Tuesday, February 21, 2006
You've heard it here before - no easy wins in the toughest conference of them all. After two good home wins against Northwestern and Indiana, the ILLINI hit the road to play a game against Michigan in Ann Arbor. We should have stayed in Champaign. When it comes to the RPI, no conference is more competitive top to bottom than the Big - 10. It's just not easy to win on the road this year. Tonight was another good example as the Illini dropped their 5th conference game of the season with a 72-64 loss in Ann Arbor. The game was actually much closer than the final score with most of the margin being garbage free-throws down the stretch. We fall to 22-5 and 9-5 in the conference. Ugh!
But, give credit to a Michigan squad and a guy named Horton (not Paul - thank God). Daniel had a career high in points (37 big ones, go figure). Tonight, they ended an 11-game losing streak against my ILLINI. As a team, the Wolverines shot nearly 50% for the game and from behind the arc and that was the difference. Illinois is holding BIG-10 opponents to less than 39% on the season (at home and away combined).
Augustine and Brown both stepped - up tonight with big games. The problem as I saw it was a lack of depth from the bench - which I don't think had any points tonight. Where was Randle? Where was McBride? Those guys need to pitch in 10 points each night. As a team, wWe continue to shoot poorly from 3-point land (4-15 on the night). Our free-throw shooting wasn't bad at 6 for 9, but not great either. No, tonight was about a desperate Wolverine team who needed this win more than we did and refused to lose. They played with more energy and urgency down the stretch. Sure the calls didn't all go our way either, but you can't blame the officiating for 12 turnovers, especially down the stretch. Michigan also out-rebounded us 27-25 (a stat we normally dominate). No, this wasn't an upset (despite what you may read elsewhere). This one just plane slipped away late (after a 34-30 halftime lead). It hurts when you can't hold leads that you work all game to build, especially on the road.
Bring on the Hawkeyes for a revenge game at the Hall. I'm sure we'll paint it orange on Saturday, our last home game of the year before playing at Minnesota and at Michigan State. The schedule is cruel this time of year. This ILLINI squad is a good young team that has made a lot of improvement over the season. But that's it. We're not a great team. Coach Weber is still searching for the right chemistry, especially on offense. Hopefully he'll find a brew that works sooner than later. I see this team as a 3 or 4 seed in the big dance come March. We should win our first and second - round games (but no guarantees from this mouth). But, moving beyond the Sweet 16 to the Elite 8 or the Final 4 is going to be a tall order this year. March Madness is about who's playing good ball for the final 6 games of the season.