Monday, February 28, 2005

Illini Reflections Down Under

I'm back from Down Under. Skinny Sweetcheeks and I had a wonderful time. Aside from the 80 degree weather, getting to see kangaroos and koalas as well as the beautiful Australian countryside, one of the best parts of the trip was the flight. But more on all that later.

First, a few reflections on the Illini:

Thank goodness for Young Man. We landed in L.A. last Sat. just as the IL-IA game finished. But I couldn't find a TV to get a score b.c I was waiting for a bus to take us to the international terminal. Seriously, anyplace else, taking a bus half a mile is no big deal. But in LAX airport it's a living nightmare. If you haven't experienced this, just trust me and take my word for it. The place was a gong show.

Anyway, Young Man got ahold of me and gave me the score and a short recap. Then he gave me a bonus: he gave me minute-by-minute of the end of his alma mater's (Iowa State) upset of Kansas. Seriously, I don't think I could have left the country any happier...Illinois stays undefeated by beating the Hawks and Iowa State beats the Phog. See, I told you Young Man is a stud.

I couldn't get any Illini news down in Australia. The main sports down there are cricket (which is definately tougher and more fun to watch than its name implies), soccer and Australian rules football. Lemme tell ya something about Australian rules football: this is not a game for the faint of heart. Real men play this game and they play it well. Those Aussies are tough.

Anyway, I did manage to get ahold of Good Hope Orange to get the score of the IL-NW game. This was a very good thing. And thanks to the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics scheduling the games around our travel, we didn't have to miss a game this past weekend since the Illini don't play again until Thursday.

So we got in late last night and I wake up today to find out Illinois won the Big Ten title outright. (see Good Hope Orange's post below.) This was great news as well.

As for today, the experts are out with their new bracket predictions: ESPN, CBSSportsline and SI.

Finally, back to the trip. I said one of the best parts was the flight. That's because we flew business class. On Qantas. For those not familiar, a look at this link should tell you all you need to know.



With Michigan State's loss to Indiana yesterday, Illinois claims the Big Ten Title outright for the second consecutive year! Although it happened in somewhat anti-climatic fashion, this is a big accomplishment for the team. Winning outright conference championships back to back doesn't happen very often. The last Big Ten team to do it was Purdue when they won three in a row from 1994-96.

If my math is correct, this title is Illinois' 5th in 6 years, although we should note that the other 3 were shared with other Big Ten teams. With all due respect to Michigan State and Wisconsin, Illinois is beginning to establish itself as the conference standard bearer. The road to a title goes through Champaign. This is a major accomplishment for a team that had some leaner years during the 1990's. With a second outright conference title, a possible undefeated regular season, and a possible national title run, Illinois is setting itself up to be a major player in recruiting both in Illinois and nationally. The Sun-Times has a good article today about Illinois' rise to recruiting prominence.

With their goal of winning the conference title accomplished, the team now turns it focus to becoming the first Big Ten team to go undefeated in the regular season since Indiana did it in 1975-76. After that, the Big Ten Tournament awaits followed by the big dance. A magical number 39 and immortality may also await the Illini, as Lindsey Willhite points out in an excellent article in today's Daily Herald.

Side Notes:
--Welcome back to the Chief and Skinny Sweetcheeks. Hope both of you had a good time in Australia but glad Chief is back to add his wit and insights to Illinitalk.

--If any of you Illinois fans out there have a friend who is a DePaul season ticket holder, you better start hitting them up now for tickets to the NCAA Midwest Regional games at the Allstate Arena. Click here to see why.


Friday, February 25, 2005

Illinois Basketball Centennial DVD

Illinitalk is not in the business of endorsing or promoting particular products, companies, etc. but there is one item we have been meaning to inform our readers about. Many Illini fans may already be aware of the Illinois Basketball Centennial DVD that is coming out in late March. For those of you who haven't heard about the DVD, here is part of the description from the Official Store:

"Re-live the excitement of the best games, most memorable plays, and most dynamic personalities of the first century of Illinois basketball. From the Whiz Kids to the Flyin' Illini to Bruce Weber's remarkable squad, you will get an inside look at the legends and recent greats who have made Illini basketball one of the top programs in the nation. "

If you are interested in purchasing the DVD, click here to access the Official Store. There you can see a longer description, get pricing information, and place an order. It sounds like a great DVD for Illini fans!

DISCLAIMER: Please note that Illinitalk receives no proceeds, benefits, or anything else for posting a column about this DVD. The information is posted as a service to our readers. Thanks!


Possible Opponents

Not much in the news today about the Illini since they are off until next Thursday. However, the Sun-Times has an interesting article that looks at which teams might be difficult match-ups for the Illini if they meet in the NCAA Tournament. Some of them might surprise you. Two of the teams are ones the Illini have already beaten, including one they may face again in the Big 10 Tournament Championship Game.


Say Again?

A couple of gems from the Illinois/Northwestern game that I forgot to share yesterday:

While discussing each team's 3 point shooting near the end of the game, this was analyst Shon Harris comment to play-by-play man Wayne Larrivee on WCIU Channel 26:

"Gus the kicking mule might be able to come in and drop kick one in there but it just hasn't gone for NW."

My jaw just dropped. I don't know where he came up with that one but only on WCIU.

Okay, this is going to be one of those where maybe you had to be there but I am going to tell it anyway.

Good Hope Orange (sitting in my comfy living room chair while watching the second half):
"It's time to trim the plant."

Oskee Mom Mom (my wife): "What are you talking about?"

Good Hope Orange: "It's time to trim the plant."

Oskee Mom Mom: "Huh? Do you mean it's time for Weber to put in the bench players?"

Good Hope Orange: "No, I mean it's literally time to trim your ivy plant. It's blocking part of my view of the TV!"

Oskee Mom Mom: "Oh, I thought maybe "trim the plant" was some term for bringing in the bench players that I just hadn't heard of."

Good Hope Orange: --can't talk--laughing hysterically!

Again, maybe you had to be there, but trust me when I say it was very amusing. I will be asking her about "trimming the plant" during the next few games. To be fair, let me point out that Oskee Mom Mom is a very big Illini basketball fan and is typically quite knowledgeable about the game and it's terms.


Thursday, February 24, 2005

Calling all teams: # 1 Seeds Still Available

Um, does anyone besides Illinois and North Carolina want and, more importantly, deserve a #1 seed right now? Promptly following Illinitalk's prediction (well, really mine, not sure if Chief agreed with me) of #1 seeds last week, Kansas proceeded to lose 2 more games to make it 3 losses in a row with Oklahoma State coming up this weekend. Kentucky also lost in the past week as did Wake Forest, Oklahoma State (to Nebraska? Are you kidding me?), and Boston College.

At this point, I really don't know who to project as the number one seeds. ESPN's power rankings came out today with Illinois, North Carolina, Wake Forest, and Kentucky (although just barely) as their #1 seeds followed by Arizona, Boston College, Duke (but they just lost point guard Sean Dockery to a MCL tear), and Oklahoma State as #2 seeds. However, there were some mixed opinions from their experts. Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn has Illinois, North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest, Arizona, Kentucky, Boston College, and Oklahoma State at the top of his power rankings (in that order). As you can see, people are starting to become enamored with Arizona but I haven't watched them or other Pac-10 teams play very much this year.

Realistically, I don't think anyone can predict all four #1 seeds at this point. The final week and a half of the regular season and the conference tournaments are going to go a long ways to determining who gets to be a #1 seed. If you twisted my arm and made me pick right now, here is what I would go with:

Midwest: Illinois (clearly the overall #1 seed, even if they were to lose a game before the tournament)

East: North Carolina (right now, they deserve to stay closer to home and I think it would be a shame to put them in the south, which plays the midwest in the national semi-finals. If they and Illinois are to meet, it should be for the title)

South: Boston College (I was all set to give this to Oklahoma State before their loss to Nebraska. Boston College probably isn't getting quite the respect it deserves and only has two losses this year, both of which were close games on the road. However, to get this seed, they need to win out. Otherwise, it could go to Oklahoma State or Kentucky if either of them wins out)

West: Wake Forest (Once again, they probably just about have to win out to get this seed. Otherwise, look for one of the teams under the south section, or possibly Arizona, to grab it. You could also argue that Wake Forest could get the south seed and BC the west seed)

Other than Illinois in the Midwest and (probably) North Carolina in the East, this is all just a guess. I think Illinois is pretty well locked in barring something completely shocking and unexpected. North Carolina still has a tough game at home against Duke plus the ACC tournament so things could change for them but they might hold on to the #1 seed in the east even with a loss, depending on when and how it happens. If any of you have other thoughts, feel free to post in the comments section. Don't be surprised if our predictions change again next week.



What an impressive display put on by the Fighting Illini in their 84-48 demolishing of the Northwestern Mildcats. I am not sure words can do justice to the performance they put on last night. It is one of the best all around games the Illini have played for some time. Crisp passing, outstanding shooting, and smothering defense. I know they will face tougher competition in the NCAA tournament, but if they play like last night, they will be cutting down the nets in St. Louis. We haven't mentioned his name much on the blog, but Mike Downey of the Chicago Tribune deserves credit for the column of the day about the Fighting Illini's performance.

Dee Brown is making a strong end of the year push to be the Big 10's MVP. 22 points on 6 of 8 shooting from 3-point land. That makes 57 points on 21 of 32 shooting in his last 3 games. Great games as well from Powell, Head, and Williams. Ingram and Warren Carter were also strong off the bench. Carter is going to be a player to watch over the next couple years if he can continue to develop. He reminds me a lot of Scottie Pippen in terms of his size and wingspan. One concern continues to be the shooting slump of Rich McBride. Hopefully the week off will help him get his legs back as well as some confidence. His ability to hit the 3 when giving the other guards a break is going to be important in the tournament.

A couple last things to comment on as we wrap up this post. First, I really like the fact that Coach Weber and the players chose not to celebrate clinching a tie for the conference title. They are focused on their goals of winning it outright, winning the Big 10 Tournament, and becoming national champions. Hopefully, they will be able to celebrate the regular season conference title on senior night next Thursday.

Second, the Illini now have 8 days before their next game, including no practice this Saturday and Sunday. Some people might wonder if this is a good thing. I think it is a great thing. It gives them a chance to work on some things in practice and to get some rest both physically and mentally. Even though the Illini have been extremely healthy this year (knock on wood), the starters (especially the guards) have logged a lot of minutes and it is a long season. This should be a good chance for the bumps, buises, and sore muscles to heal. Just as important, they are now able to take a mental break after a grueling stretch. This should enable them to be fresh for the remainder of the season and the tournament. It is extremely rare to get this type of a break this late in the season, but things just keep going right and falling into place for this team. They should be fresh and ready to go come tournament time.

For additional coverage of last night's game, check out the following:

"Doin' the title wave"--Chicago Tribune

"A grilling win for Illinois"--Chicago Sun-Times

Illini make it perfectly clear: 11 victories to go--Chicago Sun-Times

For a little bit different take on the game, check out Greg Couch of the Sun-Times


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Illini of the NBA?

I know that this blog is dedicated to all things Illini but I want to give a quick shout out to the Chicago Bulls. As a lifelong Bulls fan, it is great to see them winning again after all the rebuilding they have went through over the past 6 years.

Last night, for one of the few times this season, I had the opportunity to sit down and watch part of a game. They beat the Miami Heat 105-101 in overtime to go 4 games above .500. I have also heard several of Bull's games on the radio and have been following them in the newspapers as well. The more I see and hear about this team, the more I am beginning to believe they are the Illini of the NBA, or at least as close as any team in the NBA is to the Illini. Don't misunderstand--I am not saying the Illini are better than any team in the NBA nor am I saying that the Bulls are the best team in the NBA like the Illini are in the NCAA.

Let me explain my point. From my observations, the Bulls are playing the same type of basketball that has allowed the Illini to be so successful this season. They play tough, hard nosed defense, especially at the end of the game. They pass the ball on offense and work to get a good shot. They have different players step up on different nights to help them win. And last but not least, they have a coach in Scott Skiles who teaches the fundamentals, emphasizes team work, and knows his X's and O's.

General Manager John Paxson and Coach Skiles have done a great job with this team and the players are buying into the system and starting to live up to expectations. Finally, let me give one final shout out to Ben Jordan (oops--I mean Gordon). I thought I was watching MJ again last night. He scored 14 consecutive points at the end of the 4th quarter and overtime and had 20 of his 29 points in the last 11 minutes. Three pointers, drives to the basket, you name it. He was outstanding. In all seriousness, he is not MJ, but he can definitely light it up when the pressure's on. If you haven't had a chance to watch the Bulls this season, check them out. They just might remind you of our beloved Illini, and that is a rare thing in today's NBA.


In the news

Some great articles in the papers today:

In the Sun-Times, James Augustine finally gets his due. One of the best comments comes from Michigan State coach Tom Izzo discussing how Augustine has grown into his role as an anchor in the paint. "The other guys are the marquee names, but Augustine is the glue guy that keeps them all together. He's maybe the most efficient player on that team. That doesn't mean he has the big numbers. But when does he have a bad game? He's steady.'' That is a great compliment coming from a coach like Izzo.

Another compliment comes from Minnesota coach Don Monson. "Everybody tries to say their inside players are their weak link. I just laugh at that. Their inside guys are very underrated because they're such hard matchups. Augustine is invaluable because he's so versatile. He can do so many things -- from score to guard people to pass the ball. He's just a complete player.'' It is nice to see Augustine get some credit for his play this season. As Illinitalk has pointed out previously, we believe the Illini big men are underrated and will not be a weak link come tournament time. Teams who underestimate them do so at their own peril.

Moving on, there is another good article in the Sun-Times with comments from John Havlicek, who was on the 1960-61 Ohio State team that is currently in third place on the Big 10's list of longest in-season winning streaks (Illinois can surpass them tonight with a win against the Northwestern Mildcats). My favorite is his closing comment as follows: ''These are days and nights that the members of the Illinois team, their coaches, their families and fans and everyone else around the program will never live through again. Revel in them, enjoy them and make more of them happen. It is such a unique position to be in. And such a great one. Isn't the whole goal of competing to win?''

The Tribune has a good preview of tonight's game against Northwestern.

Finally, the Daily Herald has an interesting Dee Brown comparison and discusses the Illini's focus on a title.


Back to Mariotti

Good morning everyone! Sorry for the long delay in posts. As our regular readers know, Chief is out of town this week so I am carrying the load. Unfortunately, I have been under the weather the past couple of days and unable to put up any columns. I promise I will try to make up for it today and tomorrow.

On Sunday, I had some technical difficulties and mentioned that I would get back to Jay Mariotti's column in the Sun-Times from that day. So here we go. Jay's focus is that the spotlight will just keep getting hotter the longer the Illini remain undefeated. As Illinitalk has pointed out before, we oftentimes cannot figure out what Jay's position is on an issue. That seems to be the case once again in this article as evidence by the following quotes.

First Jay says, "I've quit pushing the idea that Illinois is better off losing a game before the NCAA tournament, realizing Illini Nation is too giddy to listen and really wants to give me a group wedgie. I'm done citing long-term trends about college hoops perfection -- that none of the last 13 teams to pull off unbeaten regular seasons have won the national championship, that none of the last five teams that remained as the lone unbeaten have won the national championship."

Then Jay says under the section 32-1 might be better than 33-0 the following:
"But that's just it. The Illini haven't had their smackdown yet. They've lulled everyone into a sense of security. A loss would shrink the bull's-eye and make them looser heading into the real season, allowing them to concentrate on the prize instead of the burden of staying unbeaten. It's enough of a weight to be considered the favorite by the hoops masses. It becomes an albatross to also have a fat zero attached to your name, much as the players insist they're ready."

So has he given up on pushing the idea that they are better off losing a game or is he still advocating that a loss would be better? Later, as he concludes, he says, "Please understand something. Just because I think Illinois is better off losing a game before the NCAAs doesn't mean I'm rooting for a loss." I am so confused!

Now that we have covered that, let's focus on the more important point Jay makes in the article. The very valid assessment he makes is as follows: "With every angle hashed and rehashed, stories are starting to appear about the lingering tarnish in the program." This is already starting to happen. Not just stories on past troubles certain players have had but also other distractions, such as the possibility of Deron Williams turning pro after the season.

These things could all be potential distractions to the team. They have managed to avoid most of these distractions during their time as #1 but the scrutiny will intensify as various media outlets look for different angles to cover during the NCAA tournament, especially if the Illini remain undefeated and ranked #1. Mariotti makes a valid point that these types of stories could become a concern if they distract the team. I don't know if these things will become a distraction. All I can say is this: There is something special about this team. They don't seem to be fazed by anything that is thrown at them and they stick together. They seem to have the make-up of a championship team. By the end of the night on April 4th, we will find out if that is the case.


Monday, February 21, 2005


Illinois was outrebounded 36-21. They went 5 for 15 on three's. They turned it over an uncharacteristic 9 times in the first half. They put Iowa into the bonus and then double bonus at only about half way through the second half. Iowa made 21 of 26 free throws and shot 46.5%. End result: A 75-65 Illinois victory.

The Illini pulled out the victory thanks to 21 Iowa turnovers that lead to 23 Illinois points. Illinois also continued to show the grit and determination that have served them so well this year. The Illini also got great games from Brown, Williams, and Augustine. It was nice to see Williams hit some shots and Augustine continues to impress. He had some great moves, scored 13 points, and had 8 boards. He may be underrated and underappreciated by the national media right now, but if he keeps this up, that will change.

We should also give credit where credit is due. This blog called out Nick Smith for his comments in a Sun-Times article on Friday. We were concerned about the impact that would have on him and the team. However, he played very well against Iowa. He played solid defense, made some nice passes, and scored 7 points, including 2 important free throws and a 3 pointer that broke the Hawkeyes. We have to ask though--How many of you were yelling "NOOOOOOOO...." at your TV when he shot that? It went in--that's what matters. He didn't talk to the media after the game but let's hope that he has his head back where it belongs and that he can continue to contribute like he did in this game.

I would like to talk about Jay Mariotti's article in the Sun-Times today but I am having some computer difficulties so we will save that for later. Chief and Skinny Sweetcheeks--hope you are safely in Australia and enjoying their hospitality. Three more Big 10 victories to go to finish with an undefeated regular season. Hope you all are continuing to enjoy the ride.


Friday, February 18, 2005

We all make mistakes

Apparently, we all make mistakes, even the staff of Illinitalk. In my post "Big Time Shout Out to Rick Morrissey" I neglected to double-check several of the links to make sure they were functioning correctly and, unfortunately, some of them were not. Those issues have now been corrected and I apologize to our readers for any inconveniences that may have caused. I know how frustrating it can be to click on a link and then not get the page you were looking for.

I mention all this because after much consideration and discussion with Chief, I feel that we must call out one of the Illini players who has made a mistake off the court--Nick Smith. In an article in the Sun-Times today, Nick made some comments regarding his playing time and quick hooks when he makes a mistake on the court. He admits that there is very little he can say on the topic without getting himself in trouble--and yet he still says some things!!!

I understand some of his frustration--as someone who played sports throughout high school and was not always a starter, I know what it is like to not get the playing time you would like or to be pulled out of the game as soon as you make a mistake. It can be very disheartening. Regardless, that is no excuse for Nick to discuss the issue in the newspapers.

The players on this team have shown fantastic teamwork and have unbelieveable chemistry. It is important, especially at this point in the season, not to disrupt that. Fortunately, the players and the coaches seem to realize this is part of Nick's personality. Dee points out in the article that he wants Nick to stay confident and to realize that even though he may get down at times, the Illini are going to need him and the other bench players to provide a spark. Coach Weber also seems to sympathize and understand where Nick is coming from. That is good.

Illinitalk hopes that Nick will think twice before discussing this issue again publicly. We hope he realizes that the team needs him and wants him to do well and that the fans want him to do well too. Remember, the goal is to cut down the nets in St. Louis. If that happens, he will have been part of something very special, regardless of his minutes.



Some outstanding media coverage of the Illini yesterday and today but none better than the column by Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Tribune. As Chief also points out, there are some true gems and some keen observations in the column titled "Illini letdown doesn't belong in winning tale." The line about Dick Vitale's vocal cords surviving even in the event of a catastrophic nuclear attack is a classic. However, the article is so good I can't do it justice here so check out the link.

Other articles worth a read:

"The voice of experience" article in the Tribune has some excellent advice from St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli. He says needing a loss is hogwash and to just win them all.

Greg Couch in yesterday's Sun Times says Illinois is staying sharp as they bide their time until the tournament.

While Illinitalk completely disagrees with his prediction that Illinois will lose a game in the Big 10 Tournament, Andy Katz's column on 10 unanswered questions heading into March is worth a read. Note to Andy: If you don't think a chance to win both the conference and the tournament titles plus remaining undefeated can provide enough motivation to this team to win the Big 10 Tournament, you better put away your peace pipe. We understand you aren't guaranteeing they will lose (and we aren't guarantee they will win--yet) but the motivation will be there.

Chief provided a link to ESPN's Power 16 yesterday but also check out the expert's comments on those 16 here. My favorite comment is from Pat Forde who says, "After Illinois, no team in the upper portion of the Power 16 did much to distinguish itself this past week." Amen brother.


Slump? What slump?

All the angst over Roger Powell's recent performances as well as concerns about the team's offense were washed away Wednesday night in Illinois' blowout win over the Penn State Nittany Kittens. Powell went 10 for 10 and the Illinois offense totaled 83 points, even with reserves playing for a substantial portion of the game. In a week in which the teams ranked #2, 3, 7 (Duke lost twice), and 9 have all lost, the Illini scored a convincing victory.

Does one game answer all of the questions that members of the media (who else?) have raised in the past couple weeks in the media? Probably not--otherwise they wouldn't have anything to write about. Prior to the Penn State game, people were pointing out that the Illini's scoring was down in the conference games as compared to the non-conference games, other teams like North Carolina were at times scoring over 100 points per game, etc. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been pondering why that might be the case. Here are is my theory.

The teams we are playing in conference have now played us multiple times over the past two years and have some familiarity with the Illini offense. Thus, they have a better idea of how to TRY to defend it. That's it. That's my theory. Probably not too deep of one but it is the one that seems to make the most sense.

Think about it--the non-conference teams we played had either never played against Illinois' version of the motion offense or had maybe played against it once last season. Only one of those teams challenged the Illini and that was Missouri. However, once you hit the Big 10 season, those teams were much more familiar with the Illinois offense. Thanks to our personnel and a great coach, the offense is never easy to defend but it is at least slightly easier to defend when you have seen it two or more times before and have a little feel for what the Illini are doing. Say what you will about the Big 10 Conference this year but, unlike most ACC teams and a lot of teams from the other power conferences, virtually all of our conference's teams play tough, hard-nosed defense.

Illinois has shown it can play any style other teams want--up and down, grind it out, slow it down, you name it. They have one games playing every style and they will continue to do so. Don't worry about a slump from an individual player or the team. They simply know how to win.


Chicago Love

Lots of love from the Chicago papers today:

Rick Morrissey, master sage at the Chicago Tribune, proves once again why he is an Illinitalk fav. His column today is a thing of sportswriting can't buy press this's a get the idea...favorite line: No, they're not in the toughest conference, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that they're a great team. You don't criticize the choir for the jackhammers pounding away outside the church.

Also of particular note for behind-the-scenes color:

Chicago Sun-Times on the parents of Illini players.

Sun-Times again on Augie's uncle.


Thursday, February 17, 2005

Bipartisan Couple and Down Under

Bipartisan Couple
My wife, Skinny Sweetcheeks, and I are friends with Bipartisan Couple. They told us last time we talked that they're goin' to the game Saturday when Illinois plays at Iowa. I call them Bipartisan Couple because when it comes to Big Ten sports, they are on different sides of the river...Mississippi River that is.

She (Krystal Clear) roomed with Skinny in college at Illinois and is a huge Illini fan. She married Young Man. He's a big Iowa fan. I was scratching my head too about this until I met him.

Young Man is actually the most tolerable Iowa fan I know. I actually like the guy. Yeah, weird. But he's a good dude...make that a real good dude.

Young Man actually wants Illinois to win the title because we're having a special year...and thinks it's only appropriate that we finish it off undefeated and with a National Championship. Plus, he wants the Big Ten to look good.

I speak the truth Illinois fans. There is at least one very very nice and reasonable Iowa fan out there. His name is Young Man.

Just as an aside, they just had a baby boy. Illinitalk is hoping they raise him right...rooting for the team on the east side of the river.

Young Man and Krystal Clear: have a great time at the game Saturday. May the Krush be loud in Carver and may the Illini run Iowa into the ground

Chief and Skinny Sweetcheeks Down Under
Chief is leaving Saturday and will be gone through next week. He is taking Skinny Sweetcheeks to Australia for Valentine's Day.

Well, actually it happened a little different than that but Chief and Skinny are going to Australia nonetheless. That leaves Good Hope Orange to hold down the Illinitalk fort while I'm gone. Please be patient...he's got a day job...but his posts, as always, will be well worth the read.

This could be the last post before I leave so...G'day, mate!


Sarcasm, Cool Photo and...ESPN Buy-In?

Shootaround: Before last night’s drubbing of Penn State (which turned out to be a little easier than last year’s game in Happy Valley), the Illini had quite a shootaround that sounds like it was much more entertaining than the actual game (Dee Brown’s cross-legged one-handed shot from the Illinois bench sounds like Harlem Globetrotters material).

Sarcasm alert: We really wish Illinois would’ve lost the game to get the monkey off their back. They’re just not loose enough.

Plea: Can we please play Penn State once next year (and every year after)? It really makes no sense to play the Nittany Kittens twice but Sparty only once.

Photo Alert: I grew up in the Jordan era. This photo of Dee from last night brought back some of those memories immediately.

ESPN buy-in: New Power 16 is up. Here's what they have to say about Illinois: Two-thirds of the way to an undefeated national championship season.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Illini in the news

Some great articles on the Illini today.

The Chicago Tribune has a story about how Deron, Dee, and Luther could each be considered the team's MVP. There has been a lot of discussion on this topic lately but the Tribune article features some excellent and insightful comments from Michigan State, Tom Izzo. He is one classy guy. The article also points out that Illinois' sports information office will be promoting all three guys for national postseason awards as well as Coach Weber for Coach of the Year. Illinitalk feels it is very appropriate to promote all three guards equally--they are all very deserving.

ESPN's Andy Katz addresses whether his pre-season questions have now been answered in an article on With regards to the Illini, he had asked if a lack of an interior would hurt Illinois? A summary of his answer: Not so far. This argument is moot to this point. This team keeps winning because it is a selfless squad that gets everyone involved, including the inside players. You will find his questions about Wake Forest and North Carolina have not been answered quite so definitely.

Finally, Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times has an outstanding article on how Dee is the Illini's anchor. I could quote the whole article--it is that good. Seriously, it is tough to pick a favorite part of the article but I think it is the following. Dee--"We're what teams should be. Nobody's jealous of each other. You usually hear about someone shooting too much or [complaining] about playing time. With us, sometimes people get mad at players for not shooting the basketball. That's unheard of. Here, everyone shares the ball. Everyone plays the game with an unselfish attitude.'' And later, he answered a follow up question by saying, "A lot of teams would be better than they are if they would stick to team-oriented. When they stick to 'I,' they never play good.'' As the article says, that's old school. That's Dee. I love it.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Lay Off Powell

Instead of focusing on how different Illini step up in different games to make plays, the Chicago Tribune's Marlen Garcia, in a story today, has to focus on how Roger Powell's scoring output has been below average.

Hey, no use in focusing on the negative when you can beat someone (particularly a college player) when they're "down."


Website Roundup

ESPN: Talk about free advertising! ESPN has a new link up on the left side of their college ball page called "Road to Perfection."

Lunardi is up with his latest Bracketology. Illinois is the #1 seed in the Midwest region, although we don't particularly like the prospect of playing Georgia Tech in the second round (with a healthy B.J. Elder).

CBS Sportsline: Gregg Doyel has a nice shout-out to the Illini and quotes Dee Brown as giving huge props to the Illini fans: "Without our fans," says Illini guard Dee Brown, "we're nothing."

SI: Mandel is up with his new Bracket Watch. SI obviously didn't listen to our post last week about the terrible format because it's still there. Seriously, who wants to scroll to the bottom of the screen just to see who we play in the first round...and after that forget it...I ain't trying to figure out any of the later round games.


Mock, Balk, Jaysquawk

Barring catastrophe, Illinois secured the #1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament last night. What's that you say, Illinois didn't play? As Ricky Ricardo would say, "Lucy, you got some esplainen to do."

As the crowd chanted "Bobby, Bobby" and fans flooded the court, the Kansas Jaysquawks made their way to the locker room after being beaten last night in double overtime by Texas Tech. It was Tech's first win over Kansas in Coach Bob Knights four seasons in Lubbock. For those of you that didn't see it, you missed a great game. However, don't think that Texas Tech just got lucky in pulling off this big upset.

The Red Raiders led throughout much of the game by several points. Kansas managed to tie the game in both regulation and the first overtime due to missed free throws followed by poor defensive/rebounding efforts on the other end. Kansas' luck ran out, however, in the second overtime when, after being up by 5, they failed to close the door. Texas Tech closed to within 2 and then with 3.6 seconds Darryl Dora hit a 3 to give the Red Raiders a 1 point lead. Kansas desparation final shot wasn't even close, sealing the win for Tech.

You might think that this post is just Illinitalk taking the opportunity to gloat about a Kansas loss. If so, you would be wrong. Well, okay, maybe partially right. But there is a more important reason for highlighting this loss by Kansas. Thanks to Texas Tech's victory, Illinois (again, barring catastrophe, knock on wood) should now be a virtual lock to receive the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. It means they should get to play their games in Indianapolis, Chicago, and St. Louis, all just a short 2-3 hour bus ride from Champaign-Urbana.

If the Illini win out, this would have likely happened anyway. But the Kansas loss provides some breathing room. Kansas (and to a lesser extent Kentucky) was likely Illinois' biggest competition for the Midwest Region #1 seed (since they are both located in the Midwest). However, every top 5 team now has at least 2 losses (Boston College, with 1 loss, is currently ranked 6th). In Illinitalk's opinion, Illinois' seeding should not change, even if they were to suffer a loss between now and the tournament. This should lessen some of the pressure on the team.

As of today, Illinitalk projects the four number one seeds by region to be Illinois (Midwest AND #1 OVERALL), Kentucky (South), Kansas (West), and either North Carolina or Wake Forest (East). Some might argue that Wake and NC will both get #1 seeds and knock out either Kentucky or Kansas. That could happen. It would be tough to knock out Kentucky, though, unless they lose another game. With last night's loss, Kansas could drop, but keep in mind that either NC or Wake will have at least one more loss in the ACC tournament. As they say, time will tell. For now, GO ILLINI!!!


Saturday, February 12, 2005

Old Gray Lady on Weber: Hard Work, No Pants and Matching Shoes

The New York Times, love it or hate it, drives the news coverage for the entire country...especially in politics. Not sure they drive national sports coverage as much as ESPN but still, today's nice write-up on Coach Weber certainly can't hurt Weber's growing national folksy as the Times makes him out to be.

Bonus: This AP article that's running on CBS Sportline is also a great write-up on coach. Hopefully these print stories keep generating some major coverage on TV...Illinitalk guesses that's where most of the potential recruits are getting their information and formulating their opinions from.


Friday, February 11, 2005


The Chicago Sun-Times has an excellent article today title "The Line of Succession" in the paper and "Righting Illini" on their website. The article talks about how the Illini have been able to keep winning and withstand 3 coaching changes within the past 8 years thanks to solid recruiting and outstanding facilities. It also gives some insight on the transition from Henson to Kruger to Self to Weber. It is a great article on how the Illini have managed to be successful despite the changes in coaches.

--If you want to learn more about the Illini's motion offense, check out the Chicago Tribune's article titled, "Poetry in Motion."

--Go vote on ESPN for Luther Head as college basketball's most improved player. As of this posting, he is second at 19.6% behind Wake Forest's Eric Williams at 20.9%.

--Tough game against Wisconsin tomorrow but it is a home game and the Illini have something to prove after less than stellar performances against Indiana and Michigan (not that we're complaining--a win is a win). And as we have noted before, the Illini and Badgers really don't like each other so there is no way the Illini want to let the Badgers beat them at home. See the game notes here.

--I didn't have a chance to post yesterday so I missed out on commenting on Wednesday night's games. However, here were the general comments I emailed to Chief:
1) Terrible loss by Minnesota at home to Northwestern. Could come back to haunt them on selection Sunday.
2) Great effort by Iowa against Wisconsin. Although Iowa couldn't quite pull off the upset, it appears that Illinois' victory at the Kohl Center may have rattled Wisconsin. They lost in the game after Illinois beat them to Ohio State and then almost lost their second consecutive home game.
3) Duke/North Carolina was a great game even though I can't stand either of them. NC now has 3 losses. Hopefully that puts an end to the "Even though Illinois is ranked number 1 and undefeated, I think NC is better" nonsense. Biggest difference between the Illini and the Tar Heels (hint: It's not talent): HEART

Enough said.


One Loss is Losing Psychology

Time for a shout-out for the Illiniboard. In his "View from C Section" today, Brumby has a thoughtful write-up about the Indiana and Michigan games.

However, the most notable point comes at the very end:

RANDOM STAT: No team has ever won an NCAA Tournament with one loss.

Why does the national media think one loss would be good for the Illini heading into the tournament if no team has ever won the title with one loss? Just something to ponder.


Thursday, February 10, 2005

ESPN's Power and Paper Tiger Rankings is up with this week's Power 16. The experts all have the Illini at number 1.

Two major points:

1. I love reading the little tidbits they write about each team. For Illinois, it's this: "From our vantage point, learning how to win ugly is a good thing heading into tournament play."

Food for thought: Could winning ugly do just as much to help Illinois as "losing once or twice" as so many national pundits (ahem cough Jay Marrioti cough cough) want us to believe?

2. The Bottom 10 is particularly interesting since North Carolina (the most talented team in America in case you haven't been paying attention the last few months) rolled in at number 10...otherwise known as the "Paper Tiger Slot."

Reasoning? The writers explain for themselves: "Paper tiger slot goes to Heels, who once again failed on the road in a big spot. Beating UConn this weekend with Rashad Anderson ailing probably won't answer that question."


Plays to Remember

When the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics at Illinois put together the basketball schedule for this year, they obviously didn't consult Illinitalk. That's because my wife, Skinny Sweetcheeks, and I have commitments from 7-9 p.m. every Tuesday night this spring...and the past three Tuesday nights, Illinois has had a game. On the road. Against tough opponents. On ESPN.

Full Disclosure Alert
Actually Illinitalk didn't exist when this year's basketball schedule was put together. will next year and we deem ourselves so important to the success of the program, so vital to its rise to prominence on the national level, so encouraging to coaches, fans and players alike that we sincerely believe we will be consulted next year...if nothing else so no games will not conflict with our schedules.
End Full Arrogance Bellyachin'

Anyway, because we couldn't watch the game Tuesday night, Skinny Sweetcheeks and I plopped down on the couch last night and watched the tape. Here are my quick thoughts:

Although the Illini obviously had to gut out the victory (I attribute this mostly to tired legs because their flight was messed up and schedules were off combined with Michigan's slow-down strategy) I will remember the awesome plays made by the Illini in this game for a long time.

Here is my list:

1. Dee's three steals that led to lay-ups.
2. Luther's alley-oop to Deron.
3. Dee's behind the back pass to Augie for the jam.

Although, in my mind, none of these plays overtakes the one at Purdue where Dee saved the ball out of bounds, passed to Augie, who, I believe from the floor, passed to Deron who passed to Luther for the jam.

To be sure, this is definately a season to savor.


Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Tupper on Big Ten Honors

Mark Tupper's latest blog entry talks about the difficulty he thinks he will have selecting Big Ten awards this year for basketball since the Illini are so balanced.


An Advertising Gig for Dee?

If college basketball players were allowed to sign endorsement contracts, Jay Mariotti made a reference to a company in his column today that would be an excellent match with Dee. Mariotti says, "While Deron Williams couldn't hit a jumper, Roger Powell's offense disappeared, and the bench was nonexistent, we saw a hoops version of the UPS commercial: What Brown can do for you." Awesome!

Chief does a great job of pointing out some inconsistencies in Mariotti's article but I give Jay credit for an excllent line. It is amazing to me, however, how quickly columnists/reporters jump on and off the bandwagon. If Illinois had lost, it doesn't mean they are a fraud or overrated as Mariotti implies. Let's keep everything in perspective. What happens in one game does not change what happened in all the games that came before. Let's look at the whole body of work and judge a team on that, not just the team's performance in one game.

Illinitalk also takes issue with Mariotti's contention that Illinois would have 2 or 3 losses by now if they played in the ACC. While Illinitalk recognizes that the ACC is very good this year, we believe the Illini would have more than held their own. Maybe somebody should remind Mariotti of what happened when Wake Forest visited Champaign in December. Let's wait and see what happens in March and April before making statements like that.

Back to what's important. The Illini won yesterday and that means Illini Nation should be happy this morning. There are some reasons for concern, such as a lack of bench production, failure to get to the free throw line more, a long scoring drought, etc. But we should also keep in mind that the Illini were coming off the toughest and most draining portion of their Big 10 schedule, had just played Sunday and were delayed flying to Michigan until Tuesday morning due to fog, were playing their 3rd Tuesday road game in a row, etc. In the end it all balances out. The Illini keep proving they can find a way to win even when they are not at their best. That is a mark of a championship caliber team.

Finally, although I am not a fan of MSNBC, there is an excellent article on their website that talks about four reasons why Illinois is undefeated: Motivation, Grace, Menace, and Stamina. Well worth a read.


Biggest Upset of the Year? I DON'T THINK SO!

Ah, yes, you have got to love announcers don't you? Let's just jump on the bandwagon and sing the praises of whichever team is winning. It drives me crazy! It also really irritates my normally very calm wife, who is also an Illini alum, so it isn't just me.

My wife finally figured out about a week ago that I was one of the contributors to Illinitalk. It only took her a month. It was all very entertaining to the Chief and I. But maybe you had to be there....
End Sidebar

Anyway, back to last night. Once Michigan took the lead on the Illini late in the first half, all we heard from Musberger and Lavin was how this woudl be the biggest upset of the year. To Musberger's credit, he at least pointed out to Lavin that there was still an entire half to go. However, they both continued to harp on this point until the Illini finally took the lead for good in the latter stages of the second half. I realize that if the Illini had lost last night, it would have been a huge upset. However, I don't need to hear that point over and over again and have it jammed down my throat. There is a game going on. In the future, maybe the announcers should remember that and focus on the action on the floor. But maybe I shouldn't complain--the Illini seem to be motivated by members of the media who doubt them.

Speaking of the media, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times must have the same sports headline writer. Both use the headline "1 and Only" on the front page of their sports sections. Too funny (and probably a little embarassing for both of the rival papers).


"If you want to be a player, you'd better make plays"

The Sun-Times' Jay Mariotti has a column today about last night's loss...I mean win...I mean loss...I mean I'm not sure if Mariotti thinks winning last night was actually a good thing...which means the Illini must've lost for winning. Anyway, he is sticking by his theory that Illinois should lose a game or two before it heads into the NCAA tournament.

That's fine.

However, it's hard to follow his logic since he makes the case towards the end of his article that losing a game or two would be good after he says this:

But before I could say "fraud,'' there was Brown, plotting his heist, slapping the ball away and driving for a layup. And before I could say "overrated,'' as the Michigan fans were chanting, there he was a minute later, tapping it to himself and going the distance.

So if Illinois would've lost, he would've written that the team was a "fraud" and "overrated" because they lost to Michigan...but because they won, it's also not good.

What gives?

Dee Brown Shout-out: We'd like to retire the Kenny "I provide the emotion that won't let my team lose" Battle Award to Dee Brown right now. If you didn't get to see last night's game, the following quote from Mariotti's column is all you need to read:

"You've got to make plays, fight it out. If you want to be a player, you'd better make plays,'' said Brown, dreadlocks hanging under his skullcap. "They were doing things, and we weren't mentally prepared for it. I tried to make something happen.''

Enough said.


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

EXTRA!!! EXTRA!!! Read all about it!

ESPN has posted a great graphic and features on their college hoops home page. It is called Chasing History: The Road to Perfection. It shows the remaining games on Illinois' and Boston College's schedules, has a poll, and an article from Pat Forde about the Illini being undefeated going into the NCAA Tournament. ESPN changes their web pages frequently so check it out soon and be sure to vote in the poll.

Media Accountability Alert--Illinitalk appreciates Mr. Forde's article but does take issue with Mr. Forde telling readers to remember where they read it first with regards to Illinois being undefeated going into the NCAA Tournament. Although he says it a little tongue in cheek since last week he said the Illini only had a 50-50 chance of being undefeated come tournament time, it obviously shows he should be reading Illinitalk as we wrote about a possible undefeated Big 10 season back on January 3rd (in Good Hope Orange's first post ever on the blog). Check it out in our January archives.

Finally, yet another shout out to Greg Couch of the Sun-Times for once again writing an excellent and insightful article on the Illini. He is quickly becoming an Illinitalk favorite.


1,000 and counting (plus the Bigs)

Congrats to Roger Powell on surpassing 1,000 points for his career on Sunday against the Hoosiers. He joins Dee Brown and Luther Head on that list with Deron Williams only 87 points away and James Augustine 215 away. Entering the NCAA tournament, Illinois could very well have 4 starters who have more than a 1,000 points for their career, with one other one within 150 of a 1,000. That fact speaks a lot to the reasons why Illinois is 23-0 at this point in the season. Among other things, it shows that:

1) The players are experienced. It takes time to reach 1,000 points.

2) The players are consistent. You have to be to score that many points.

3) The players are unselfish. They share the ball with one another.

4) The team is versatile. Any one of the players can step up on any given night and hurt you.

I think now is also a good time to give a shout-out to the Illini big men. With three outstanding guards, James Augustine and Roger Powell (not to mention the reserves), often get overlooked or forgotten. Many of the so-called experts have said the interior is Illinois' weakness or softspot. I think they can only say that because they are comparing it to the guards. It doesn't meet up with the facts.

Augustine and Powell were huge in the game against Indiana. They have come up big in every game when they have needed to and both have been named Big 10 Player of the Week during the season (Augustine received the honor twice). Powell has been very consistent all season and Augustine's confidence seems to have grown tremendously over the past few games. He has scored, rebounded, blocked shots, and been all over the court.

I think the Illini big men are finally starting to get some of their due. Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis has named Roger Powell to his 2005 All-Glue team. The Illini's guards are great but it is nice to see a big man get some recognition from the national media.


More bracket projections...'s Stewart Mandel gives the Illini a great draw in his latest bracket projections for the tourney.

Good grief does SI need to reconsider its graphic layout for these projections. Frankly, it's pathetic. Note to SI: take a lesson from ESPN's Lunardi.
End Sidebar

CBS Sportsline's Tony Mejia has his own tourney projections here...although Illinitalk couldn't find any bracket projections on Sportsline's website.


Possible Huge Weber Milestone Tonight

Weber: Illinois faces Turtleneck Tommy and his Wolverines tonight. If the Illini take care of business, Coach Weber will have won in every Big Ten arena in just his second year of coaching!

This accomplishment should not be lost on anyone. If Illinitalk's memory serves, Illinois' former coach never won at Wisconsin or Iowa (feel free to correct us in the comment section--we will be humble if we are wrong).

Game Previews: Chicago Sun-Times, Quad City Times, Pantagraph

Dickie V Watch: We're a little late to the table on this but we were busy working our real jobs last week and didn't have time to hold Dickie V accountable. After the Illini's win at Michigan State last week, Dickie V put a post up on ESPN's website that included this opening:

I was really surprised to hear what Illinois guard Dee Brown said to ESPN reporter Doris Burke after Illinois prevailed 81-68 at Michigan State on Tuesday night to stay undefeated.

Brown claimed that the Illini (22-0, 8-0 Big Ten) wanted to show their doubters that they would win.

Doubters? Who is doubting the Illini? They're the unanimous No. 1 in the polls. Illinois is one of two undefeated teams left in Division I basketball (Boston College remained perfect with Tuesday's home victory over West Virginia).

Sounds like while Dickie V's colleague Digger Phelps was picking against the Illini Dickie V was visiting Austin Bishop of the Neshoba Democrat on Mars.

That's ok. We love Dickie V's enthusiasm for the game and love for the kids and as long as Digger keeps picking against the Illini, it keeps them motivated.


Monday, February 07, 2005

Bracketology's Lunardi updated his Bracketology here. More nice things to say about the Illini.


The Hoosier Zone

It really pained me to have to send an e-mail to my friends from Indiana halfway through the first half of yesterday's game and tell them they were down 18-3. They, like myself, probably realized that was the ballgame.

Of course, some will say that Mike Davis switching to a zone defense at the 10-minute mark slowed the Illini down. I offer to you that Illinois wasn't able to hit the broad side of a barn until then anyway. I don't think it was the zone defense as much as the zone mindset of "let's see...if this game keeps going like this we'll be up 36-6 at halftime. Ho-hum." Seriously, tell me that didn't go through the head of more than one player. (I'd guess it definately went through Nick Smith the brainiac's for sure.)

And just when Indiana would try and make things interesting Dee Brown would step up and slam the door...much like swatting away a fly that's being a nuisance. Witness: the two three pointers he hit in a row. He wasn't just behind the arc...he shot those from Mahomet and Mattoon, respectively!

Who would've thought beating the Hoosiers by 13 would be such a bore? And speaking of the Hoosiers, Mark Tupper has the latest scuttle on Mike Davis' future in his latest blog entry.

Illiniwonk has a nice piece on the Illini's latest tendancy to (dare I say it?) play better on the road than at home.


Saturday, February 05, 2005

Another Gem from Coach Weber

"Being undefeated now is great for the program, but I'm worried about being undefeated in March. That means we're playing in April--and only four teams are playing then." (Coach Weber)

How true and how sweet it will be.


Friday, February 04, 2005

Would it make a difference?

The primary stories about the Illini today in several papers focus on the fact that their path to an undefeated season looks easier now thanks to some bad luck that has hit other teams. Indiana's Bracey Wright is doubtful for Sunday's game due to a sprained ankle, Michigan's Daniel Horton is suspended and Lester Abram suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, and Iowa's Pierre Pierce (the league's 3rd leading scorer) was kicked off the team due to legal problems (to put it kindly). Purdue has also suffered through injuries to several players this year. I don't count Wisconsin's loss of Boo Wade as he really wasn't around at all for the Big 10 season.

The question llinitalk would like to raise is would it have made any difference if these players were still on their respective teams? We believe the answer to that question is no. The only way these teams are going to beat the Illini is if Illinois has a terrible game and the other team plays to perfection. You could argue that the missing players could make that happen. We would argue that the Illini won't let it happen. Illinois has had some bad games this year (the Iowa game comes to mind) and yet they still found the will and the way to win. Illinois is not going to lose a game at home to Indiana or anyone else, Michigan is still too inexperienced, and the Illini are going to want to pay the Hawkeyes back in Iowa City for taking them to overtime in Champaign.

Don't misunderstand--not all of Illinois' remaining games (especially Wisconsin) are going to be a cakewalk. They never are in the Big 10, especially when you go on the road. But Illinitalk doesn't believe the Illini are going to falter now, regardless of the opponent. The motivation of an undefeated regular season is there and we believe Illinois will go into the Big 10 Tournament as the undefeated number 1 seed.

Quotes of the Day:

On the Indiana game: "We're in the house of pain, we're in Champaign. We're not coming in with any lackluster effort...."--Dee Brown

On focusing on the NCAA championship vs. the undefeated record: "You only get a ring three ways. Win the league championship, go to the Final Four, or get a national championship. 21-0 is great, 22-0 is great, the #1 ranking for eight or nine weeks is great, but it doesn't get you a ring. You get a ring because you won a championship."--Coach Weber


Thursday, February 03, 2005

Something to yell about

As I am driving to work today, I heard a great clip on the local ESPN radio station. Bruce Weber was on one of their local shows yesterday and says the following (somewhat jokingly): "I actually like it when they have a bad practice. It give me something to yell at them about. There were times in December when I just had to make things up so I could yell at them and keep them on edge." Gotta love it.


Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Weber, A Chalkboard, and St. Louis

In life, we find that at certain times, we all have to make sacrifices. One of those times occurred for me last night. Due to a prior commitment I made months ago, I was only able to watch and/or listen to the first half of last night's game. Thankfully, I was able to tape the game and sacrifice some sleep in order to watch the second half when I got home. After watching the Illini put away the Spartans 81-68, I started thinking about what to write today. I know that Chief and I often try to do a post-game analysis but with so much media coverage lately, I am sure that by this point in the day, you have probably read the newspaper (for another outstanding article by Greg Couch of the Sun-Times, click here), watched SportsCenter, etc. So instead, let's talk about the biggest thing that stood out to me in last night's game.

It wasn't anything that happened on the court. It was actually something the announcers mentioned in passing. Probably one of those stories they keep handy to fill time. But it stood out to me and I would like to share it with you in case you missed it (and as you read it, remember this happened last seaon--2003-2004). At the beginning of last season, Bruce Weber's first as head coach of the Illini, he wrote two words on the chalkboard: St. Louis. His players thought he was confused and told him the Final Four was in San Antonio this year, not St. Louis. Coach Weber replied that he knew that but he wasn't sure they would be ready to be in San Antonio this year but that next year he thought they could be in St. Louis.

Let that sink in for a minute.......In his first season as a head coach in the Big 10, his first seaon running a major program, getting adjusted to his new team as they got adjusted to him, with probably a million things going through his head and taking place around him, Coach Weber was not only preparing the team for that season but was also taking the steps necessary to prepare this team to be where they are today. He recognized that this team had the potential to do something special and he didn't shy away from putting that goal out in front of them. The goal was St. Louis--he put it in writing and he talked to his team about it. He planted the seed. The team had its challenges last year but that seed took hold and this year the team is seeing the fruits. Kudos to Coach Weber. You have done and are doing a great job. See you in St. Louis.


Shout Out to Tupper Blog

Superstar writer Mark Tupper's blog today is a must-read for any Illini fan.


A Tale of Two Columnists: Bathing Suit Competition Edition

Today's Chicago Tribune has enough coverage of last night's game to keep Illini fans busy reading for quite a while.

Yesterday was Media Day at the Super Bowl, where the Bear aren't playing. If they were, my guess is coverage of last night's game would be a little more watered down in the Chicago papers. Any guesses on how many times Bruce Weber has had the same thought (re: the sports media vacuum that presently exists in Illinois) cross his mind...especially when it comes to positive publicity for recruiting purposes?
End Sidebar

Of particular note in the Tribune today are columnists Rick Morrissey and Skip Myslenski. Morrissey (a regular Illinitalk shout out recipient) covers the game from an Illini perspective. Myslenski, obviously drawing the short straw, covers it from an MSU perspective.

Morrissey, as usual includes plenty of great one-liners in his column, including this one: When your record is 22-0, you shouldn't be looking to win the bathing suit competition.
End Sidebar

Illinitalk wonders: will the Tribune cover all the big games Illinois plays from here on out this way? Suppose Illinois plays Kansas, Duke and/or UNC in the tourney.

Can you just see it: Morrissey covers the (we hope) Illini wins. Myslenski write about how rough the losers (we hope Kansas, Duke and/or UNC) have it. I love it!!!

Be sure to check back later today for more coverage of last night's win.


Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Lunardi the Cardiologist

ESPN's resident bracketologist, Joe Lunardi, could possibly be dubbed a cardiologist for Illini fans. Given the potential for Illini fans to go into full meltdown mode when anything out of the ordinary happens (read: in this case a loss), Lunardi provides some welcome perspective:

Not even a loss at Michigan State would drop Illinois at this point. But four of next six are on the road.

His assessment of Illinois so far this season: It is a big deal to be undefeated this late in the year, and it will be a bigger deal if the Illini can get past Tuesday's trip to Michigan State. They would then be favored in every remaining regular-season game.

Click here for this week's bracketology. Most of his site requires Insider subscription but since the Illini are a one seed, you can read their profile here (as of this posting, the links are switched and you have to click on Kansas to read about Illinois...Illinitalk is sure Lunardi knows how much Illinois fans love Kansas and assumes he will have the error straightened out shortly).

Also of case you've been living on Mars with Austin Bishop of the Neshoba Democrat, and hadn't heard, Illinois only plays MSU once this season. ESPN's Andy Katz has a good story on the Big Ten schedule and its injustice.

And, don't forget to check out the other Illini blogs...they are loaded with information in their latest postings: Tupper, Dawson and Illiniwonk.


UNDISPUTED (and a preview)

Illinois is now a unanimous number one everywhere. They received all 21 first place votes in the ESPN/USA Today poll, all 72 first place votes in the AP poll (including the one from Mr. Austin Bishop of the Neshoba Democrat in Philadelphia, MS, last week's lone holdout), are ranked #1 by all of ESPN's "experts" in their power rankings, and are number 1 in every other conceivable poll or ranking you could look at. The question on everyone's mind is how long will they stay there. This evening's game will go a long way towards answering that question

After a huge win on the road at Wisconsin last Tuesday and a blowout win at home against Minnesota on Saturday, the Illini now travel to the Breslin Center to take on the Michigan State Spartans tonight. These two teams meet only once this year during the regular season so there is a lot at stake. If Illinois wins, they will have a two game lead on the Spartans and Wisconsin with eight games remaining. This puts them in a great position to win their second straight outright conference championship. Should the Spartans pull off the upset, they would tie the Illini for the Big 10 lead, although Illinois could still guarantee itself at least a share of the conference title by winning out. However, if both teams win out, the Spartans would get the number 1 seed in the Big 10 Tournament because of the head-to-head victory. While this may not seem like a big deal, this is an issue of pride, not to mention the fact that the number 1 seed should have the easier tournament path.

Who will win tonight? That is a great question. The victory at Wisconsin was a great win because of the Badgers' 38 game home winning streak, it was a key conference road win, overcoming the Badgers disciplined style of play, not to mention the fact that the two teams really don't like each other. Michigan State presents a different challenge. Like the Kohl Center, the Breslin Center is a tough place to play. The bigger challenge however, is the athleticism of the Michigan State players. These teams don't have the dislike for one another that the Illini and Badgers have. In fact, there are a lot of connections between the players and coaches so bragging rights are on the line. So who will win? No outright predictions this week but remember this: Unlike the Spartans, the Illini have shown they play their best in the biggest games when the lights are brightest. Every time they have been challenged, they have risen to the occasion. Illinitalk doesn't expect that to change tonight.


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