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.