Monday, January 05, 2009

Illinois: 13-2, 1-1

The Michigan game could very well be a great preview of what to expect on the court for the next two months. The Illini played well on the road until the end of the game, but the home team just couldn't be denied.

Is this a game the Illini could have won? No question. But it isn't a season-breaking loss, either. The Illini have plenty to work on (see: notes from the Purdue game), but there was plenty to like about their competitive play on the road after a big win. Especially passing. (I think the assist stats are my favorite part of this team.)

And Illini fans will probably see the same type of game (except for the last 6 minutes) over and over this season. One team jumps out. The other team makes a run. They see-saw back and forth for a while. Then the visitors make a run. Then the home team makes a run. And most of the time, it will come down to free throws and execution in the final minutes.

If the 2008-09 Illini team can endure 2 months of these gruelling games, they should be in good shape to win more games than they lose. This team can shoot (most of the time). They can get defensive stops. They can make free throws. They can take care of the ball. They can find the open man.

Yes, there will probably be games like the one in Ann Arbor where untimely turnovers will hurt. And when shooting will go cold. And when the other team will have a big man make his 3rd 3-pointer of the season, just because they are that hot.

But there will also likely be games like the one at Purdue where the Illini are clicking on all cylinders. This season really will be fun.

On another note, the infusion of new coaches into the Big Ten adds to the fun. It was fascinating to watch Michigan play Sunday -- they looked a lot like the team that introducedd March Madness fans to Kevin Pittsnogle. John Beilein's system now lives in Ann Arbor (though even the jersey colors feel familiar). Not what we are used to seeing from the Wolverines, but it makes for entertaining basketball.

Next up: A week off and then the Golden Gophers and Tubby Smith come to Assembly Hall. Go Illini!


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