Saturday, February 19, 2005
Make that 27 and Zero....
Today was a great road challenge in Iowa City. Those scrappy Hawkeyes really know how to hang close. I expected a tight defensive struggle and that's really what it turned out to be. Neither team shot very well and there were many turnovers on both sides of the ball. But in the end it was the experience, the leadership, and the defense of Illinois which put the clamps on and never looked back. Luther didn't have a great game, but Deron Williams did. And there was no hot water at their hotel this morning when they got out of bed. Brutal! But this year's team does not give up no matter what.
Thursday, February 17, 2005
What the experts are saying about Illinois!
Illinois continues to roll on with its win at Penn State. There have been shakeups already this week with Kansas and Kentucky both going down on the road. Watch out for Michigan State, a team that has been warming up lately. - Dick Vitale
The top three teams are starting to create some distance. Illinois, Wake Forest and North Carolina have the look of Final Four teams. Kansas has had that at times but couldn't close out Texas Tech. Oklahoma State seems to be on a roll and is headed for a showdown with Kansas next weekend. The back end of the Power 16 is for teams that are playing well this week and that's why Charlotte, Pacific, Utah and Wisconsin deserve praise. Pittsburgh is probably the biggest climber. The Panthers continue to show that they are tougher than most teams, with road wins at Connecticut and Syracuse. - Andy Katz
Illinois should finish the season unbeaten, although it does not matter whether the Illini finish the year with a bagel, one or two losses. This team is good enough to win the national championship, and a few stumbles won't change that. North Carolina is second, but on even footing with Illinois. I like Kansas, because the Jayhawks continue to win, and Wake Forest as my four No. 1 seeds. A few other teams can still sneak out a top seed, but these four are solid. The more you look at the Pac-10 and the SEC, the more you think that this will be the year of the mid-major -- somebody has to gobble up those at-large bids. - Jay Bilas
After Illinois, no team in the upper portion of the Power 16 did much to distinguish itself this past week. But watch out for Pittsburgh, which seems to be back to its trademark sausage-grinder defense. And watch out for Utah, which might have America's best player tucked away in the quiet Mountain Time Zone. And keep an eye on Louisville-Marquette Thursday night, to see if the Golden Eagles can perpetrate a 47-point turnaround of their crushing loss in Freedom Hall. It's not out of the question. - Pat Forde
Saturday, February 12, 2005
25 - 0! Not bad; not great!
It was our 25th straight win which tied a recording dating back to 1916. Sure, we've won 19 in a row at home which is good.
Right now LUTHER HEAD is carrying this team. Sure, we're getting strong play from Brown, Augustine, and Williams but they'll need to stop it up come tourney time if we're hoping to go deeper than the SWEET 16. It think the potential is there. We also need more consistent bench scooring from Smith, McBride, Ingram, and company. The minister (Roger Powell Jr.) needs to make sure he stays out of foul trouble so he can contribute at both ends of the floor. He is a big presence down low and plays much larger than 6'6".
But for now things are good in Champaign. I do see some storm clouds on the Horizon. But I like our changes given the remaining schedule and the NCAA Tourney structure which has a favorable travel schedule.
In order for the March to the Arch to make it from Chicago to St. Louis we'll need to fix a few things over the next 4 weeks. Field goal percentage is one (needs a quck 10% pop). And bench scoring and overrall productivity is another. Get those two to come around and there's no stopping the Stylin' Illini in 2005!. Oskee Wa Wa! Go Krush!
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
More Interesting stats....
Since Illinois takes care of the ball and sports a decent rebounding margin (plus-4.3), it gets more shots than its opponents. And makes more shots. The Illini are connecting on 50 percent of their field goals in league play and 40 percent of their 3-pointers, both best in the Big Ten.
Izzo on Illinois!
|“||If they shoot like they shot against us, I don't think anybody can beat them. ”|
||— Michigan St. coach Tom Izzo|
Close 1 in Ann Arbor.....24 and 0!
Dee Brown stepped up tonight (along with Luther Head). But Dee was the story on both sides of the ball. There was a 5 minute spurt in the 2nd half where he was intercepting just about every Michigan pass for a lay-up going the other way. That man can flat out fly. Wait - there he goes again.
The team is clearly tired after 3 tough road weeks (at Madison, at East Lansing, and at Ann Arbor). Can you say 3 for 3? We need some time off to rest the jets before taking on Wisconsin at home on Saturday (on Lincoln's birthday).
Not sure how much longer the streak will last; but it's been fun so far. The March to the Arch returns to Champaign on Saturday. 15 more to go.
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Dicky V on the State Victory!
llinois No. 1? Without a doubt
SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM
Feb. 1, 2005
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- I was really surprised hearing what Dee Brown said to our Doris Burke after Illinois won at Michigan State on Tuesday night.
Brown claimed that Illinois wanted to show its doubters that it would win.
Doubters? Who is doubting the Illini? This team is a unanimous No. 1 team 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).
The Illini have won 22 straight games, the longest streak in the nation. This program has won 18 straight Big Ten games, and 10 of those came on the road.
I understand Bruce Weber is trying to create an us-against-them mentality to motivate his team. Come on, I don't understand the claim that people doubt what this Illinois team has accomplished.
If you can build a 38-point lead against Gonzaga, lead by more than 30 against Wake Forest, dominate against Cincinnati and win in hostile environments like Madison, Wis., and East Lansing, Mich., there is no doubt that you have done your job.
This Illinois team plays hard and it has all the parts to win six games and cut down the nets in St. Louis. However, I feel the Illini will not run the table in the regular season.
That said, since Indiana went unbeaten in winning the national championship in 1976, 13 teams have gone through the regular season unbeaten and none of them have won the title. I feel that Illinois and North Carolina right now are locks to make the Final Four. The other two slots are really up for grabs when you look at programs like Kentucky, Louisville, Oklahoma State, Boston College, Syracuse, Wake Forest, and Duke among others.
Illinois really showed something in the first half against Michigan State on Tuesday night, connecting on nine trifectas in the first half. It is always nice to trade 3-pointers for two-point baskets, and Michigan State did not do a good job of defending the perimeter. Give the Illini credit for converting.
The Illinois backcourt is as good as any in America, and the trio of Deron Williams, Brown and Luther Head combined for 54 points against the Spartans. Williams showed his great vision and passing ability. Brown's speed was impressive -- he is a lot like Allen Iverson with his quickness in the open court. Head is Mr. Versatile, doing it on both ends of the court.
Illinois is an unselfish team that shares the basketball and gets all of its players in the game offensively, making the offense tough to stop. If Williams, Head or Brown struggled, James Augustine, Roger Powell or some of the bench talent steps up and contributes big time. This unit takes quality shots and makes them.
It was impressive to see Illinois make 12 straight shots against a good Michigan State defense. Good passers set up good shooters in the offensive attack.
The defensive effort was outstanding as well, producing 12 steals. Illinois forces turnovers but does a good job possessing the ball on the offensive end, limiting mistakes.
The pressure on Illinois will continue to mount as the team tries to remain unbeaten. Then comes the postseason, and the Illini may feel they still have something to prove. I guess it is all about the us-against-them mentality. I just don't understand why Illinois feels it has doubters.
Just look at this week's poll, baby! This team won in hostile environments the last two Tuesdays, snapping Wisconsin's 38-game home streak and then beating a Michigan State team that had been brilliant in East Lansing under Tom Izzo. The Spartans were 95-6 at home in their last 101 games at Breslin Center before Illinois prevailed Tuesday.
Seth Davis is an Idiot!
"It's starting to feel like déjà vu all over again. February has begun, and only two teams remain undefeated. We look at their schedules, pour over the history and wonder if they can finish the regular season undefeated. Soon we start to wonder if they can actually win an NCAA championship without a blemish.
Last year it was Stanford and Saint Joseph's. Now we have Illinois and Boston College. Illinois' win streak could very well end tonight when the Illini play Michigan State in East Lansing. If they get past the Spartans, Illinois still must beat Wisconsin at home and Iowa on the road. BC, meanwhile, hosts West Virginia tonight still to come are home games against Syracuse and Pittsburgh and road dates with Notre Dame and Villanova. It won't be easy to run those tables, but these squads have proven they can make tough shots.
I'm not as interested in the can-they questions as much as the big should-they question, as in: Do you really want to go into the NCAA Tournament undefeated?
My answer to that is no -- unequivocally, immutably, unquestionably, no. The last team to win a championship without a loss was Indiana in 1976. There's a reason nobody has done this in 29 years. It's hard enough to win six games in the tournament without having to wear the undefeated mantle. BC and Illinois can think of me as the anti-Nike: Just don't do it.
I'm not just talking about the difference between zero losses and one loss here. I'm talking about the natural ebb and flow that needs to take place for a team to peak at just the right time to win a title. Any team that chases an undefeated regular season runs the risk of burning out its emotional engine in mid-February. If you somehow make it through the regular season without losing, you then have to regenerate yourself to win your conference tournament -- usually three games in three days. Can you imagine how hard it is to regenerate yourself again for the NCAAs? Just when you need to be at your best, everybody's pooped.
Last season, Stanford topped out in late February, finishing the regular season by edging Washington State by three points at home before falling to Washington in the finale. The Cardinal did win the Pac-10 tournament but was defeated in the NCAA second round by Alabama. Saint Joseph's, meanwhile, achieved a perfect regular season before being blitzed by Xavier in the first round of the Atlantic-10 tournament. People criticized the Hawks for that, but the loss gave them some much-needed rest, which I believe helped them reach the Elite Eight.
Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli told me this week that he believed his Hawks probably would not have been as prepared to compete in the NCAAs if they had played three straight days in the A-10 tournament. While he rejected my just-don't-do-it argument -- "Even as a high school coach, I never understood the idea that you can learn more from losing than winning," he said -- he did concede that there is a significant burden that comes with being undefeated in late February. "You become larger than life," Martelli said. "You get to a point where so many people ask you whether you can [finish undefeated], it can be a distraction if you're centered on that.
"Admittedly so, life would have been easier in some ways if we had lost," he continued. "But you start to realize that we're passing a way that few teams have ever gone. You want to grab that moment."
I understand the competitor's credo that you must always play to win, and I would never suggest that Illinois or Boston College go into a game intending to lose. But history does not dole out great moments so easily. The undefeateds should make sure they're reaching for the right one.
22-0; not that close!
It's nice when it's unanimous; first time since Duke in '99 the country has an undisputed #1 in college hoops. Make that 9 weeks in a row. We're starting to break records dating back to 1914.
1989 was a great season - and we should have finished it the right way with our first National Title; but that wasn't in the cards for the Flyin' Illini of Battle, Norman, Hamilton, Anderson, Gill, and Bardo. That was a great time. But this year's squad is a bit different - we have great chemistry and nobody cares who gets the credit. I like how we move the rock on offense. If we keep shooting this well from deep then it's going to be a great run through March. Nobody can transition with us. Few squads play better team defense.
Deron and Dee are playing well but could and will play better. Right now, and I've said this before, Luther is carrying this team with his ability to penetrate, create, and finish. Wow, can you say underrated? He makes the rest of the team better.
Next week we get the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. I'm not looking past that, but the Iowa game in Iowa City looms large. So does that Badger game in Champaign on Lincoln's Birthday. No way the cheeseheads win that one in Illinois - LAND OF LINCOLN! Hail to the Chief.....