is one of those. A win would be a huge step towards winning the Big Ten title. I think the team will be focused and ready to play. Chief, I know it will make you nervous again if I make an outright prediction so let me just say that right now I have a very good feeling about this game. Let's hope we are all celebrating a big Illini victory tomorrow.

Illinitalk Mailbag
--We have been getting some great emails lately so let me take a moment and answer a few of the questions we have received:

1) National Signing Day for men's basketball for the 2006-2007 Academic Year was November 9th, 2005. Recruits could sign anytime from that date through November 16, 2005. There is also a late signing period that runs from April 12, 2006, through May 17, 2006. For more information check out this information from the NCAA as well as the Collegiate Commissioners Association's National Letter of Intent website.

2) We appreciate those of you who have linked us to your sports- related blogs or websites and we are typically happy to reciprocate. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time for us to get links added but we can definitely do that for those of you who have an interest.

3) We do know some thing about Big Ten football. However, our focus is on all things Illini. For questions related to other teams, there are some great blogs out there that cover virtually every team in the Big Ten and many across the country. If we can get an answer to non-Illini questions, we will but no promises on that one. Speaking of Big Ten Football and National Signing Day's, tomorrow is signing day for Ron Zook and the Illini Football Team's newest recruits. FightingIllini.com will have extensive coverage as discussed here. One of the recruits I am most excited about is Isiah "Juice" Williams and you can read about him in this article from the Daily Herald.

4) BW (and I don't mean Bruce Weber)--Thanks for answering my question about Iowa's defense. That was great information. For those of you who read the column where I wondered just how good Iowa's defense was, here is the answer:
"In response to your latest post, Iowa does indeed have the best defense in the nation statistically speaking. Check out the stats at Ken Pomeroy's site: http://kenpom.com/stats.php. Iowa gives up the fewest points per 100 possessions (81.1) of any team in the nation. Illinois is no slouch themselves, ranking 5th." Great stuff--thanks again BW.

5) Illinois has filed another appeal to the NCAA's ruling about the Chief. Details are here.

Hope that covers all of the most recent email questions. Keep them coming and also feel free to post comments directly under our posts.

Now, let's go whip the Badgers! GO ILLINI!!!


Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Rich McBride Show

Illinois beat Purdue 76-58 today. After a slow start, the Illini lit up the Boilermakers behind Rich McBride's 19 points. In a welcome site for Illini fans, McBride got in a groove of driving the lane and pulling up for a jumper, drawing a foul or both. If McBride can continue to do this, especially in a tight game on the road, it would go a long way to helping Illinois improve as they move into the meat of their Big Ten schedule.

Of course, that tight game on the road will come Tuesday night at Wisconsin (6 p.m. CST on ESPN). Wisconsin lost to Michigan today so Illinois is now tied with those two teams for the Big Ten lead. Ohio State plays at Iowa tonight and whoever wins that game will also be tied with Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan for the Big Ten lead.

Iowa doesn't concern me as much as Ohio State when it comes to conference play. However, it's so hard to root for Iowa to take down Ohio State (OSU has the easier schedule too). Ever since we lost in Iowa City, most of the Iowa fans I know at work are acting beyond obnoxious. (I'm sure no other Illini fans can identify with me.) So for one night, I'll probably pull for the Buckeyes. Sorry Young Man but your fellow Hawkeye fans are giving you a bad name. You'd think they just won the national title or something. I just say it means Illinois is now an elite program. (See Iowa students storming the court after they beat us.)
End Sidebar

We'll have more coverage later but I liked what the Illini did today. McBride's solid game should give him confidence and make us dangerous and we also hit our free throws today. We will need both those things to win at Wisconsin Tuesday.

Another side note: We've gotten some cool e-mail lately from our readers. Keep 'em coming! Love the interaction and please let us know if you have suggestions for things you'd like to see us cover.


Thursday, January 26, 2006

2 good (and expected) wins

It has been a little crazy here at Illinitalk so sorry we haven't had some new content up this past week. Since we last wrote, the Illini have garnered to victories over teams they should clearly beat in Northwestern and Minnesota, respectively. We are 2/3 of the way through an easier part of the schedule and have Purdue coming up on Saturday. That should be another win, barring a major upset.

Assuming Illinos does beat Purdue, the team will find itself in a nice position heading into the Wisconsin game on the 31st. More on that in a future post. In the meantime, Illinois needs to beat Purdue and move to 5-2 in the conference. The Big Ten remains highly competitive and the conference title is up for grabs right now with Wisconsin at 5-1 and the Illini and four other teams at 4-2. Lurking just behind that are the Spartans at 3-3.

Back to Northwestern and Minnesota. Since it has been a few days since we beat the Wildcats, I will just say that it was nice to finally get a win on the road. Illinois didn't close them out quite the way I would have liked to have seen but a win is a win.

Last night was a different story. While Minnesota hung in throughout much of the first half and for the first 7 or so minutes of the second half, Illinois went on some runs and put them away. They didn't let up and they demonstrated the ability to close out a team. Hopefully, they can do that on Saturday and in other games when they get a nice lead. I thought the team as a whole played very well.

Dee and James were what we expect them to be. Pruitt continues to be aggressive. McBride and Randle played lock-down defense (well Randle did in the second half anyway after having foul trouble in the first) and I loved the way Randle took it to the basket. It was also good to see Jamar get going again from three point range and I thought Calvin Brock played well during the time he was on the court. All in all, very few complaints. Free throws were even good in the first half, although they were not as good in the second.

You can find some coverage of last night's game in articles from the Sun-Times, the Tribune, and the Daily Herald. Also, this was Illinois' 32nd consecutive victory at home, setting a school record. And as you will ready, I didn't realize that the only game Dee and James have lost at home was to Purdue in 2004. Simply Amazing!

P.S. If you are interested in recruiting, check this article from today. Also worth a read is this excellent article by Herb Gould that came out yesterday.

Go Illini!


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde seems to be a pretty accurate description of how the Illini played last night. They started off strongly with solid defense and decent offense, although it was a missed opportunity not to pull further ahead at the beginning when Indiana was down.

After the strong start, Illinois allowed Indiana to make a big run late in the first half and then another run to start the second half. Thus, they had to constantly dig themselves out of holes of their own creation caused by lapses on defense and poor shot selections on offense. Despite the lapses on defense, however, give the Illini credit for holding Indiana to their lowest shooting percentage of the year--40.8%.

Ultimately, however, free throws are what cost Illinois the game. Since the free throws did not come at what would appear to be crucial moments, it may not have been apparent to most viewers how important those free throws were. Illinois shot only 50% from the line. That's right, 8 of 16. Indiana made 15 of 23. Illinois made 25 field goals to Indiana's 20, although Indiana had 5 more 3-pointers (Illinois was an uncharacteristic 2 of 14 from 3 point range). If you do the math, that means Illinois outscored the Hoosiers by 5 points from the floor. The Hoosiers made up for that with 7 more made free throws. If Illinois had made just 3 more free throws, which would still have been less than 70% free throw shooting, they would have won the game. For a recap of the game, click here, here, or here.

Thankfully, there were also some postivies that came out of the game. I was very frustrated during the second half as Illinois went down by 15. I started to wonder if they were just going to give up and concede the game. The way they were playing, that seemed to be the case. I know this will probably sound cheesy but that frustration turned to pride as they battled back and got within 2 points a couple of times down the stretch. Even though they weren't able to pull the game out in the end, the team showed a mental toughness that I wasn't sure they had. Even though it was a loss, they should be able to build off of this and learn from the experience. The thing we all need to remember is that, other than Dee and Augie, this is still a young team from an experience standpoint and they are going to encounter growing pains.

I really liked what I saw from Pruitt last night. I have been on him about his free throws but he played a very solid game in the post last night, both offensively and defensively. He seemed to be the only one that could do much with Killingsworth. Randle also was very active and had a nice all around game. My only concern with him is that this is the second game in a row where he has fouled out and it really hurts to lose his defense late in the game. Augustine had a decent game but fouls were a problem for him as well (although his first two fouls were pretty poor calls by the refs in my opinion). He also missed 3 out of 4 free throws, which shouldn't happen with a senior of his caliber. With Augie sitting for extended periods of time, Indiana ended up outrebounding Illinois 39 to 31, which didn't help the Illini's cause.

I think it is safe to say for the moment that this team goes as Dee goes. In the two Big Ten games that he has played well in, Illinois has won. In the two games he has played poorly, they have lost. Give him credit for having 11 assists, five rebounds, and 3 steals last night but we need a little more scoring from him, even thoguh that is asking a lot from one player. I think it is a positive that Illinois was almost able to pull out a tough game on the road despite getting only 5 points from Dee but the team really needs to have a little more scoring consistency from him if they are going to contend for a Big Ten title. We also need more from the guards as a whole. They just didn't get it done last night.

With two losses (and Wisconsin at 4-0), the team's margin for error is shrinking. They need to win these next three games (at Northwestern and then at home against Minnesota and Purdue) prior to going into the Wisconsin game on January 31st if they want to still be in a position to contend for the title.

One other observation from last night as well as the Iowa game. At the end of both of those games, fans came streaming onto the court in celebration. It just goes to show you how far the Illinois program has come--it is a big, big deal for the opposing team when they manage to beat the Illini. I don't like to lose but I do like that it is such a big accomplishment for the other team when they beat us. It speaks of how good Illinois has been lately. Kudos to Coach Weber and the players for bringing the program to that level. (But how about we not let any other teams this year have that type of celebration?)

In closing, I think if you had told anyone at the beginning of the season that we would be 16-2 at this point, then they would have been thrilled. At this point, however, 2 losses in 3 games is a little disappointing and, frankly, Illinois missed a golden opportunity last night to steal a big road win that would have helped immensely in the conference title race. But that is also the reality of the Big Ten conference season. What the Illini did last year was an abberation in terms of going through the conference season with only one loss. That just doesn't happen for any team in any conference very often. Illinois is still in the hunt for the title this year and even if they come up a little short, they could be very well positioned for the NCAA tournament if their young players continue to develop and if they continue to grow as a team.

Up next: At Northwestern on Saturday (3:30 p.m. tip). Go ILLINI!


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Michigan down, Indiana tonight

Sorry for being a little behind in posting. Obviously, I think everyone is aware by now that Illinois beat Michigan on Saturday. In the event you missed it because you were obsessed with football this weekend, you can find recaps/commentary here, here, and here.

In summary, Illinois looked better offensively from the standpoint that they scored 79 points. However, 49 of those points came from Dee and Augie. The two seniors really carried the team down the stretch, scoring virtually all of the team's points over the last few minutes of the game. You expect that from your seniors so that is a positive but I would still like to see some of the other guys step up. Free throws were improved and a huge slap on the back goes out to Warren Carter for hitting two critical free throws at the end of the game.

Defense was actually a concern in this game as Michigan shooting percentage was nearly 61% in the second half and 46% for the game, becoming the first team to shoot better than 39% in the past 10 games. Illinois just did not look good defensively in the second half and gave up too many easy baskets.

Tonight's game with Indiana is going to be a battle. As Augie said, they have to play better than they did against Michigan or they will get beat. In order to win, Illinois needs to play strong defense against a great post player by the name of Marco Killingsworth while also defending against Indiana's deadly three point shooters. This one is not going to be easy. I watched Indiana play in person earlier this year against Western Illinois University (Side note: WIU's nickname is the Leathernecks. If memory serves, they are the only team in the country to have that nickname and received permission from the U.S. Marines to use it) and they were impressive. Killingsworth is a beast and their guards can shoot. Illinois will have their hands full.

Tied into playing better defense is the need for the Illini to be smarter about fouling. The team had a lot of guys in foul trouble on Saturday and Michigan was in the bonus for nearly 11 minutes of the second half. That cannot happen tonight if the Illini want to steal a road win. For some additional previews of the game this evening, check out the articles here and here. Tonight could really be a statement game for the Illini if they can find a way to pull out a win. If they want to defend their Big Ten title, then you have to find a way to win some of the games like tonight's. GO ILLINI!


Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Illini and Da Bears

Not much happening with the Illini this week since they don't play again until Saturday. However, be sure to check out SI.com's new power rankings, which have the Illini ranked 5th, as well as ESPN's power 16, which has Illinois as a #2 seed. Check out the comments there as well--I definitely think Illinois will be ready for Michigan on Saturday. Surprised about the comment that Iowa has the nation's toughest D. I haven't checked to see if that is statistically accurate or just a subjective comment. If it is right, then I guess I didn't realize Iowa's D was quite that good. Anyone out there know for sure?

Also, here are the so-called (and I DO MEAN SO-CALLED) ESPN experts top 16s. I was just about to give Andy Katz a hard time for having Illinois at #11. Then, I saw that Doug Gottlieb doesn't even have the Illini in this top 16!!! Are you kidding me? Maybe you don't put them at 6 or 7 or even 11, but not in your top 16? That is ridiculous and completely takes away any credibility he might have. Thumbs down to Gottlieb. (NOTE: Gottlieb has now updated his list and has Illinois at #11. Not sure if it was a mistaken omission by him earlier or a mistake by ESPN as they updated their website. Either way, somebody came to their senses.).

Also, on the recruiting front, you may have been hearing some things about a player by the name of Patrick Beverly. He plays for Chicago Marshall, which is currently the #1 ranked team in Chicago, and has put up some outstanding numbers. In addition, he is considered by most basketball experts to be the top uncommitted senior in the state. You may have read some of our past commentary about another player by the name of Sheron Collins, who is widely considered to be one of the top guards in the country. Beverly outplayed Collins and led his team to victory in a recent matchup. You can't judge a player on one game but I think that was definitely a statement game for him. Beverly has both some positives and some negatives, which Mark Tupper details today. I trust Weber's decision on whether or not to offer a scholarship to the kid but he sounds very interesting to me. Beyond Tupper, I have heard several times that he is a kid who plays hard all the time and I think that type of player can really develop at Illinois. Plus, offering a scholarhip to an excellent player from the Chicago Public League and getting him to Illinois should be a real positive for the program in terms of making recruiting inroads for the future.

A couple other Big Ten items of note: Michigan State knocked off Indiana in East Lansing last night (thank you Spartans) and Penn State upset Northwestern in Evanston.

Now I know that this is a blog dedicated to all things Illini, but the Bears are back in the playoffs so please indulge me for a minute. They play the Carolina Panthers on Sunday and Chief and I want to wish them luck. We hope they go out and get a victory. Wouldn't it be great to see the Bears-Redskins in the NFC title game at Soldier Field? They have had some great battles over the years and I would love to see them face off again if they both manage to win this weekend. There is way too much media coverage for me to post links to it all here but my favorite Bears column for today comes from Mike Downey of the Tribune. I love players and teams that don't back down (my apologies if you have to log in to the Trib in order to read this but it is worth it). No wishy washy stuff. Kind of like Deron Williams early last year when he said, "I'd put us at #1...". I love it. Go Illini and Go Bears!


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Some Perspective

It is a busy day so not a lot of time to write, but I wanted to draw your attention to the post Mark Tupper put up on his blog late yesterday. It is some excelllent commentary and I think he does a great job of reminding all of us passionate Illini fans to stay grounded and to enjoy what we are experiencing right now with Illinois basketball.


Monday, January 09, 2006

Not used to having to do this

In more than a year of writing this blog, Chief and I have only had to write about two Illini losses, Ohio State to close out the regular season last year and then North Carolina in the NCAA Championship game in April. This loss was only the Illini's second in 56 regular season games, a run that began back on January 31st of 2004! That blows me away. It also means that we are not used to doing commentary after a loss. Obviously, it's not nearly as much fun as talking about a win.

I am not one of those guys who believes in any loss being a good thing. However, when you do lose, you have to try to learn from it and turn it into a positive. I think that is what Coach Weber, Dee, Augie, and the rest of the Illini will do with the Iowa game. If you didn't see the game, I can tell you that the Illini played poorly in just about every facet imaginable--offense, free throws, shooting, rebounding, even defensive lapses. It just wasn't a pretty sight. No player had a great game, although it was good to see Augie still score and rebound despite his foul trouble, good to see Jamar hit some threes, and good to see Pruitt score or get to the foul line on those times when the team managed to get it inside to him (unfortunately, his free throw shooting remains abysmal). The results of this game and many others around the Big Ten show just how hard it is to win on the road.

I think after watching the Michigan State game and now the Iowa game, it is safe to say that, at the moment, the Illini go as Dee goes. Lindsey Willhite of the Daily Herald talks about this in today's column. The team now has a week off until their game with Michigan. Hopefully, this will give them a chance for some good practice time in which to work on the offense and on their free throws, as Mark Tupper discusses in his blog. It will be interesting to see how Illinois responds to this loss. The games don't get any easier and their importance increases now that the Illini have suffered their first loss. I am sure they would really like to come out of this 4 game stretch at 3-1, which means they need to defend their home court against Michigan and then take on a tough Indiana team in Bloomington.

In other news, Michigan State lost again, this time at Wisconsin, while Indiana knocked off Ohio State. These teams are all in the hunt for the conference title so we are keeping a close eye on them. Let me also give credit where credit is due--I listed Northwestern as being one of the three worst teams in the conference and while that may still end up being the case, they are now 2-0 in conference play after defeating Minnesota in Minneapolis. Finally, as I mentioned late last week, multiple teams in the Top 10 lost last week, including UConn, Memphis, and Villanova, all of whom were ranked ahead of Illinois. Not sure that makes any of us feel better but thought it was worth a mention.

Until later, Go Illini.


Saturday, January 07, 2006

Iowa: It's all about preparation

The Illini travel to Iowa City today to take on the Hawkeyes. ESPN2 will have the game live at 1:05 p.m. (Champaign Assembly Hall time) today.

Mark Tupper has some interesting insight into how Bruce Weber is preparing his team for today's contest. Be sure to read about it here.

Things Illinitalk would like to see from the Illini today:

1. Inside scoring. A double-double from Augie would be awesome and I wouldn't be surprised to see him do it if he's fired up enough from his poor performance against Sparty.

2. Jamar Smith to light it up. He never really got going against Izzo's crew. A good game where he hits a couple key three-pointers would help his confidence in Big Ten play.

3. The Illini to stay stingy on D. In particular, Chester Frazier really showed up in this area against MSU (and hit a key three-pointer). Hopefully he can keep it going.

4. Finally, this one's for ESPN: turn up the crowd noise in the background! The Assembly Hall sounded silent the other night on ESPN2 when we played Sparty and we know it had to be rockin' and roarin'.



Friday, January 06, 2006

"Tom Izzo can call Weber his daddy"

I posted this as the last item under Dee, D, Dee, and more D, but it is so good I wanted to make sure I called more attention to it. Let me preface this by again saying that we at Illinitalk have nothing but respect for Tom Izzo and Michigan State. That being said, enjoy the following from our earlier post:

And the winner of today's best column goes to Mike Nadel of The Beacon News and his headline writer. We don't usually highlight Mike or the Beacon in Illinitalk but that may have to change. He presents some amazing facts and statistics as he explains how Bruce Weber owns Tom Izzo and that Illinois has surpassed Michigan State as the premier basketball program in the Big Ten in the column titled "Tom Izzo can call Weber his daddy."

Highlights from the article:

--Weber's Illini are 3-0 against Izzo's Spartans, and that doesn't even begin to illustrate the dominance of Bruce's boys in orange. How about 75-51, the score of Weber's first victory over Izzo back in 2004? How about 81-68, the score of last season's game in East Lansing? And how about 60-50, the score of Thursday night's Dee-lightful victory at the Assembly Hall in the Big Ten opener? For those scoring at home, that's a 15.7-point average margin of victory.

--In his 2½ seasons at Illinois, Weber has won more games than Izzo, both overall and in conference play, has captured both league titles and has guided the Illini deeper into the NCAA tournament each year. Any list of the nation's elite coaches must include Izzo, whose resume includes four Final Fours and an NCAA championship, yet it is Weber who ranks first nationally with 130 victories since the beginning of the 2001-02 season (going back to his Southern Illinois days). That's right: Even Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams are looking up at Bruce.

--Starting Jan. 31, 2004, midway through Weber's first season here, Illinois is 65-4 overall and 53-1 in regular-season games. And that one loss wasn't to the Spartans. From 1998, when Izzo turned Michigan State into the conference's supreme power, through 2003, the year before Weber arrived in Champaign, the Spartans were 8-4 against the Illini of Self and Lon Kruger. It was a mismatch. It was ugly. And it was Exhibit A of why Illinois wasn't included with Michigan State on the short list of the nation's elite basketball schools.

--Then Weber arrived, and only a doofus would still make such a claim. As Pedro Martinez might say: Bruce Weber is Tom Izzo's daddy.


Thursday, January 05, 2006

Dee, D, Dee, and more D (UPDATED)

Dee Brown and Defense. That is how Illinois beat the Spartans tonight. Here are some quick thoughts:


1) Dee Brown--He scored a career high 34 points while still working to get his teammates involved. He had an outstanding all around game and you couldn't have asked for anything more.

2) Defense--The Illini held the Spartans to 50 points. Their average is 82.8, tops in the Big Ten. Think about that for a minute. The Spartans were rarely in rhythm, had turnovers, and took bad shots. They shot only 36% for the game (and when the game ended, I thought it might have been even lower than that). A special hats off to Brian Randle for his work holding Big Ten scoring leader Maurice Ager, who averages 22 points, to only 9. As Coach said, Randle just broke his spirit and took Ager out of the game early. Other teams have to take a look at what Illinois did to Michigan State and be very concerned. If the Illini play defense like that every game, they will win the Big Ten (with very few losses, although I am not ready to predict an undefeated conference record yet) and make a deep run in March.

3) Protected the Home Court--To win the conference title, you have to win your home games and win at least half your road games. This was a quality win over another Top 10 team in the country, which is important come tournament seeding time, and is a big boost to start conference play. They protected their home court, it should give the team a boost of confidence, and it takes some pressure off as the team faces three more tough games coming up.

4) Hopefully, no more listening to some of the so-called experts say that we haven't beat any ranked teams yet and that the Illini aren't as good as their record, which now stands at 15-0. On a side note, if Illinois wins on Saturday at Iowa, they will move up in the national rankings as both UConn and Memphis have already lost this week. Illinois could be ranked fourth or higher come next week.

Room for Improvement:

1) If anyone else would like to step forward and help with the scoring burden, that would be appreciated. On nights like this, you give Dee the ball and keep feeding him but he has got to get some help from his teammates. He won't score like this every game and the team has to have some other scoring options. Tonight looked like early in the season when they were all standing around watching Dee instead of running the motion offense.
--From a player standpoint, Jamar Smith got a rude awaking tonight and I hope we will see him shake it off and come back strong (to be fair he didn't play all that much, primarily because Frazier is the better defender, which we needed tonight). All that being said, also remember that he is only a freshman. The upper classmen need to step it up. McBride hit a big time shot to seal the game and I hope that will be a big boost for him moving forward. I also liked Frazier's play--he did a nice job in there and helped give Dee a break from handling the point, which freed him up for some of his scoring. Hopefully in future games, he can be in there and Dee can actually get a chance to come out of the game for a breather. He couldn't tonight because we just didn't have any other consistently viable scoring options. Also, I noticed Dee limping at one point in the second half. I don't think it was anything serious but it's not something any Illini fan wants to see.

2) Augie--I loved that he contributed in other ways since he wasn't scoring, such as through strong defense and rebounding but the team needs him to be a consistent scorer. Overall this year, he has been but he cannot disappear on the offensive end during big games like this. The seven turnovers are a concern but I don't think that will happen again.

3) Free throws, free throws, free throws. Virtually the entire team needs to improve in this area, but especially the post players. And while the whole team needs to improve, Pruitt's shooting from the line is especially pathetic. There is no excuse for shooting under 50% for the season. The Illini ABSOULTELY MUST IMPROVE in this area or it will cost them some games down the road.

Other Thoughts:

--I really like Brent Musberger, Steve Lavin, and Erin Andrews. I wish they would work every Illini game.

--I don't like it when broadcasts miss the start of play at different times during the game because of commercials or because the cameras are focused elsewhere. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed like ESPN2 did that multiple times last night and it was very irritating.

--Tom Izzo is a class act, win or lose. Wish there were more like him and Weber. I love to see the Illini beat Michigan State but they are one Big Ten team that I have nothing but respect for.

--I love DVR's. If you don't have one, get one. I didn't know what I was missing until I did, especially now that I have the Illinette. Being able to pause the game or back it up to see a play over is great. You can't do that with a VCR during the game.

--The officiating was pretty good overall. They missed a few things and I still don't understand exactly why Coach Weber got a technical but if the rest of our games get this type of officiating, I will be happy.

Finally, it was a great game to start the Big Ten season and now it's time to get ready for Iowa on Saturday. We will have more tomorrow but I wanted to get this up while it was fresh in my mind. Have a great night and GO ILLINI!

Friday Updates

One other thought before I get to today's media coverage. I was thinking about this last night and Chief confirmed it for me this morning, but in watching and listening to the game on ESPN2, it seemed much quieter than is normal at the Assembly Hall. Not sure if anyone else picked up on that but Chief and I are in agreement that it didn't seem as loud as usual. Even though the bulk of the students are still on break, I just can't believe that it was as quiet as it was portrayed on TV. Not sure if the people doing the broadcast can filter some of the noise out of the broadcast or what, but something seems out of place. If ESPN2 did do something like that, then thumbs down to them.

There is nothing but outstanding media coverage today. Game summaries here, here, here, and here. The last one is my favorite thanks to quotes like these:

--"I thought we faced Vince Young tonight," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said, referring to the workhorse quarterback who guided Texas to its Rose Bowl victory Wednesday. "I've never seen a better performance out of a guy making tougher shots than Dee made. He won the Heisman tonight."

--"All of his career, he's been a marquee guy," Illini coach Bruce Weber said. "He loves big games. It's just phenomenal what he did. We were drawing up things in the huddle, anything we could think of. We wanted to get him the ball."

--"I'm not sure Illinois was at its best tonight,'' Izzo said. "I know Michigan State wasn't. But Dee Brown was at his very, very best tonight. There were at least four shots where I would have said, 'I'm glad he's taking that shot. Oh, shoot. It went in.'''

Rick Morrissey of the Tribune feels last night was like March Madness in January as he talks about Dee Brown's peformance.

Rick Telander of the Sun-Times discusses how orange is still the PERFECT (my emphasis) color.

Apparently Mark Tupper and I must think alike as we both began our columns/articles with "Dee and defense." Click here for his article in today's Herald and Review.

And the winner of today's best column and award for the best headline goes to Mike Nadel of The Beacon News. We don't usually highlight Mike or the Beacon in Illinitalk but that may have to change. He presents some amazing facts and statistics as he explains how Bruce Weber owns Tom Izzo and that Illinois has surpassed Michigan State as the premier basketball program in the Big Ten in the column titled "Tom Izzo can call Weber his daddy."


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Michigan State Preview (UPDATED)

It's gonna be a war. Our Michigan State preview starts below.

Chief (1 p.m. Assembly Hall Champaign time on Wed.):

Question: Is this gonna be as huge as Wake Forest last year?

Answer: I think probably not but it's gonna be close.

Two nice blog entries from Tupper here. Note: Tupper must be really excited about this game-he already posted his blog entry for tomorrow today! Can't wait to see what he writes tomorrow.

Good Hope Orange (3:45 p.m. Assembly Hall Champaign time on Thursday):

Big 10 Conference Opener tonight baby! Doesn't get any better than Illinois vs. Michigan State at the Hall, which will be filled to the rafters with orange. Lots of good coverage today. The Sun-Times has a preview that includes great comments from Dee. The Tribune has some thoughts on Illinois' 14-0 start as well as a commentary on Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo that ran yesterday. The Daily Herald may be underrated with regards to their sports section in my opinion--they have some great stuff. Here is their Big Ten Preview from yesterday (they also had breakdowns of each time but they must not have posted that online) and today they explain how Dee has become a basketball junkie (I love that ESPN2 requested game highlights from Dee and also be be sure to read the end of the article about the sign Dee keeps in his room).

If you have read many articles recently about the Big Ten, you probably already know that it is currently considered the top overall conference in the country from top to bottom. You have three teams that stand out in Illinois, Michigan State, and Indiana, five very good teams in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and probably Minnesota, and 3 not so good teams in Northwestern, Purdue, and Penn State. It is going to be a bruising battle this year to win the conference and whoever comes out on top will have earned it. Who is that going to be? Michigan State and Illinois each have very tough schedules so we will learn a lot about both teams during the first 4 to 6 games. When all is said and done, I still believe that one of these two teams is going to win the conference. They have the toughness, experience, leadership, and will to win. I am not sure any of the other teams have all of those qualities at this point.

Because of the toughness of the conference and their schedules, that makes tonight's game even more important. It is especially key for Illinois because it is a home game. It is going to be critical for teams to defend their home courts this year as road wins are going to be tough to come by. It is hard to say that it is a must-win game when it is the conference opener but it is about as close to that as you can get. I think Illinois will pull it out but I don't expect a blowout like in some previous years. Why does Illinois win? D-E-F-E-N-S-E.

Side Bars:

--Congratulations to the Illini Wrestling Team on capturing the Midlands Wrestling Championship and on being ranked 3rd in the country. They are the only the third team to win three consecutive Midlands Championships, joining Iowa and Iowa State in that distinction.

--Congrats as well to Ohio State and Penn State on great BCS Bowl wins. They represented the Big 10 well. Also, congrats to the Texas Longhorns on winning the National Championship and to the USC Trojans for their great run. If you didn't see the game last night, you missed out. It was a great one and Vince Young (the Texas QB) put on the best individual performance I have ever seen in a National Championship game. Think Michael Vick except that Young can pass well and he may be better than Vick (yeah, he was that impressive).

--Finally, after watching the Orange Bowl on Tuesday night, the hypocrisy of the NCAA continues to amaze me. No matter what the NCAA says, there is no way that what Illinois does with regards to the Chief can be considered hostile and abusive if what Florida State and their fans do is not considered to be. Don’t get me wrong—I am not saying FSU’s stuff is hostile and abusive. I just want to make the point that there is no credible way you can say doing the Tomahawk Chop, singing that silly chant, and having fans wearing headdresses and other paraphernalia is not hostile and abusive but having the Chief perform at halftime or the Chief's likeness on apparel is. One of the best columns ever written on the subject comes from op-ed columnist George Will and appears in today's Washington Post. Thanks to Chief for passing it along.



Happy New Year Illini Fans!

Illinitalk has made some exciting new changes to usher in the new year.

Our biggest change is an updated comments section that makes posting comments easy as pie. Now (thanks to Haloscan) you don't have to be register with Blogger to post. Just click on the "Comments" link next to the "Trackback" link and you're good to go.

We've also added our email address (illinitalk@gmail.com) under our names. Feel free to email us directly if you have something to say to us but don't want to post in the comments section.

Finally, we've added a ton of new links, including "Illini in the Pro's" and link to other blogs. My personal favorite, however, is the new Mark Tupper audio in our media section. Be sure to check it out. Good stuff!

As always, we're open to your suggestions for improvements.


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Bruce Weber: Coaching and recruiting genius

Must-read article from the Chicago Sun-Times today (on Eric Gordon):

Loren Tate: "Isiah Thomas was a fantastic junior in 1978. Gordon has that kind of speed. At this point, he is bigger and a better shooter. He dunks like Nick Anderson, runs the court like Dee Brown and has Deron Williams' ability in the half-court.''


But Gordon is on a different level. One veteran Indiana sportswriter said Gordon is the best junior he has seen since ... are you ready for this? ... Oscar Robertson in 1955. Tate said you'd have to go back to Isiah Thomas in 1978-79 to find a better backcourt player in Illinois.


Gordon has indicated he wants to team up with Rose in Illinois' backcourt in 2007-08. He talks to Rose frequently and could be Illini coach Bruce Weber's best salesman. If they get together, (Bob) Gibbons said it could be one of the best backcourts in college basketball history.

Article from SI.com:

Brown and Augustine, both four-year starters, have led the team on the court and off. That's a factor that can't be ignored, said Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan.

"When you have Dee Brown and James Augustine, two guys who have been through so much -- a post and a point," Ryan said Monday. "There's a lot of coaches who firmly believe that ... in basketball, if you have a post and a point you can compete on that day with anybody."


Weber's colleagues admit some surprise at Illinois' early season success.

"They've almost created a different identity with a different group of guys in a very quick turnaround," Minnesota's Dan Monson said. "They've made it look very simple. You've got to give them a lot of credit, not just their coaching staff but their players, for buying into that and doing the things that they've done to be so successful."


Monday, January 02, 2006

Bruce Weber and the non-AmEx ad

Bruce Weber is the star of a new TV ad, but not for American Express. Weber did a spot for WILL public television in Champaign. Check out the ad here.

I love how Blue-Collar Bruce is doing ads for public television stations and taking veiled shots at Coach K and his high-brow snotty "I'm gonna use American Express ads as recruiting tools" act while he's at it. Love it!


Sunday, January 01, 2006


Supinie profiled Randle recently and now Tupper has a nice one today on Augie.


Mike Tisdale

Orange & Blue News is reporting the Riverton's seven-foot Mike Tisdale committed officially to play for the Illini. David Kane has the story here.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?