Thursday, March 30, 2006

Basketball Thoughts and Tidbits

I spent a lot of time in the car on Tuesday and listened to quite a bit of sports talk radio. Probably too much. Anyway, here are some of my thoughts that came out of those 6 hours of radio, watching the games last weekend, and reading today's papers:

1) George Mason University--Everyone knows their story by now and probably more than you ever wanted to know. I heard an interesting observation about their game with Connecticut. Near the end of the game, UConn was down and GMU was preparing to shoot free throws UConn didn't have a time out so you would think the players would gather together on the floor briefly just to talk about options and what they were going to do based on whether or not the GMU player made the free throws. They didn't. They just lined up to rebound the ball. One can only guess that their thought process was that whoever got the ball would dribble the length of the court and shoot it. Whatever happened to a team concept? GMU showed what can be done when players are on the same page and working towards the same goal. I think that was UConn's problem all year. Yes, they won a lot of games but they were never more than a collection of very talented individuals, each with their own personal goals and agendas. I don't think they ever bought into a team concept.

I heard one guest on the radio comment that he thought this was true for virtually all of the major division I programs and that mid-majors had an advantage in this aspect of the game. I am not sure I completely buy into that. I do believe it is true at some schools but I also think it can vary from year to year and team to team. For example, I think last year's Illinois squad was the definition of a team. I also think that in most years, Duke plays as a team. On the flip side, I felt that last year's North Carolina team played more as a collection of individuals. The potential is there to have success at the elite level either way but if you can combine top-level players and teamwork, then you have something special.

2) Speaking of UConn, their coach (Jim Calhoun) complaining about GMU having a home court advantage because the game was in DC, is ridiculous. I didn't see the interview/press conference where he made the comment so he might have just been joking. I also believe he made the comment before the game but I don't know if he repeated it afterwards. However, if he was serious, that is pathetic. He should keep in mind that no matter where the game was played (unless it was in Storrs), GMU would have been favored by the crowd because of their underdog status. All this being said, I thought Calhoun was very classy after the game in saying that he knew the thrill the GMU players and coach were experiencing and congratulating them, etc.

3) While we are on the topic of GMU's coach, you have to be happy for Jim Larranaga. Here is a guy who has coached for year's at the mid-major level (and will likely finish his career at that level) and now he gets to go to the Final Four with a shot at a National Championship. GMU isn't a steppingstone for him and no matter what happens from here on out, his "legend" there will be secure. GMU should feel no pressure because after all they have done, most people still pick Florida to beat them. Whatever they do from here on out is in a sense icing on the cake. Good luck Patriots--we wish you well!

4) I heard Bill Self in an interview with Mike and Mike on ESPN. I almost turned it off once I heard he was coming on but I went ahead and listened to see what he had to say. I have to admit, he is a smooth talker. Listening to the interview reminded me of why I liked him when he was at Illinois. Oh well, it was his loss and our gain.

5) Dee, Augie, and Coach Weber will be in Indianapolis this weekend, albeit not for the reason we had hoped. Dee will be participating in the three point shootout, which will air (tape delayed) on ESPN at 8 p.m. CST tonight, on ESPN2 at 11 p.m. CST tonight, and then again on ESPN at 11 a.m. CST on Saturday. Meanwhile, Coach Weber will be leading a group of senior all-stars that includes Augie against the Harlem Globetrotters in the annual NABC College All-Star Game. That game will be aired (tape delayed) on ESPNU at 10 p.m. CST on Friday.

6) Former Bull's great Norm Van Lier is working towards becoming a certified sports agent. Two players he would like to have as his first clients--our very own Dee Brown and James Augustine.

7) The University of Illinois is continuing its fight with the NCAA over Chief Illiniwek. I have to hand it my alma mater--I wasn't sure they had the stomach for this particular fight but they have proven to me that they do. No matter how it ends up, I appreciate their efforts in this battle.

8) Finally, good luck to the Illinois baseball team as they play their home opener against Purdue tomorrow.


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Breaking: Indiana To Hire Kelvin Sampson

ESPN's Katz has the story here. Please reserve judgment until you read this. Is Sampson jumping ship or was he just tired of coaching basketball for a fan base that cares more about touchdowns? Why would IU hire a guy whose program is under investigation?


Roger Powell: Headed to the NBA?

The Rev is making his mark in the CBA, being named Rookie of the Year. Read about it here and here. Could the NBA be next?

Be sure to check out Roger's website here.


Monday, March 27, 2006

Illini in the NBA: Luther Head

According to the Houston Chronicle, Luther Head is "making progress" in the NBA.


Washington AD Writes NCAA to...are you ready?...Complain!

Three must-read articles today:

1. Irony of ironies. The Seattle Times is reporting that the University of Washington athletic director actually wrote to the NCAA after the school's loss to UCHOKE, I mean UCONN, to complain about the officiating and his players being up past their bedtimes.

This is delicious. He tried to sugarcoat it to the paper by never using the word "complain." Instead, according to the article, "he said the purpose was 'to try to encourage them (the NCAA) to consider things a little differently in the future in how we assign the officials.'"

Furthermore, he apparently doesn't realize that college students are used to staying up late: But Turner said the tip time "was ridiculous and not fair to the players, nor fair to the fans who paid money for those tickets. We were sitting in that gym at 12:45 a.m. and still playing."

Um, Mr. University of Washington Athletic Director, last time I checked Washington is in the Pacific time zone. All your fans on the West Coast probably got to see the game in prime time. What are you complaining about?

2. Mark Tupper presents a fact-based case about foul discrepancies between Big Ten teams and their opponents and what the league can do about it here.

2. Dennis Dodd of CBS talks about the officiating in the tournament here and quotes Bruce Weber. Ironically, he does so right after talking about all the Washington players who fouled out of their game against lazy UCHOKE.

Actually he starts off his article talking about what a terrible game Memphis-UCLA was. I agree...I fell asleep!


Friday, March 24, 2006

Tale of the Tape: Duke and Illinois

This was a heckuva a game. However, the press conference on ESPN News after the game was even more interesting because they showed Duke's recent tournament history:

Duke's record in the NCAA Tournament the last five years: 12-5 (including one national semifinal appearance).

Incidentally, Illinois' record in the NCAA Tournament the last five years: 11-5 (including one championship game appearance).

Interesting side note: The Duke athletic site only provides results from last season. All other previous season archives are no where to be found.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Who are you cheering for now?

With Illinois out of the NCAA Tournament, along with the other 5 Big Ten teams who were eliminated last weekend, who (if anyone) are you cheering for now?

Below are the matchups for this weekend and who I will be cheering for in each of those games. Keep in mind, this is who I am cheering for, not necessarily who I would pick if I were tring to make a prediction.

Thursday Games

Atlanta Region

1) Duke vs. LSU at 6:10 p.m. CST--I am cheering for neither team. Like everyone else in America (unless you went there), I can't stand Duke and want to see them lose. At the same time, when Illinois played LSU in the Sugar Bowl in 2002, most of the LSU fans I encountered were obnoxious and acted like idiots. Thus, I don't care for them either. I wish they could both lose but since they can't, my dislike for Duke is stronger than my dislike for LSU so while I won't be cheering for them, I would prefer to see LSU win this one.

2) West Virginia vs. Texas at 8:40 p.m. CST--Go West Virginia. I have nothing against Texas but since they won the National Championship in football I would enjoy seeing someone else win in basketball. Also, they have had some terrible blowout losses this year for being such a supposedly good team. Plus, you have to love being able to say Pittsnogle so let's see the Mountaineers advance a little further.

Oakland Region

1) Memphis vs. Bradley at 6:27 p.m.--If you are an Illinois fan, how can you not be rooting for the Bradley Braves? I definitely want to see the boys from Peoria win this game and go as far as they can in the tournament. While I would love to see them win the whole thing, that probably isn't realistic. However, I do think they can compete with and beat Memphis so Go Braves! (And besides, wouldn't you love to see John "Slick Willy" Calipari lose again?)

2) Gonzaga vs. UCLA at 8:57 p.m.--I have no strong rooting interest either way in this game but I am going to cheer for Gonzaga. While it is hard to call them an underdog, I still think it would be fun to see them beat UCLA and move on (and it isn't like there have been any shortage of NC banners at UCLA over the years).

Friday Games

Minneapolis Region

1) Villanova vs. Boston College at 6:10 p.m.--Go Villanova Wildcats! After Bradley, this is the team I will be cheering for to win the whole thing. Their style of play reminds me a lot of Illinois' team last year. They start four guards, share the ball, play aggressively on both offense and defense and are fun to watch. Finally, although they have a NC to their credit, they are not one of the usual contenders and I want to see someone different win it this year.

2) Florida vs. Georgetown at 8:40 p.m.--In this game, I will cheer for the Georgetown Hoyas. While I am not a big fan of the Hoyas, I have never cared for the Florida Gators or their coach Billy Donavan (see the John Calipari comment) so I would like to see Georgtown knock them out of the tournament.

Washington Region

1) George Mason vs. Wichita State at 6:27 p.m.--I will be rooting for Wichita State in this one, although either team will be the underdog in the next game. Wichita State, however, is in the midwest and part of the MVC Conference along with Bradley so that is who I will be cheering for in this game.

2) Connecticut vs. Washington at 8:57 p.m.--I will be cheering for the Huskies. What's that? They are both nicknamed the Huskies? So which is it? Well that is a good question. This game is a dilema for me because Washington beat Illinois in a game that I believe Illinois outplayed them in every aspect of except for the number of free throws shot. In some ways, that makes me want to see them get beat while at the same time Illinois looks better if they advance. So who do I choose? Ultimately, I guess I will be cheering for the Washingon Huskies. UConn has won their fair share of titles lately and I don't particularly care for their players or the lack of effort/non-chalance they show at times. I respect Washington and their coach so I will be hoping for the upset in this game (but trust me, I won't be shedding any tears if UConn crushes them).

Well, that wraps it up. Do you agree or disagree with me? Who are all of you cheering for? Let us know under the comments section.

P.S. For those of you looking for an Illini fix, check out these recent articles on the Illinois football team and spring practice. Learn about the offense and the defense.


Monday, March 20, 2006





Very Interesting. (Read the caption: Foul on ARNOLD?!?!?!?!?)

Why post links to these photos (the last one we will point out to our readers is in the Huskies' hometown paper, THE SEATTLE TIMES)?

Illinitalk said nothing about officiating all season. In fact, we haven't talked about officials in this space since this blog was born. I've officiated before. It's tough. Refs blow calls. That's part of the game. Teams are supposed to put that behind them.

And...refs usually blow calls equally.

That was not the case Saturday night during the Illininois-Washington whistlefest in San Diego.

Check out the box score here, paying particular attention to the free throw differential. That's right. Illinois was called for 28 fouls. Washington was called for 17. Illinois shot 11 free throws. Washington shot 39!!!!

And it wasn't as if Washington wasn't playing physical, as the photos linked above attest.

Furthermore, the Washington players themselves said they were being physical. Just read what the Huskies' Mike Jensen on guarding James Augustine from this ESPN article:

"I put my whole body in front of him," Jensen said. "I elbowed him. I butt-fronted him. I shoved him. Whatever it took. A couple times he got frustrated -- he'd push me or shove me -- but I just pushed him right back."

How many personal fouls did Mike Jensen end up with? ONE!

So what is our point? It's that something just wasn't right about the officiating Saturday night. We realize we have to live with the loss and unfortunately so do the Illini players and coaches. But look at the box score and then watch the game tape and come back and tell us with a straight face that the game was called fairly.

As an Illini friend of mine told me this morning, "I'm not into black helicopters but..."

Neither are we but...we're a blog so we can speculate:

Look carefully again at the box score paying close attention to the names of the officials. Now check out this box score from the Duke-Boston College game that was played Feb. 1, again paying close attention to the names of the officials. Anything jump out at you? Gary Maxwell perhaps? Yep, he called both games.

You remember that Duke-BC game. It was the one where Duke's Sheldon Williams did some serious shoving of his own at the end of the game, only to have the foul called on BC, which basically gave Duke the win. Andy Katz blogs about it here.

Does Gary Maxwell just routinely miss big calls in big games? Does he play favorites? Will we ever know?

Some have said this reminds them of the 2001 loss in the Elite Eight to Arizona. I disgree. I thought the foul calls in that game were lopsided...until I watched our game Saturday.

Speaking of Arizona, I know a lot of their folks were upset with the officiating in last year's Elite Eight game. Was the Washington game payback? Again, we might never know.

We have no proof any of our speculation is true. Just throwing out theories.

The Writers
Rick Morrissey is an Illinitalk favorite but this column from yesterday is ridiculous. Come on Rick. Look at the box score. Calling out Weber for complaining about the way the game was called? Do us a favor and call out K, Roy and Calhoun next time they do that. Give me a break.

Mark Tupper has a great summary here.

Weber's Suit
This photo doesn't do it justice but it was sweet.


Saturday, March 18, 2006

Illini take on Washington

The Fighting Illini take on the Washington Huskies in the second round of the NCAA tournament today in what promises to be a great Big Ten-Pac-10 showdown. This has all the makings of the Rose Bowl of basketball. West Coast game. Strong Pac-10 foe. Postseason intensity. Homecourt advantage for the Pac-10 representative...

Anyway, in my view there are three keys to the game today:

1. Brian Randle. Will he bring it on defense again Brandon Roy or get into foul trouble? It would be nice if Randle would slow him down because it would probably take the Huskies out of their run and gun offense. However, keep in mind if Randle has to sit early, Rich McBride did a nice job guarding Vincent Grier in when the Illini played at the Barn at the end of the regular season.

2. Augie. Trib's Niel Milbert talks about how Augie may be feeling the pressure of his last game as an Illini. Please Augie...we beg you: Loosen up. It's no big deal. Don't think about that. Just play your game like it's any other game because that's when you play best.

3. Bench. Illinois is probably deeper than Washington. If the future of the program steps up tonight (or this afternoon depending on what time zone you're in), we win.


1. Iowa. Wow. Did anyone NOT see that last second shot? It's my understanding that Iowa's seniors never won an NCAA game. And Indiana is considering hiring Steve Alford? Um, ok. Let's hire France to go after bin Laden.

2. KU. Tough. Night. For Self. Bill Self can recruit but he's starting to prove that he's having a hard time figuring out how to coach those players. Last year it was Bucknell. This year it's Bradley. Kudo's to Bradley and Jim Les for playing a tough game. However, it's not hard to argue that Kansas is underachieving with the recruits they have.


Friday, March 17, 2006

Victory Number One

It takes 6 wins to be crowned as the National Champion. After a delayed start due to a bomb scare, Illinois got victory number one last night thanks to outstanding, big-time performances from Jamar Smith, Brian Randle, and Warren Carter to go with solid contributions from Dee Brown and James Augustine.

Rick Morrissey of the Tribune says that surviving Thursday is a big deal. I agree. This was a game that was being played a long way from Illinois against a very solid and motivated Air Force team during a week when the Illini had encountered flight delays, bus breakdowns, and a bomb scare. It would not have been difficult to get distracted and let a game like this slip away. Thankfully, Illinois' focus never wavered and now they move on to play Washington on Saturday. Before going any further, I want to congratulate Air Force on the way they played. I thought they gave a tremendous effort and certainly proved that they belonged in the tournament. Also, AF Zoomie provided us with some great analysis that was right on--the two players he named had good games, their big guy didn't like to go inside, we were able to pound the ball inside to our guys, and AF could definitely shoot the three. In the end, the Air Force players left it all on the court and Illinitalk commends them for a great season and we thank them for serving our country.

The Illini now move on to Saturday's game against Washington and try to get victory number two. You might infer from the title of this column and the opening sentence that I am predicting a National Championship for the Illini this year. That is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that they need six wins to accomplish that and the only way to get there is to take it one game and one win at a time. The Washington Huskies are a good basketball team that defeated Utah State in their game yesterday. They have an outstanding guard by the name of Brandon Roy, who was the Pac-10 Player of the Year. Both teams finished as the runners up in their respective conferences, have virtually identical records, and were number one seeds a year ago, thus having tournament experience. Illinois will have to play well to win this game and Coach Weber doesn't intend to allow the team to relax after yesterday's win. If Illinois can get contributions from its bench, continue to shoot well, and continue to throw the ball inside, they should win tomorrow's game. I feel good going into this game and hope that's a good sign for tomorrow.

As of this post, the Big 10 is 3-2 in the tournament with wins from Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio State. Unfortunately, Wisconsin got crushed by Arizona today and Iowa was upset by Northwestern State University. That's right, it wasn't a misprint--Northwesten State University, the 14th seed. Iowa Coach Steve Alford said before today's game that he knows all too well that upsets happen because he experienced it back when he was playing for Indiana and 14th seed Cleveland State upset them in 1986. Apparently, he should of showed his team highlights from that game. We hate to see the Big 10 look bad like this and unfortunately there is no other way to put it--this is what happened to Iowa.

That's all for today. Have a great evening and let's cheer on the Illini to victory # 2 tomorrow. Go Orange and Blue!


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

An Illinitalk First!

Today, we have a special treat for you. There are many sports reporters out there that also have blogs--Mark Tupper and Brett Dawson are two examples of reporters who do this and do it well. Because they are also reporters, they often get more in-depth information that we may not be able to match because we don't have the same access to the coaches, players, conference calls, news conferences, etc.

However, today we have something for you that I have yet to see from any reporter out there. While you may have read quite a bit about Air Force's coach and perhaps some general information about their team, today Illinitalk brings you an inside perspective about Illinois' Thursday opponent. This marks our blog's first-ever guest commentary. It is something Chief and I have been talking about for awhile and now seemed like the perfect time to launch it. We hope you enjoy it and if you do, let us know and we will bring you more occasional guest commentary features in the future.

With that, here is what AF Zoomie has to say about his team:

"Recently I was asked to provide a ‘guest blog’ for this site. I’m a cadet at the Air Force Academy, but I have a place in my heart for the Illini as well—I’m from Illinois and most of my family and friends are either alumni or current students. I’m no writer or poet or anything like that, but here it is.

I know that most of you have probably seen or read about the media’s take on why the Air Force shouldn’t be in the tournament this year, so I’m not going to beat that drum anymore than I have to. What I have to say about all that is that the media never gives Air Force any credit. I doubt that half of the guys that are talking us down have ever watched us play. Yeah, we aren’t the best team and we didn’t beat the best teams, but we do have a good record (24-6) and we had a great season. I’ve got classes with some of the guys, and they’re excited about playing this game—they know how good the Illini are and they know what everyone thinks of them and they’re ready to make a stand. They would love to pull off an upset and wait for the apologies from CBS that probably wouldn’t come.

Air Force has ridiculous fans and the team benefits from it. We have a 35-0 winning streak at home, granted we won’t be playing at home in the tournament, but neither will our opponents (plural hopefully). On that note, the cadets here have been fired up since we found out that we slipped into the tournament. Our Section 8 would normally rival the Orange Crush. However, the ‘powers that be’ have determined that this weekend’s training supersedes any attempt to support our team. I disagree, but no one asked me. There is a rumor that we will send out a very small contingent, but nothing huge. That said, San Diego is in our conference, so we should benefit from that and it is pretty far from home for the Illini, so that should give the Air Force a leg up.

We are primarily a shooting team. We don’t have a J.J. Redick, but our senior, Antoine Hood averages 15 points a game. Jake Burtschi doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves, but averages 13 points a game. These two are our playmakers and the rest of the team compliments them well. We’re a fast team, but the one major disadvantage is our height. Yeah, we’ve got a 6’-10” guy, but he’s scared to go to the hoop and only averages 6 points a game. Illinois has an opportunity to destroy us inside. Our best hope is to drain 3’s all night long. I would say that we are a typical 3-point shooting team—when we’re on, we’re on, but if not, it’ll be a rough game.

We have no misconceptions about the strength of the Illini, but we won’t be pushed over. The biggest mistake that the Illini can make is to look past us. Good luck."

-- AF Zoomie


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Say what?

1. That's what most Fighting Illini fans were saying to themselves Sunday night around 5:15 p.m. CST when CBS unveiled the brackets that the NCAA Selection Committee worked so diligently to put together.

The Illini ended up a four seed in the Washington, DC bracket and got shipped out to San Diego. Many Illini fans were probably demanding a recount. Although San Diego's weather is nice, it's also a long way from the friendly confines of the Midwest.

Call me optimistic but I have two things to say about this seeding: I like our chances against any of the teams we may play this weekend: Air Force (for sure) and then either Utah State or Washington.

In addition, we have a good fan base out in California. Last time the Illini played out there it was in football. I'm sure the California alumni can't wait to get to a basketball game instead of watching it on TV. Need proof? Check out the following website: San Diego Illini Club.

Should we make it past this weekend, which I think we have a very good chance of doing, our fanbase in Washington, DC is one of the best in the country.

Although it won't be like playing in Indy, Chicago and St. Louis like last year, I do think it is impressive for recruits to turn on their televisions and see Illinois playing far from home and still have a ton of orange in the stands.

By the way, from Selection Sunday to San Diego, Tupper is providing great insights on his blog here.

2. Iowa fans. Yes, I am saying "say what?" to the things coming out of their mouths this week. Yes they won the Big Ten Tournament but I have Iowa fans telling me they won the Big Ten Title. One fan even went so far as to say they should be Big Ten Champs of everything basketball because they beat THE Ohio State twice. (Under that logic I guess you'd have to say we should share the regular season title with them since we split our regular season games...even though they don't seem to know the difference between the regular season and the Big Ten Tourney).

My favorite Iowa comment came today, however, by the Iowa fan who harassed Skinny Sweetcheeks. We're eating dinner tonight and she tells me this Iowa fan was in her office today saying that Dee Brown drags down the Illini. Wow. There is not one Iowa fan out there who, if Dee Brown were playing on their team, would not be singing his praises to the high heavens right now.

What are they teaching at that university? Not logic and common sense, that is for sure.

3. Rick F: Thank you for your comment and I agree. The Illini must bring it. 110 percent. If they do, they will be very dangerous. If not, get ready to bury your head in your hands.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

No TV=Ridonculous

Simple assignment: click on the following three links and tell me why I'm upset.

One. Two. Three. Go.


Did ya figure it out?

Here's the answer: Unless you're in a certain viewing area, you will not be able to watch the Illini Friday night. That is, unless of course you pay more money to get some ESPN U, Q, DO channels (which will probably show Duke-North Carolina most of the time anyway).

Seriously. Now I don't think this is a slam on Illinois. ESPN probably had their schedule set before they knew who would be seeded where in what tournament. The problem is, the #3 seed in the Big Ten Tourney ain't gonna be on TV.

So what is ESPN showing instead? The ACC and Big East tournament games.

In summary, I have three words for you: EAST. COAST. BIAS.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

MSU, BTT, and Awards

Lot's of news since we last posted. First, congrats to the team on their big win over Michigan State on Saturday. This win was important for several reasons which are as follows:

1) It kept Illinois' conference title hopes alive and assured them of finishing no worse than tied for second. As it turned out, with the Buckeyes win over Purdue on Sunday, they clinched the title outright. This end result is why Chief and I will continue to be big proponents of a balanced conference schedule in which every team plays the other conference teams twice. It is tough to complain too much because Illinois hurt themselves with the upset loss to Penn State at home and two very tough road losses to Indiana and Michigan. However, the Buckeyes had a very kind schedule to say the least and that certainly didn't hurt their cause. That being said , tOSU played well and won when they had to so give them credit. If you are wondering why the schedule change won't happen, in summary it is because few, if any, other conferences have a balanced schedule and by moving to that type of schedule, you likely lose some home non-conference games that would be probable wins. These wins help the teams and the league come tournament time.

2) The win reinforced that the improvement we had started to see offensively against Iowa and Minnesota was not an illusion. Coach Weber believes the team is playing their best basketball right now and is hitting its stride.

3) Illinois ended the Big Ten regular season with 3 straight wins, two of which were on the road in tough venues. How you finish is very important in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee and Illinois finished well. The road wins were particularly key as it enabled Illinois to even their conference road record to 4-4. I believe with these last 3 wins, Illinois has likely locked up a 3 seed and has positioned itself for a potential 2 seed if they play well in the Big Ten Tournament.

Speaking of the Big Ten Tournament, there is some good news and some bad news. The good news is that everyone seems to be jumping back onto the Illini bandwagon as Herb Gould of the Sun Times has picked Illinois to win the tournament over tOSU as has Skip Myslenski of the Tribune. The bad news is that Illinois will likely have to play MSU for the second time in less than a week in the quarterfinals and, assuming they win, will have to turn around and play the early game on Saturday, which provides them with very little rest and preparation time between games. This is a result of a change that the Big Ten coaches and athletic directors agreed to last year but now regret.

With the quality of the Big Ten this year, the conference tournament should be very entertaining. Even the teams at the bottom of the standings have the potential to pull off some upsets. Right now, as many as seven Big Ten teams could make the NCAA Tournament so that speaks to the battles we will likely see this weekend. It will be interesting to see how the teams fair against each other on a neutral court. Personally, I like the way Illinois is playing right now offensively and defensively (although teams have shot a little better against them lately, Illinois has been able to clamp down and hold teams scoreless for several minutes at a time lately). Even Illinois' free throws have started to improve. Anything can happen in a tournament like this where a team has to win three games in three days (or potentially four for the lower seeds) but Illinois' momentum and depth positions them well. It would be great to go into the NCAA Tournament with a Conference Tournament title and six wins in a row but the most important thing for Illinois this weekend is to stay healthy.

Moving on, the All-Big Ten teams were announced today as were the various individual awards. Congrats to Dee Brown on being a consensus first-team selection and to Augie on also being named to the first-team by the coaches. Dee also made the media's first-team while Augie was named to the second-team (come on sportswriters--where's the love?). Dee was also recognized as Illinois' recipient of the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award. Congratulations also go out to Jamar Smith on being named to the All-Freshman team and to Brian Randle on being named to the All-Defensive team. Last but not least, the Illini got some recognition (good and bad) as the Tribune's college hoops reporters examined the best and worst of the Big Ten this year.

Finally, in keeping our status as the only comprehensive Illini sports blog on the web, congratulations to the Illini Wrestling Squad on finishing second at the Big Ten Wrestling Championship. Last but not least, here is an outstanding article from Illinisports about Coach Zook's recruiting efforts. It really gives hope that the Illinois football program is about to turn around and become a team that will compete in the Big Ten and perhaps nationally. Wouldn't it be great to have both outstanding football and basketball programs at Illinois? Very few schools are good in both--for this Illini fan, it would be something to celebrate. Until later, Go Illini!


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Key Victory

Last night's win over Minnesota may have been expected by some but the Illini can't take anything for granted this year. This win was critical if they were to keep themselves in position to tie for the conference title, avoid having to play on Thursday at the Big Ten tournament, and keep themselves in the running for a 2 or 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. So you could understand if the team might have been feeling a little bit of pressure last night. If they were, they sure didn't play like it.

This was a good all-around victory for the Illini. Dee and James may be been a little nervous for Senior Night at the Assembly Hall, but as the Trib says, they crashed the Gopher's Senior Night party. Augie's performance may have been his best of the year as he nearly got a triple double, which is virtually unheard of for a post player. Just goes to show how multi-talented he is. I think we will see him at the next level in some role. As for Dee, he too had a very good all-around game and seems to have gotten his shooting a little bit back on track.

The bench came through for the second game in a row with big baskets and good defense. My only question is what was going on with Warren Carter. To my knowledge he did not get into the game and the announcers never addressed it. Anyone out there know?

Positives that came out of this game were the ability to score some points and shooting over 50% for one of the few times this season. We will need these types of performances during the post-season, especially the runs that the Illini went on at different times. Not sure what to say about the defense--it was the first time an opponent has shot better than 50% on the Illini this year but at the same time, the defense clamped down and kept the Gophers from scoring for several possessions at a time. Call this one a push defensively.

Now it is time for the Illini to cheer on the Northwestern Wildcats tonight as they try to upset the Ohio State Buckeyes in Evanston. Just this once, let me say "Go Purple!"

Finally, a big Happy Birthday to the Illinette, who will be one year old tomorrow! I can't believe it has already been a year--time sure flies. Until later, GO ILLINI!


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