Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Blogger finds new IU coach and other interesting stuff

1. In a move that solidifies the new power sports blogs are enjoying in sports media, the search for a new basketball coach at Indiana University could be over and a blogger will get credit for finding the perfect candiate.

Click here to read John Gasaway's pick for the new coach on his Big Ten Wonk blog. CLASSIC!

2. In other news, Illinois plays the Minnesota Golden Rodents tonight on ESPN. Strap on your seatbelts. The Barn will be rockin' and the totally impartial announcing team of Lavin and Musberger with sideline reporter Erin Andrews will have the call.

Sun-Times' Herb Gould has the highly speculative and purely hypothetical typical preview story for an end-of-season game here. Neil Milbert of the Tribune does the same here. (Can you imagine the press conference call of Big Ten coaches yesterday with all these end-of-season scenarios being thrown out by reporters? I'm sure Weber and Izzo's eyes crossed a couple times.)

3. Every Illini fan's favorite...Iowa coach Steve Alford states the obvious about Assembly Hall here.


Friday, February 24, 2006

Hail to the Seniors

A Joint Post from Good Hope Orange and Chief:

Tomorrow night is senior night at Assembly Hall as the Fighting Illini take on the Iowa Squawkeyes. It is hard to believe that we are already to senior night. It feels like the season just started. We have all been very fortunate to watch two outstanding basketball players spend four years as a part of the University of Illinois Basketball Program.

This year, both players have taken some criticism at times, some of it fair and some of it unfair. Today we ask that all of you out there take a moment to appreciate what Dee Brown and James Augustine have done for the program and remember to enjoy watching them play these last three conference games and hopefully several more in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. All of the remaining games should be on TV from here on out so no excuses for missing these final chances to watch Dee and Augie.

These two guys have not only left their marks in the Illinois record books but they have also left an enormous mark on the entire program. They will go down as the two winningest (hope that is a word!) basketball players in school history. Dee has become the face of the program and really all of college basketball while Augie has personified the concept of putting on a hard hat and going to work. Chief and I are really going to miss these two players. We lose seniors every year but these two are going to have a special place in the hearts of a lot of Illini fans.

John Brumbaugh gives a great list of their career highlights here that honestly choked us up.

Below are our some of our favorites...what are yours? Comment below or "Talk Back" to us at illinitalk@gmail.com. In addition, vote here (on fightingillini.com) for your favorite Dee Brown and James Augustine moments.

Our Favorite Moments:

1. Wake Forest

2. Jersey pop

3. Seeing the look on Dee's face towards the end of the AZ game when he didn't call timeout and almost threw the game and the season away (he was petrified)...followed by this.

4. Augustine's performances in the Big Ten Tournament last year were outstanding and he was rewarded by being selected as the tournement MVP.

5. My (Chief) favorite Augustine play was at Purdue last year. Augie saved the ball from going out of bounds, was on his back and threw it to his teammates. Not sure the order of who touched it after that (did it matter with last year's squad?) but I think at least three if not four players touched the ball before someone slammed it home. I'll never remember who scored but I'll always remember Augie on his back saving the ball, which gave the Fighting Illini, who were playing sluggish in that game, the spark they needed to win.

6. My (Good Hope Orange) favorite Augustine moment is yet to come. It will be when he scores his 1000th point and becomes the first 1000 rebound/1000 point player in the history of Illinois basketball. Augustine was often overshadowed for much of his career by players from Bryan Cook to Deron Williams and Luther Head to Dee Brown but this accomplishment speaks to the consistent effort he gave every game, every season, every year.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Still Waiting

I am still waiting for this year's team to take that big step forward in conference play. I thought the Wisconsin game was it but it turns out it wasn't. We won some close games during the non-conference season but have not been able to do that during conference play. It is very, very frustrating. With that, here are some thoughts from me and from Chief regarding last night's game against Michigan:

--I thought we had positioned ourselves well for NCAA tournament seeding by moving up to #8 this week and the possibility of winning or tying for the conf. title. Some of that could be negatively impacted by this loss. I really didn't want to see the team with anything lower than a 3 seed but that likely won't happen if theylose any more games now.

--Every time I think some of our players have progressed and developed, they have a game where they regress. Such a lack of consistency. It has to be driving Coach Weber crazy. Here are more of his thoughts. In addition, I think Tupper captures the essence of what I am getting at in his blog today.

--Despite my concerns listed above, I am actually still feeling pretty positive today. I don't think there is any way we can win the conference title outright (it would just be asking too much in terms of help from other teams) but I do think we could still tie for the title IF (granted a big if) we win out. OSU still has to play at MSU, WI has to play at MSU and IA, and we get Iowa at home. In addition, some of these other teams still have tough home games. It won't be easy but the opportunity is still there with a little bit of help.

--More important than the conference title is the NCAA Tournament. With the Big Ten being at tough as it is and playing on the road having been as difficult as it is, tournament games may feel like a relief. They will be on neutral courts and most teams we may play will likely not be nearly as familiar with our team and what we try to do compared to our Big Ten opponents. Plus most conferences don't play defense like the Big Ten. All that gives me hope that a good tournament run is possible.

--Or maybe I have just been drinking too much orange kool-aid as they say on Illiniboard.

Chief's thoughts:

--It is tough to play 2 games in 3 days especially when the second game is on the road

--It is tough to hang with Horton when he is unconscious--that said, our defensive lapses were ridiculous on the perimeter

--Illinois should have gone more to Augie in the paint in the 2nd half

--The Big Ten Tourney should be interesting since it's "neutral" court and no one can win on the road

--We're still about where I thought we'd be

--Times like this make me look forward to football, where we're the team without the target on our backs

Funny side bar:
--During most games, Chief and I email each other back and forth with comments about the team, how we are playing, the officiating, etc. So last night, I emailed Chief asking how Skinny Sweet Cheeks (his wife) handled the last five minutes of the game. Here was his response: "She NEVER gets upset but she all of a sudden screamed I HATE YELLOOOOWWWWWWW!" (referring to ia and mi). Skinny Sweet Cheeks--I couldn't have said it better myself. Go Illini!


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Michigan preview and other important stuff

1. Let's hope our guards bring it tonight. Tupper says Jamar will play after sitting our the Indiana game. Hopefully he (along with Dee) finds his stroke tonight. If so, it will go a long way to busting the zone Michigan is sure to throw Illinois' way. Meanwhile, Weber wonders which Michigan team he'll run into tonight. Tupper also has a look at the end of the Big Ten season here.

2. Much has been made of the quick turnaround for this game. Two games in three days is a lot but that's what happens when you're good and TV wants you. It does seem silly, though, that Illinois is the only team in the Big Ten to have to play two games in three days twice (with the second game in both situations being on the road).

3. As long as we're talking schedule, no matter what happens tonight, I like our chances Saturday against Iowa. The Hawkeyes will have had a week off since their upset loss to Minnesota. They should be rusty. And it's senior night at Assembly Hall.

4. Eric Gordon was at the game Sunday and in case anyone has any doubts about his loyalty to Illinois, please read this blog by Brett Dawson.

5. I know it's Olney, IL but it's pretty cool when other Illinois coaches point to Weber and his teams for inspiration. I expect the state loyalty to only grow throughout Weber's tenure.

6. How cool is this Coca-Cola ad?

7. Currently no Illini basketball jerseys hang from the Assembly Hall rafters. Mark Tupper says that should change and Dee Brown's should be the first. Your thoughts? Comment below or "Talk Back" to us at illinitalk@gmail.com!



1. Nice solid game. The inside scoring was great to see. Weber showed his coaching genius once again by putting Pruitt and anyone not named Augustine on Killingsworth. Of course Pruitt got called for two quick fouls (the second of which was obviously bogus). However, he went a long way to redeeming himself later on in my mind when he sank two straight free throws. Let's hope the free throw drills of Weber's are starting to help.

2. Brian Randle. His dunk over Killingsworth was beyond GOLD. The following exchange between Billy Packer and Vern Lundquist was priceless (quoted the best I can remember it):

Packer: "Oh my. He didn't need his right hand for that play!"
Lundquist: "No he did not."

For the first time watching Billy Packer call and Illini game, I didn't get upset at him. I'm sure that won't last forever but it was still good not to be furious at him for the Dick Button-like negativity.

Also, I'm glad Randle's wrist/forearm injury wasn't more serious and that it wasn't his shooting hand.

3. Lost in the Randle dunk mania were some powerhouse jams by Augie and Marcus Arnold. Talk about thunder.

4. Killer instinct. Illinois showed the killer instinct and ability to put the opposing team away when they're down. We've been hoping for this. Now let's up they can do it on the road this week.

5. How about the classy way to end the game? Dee Brown dribbling the ball at halfcourt and letting the shot clock expire rather than trying to run up the score. CLASSY.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Northwestern, Mike Davis and killer instinct

A few thoughts on last night's game:

1. The biggest challenge this team faces is finding its killer instinct. They have to learn that it's acceptable and even encouraged once you knock your opponent to the ground to step on the throat and go for the kill. Tupper blogs about this today with a good quote from Weber about how the team doesn't deal with leads very well.

2. It's all a mind game from here on out. The Penn State game is the test and the players have to put it behind them. If they don't, they will play uptight the rest of the way and I would say at best split the remaining games and be an early out in the tourney. If they get focused-as they seemed to do for part of the time last night-I would say one more loss could be likely (at MSU) but everything else is definately winnable. That gives them good momentum going into the tourney that matters.

3. The Ohio State loss last night is very telling. After their win over Illinois, you'd think Ohio State would have been able to handle Wisconsin even though it was played in Madison, a place where Illinois won handily and displayed the killer instinct we've all been waiting for.

This just shows how competitive and strong the Big Ten is this year. This is especially true among the top teams: anyone can win on any given night. In addition, one of the signs of high stature the Illinois program now enjoys can be seen each time the Illini take to the floor: we get everyone's best shot.

4. In addition, I know it will never happen but I would love to have the regular season round robin format back. I'm sure it will ignite some Iowa fans but seriously, if (gag) Iowa wins (gag) the Big Ten title (gag) their favorable schedule will be one of the reasons.

5. The Mike Davis saga looks to be coming to an end. This is going to be very interesting with openings at Indiana, Missouri and Cincinnati. The immediate question that concerns Illinois is the game with the Hoosiers on Sunday (on CBS). How will the Indiana players respond? Will they fall apart or will they rally around Davis?

My initial prediction for who Indiana hires: Kevin Stallings of Vanderbilt.

Your thoughts?


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Quick Hits

After watching the Illini's loss to tOSU (coupled with the previous loss to Penn State), I might have been a bit off when I wrote that the Illini were on the road to special after the victory in Madison. That being said, the loss to (the) Ohio State was not what I would call an upset. The only team to win in Columbus this year was Michigan State and that was in double overtime. tOSU is a good basketball team who is on fire right now and shooting lights out. While Illinois did not play very good defense, or offense for that matter, I am not sure how many teams could have beaten the Buckeyes last Sunday the way they hit their three pointers.

Anyway, on to Northwestern tonight. While I am of the opinion that Illinois may not be able to afford any more losses if they want to win or at least tie for the conference title, they probably could afford one more loss and still be in a very good position going into the NCAA tournament. Any more than that (excluding the Big Ten Tournament, which history seems to show has no bearing on the tournament selection process) and I think their seeding, location, etc. will start to be impacted in a negative way. Looking at the schedule, that means Illinois needs to win the rest of their home games against Northwestern, Indiana, and Iowa and then win 2 out of 3 on the road against Michigan, Minnesota, and Michigan State. As it is very difficult to beat MSU at the Breslin Center, I am hoping for those victories to come against Michigan and Minnesota in order to take some pressure off for that final game on March 4 in East Lansing. Time will tell.

Previews of tonight's game and/or other articles are here, here, and here.


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Weekly Big Ten upset and other items

1. Minnesota upset Michigan State today. As I said after the Illini lost last week, there is still a lot of basketball to be played so we shouldn't give up yet on winning the conference title. The Gopher win today proves this. In the Big Ten, any team can win on any given day, home or away.

Two more conclusions to draw from this: a. The Big Ten Tournament is gonna be very entertaining and b. The Big Ten is probably the strongest conference in the country.

2. Mike Davis didn't coach today as Indiana lost to Iowa at home. Of course now the rumors are really swirling.

This Indy Star headline tells the story in Hoosierland right now.

3. Be sure to check out this comprehensive wrap from Bruce Weber's trip to the ESPN headquarters. It is a good read.

4. Great comments from our readers lately...especially regarding Iowa. Keep 'em comin' folks! Love the discussion! Want to sound off on something? Just click the comment button below!


Thursday, February 09, 2006

We've got it all today

1. Iowa lost. To Northwestern. Unlike the past few weeks, I haven't received a single e-mail from an Iowa fan since 9 :05 CST last night when the game ended. No idea why, either.

Illinois is back in the Big Ten race, btw.

2. Tupper has Bruce Weber's schedule on ESPN today as well as a bunch of inside-the-program info here. Must read.

3. Don't particularly care for Gregg Doyel but if you haven't seen it, his latest column is sure to generate a lot of controversy...especially in North Carolina.

4. Finally, this is pretty cool for the Illini football program.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Inside Zook's war room

The Illinois Sports Information Department provides fans with a look inside the Illini football coach's war room on signing day here. This is a must-read for those wanting a behind-the-scenes look at the tension surrounding signing day and the haul of recruits that Coach Zook and his staff made off with.

Kudo's to Kent Brown and his communications staff! May we recommend more postings like this on the Illini's athletic site.


We just updated

For those of you who read us regularly and want to know when we update, just scroll down this page and enter your email address in the "blogarithm" section. You will get an email notice when we update our site. You can do the same thing at the blogarithm website here.


Comic relief

With Illinois' next game not till Sunday in Columbus, there are a few colorful tidbits I'd like to mention in this space in the meantime. These are things I've read on the Internet as well and been told from fellow fans (although not all Illini fans).

Many are myths. Others are downright stupid. However you classify them, they should provide you with the comic relief you need to get through a week without Illinois games. Here goes:

1. Dee Brown is overrated. Thanks to an obviously delirious Ohio State fan for providing the perfect bulletin board material for Sunday's showdown.

Brown was preseason Big Ten Player of the Year and viewed as a possible NBA first round draft choice. We assume for the sake of argument that is the benchmark. Brown has done nothing to take himself out of the running for either. Could he play better? Sure, but so could Greg Oden.

2. Bruce Weber's coaching had nothing to do with last year's Illini being as good as they were.


In an effort to avoid the tired old comparisons with Illinois' previous coach, I will just say this: Weber's effectiveness as an X's and O's coach is beyond dispute. He is one of the best in the country. His ability to get his teams focused is tremendous. Bruce Weber is a true blue basketball coach in the mold of Wooden. His record when he retires will prove this to be true.

3. IU: Give us Alford! I talk to a number of Indiana fans regularly. The all want to get rid of Mike Davis so they can bring in Steve Alford. I'm not sure that's much of a step up but whatever floats your boat. One last second shot does not make one the coaching savior of your program.

4. Iowa = elite program. Yes, an Iowa fan sent me that this week. I acknowledge they are in first place in the Big Ten standings but come back and tell me you're elite after you make a few Final Fours and win the national title at least once.


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?


Saturday, February 04, 2006

Penn State


That is all.


Friday, February 03, 2006

Super Bowl vs. March Madness

The Super Bowl is this weekend. I have mixed feelings about this event. I like football but there are a number of things that irritate me about pro football. Here are just a few: obnoxious behavior, loud mouths and stupid dances. (These are supposed to be grown men, right?)

In any case I was sharing with Skinny Sweetcheeks this morning that the Super Bowl ain't got nothin' on March Madness.

Here is my reasoning:

1. The Super Bowl is one game. The NCAA tourney (if my terrible math is correct) is 63 games. Yes, that's 63 games in three weekends! And, there is just nothing like that first weekend of the tournament where the games go from noon until late at night. Its amazing to watch. And as if that isn't enough, it goes on for two more weeks after that. The Super Bowl is one four-hour game on one night.

2. Upsets. Even if the Super Bowl is an upset, it's just one upset, whereas you can usually count on March Madness to give you a number of upsets. In fact, that is why we call it March Madness. There are usually at least one or two cinderella stories during March every year...and that's just fun to watch.

3. Tight games. I still remember these games from last year: Wake Forest vs. West Virginia and Michigan State vs. Kentucky. Can't say the same about close Super Bowls. Nothin' like a nail biter in college hoops, especially when a college senior's season is on the line.

4. That brings me to my final point: college students. I love college students. They don't get paid to go out there and will their team to win (although the really good ones know there will probably be a payoff somewhere down the road). There is just something special about watching the effort of kids playing their guts out, many of whom know it could be the last time they play competitively ever.

That is my case for March Madness over the Super Bowl. Your thoughts?


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Illinois Football has "JUICE"

Illinois football coach Ron Zook proved his recruiting reputation true yesterday as Illinois came away with a haul of strong athletes on national signing day.

Many experts rate Illinois' recruiting class as 4th in the Big Ten and among the top 30 in the country. This is welcome news for a program that I recall even Zook saying during the season lacked serious talent to field a competitive team.

There seems to be little doubt the star in this class is Chicago quarterback Isiah "Juice" Williams. Juice was recruited by a number of top programs across the country including Ohio State, Penn State and Tennessee. I don't expect Williams to come in and tear up the Big Ten right away but everyone who has seen him play says he has a rocket for an arm and will have an impact...possibly even starting next fall.

What excites me the most about Williams is the "Dee Brown Effect." Williams has a winning personality and that could be contagious on the field as he steps into a position where he is automatically expected to lead. His enthusiasm should help off the field as well when Zook looks to continue and build on his recruiting success.

I wouldn't be surprised if Juice becomes the face of Illini football. Let's hope he has reason to be proud.

You may want to check out Mark Tupper's story about the recruiting class today and pay attention to his take on Oklahoma transfer Akim Millington. Yeah--you heard me right. We got an OK FOOTBALL transfer. I could think of a lot of cynical comments to insert here but I'll refrain as it's been a tough football year for Ron Guenther, Zook and the players.

Anyway, Tupper seems a little less optimistic on his blog but still gives props to Zook and his staff.

The Chicago papers gave Zook good reviews as well....Tribune lists Williams as the Illini's "best prospect" and Millington as "instant impact." Sun-Times says Juice could start.

Finally, Illiniboard has the list of Illinois commits here and a very in-depth analysis here.


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