Monday, January 31, 2005

"I liked you better when you were fat."

Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times has a great story today previewing tomorrow night's game at Michigan State. The story is full of great one-liners. A sampling:

MSU Coach Tom Izzo to Deron Williams at Big Ten media day in October:
"You look good. You're in shape. I don't like that. I liked you better when you were fat.''

This one from Nick Smith on the Illini's chances of winning at the Breslin Center should send the Grateful Red at Wisconsin into orbit:
"It might be even harder because Michigan State is probably more talented than Wisconsin and has much better athletes.''

Dee Brown on MSU player and former Proviso East teammate Shannon Brown:
"He's doing his thing at Michigan State. I'm down here (at Illinois). I made the wise decision.''

This is just a sampling. Be sure to read the full story to for a few more whoppers from Brown and Smith.


Sunday, January 30, 2005

Something Special

Saturday was a very special day in a very special season. If you didn't attend, watch it on TV, or listen to it on the radio, the full magnitude of the day might not have sunk in. If you missed seeing or listening to it yesterday, Chief provides a link in his post titled "Media Hype" to Mark Tupper's excellent column that lets you imagine you were there.

The game itself resulted in an 89-66 win over Minnesota with great games from Deron Williams, Roger Powell, and James Augustine. The win was important so as not to put a damper on the day, but the real show was seeing former Illini coaches, including Lou Henson, be honored at halftime followed by the centennial celebration after the game in which more than 350 past players, coaches, and support staff were recognized including the 20 players selected to the Illinois All-Century Team.

100 years of Illini Basketball History gathered together in one place on one day. There would be no let down from the current Illini team, who wanted to make put on a show for their honored guests and give everyone a day to remember. The Illini are now 21-0 and will be #1 again this week in the AP rankings. This will be their ninth straight week at the top, the longest any team has been #1 since Connecticut's 1998-99 NCAA Championship team.

The 1989 Flyin' Illini are widely considered to be the best team Illinois has had during their 100 years of basketball history. With several members of that 1989 team in attendance, the Illini ended yesterday's game with having scored 89 points. While I am sure they didn't plan it that way, it seems fitting. During the centennial year of Illinois basketball, on a very special day in a very special season, this current Illini team is looking to take their place in Illini basketball history. Time will tell where they rank, but yesterday gave us the opportunity to remember those that came before them. Here's to the past, the present, and the next 100 years of Illini basketball.


Media Hype

The only thing missing from Illinois' celebration of 100 years of basketball yesterday was the ESPN Gameday crew. Otherwise, a run as an undefeated number one that is starting to last months instead of weeks combined with the Centennial Celebration is proving to be a storyline that the media can't refuse. And why not? Athletic stories that make the tears jerk in storybook fashion are a close second to controversy when it comes to generating media hype.

Rather than go through and list every single story, Illinitalk decided to pick out it's favorite, which just so happens to be Tupper the Superstar's column. For a complete list of stories, John Brumbaugh did a magnificent wrap-up on the Illiniboard.


Saturday, January 29, 2005

100 Years and Counting

Today is the Centennial celebration for Illinois basketball. It's getting first-rate billing...
Check out the Herald & Review's sports page for excellent coverage by the superstar of Illini sportswriters...Mark Tupper.

Dickie V Watch
Tupper also has a column on Dick Vitale here. Tupper says Vitale called WTG (Weber the Genius) "seven or eight times" to get on his good side. Illinitalk wonders how many times Vitale called Tupper hoping to get a good column out of him.

Not-so-good-news side note:
A redshirt for the Illini's Brian Randle looks likely. John Supinie has the story here.


Friday, January 28, 2005

A Nickname? We need your help Illini fans

For those of you who watched the Illinois-Wisconsin game or read the sports articles the next day, you may be aware that Dick Vitale was asked if he had come up with a nickname for this year's Fighting Illini team (he is widely credited for giving the 1989 team the Flyin' Illini nickname). He said that he hadn't and threw out the lame suggestion of Flyin' Illini 2.

The Chicago Tribune is asking its readers for nickname suggestions for this year's team and today published some of the current proposed nicknames. On Saturday, they will be taking a final vote at

Because Illinitalk is not particularly impressed by the nicknames that have been submitted to the Tribune so far and because we know that not all of our readers may read the Tribune, we would like to give you the opportunity to tell us your suggested nicknames. We will then forward the best one(s) to as many media outlets as possible. We will do all the work, we just need your suggestions. So post your suggestions and let us know what you think. Go Illini!


Shout Out to Morrissey

Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Tribune has a great column today. Once again, Morrissey proves why he is an Illinitalk favorite.


"No team since Indiana's 1976 national championship squad has gone undefeated, and there's a reason for that, we're told. It's too much for a group of college kids to handle.

"Let me offer a suggestion to Illinois fans. Embrace the chance to be the next Indiana. Enjoy it. Wear it like a warm coat.

"The team has. Except for its near-death experience against Iowa last week, 20-0 Illinois has acted like a team comfortable with itself, its ranking and its spotless record.

"It's you, the Illini faithful, who are starting to worry about perfection."


Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Road to Unanimous's college basketball writers are out with their Power 16 this week. (Nice picture of Augie on the men's college ball page at time of this posting.) The results are unanimous: every writer names Illinois as number one. And if the Illini take care of Minny this weekend, they should be the unanimous number one in the AP and coaches polls.

This week Illinois was already unanimous in the coaches poll but one AP voter voted for Duke. We'll give this voter the benefit of the doubt and assume he's been living on Mars for the past few weeks. Of course that's probably where he wants to go after Maryland knocked Duke around last night.

Illiniwonk has an excellent little piece on the outting of said AP voter.
End Sidebar

Anyway, listen to this gushing about the Illini from the ESPN folks:

Dick Vitale: "After being upset this week, Duke and Kansas fall, with the perfect Illini taking over at No. 1."

Jay Bilas: "Illinois is the best team. It has become cliché to say that Bruce Weber's players make the extra pass -- they make the "right" pass. This team is the best advertisement you can have for making basketball stats more like hockey. These kids make the pass that leads to the assist better than anyone in college basketball. A joy to watch..."

Joe Lunardi: "I can't remember the last time so many No. 1 seeds have realistically been 'in play' heading into February. As we approach Feb. 1 this year, only Illinois can be said to control its own destiny in that regard..."

Pat Forde: "I'm still not buying the Illinois-will-go-undefeated talk. But what the Illini did at Wisconsin is as impressive as it gets. Backed against the wall, they showed unbreakable will and executed like a veteran team should. Nobody else need apply for the No. 1 ranking right now."


A Nice Tribute to Lou

In case you haven't heard, the Champaign City Council and the Mayor passed a resolution last night to rename a section of First Street that runs by Assembly Hall as Lou Henson Court. Illinitalk believes this was a well deserved honor for Coach Henson, who recently retired from coaching New Mexico State due to health concerns. He spent 21 years at Illinois and still watches every game the Illini play (He even taped the Illinois games if they were on the same night that his NMSU team was playing so he could watch them later). Lou and his wife, Mary, are planning to be back in Champaign this weekend for the celebration of 100 years of Illini basketball. This fan won't be there in person but will be giving him a standing ovation when they show him on TV. Thanks for all you did for Illini basketball Lou and best wishes!


No Crow for Good Hope Orange

Ah yes, how sweet it is. 20-0 with Tuesday's 10 point win over the Wisconsin Badgers. Many people were surprised at my decision to predict an Illini victory on Illinitalk before Tuesday's game in Madison. I think even Chief was a little nervous and surprised about it but as he said, "I figured you knew what you wer talking about." For anyone who was thawing out the crow and getting ready to cook it up for me to eat, put it back in the freezer for another time!

What a great win. This was big, big, big, big, BIG!!! Going on the road into a very hostile environment and coming out with a victory once again shows the ability and fortitude this team has. Going into this game, there were still some skeptics who wondered if this team was for real and this should put to rest many of their doubts. There are still a lot of games, including some very tough ones, that lie ahead for this team, but this was an important conference road win. As Coach Weber stated, there may not be anyone else in the conference who can come in and beat Wisconsin on their home floor.

The Illini weathered a hot-shooting Wisconsin team and a raucous crowd to pull this one out. Here are the numbers that tell the story: 27-8 is how much the Illini outscored the Badgers by in the last 10:19. 14-1 is how much the Illini outscored the Badgers by in the last 4:34. 2 for 2 is Jack Ingram's 3 pt. field goal attempts and makes. 17 for 20 vs. 5 for 12 is the free throw comparison. Illinois converted 85% of their free throws compared to 41.7% for Wisconsin (And no complaints from Badger fans about the free throw disparity. Each team had a total of 15 fouls called on them. The Badgers just managed to foul more while Illinois was in the process of shooting plus the Illini made the front ends of their 1 and 1's while the Badgers missed some of theirs).

Illinois showed a lot of mettle in this game. There was a very frustrating sequence during the second half when Dee stole the ball, then had his layup blocked, followed by Wisconsin getting a layup at the other end. Right after that, Deron threw the ball away on an attempted pass inside, and at about the same time Wisconsin had their biggest lead of the game at 8. You could tell that if the game was going to slip away from the Illini's grasp, this is when it was going to happen.

To Dick Vitale's credit, he didn't immediately jump on the Badger bandwagon. Instead he said, "Don't go away. Illinois won't quit." But more on Dickie V. later.
End Sidebar

However, coming out of a timeout, something changed in the Illini. They clamped down on defense and starting passing the ball on offense like they had been doing almost all season but did not do early in this game. It was then, that they began to battle back and eventually pull ahead to stay. In the past, this game may have gotten away from them and become a blowout but that didn't occur with this team. They are a veteran team with too much pride and experience to let that happen. Props especially to Jack Ingram, Luther Head, Deron Williams, and James Augustine during that stretch when Illinois refused to go away. I can't say enough about how important Luther has been to this team all year and I continue to be impressed at how different players, such as Jack, step up each game.

Great job by the team and now its time to prepare for Minnesota on Saturday before a big road game at Michigan State next Tuesday.

--Thanks to all our readers for your patience. Chief and I both have our "day" jobs so while Illinitalk is a passion of ours, sometimes it takes a little longer than we would like to get our posts up, even after big wins like Tuesday.

--Chief pointed it out earlier but as he said, "And then there were two." Losing at Cameron Indoor Stadium to a Maryland team that is down compared to previous years? With what Duke has coming up on their schedule, that is a bad, bad loss. Bye-bye Duke and let me echo Chief's thoughts that Maryland fans need to get a life and mature a little bit. P.S. It was also enjoyable to see J.J. Redick have 8 turnovers including two within a few seconds in the final minutes of the game. Illinitalk can't stand that guy!

--Assuming Illinois wins on Saturday, they should now be a UNANIMOUS #1 in the AP Poll, just as they are in the ESPN/USA Today Poll. If they are not, the writer(s) who do not vote for them should have their votes taken away and they should be sent to a corner with a dunce cap to think about what they did.

--Dick Vitale has to be in mourning after his beloved Dukies lost last night so I don't want to beat him up to bad, especially as he has finally started to give the Illini some love. However, I have to say one thing. Every Tuesday, the ESPN national morning radio show with Mike and Mike has an award called the "Just Shut Up Award." This is normally given for an outrageous comment or act done by a figure in the world of sports. However, this week I would like to see them make an exception and nominate Dickie V. purely for the volume (both quantity and loudness) of what he said during the Wisconsin game. It's not that it was outrageous, it was just too much! There were times I could barely concentrate on the game. There are times when you need to just watch the game and let the viewer enjoy it. So this week, Mike and Mike please give everyone the opportunity to vote for Dick Vitale to "Just Shut Up."

--While I am not sure that I agree with everything in the column, Mike Imren from the Daily Herald, has an interesting take on the Illini win against Wisconsin. Some points to ponder. Read it here.


Duke Gets Dooked

And then there were two.

Apparently TDA's (Tolerable Duke Alum) e-mail yesterday wasn't too far off base. He said the Illini were "scaring" him (see "Enough Said" post from 1/26/05). They should.

If a team actually plays defense against the Blue Devils, as Maryland did last night, the Dukies can end up in serious trouble. Witness Maryland's nine point win at Cameron Indoor.

Maryland ended Duke's undefeated season and left Illinois and Boston College as the two remaining unbeatens in D-I ball. What's worse for the Blue Devils is they still have quite a schedule left in the ACC (Wake x2, UNC x2, G Tech x2 and at Maryland.)

Maryland Fans
A word about Maryland's fans. There is a difference between being fanatical supporters of your team and being downright stupid. Many of Maryland's fans have gained a reputation for the latter. I realize it was an upset last night but setting things on fire in the middle of one of the busiest thoroughfares in the Washington, D.C. metro area? Please! (And this isn't the first time Maryland fans have done this, either.)

To our knowledge Illinois fans have never gone to such lengths to show their devotion to their team. Must be that good ole Midwestern common sense. We just do things like start our own Illini blog.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Enough Said

A Duke alum e-mailed me the following today:

"Nice work last night. You guys are scaring me BIG time."

Enough said.


A Tease

It's like a tease.

Cut off media access to the players for three or four days before what is being billed by this sensationalized media of ours as "the biggest game of the year so far." Then take care of business at the Kohl Center-does anyone recall how many games in a row Wisconsin had won there because no one really talked about it beforehand-and watch the media attention only grow more once it's over.

Yes, a tease indeed.

The Illini came out sharp. Focused. The Iowa game was a cornfield in the rearview mirror. Then they found themselves down eight midway through the second half.

The Grateful Red were going bonkers.

Is there any other student section in the Big Ten that looks like it was transplanted from Woodstock more than The Grateful Red at Wisconsin? I challenge you. Find one.
End Sidebar

Anyway, wherever these hippies came from (they certainly didn't look like dairy farmers but to their credit they are passionate fans), they were going nuts. And with good reason. When Deron whipped that pass out of bounds, the Illini were looking rattled.

But it was a tease.

What do you say when a 6-10, 245 pound forward/center steps out behind the arc and doesn't just load the gun but unlocks the trigger lock (we are in liberal Madison, WI after all) and fires?

No way he makes it, right?

Another tease. He makes two in a row.

And that was it. The spark the Illini needed didn't come from the normal sparkplug of Dee, Deron or Luther.

Naw, it came from Jack Ingram. A guy who's been through his share of coaching teases.

Recruited by Self to Tulsa.


Self leaves for Illinois before Jack can play for him.

Ingram transfers to Illinois to play for Self.

Sits out a year.

Finally eligible.


Self leaves.

Jack is finally getting his due.

And so are the rest of the Illini.


Tuesday, January 25, 2005

38-0 vs 19-0

What are those numbers? As I am sure everyone knows by now thanks to the media repeating it over and over, 38-0 is the Wisconsin Badgers home-court winning streak while 19-0 is the Fighting Illini's record so far this season. Tonight one of these streaks will end and there will be a blemish where the 0 is now. The question is which streak goes down? For my money, I believe that when all is said and done, the numbers will stand as follows: 38-1 and 20-0 (I'll get back to why I believe this later in the column).

I have talked with numerous college basketball fans over the past week and also read a variety of newspaper articles about this game andI get the distinct impression that I may be in the minority on this opinion. Many people and columnist believe that this is where the Illini go down. I have had some who even think the Illini will get blown out. For them and all the cheeseheads out there, let me say this: A blowout is NOT GOING TO HAPPEN (unless it's the Badgers on the losing end).

Wisconsin will not be the best team Illinois has played this year but they are a very good team that plays hard defense and is very disciplined. They also have an excellent player in Mike Wilkinson, who was the Big 10 player of the week for the 2nd consecutive week. Despite them not being the best team Illinois will have played, this is likely the toughest game the Illini will have faced to date because of the fact that it is a road game. While they were great victories, Illinois' biggest wins this year have been at home or on neutral courts. They have not faced a team as good as Wisconsin on the road.

I have heard all about the Kohl Center and how tough it is to play there, how Illinois has lost its last 5 games there, how Wisconsin has the longest home winning streak in the nation, etc. On the flip side, Wisconsin is 1-14 against #1 ranked teams, having last beaten a #1 ranked team (Ohio State) 43 years ago. Frankly, I don't care about any of those facts and I think they can all be thrown out the window. What matters is this year.

Wisconsin has lost 3 games. Illinois has lost 0. Coming off a tough win at home against Iowa, I think the Illini will be more focused than ever. They also have a very bad taste in their mouths from getting blown out at Wisconsin last year and from getting beat by 1 point in 2003. All of Illinois' starters and many of their reserves remember both of those games and would like to avenge those losses as well as their loss to Wisconsin in the Big 10 Tournament last year. Illinois is hungry for this game and want it badly. Although they haven't said it publicly, according to Coach Weber, he believes his players were happy to see Wisconsin rally to score the last 8 points and beat Michigan State at home a week and a half ago to keep their streak alive. The Illini wanted the opportunity to be the ones to know off the Badgers and end their streak. Now they have it. The Illini should be well rested both physically and mentally (as Chief mentioned in an earlier post, kudos to Coach Weber for shutting off media access until after this game--the team needed a break from the spotlight). We will see what the Illini do with this opportunity--Illinitalk believes they will rise to the challenge and thrive, just as they have in all of their big games this year. It may be a close one, but the Badgers streak ends tonight.

Random Thoughts:

--Props go to the Chief for carrying the load while I was gone the last week.

--It is miracle but Dick Vitale finally put the Illini #1 in his V-Poll/Sensational 16. He also has a nice article on the possibility of Illinois going undefeated (I believe I posted a column on Illinitalk about that possibility several weeks ago but we will cut him some slack) as well as a reasonably unbiased preview of tonight's game (although he still managed to throw in a compliment to Duke in the article. Oh well, at least he jumped off the Kansas bandwagon for awhile).

--Great, great article by Jeff Shelman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune on about the Illini's unselfish play. If you haven't read it, check it out here.

--Disappointed that Luther Head wasn't one of the choices in ESPN's vote for last week's Big Man on Campus. After the way he played against Iowa, he should have been given some consideration. He was the main reason Illinois pulled out that game.

--A columnist who shall remain nameless as he does not deserve publicity for the following has posted his predicted outcomes of a mock final four between Illinois, Kansas, North Carolina, and Wake Forest on site that shall also remain nameless. He has Illinois losing to Kansas in the semi-finals using just plain silly reasoning. Thus, it is not worthy of a link. This is Illinitalk after all.

--ESPN Sportsnation is conducting a poll on the best/toughest gyms to play in/at. I was disappointed to see that they did not list the University of Illinois' Assembly Hall under questions 3 and 5 but I would still encourage you to go vote for Assembly Hall under question 1. Right now Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium is winning and we just can't have that.



Sunday, January 23, 2005

Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State...Did We Miss Anyone????

Yeah, we don't like either one of 'em either. But this is a funny story involving both: A Kansas alum and diehard fan approached Illinitalk Friday and starting chiding because of the Illini's...last time we checked it was a win...a close one but a win nonetheless...against Iowa.

Illinitalk responded: "Yeah, the Illini played like Kansas does at home."

No response.

And we're guessing there won't be any mention of the Jayhawks from this fan for a long, long time. Kansas was exposed Saturday with its blow-out loss to Villanova.

Illinitalk is glad Kansas finally got their due after all those close games.

Kansas hanging on to win by three at home to Nebraska should have tipped everyone off that Dickie V. was eventually going to have to eat crow for keeping Kansas at the top of his "Sensational 16." Seriously, Illinitalk has been to Nebraska and couldn't find a basketball court anywhere. "Going to the line" for Cornhuskers is what farmboys in pads do after they break the huddle.
End Sidebar

Kansas, however, is still to be feared if met in the NCAA's but at least a loss to the unranked Wildcats will help the Illini's bid for the number one seed in the Midwest Regional.

Coach Weber and Illinois' Sports Information Director Kent Brown are to be commended. The national attention the Illini are getting is outrageous. Two ingredients are necessary for this exposure, however: Winning and access.

Winning, in Illinitalk's opinion, depends a great deal on the players, with the coaches playing an important role as well.

Access, on the other hand, is controlled by the coaches and the sports information director...the P.R. arm for Illinois athletics. The players can go undefeated on the court but if Coach Weber resists allowing the media access to himself and his players, the publicity just won't happen.

Illinitalk believes the reason so many pundits are singing the Illini's praises this season is because of the unprecedented access Weber gives the media to his players. This helps promote the Illini in the eyes of the public and is a huge boost for recruiting.

Of course, the downside to the media "crush" (sorry for the bad pun) is it gets distracting and can drain energy from the players as well.

The USA Today (click here for excellent photo gallery and here for profile on Luther Head) and Philadelphia Daily News (the Philly story has a very good inside look at Bruce Weber's journey to the Illini) stories from this week are an excellent example of the national attention the Illlini are getting but as is evidenced by the close loss to Iowa, it may be taking its toll.

Illinitalk commends Coach Weber for cutting off media access to the Illini until after the Wisconsin game. The game is already receiving a ton of hype since it will be broadcast on ESPN. Hopefully this will keep the Illini focused and fresh heading into Madison.

In our estimation, the Illini need to split the games at Wisconsin and Michigan State. If the team goes 1-1 for those two games, that's not bad.

Our preference would be to take down Wisconsin.

--Ending Wisconsin's home court winning streak would be sweet.
--The win would be out of the way and the team can play loose at Michigan State.
--We dislike Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan ("I will have my team shoot 3-pointers when we're up by 30 with 40 seconds left") a heckuva lot more than MSU's Tom Izzo (classy guy).


Thursday, January 20, 2005

Iowa at Illinois Tonight

This year the word "Iowa" invokes more hate than it does fear into the hearts of Illini fans everywhere. There is possibly no team Illini fans hate more than Iowa basketball. However, given Illinois' superior play this season, most fans expect an Illini victory and hope for an absolute slaughter of the Hawkeyes.

The storyline for tonight centers on the guard matchups for the two teams. Iowa's three-guard lineup will be another good test for the Illini guards but one they should be able to handle. The Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times have previews.

Tale of Two Iowa Fans

Illinitalk ran into two very different Iowa fans yesterday.

Fan number one was generally obnoxious, predicted an upset, said the pressure is on Illinois since they are number one and acted as if a win for the Hawkeyes at Assembly Hall was well within reach.

With a 1-2 record in conference play, isn't the pressure on the Hawkeyes and coach Steve Alford to prove themselves?

Just a thought.
End Sidebar

Fan number two was kind and considerate. He says he has great respect for the Illini this season and wants them to do well so the conference looks good. He said Iowa doesn't have a prayer tonight in Assembly Hall even if they play well.

Illinitalk was surprised at fan number two's actions and outlook. There is at least one rational Iowa fan out there. Illinitalk isn't holding out hope there are many more like him.


Good Dish: Illini's NBA Prospects

Illinitalk was impressed with the Sun-Times' Jim O'Donnell and his dish on the NBA prospects for members of the Illinois basketball team.

Illinitalk agrees with almost everything written about the Illini in this article. However, we also expect the national media to take the following story line: every NCAA men's basketball championship team for the past seven years has had at least one player chosen in the first round of the NBA draft. Currently, the Illini don't appear to have any sure-fire first rounders. Can they win the title? Can they even make it to the Final Four without one?

Illinitalk believes the answer to this question is an emphatic yes. Bruce Weber is an outstanding bench coach (much better than that guy who pretends to coach at Wisconsin) and has this team playing unselfishly. Could this affect their draft status? Illinitalk doesn't think so. Not be be cliche but if they win the championship, everything else will take care of itself.


Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Early Week Musings...Luther, Dickie V. etc.

Shout-Out to The Luther

Luther Head was named Big Ten Player of the Week. He shares the award this week with some guy from Wisconsin. Luther was on fire this week against Penn State and Northwestern and helped lead the Illini to their best start in school history at 18-0. Illinitalk believes he owes 1/8 of the award to the Northwestern student section. Their idiotic, over-the-line antics at the game Saturday only gave Luther more motivation to get revenge for last year's loss in Evanston.

As the News-Gazette's Brett Dawson notes in his blog, Luther is the fourth different Illini player to be named Player of the Week during the 2004-05 season. The only Illini player not to be named this season? Deron Williams.

If you would have told Illinitalk at the start of the season that would be the case by late January, we would have told you Iowa fans are less delusional.

In any case, Illinitalk believes Deron is having a great season doing what he needs to do to help the Illini win. Once his shooting touch comes back, the Illini will be unstoppable. The question on everyone's mind--and Deron probably most of all--is when does that happen? In the meantime, Illinitalk is glad Deron is patient.

Dickie V. Watch

It took seven weeks with Illinois at number one for him to do it. But he did it.

Dick Vitale finally gave Illinois the props they deserve.

Many Illinois fans believe it's stupid to rant and rave about Dickie V. and all the other college basketball pundits and how they "disrespect Illinois."

However, Illinitalk believes there is room in the discussion for holding the national media accountable. That's what a blog is for.

Therefore, Illinitalk will thoughtfully and respectfully hold any and all sports commentators accountable for their coverage of the Illini--especially if it is biased.
End Sidebar

You can read the love Dickie V. gives the Illini by clicking here and here. Illinitalk is reserving its final verdict until it sees Dickie V.'s new rankings in ESPN's Power 16 later this week but was encouraged Vitale said Illinois looks like a Final Four team.


Sunday, January 16, 2005

Good Media Coverage of Saturday's Game

Northwestern's student section proved to be completely classless yesterday. Mark Tupper's blog has a great description.

An Illinitalk favorite, Rick Morrissey has a nice column in the Chicago Tribune today. Big Sunday coverage in the Trib...can't beat it!

Not to be outdone, the Chicago Sun-Times' Rick Telander has a nice column today as well.


Saturday, January 15, 2005

Best Start in School History! (Big Ten Victory #4)

What a way to celebrate 100 years of Illinois basketball! With a 78-66 win against Northwestern in Evanston Saturday, Illinois' record improves to 18-0. Best start in school history!

Luther Head had an outstanding game, scoring 26 points...Illinitalk's guess is that he was out to prove himself in his hometown of Chicago. He is certainly making a case for the NBA scouts as he remains focused on leading Illinois to another Big Ten championship and the Final Four. Illinitalk always liked Luther's game and now that he's put it all together, he's even more fun to watch.

Not to be overlooked, the Rev had 15 points and Dee Brown had 12 points.

Most pleasant surprise of the game:
Nick Smith's strong play off the bench. His eight points, two rebounds and an assist showed Illinitalk he hasn't written off contributing this season after going through a rough stretch.

Biggest frustrations:
Big Ten refs, Deron Williams still not finding his shot and Rich McBride having a rough game.

Just how good is this team? When it has two guards struggling it still wins by 12 on the road in the Big Ten. Not bad!


Memo to National Media: Tarheels are Basketball Mortals

With all the hype surrounding North Carolina's wins last week, you would think they are good enough to be playing in the NBA finals this season. Even though they had one loss before their visit to Wake Forest today, many in the national media were salivating so much they moved the Tarheels into first place in their individual polls--ahead of an undefeated Illinois squad.

Illinitalk didn't get too upset about this--UNC is a great team but it did surmise that the real test would come when UNC visited Wake today. And it did. Chris Paul and the rest of the Wake Forest basketball team threw some cold water on the Tarheels parade today and many of their fans in the national press as well.

The Wake win was all the more significant given the fact that Illinois slapped Wake around during the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.


A Few Quick Early Saturday Thoughts...

1. Just happened to turn the TV on ESPN Classic this morning and what did I find? 1982 Illinois-Alabama Liberty Bowl. Bear Bryant's last game. Brought back memories of some of the glory days of Illinois football. Let's hope Ron Zook can rebuild our football program to at least what it once was.

2. Today it's time for the basketball team to pay the Northwestern Mildcats back for last year's upset in Evanston. This is a road game we shouldn't take for granted but one the Illini need in order to keep pace for the Big Ten title and perhaps even more so in the national rankings. Illiniboard's Kedric Prince has an excellent game preview, not to mention a pretty cool picture of Luther Head...check it out here.

3. I'm gonna be watching the Wake-UNC game closely today as well...a Wake win would be a big help to the Illini...not only because Illinois pounded Wake but because it would also cool off some of the national media hype around the Tarheels.


Thursday, January 13, 2005

Big 10 Victory # 3

What a great win--I love this team! In their 100th season of basketball, last night's 90-64 victory over Penn State not only tied the Flyin' Illini's school record for best start at 17-0 but also marked the Fighting Illini's 1500th victory as a program. They are now one of only 15 schools to have achieved this status.

In what is continuing to look like a very special season, the Illini put away a lesser opponent and continued to demonstrate how unselfish a team they have become. Their passing was outstanding as was their shooting. They set a school record by making 15 three point shots out of 34 (which tied the school record for three point shots taken).

The starters all played great. I have to give props to Luther Head and Coach Weber. Luther had a difficult year last year but I give him credit for turning things around and coming into this season focused and ready to be a senior leader. With 5 three's and 19 points, he continues to shine and is starting to get some national recognition. He has stepped up big time and played outstanding. Coach Weber deserves credit for sticking with him last season and helping him get to this point. Deron and Dee turned in very good games and Augie and Powell (talk about a dunk--foul call or no foul call, that was awesome) were solid as usual. I was pleased to see Nick Smith go 4 for 5 and gain some confidence in his shooting. He played some solid defense as well. It was also nice to see some of the less-used reserves get some playing time and experience.

There were three comments/quotes that came out of this game that I loved. The first was one mentioned by the announcers. They noted that according to Coach Weber, the biggest difference between this year's team and last year's, is that this year's team loves to get assists as much as they love to score. They compete for assists and that is reflected in the 20+ assists per game average. The second quote is also from Coach Weber: "I told them we don't want to lose any games. There's no need to learn from losses. We can learn watching other people lose." Sounds good to me! Check out Greg Couch's excellent article in the Chicago Sun-Times for more on Coach Weber's approach with his team this season.

The third and final quote comes from Deron Williams in reference to how the Illini have not celebrated their victory over then #1 Wake Forest, their rise to #1 in the rankings, or their 14-0 non-conference record. I nominate it for quote of the year (thus far):
"Only a national championship is something to celebrate. What do those victories mean if you're out in the first round of the NCAA tournament? Those kinds of wins are fool's gold. The great ones have them but what's next?" As I said, I love this team!

Next up: The Northwestern Mildcats (and a little payback for last year's visit to Evanston)

P.S. Go Vote. ESPN is currently taking a poll on "Who was the Big Man on campus for the 1st half of the season?" Illinois' own Deron Williams leads with 44.3% of the vote (out of 61,741 cast at the time of this posting)! LET'S KEEP HIM THERE--VOTE!!!


Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Dickie V. Watch

Illintalk was hoping to go through the week without mentioning him but alas...once again he does something to merit attention.

Although these priceless tidbits all come to Illinitalk secondhand, they are completely believable.

This time the dish comes via play-by-play man Brent Musburger, who last night said Dickie V. would be calling the Illinois-Wisconsin game Jan. 25 in Madison. He specifically noted that Vitale has circled the game on his schedule as a loss for the Illini.

Although this isn't a bold prediction by any means, given Wisconsin's strong advantage at home, these comments will no doubt make it to the Illini's locker room bulletin board. And given the chip many Illinois players seem to be developing on their shoulders because of a lack of respect from certain national media (see Dee Brown's comments in this Mark Tupper column) this will only motivate them further.

Also to note...Illinitalk hears Musburger had his own bit of fun at Vitale's expense saying something along the lines of: "Dickie V. is leaving his beloved ACC and coming to Big Ten country."

Shout-out to Musburger for telling it like it is!


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Shout-out to the big men

It's been a broken record all season.

It's the reason these Illini didn't find themselves even in the top ten in some preseason polls.

It's the reason many people say Illinois will have problems if they meet up with Carolina in St. Louis.

"Illinois is thin inside."

This is the mantra from the national media most Illini fans are tired of hearing. However, James Augustine went a long way to putting it to rest this week. No sooner had Mark Tupper written in his blog that he hoped Augustine was on his way to consistency after his performance against The Ohio State, than Auggie had another solid game at Purdue and was named Big Ten Player of the Week.

Nice job Auggie!

In addition, Illinitalk also believes that if the Rev. (Roger Powell, Jr.) were wearing a Duke uniform he would have had at least half a dozen highlights on ESPN's Sportscenter Top Ten so far this season.

And, I'd take James Augustine to outrun Sean May down the court anytime, anywhere.


Monday, January 10, 2005

Big Ten Victory #2

If you were like me Saturday you were watching the Fighting Illini's performance in the first half against Purdue and thinking the following:

1. Ok, we're 15-0. A loss isn't completely unexpected. Especially on the road in the Big Ten. But do we really have to lose to Purdue?

2. The longer this game goes on and the longer we stay behind the more obnoxious those Purdue fans sound. It's not like these guys even belong on the same court as us. They must've practiced all year for this game.

3. Thank goodness Billy Packer isn't doing color for CBS. However, even though he's not, Clark Kellogg is being forced to hold back his praise for us on national TV. Ummmm...time for our guards to give Kellogg a firsthand look at why they are the best in the country at playing together.

4. With road games ahead at Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa (still dangerous despite a massive choke at home against Michigan) where are we gonna come up with the other road wins to pull out the Big Ten and zero in on the #1 seed in the Midwest regional? (Did I mention that Iowa not only choked at home but is starting the Big Ten season 0-2?)

5. Let's see...Kansas doesn't play until tomorrow...a game I expect them to lose (how wrong I was!)....but Carolina just pasted Maryland (even though it was at Chapel Hill).....if we lose this we drop in the rankings and all the national media starts saying how, despite the strong record, experience, etc., Illinois just isn't as good as Carolina or Kansas.

I don't know if Bruce Weber used any of these thoughts during his halftime pep talk (more likely it was a diatribe) but whatever he said sure seemed to work. (In yesterday's Sun-Times Mariotti provides a little color about Weber's timeout and halftime motivation tactics.)

The Illini came out smokin' on defense in the second half and didn't let up for the rest of the game.

Dee Brown was the catalyst, providing a tape full of highlights from just this game:

1. Will anyone ever forget him diving on the floor in the first half to save the ball from going out of bounds? Dee-Auggie-Deron-Luther-Dunk!

2. Two more almost-steals and even getting Purdue fans in the first few rows involved, landing on them while diving out of bounds with the ball and trying to call timeout.

3. Three 3-pointers over the span of 1:19 in the second half. After he put Illinois up 11, he thrusts his jersey out as if to say, "This is Illinois basketball!"

The rest is history. Solid 9-point win on the road. Luther, Auggie and the Rev all had their usual good games. Deron was off (Illinitalk believes its the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year jitters--I'm-Supposed-to-be-good-so-I-do-too-much problem) but the value of his presence on the court can't be denied.

Jack Ingram continues to impress with his play off the bench and King Rich hit some key 3-pointers when the Illini's offense stalled in the first half.

Overall a solid effort.

Next up: The Illinois starters will focus on running up a double digit lead on the Penn State Nittany Kittens as soon as possible so they can get off the court, avoid injury and give some valuable minutes of experience to the Illini bench.


Friday, January 07, 2005

What is going on with Illinois Football?

Taking a break from basketball for a minute, we turn to football. What is going on with this program? Yesterday we hear tht two newly hired assistants and top recruiters are leaving for Oklahoma State (Stillwater being quite the football mecca--maybe they thought they were going to OU, although after what happened Tuesday maybe that wouldn't be so great either). There seem to be some conflicting reports as to why (money, family, etc.) and as to whether or not they were under contract with Illinois.

Radio reports are saying that even though they had already been out on recruiting trips (paid for by the university), they had not yet signed their contracts. My question is "Why?". You don't have people going out to represent you who are not under contract and have no obligation to you if something else comes along. Getting the contracts signed should have been required before they acted on behalf of the university.

The concern IlliniTalk has is not because we think these two guys were great coaches, recruiters, etc. Frankly, we don't know much about them. The concern is that this hurts the already down football program during an important recruiting period and leaves a sour taste in our mouth as the new coaching era (which we are excited about) begins. Therefore, we ask the university and those involved to please get this straightened out so we don't get put in this type of difficult position again.


Thursday, January 06, 2005

Big 10 Victory # 1

The Illinois Fighting Illini beat Ohio State (excuse me--THE Ohio State. By the way, what is up with using THE? Give me a break!) last night 84-65, winning their first Big 10 game of the 2004-2005 season. Here are some thoughts on the game:

The Starters:
--Dee Brown has to be the fastest guy with the ball in college basketball. Not one of the fastest, the fastest. He got the ball on a break with two OSU guys in front of him and one just behind, and he still made it past them to score a layup. He was faster with the ball than they were without!

--James Augustine had an outstanding game with a career high 21 points to go with 10 rebounds. He played with confidence and smart aggressiveness and deserves a lot of credit for this victory. He doesn't have to score 21 points every game but if plays like that, it will take some pressure off of the guards and make it easier to get open outside shots.

--Roger Powell, Jr. (i.e. The Reverend), was in foul trouble much of the night but still managed to score 12 points. He would have had 14 or 15 points if the refs had not waved off a dunk that should have counted and called a foul in which they said it was on the floor rather than when he was in the process of shooting (the shot went in). Both calls were mistakes. Moving on, Illinois missed his toughness and versatility when he was out of the game. His importance to the team may be overlooked at times but shouldn't be.

--Deron Williams had his usual good all-around game. Luther Head had an off-game offensively but played great defense.

The Bench
--Jack Ingram had a nice game off the bench doing the little things when Powell was out.
--Nick Smith needs to get his shot going but had a couple key boards.
--McBride seems like his ankle may still be bothering him slightly but hit a nice 3.

The TV Announcers
--Fair to both teams but here were some gems from their commentary (as I recall them):
1) "He took the bucket to the hole." Um, the bucket? How about the basketball?
2) "That goaltend brought Ohio State within 3." Um, OSU was the team that committed the goal tend. They were within 1 point prior to that. The goaltend boosted the Illini's lead to 3.

The Refs
--Ed Hightower. For those of you who follow the Illini, enough said.

--Has anyone else noticed how in some games Illinois just pulls away from teams without you even realizing it? Maybe it's just me, but it seems like one minute the game will be close and the next minute, Illinois is up by 20+. Last night, I thought the Buckeyes played well--good, hard-nosed defense and great shooting from 3 point range. And yet, after halftime Illinois just steadily pulled away. It is scary just how good this team is and that they could be even better as the season progresses. By the way, I heard a stat last night that speaks volumes--going into last night, the Illini were averaging 20.6 assists/game and were winning by an average of 20.6 points/game. Think there might be a correlation?

--I have heard a lot of discussion lately about whether the Illini should redshirt Brian Randle for the season since he is still recovering from his hand injury. This is a tough call. While a redshirt would help the Illini in the future by preserving a year of his eligibility, I believe that his athleticism and size could help the Illini during the second half of the conference schedule as well as in the Big 10 and NCAA Tournaments. He could be a nice spark off the bench and add some valuable depth. While I believe it is important to plan for the future, I believe that when you have the opportunity to go for a championship, you don't hold back anything! Coach Weber, Randle, and the trainers need to have a serious discussion on when he could be ready to play by and if he can realistically contribute this season. If he will be ready and can contribute, then don't redshirt him. If you win the title, everything else will take care of itself.

--Nice win by Michigan on the road over #15 Iowa.

--Kansas got its second straight scare AT HOME during their game last night with Texas A&M. It was tied with less then a minute to go before they survived once again. Meanwhile, as discussed above, Illinois won by 19 at home against OSU. DICK VITALE--WERE YOU WATCHING?


Wednesday, January 05, 2005

When Lake-Effect Snow Hurts the Brain

Illinitalk has long mused that one of the worst places in the country to live would be Cleveland. Even though we've endured some pretty nasty winters in Champaign, it is still no match for Cleveland. This week's forecast alone is enough to give us pause and ask why anyone in their right mind would live there by choice.

Apparently this chilling lake-effect weather has frozen the brain of one of the city's distinguished journalists. Elton Alexander, sports writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer calls out the Illini as "a disappointment waiting to happen" from this story on Monday.

Mr. Alexander, like any journalist, is entitled to his opinion. And, Illinitalk realizes it's never going to a agree with everything written about the Illinois sports programs. However, saying that this team is going to "fade in March" based on previous tournament appearances is nothing short of pure ignorance.

Illinitalk challenges Mr. Alexander to revise his prediction based on the performance of Champaign Showtime so far this season.

Of course, another great story might be how Illinois, a team of amateurs, seems to be up against a group of paid athletes when they play the Big Ten team from Mr. Alexander's home state of Ohio.

And wouldn't ya know it...the Buckeyes are visiting the Illini tonight in Assembly Hall (8 p.m. CT). Illinitalk guesses this score may be settled then...


Monday, January 03, 2005

Dickie V. Watch

We at Illinitalk strive for truth and accountability in everything we do. For that reason, we are launching a new feature today entitled "Dickie V Watch." We will simply point out truth and facts and let our readers draw their own conclusions.

This week's watch features Dickie V's "Sensational 16" teams announced today on ESPN's website. This marks the 7th straight week Dick Vitale has had Kansas in his number 1 slot.

Even though the Jayhawks are a very good team and remain unbeaten like Illinois they have clearly not played as tough a schedule, not to mention as many away games as the Illini. As if that weren't enough, Illinois has thumped each of their opponents (We've never trailed in the second half). In fact, the closest margin of victory for "Champaign Showtime" was six in the always tough Braggin' Rights game against Missouri.

The same cannot be said of Kansas, who needed overtime to beat a good Georgia Tech team at the Phog on New Year's Day.

Does Dickie V's opinion reflect more on honest subjective reporting or a harmless comment made by The Weber to help rally the Illinois student body?

Feel free to draw your own conclusions.


Undefeated in the Big 10? It could happen

And so it begins. The Big 10 Season starts Wednesday for the Illinois Fighting Illini. For anyone unfamiliar with the Big 10, making it through the conference schedule is a brutal ordeal. The games are physical and any victory you can get on the road should be considered a good one. That being said, I believe this Illinois team has the best chance of any team since Indiana in 1975-76 of going undefeated in the conference. Some people may say this is crazy talk and they are probably right. History has shown that it is almost impossible to make it through league play undefeated (in any league, not just the Big 10) and Illinois is going to have some very tough games on the road at Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Iowa. Purdue is never easy on the road either and Northwestern upset the Illini last year in Evanston.

However, consider the following. Illinois has already beaten teams from the ACC, Big East, Pac 10, Big 12, SEC, and Conference USA plus Gonzaga. Illinois has crushed 3 ranked teams including then #1 Wake Forest and handed Wake Forest, Cincinnati, Arkansas, and Gonzaga (until Thursday when Missouri--who Illinois beat--upset them) their only loss of the season. Illinois has shown it can handle virtually any style of play and a variety of defenses. To Coach Weber's credit, the Illini have bought into total team play. To date, Illinois has been credited with assists on 66.7% of its baskets and they lead the nation with an average of 20.6 assists per game. They almost always make the extra pass that gives them a good shot. They have 3 outstanding starting guards in Brown, Head, and Williams. Powell plays bigger than he is on the inside, has shown some surprising versatility, and brings toughness. Augustine has also played fairly well and if he becomes more confident in his scoring ability, watch out. Interior play is not the Illini's strongsuit but it is continuing to improve. Depth is a slight concern but the reserves have done okay and should get a boost when (hopefully) Brian Randle comes back from his injury. The Illini play as a team and have shown they can handle the pressure of being number one. Unlike previous Illinois teams (with apologies to the 1989 Flying Illini who are one of my all-time favorite teams and should have been the NCAA Champions) that have lost immediately after achieving the number one ranking, this team has held onto that ranking for 6 weeks. After some defensive lapses against Missouri and Longwood, Illinois turned up the defensive pressure against the Bearcats of Cincinnati.

If they can keep up this defensive intensity, continue their strong team play, and stay free of major injuries, they have the best chance of any Big 10 team since the 1989 Illinois (Some may argue that point but you are on Illinitalk so you should expect a little bias now and then) to make it through the conference schedule undefeated. Is it likely? Probably not. Could a loss ease some of the pressure going into the Tournament and turn into a positive for the team? Possibly. Is this the best team in the country? Absolutely. And that answer won't change even if they do drop a game or two during the conference schedule. Get ready for a fun and special season.


A gem to start 2005

What a way to start 2005. 14-0. Number 1 in the nation in both polls. I couldn't be more pleased.

What's more was this quote I found on the Cincinnati message board: "I'd run Illinois out there against the New Orleans Hornets right now."

This begs the question I have: Just how good is this team? With the nonconference schedule over and Big Ten games starting this week (Illinois has tOSU at home Wednesday) we will find out even more...especially with games at Wisconsin (1-25), MSU (2-1) and Iowa (2-19).

Right now, however, I am content to believe this team is better than any team in the country. Of course, even though I believe UNC, KS, Georgia Tech and Ok St. would give us a run for our money, I believe we still have the edge against all of them.

We will find out in March and April but for now...let the good times roll in the Big Ten!


It begins...

Illinitalk is a blog by three college buddies-all alums of Illinois-to talk about Illinois sports. Right now for obvious reasons we're focused on basketball.

Check back for regular updates.


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