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.
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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).

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