Sunday, March 19, 2006

BU advances to the SWEET 16....

Who said the Missouri Valley (MVC) is not worthy of 4 bids this year? The MVC has 4 wins (more than the BIG-10) in as many days as both Wichita State (over TN) and Bradley (over Pitt 72-66 today) advance to the round of the SWEET 16. Yes - go BU. The hilltoppers are on top once again (51 years later). The 13th-seeded BU BRAVES got no love from the selection committe this year. That's OK - they just went out and took care of business by beating KU and PITT on a neutral court.

O'Bryant (28 points), Ruffin, Sommerville (18 points), Tauai, Franklin, Wright (14 points off the bench), and company led by Jim Les really controlled the inside game today against PITT. Remember these names, BU can go deep into the tourney in this Oakland bracket. Their next opponent is the Memphis Tigers which should make for a good game in Oakland.

BU only shot 37% from the floor but hit 81% from the charity stripe on 26 of 32. They needed those key points against PITT late as the Panthers went into foul mode down the stretch. Bradley is now the first #13 seed since 1999 Oklahoma to make it the regional semifinals. And, this BRAVE team is the first in 51 years to advance to the 3rd round (1955 when there were only 24 teams back then).

What a remarkable season for Bradley. I'm proud of my Alma Mater (a small mid-west school from the MVC). Love Peoria, ILL. It's our first trip to the BIG DANCE in 10 years. This year, we started conference play with a 2 - 4 record before closing strong down the stretch in the tough MVC winning 7 of 8 (only losing to Souther ILL in the conference title game). Go BU! Beat Memphis.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The End is Here - Too Many San Diego.

We did our best to lose this game today - and succeeded (67-64, DAWGS from Seattle). Sure the pooches are worthy opponents; but when you're up 11 with 10 minutes to go in an NCAA Tourney game - you're are expected to finish. This is probably worse than the Penn State loss in the Hall. We just gave it away at the charity stripe tonight. The DAWGS from Seattle went there almost 40 times (making 28 while we only attempted 11 the entire game, come on!). I think they're going to re-stripe it with some fresh paint later tonight. The Huskies wore it out tonight.

Ugh! This one hurt. But, when I look back at it, the loss today really was a micro-cosm of the entire season. Big lapses and big big runs - only to let it get away down the stretch. We've been having trouble finishing games all season. Tonight was another example. You gotta finish. U just gotta. We had our chances and just didn't capitalize. We left a lot of points on the court tonight. I can still hear some of the clanks ringing in the background.

Another dark day for the ILLINI nation. Yes, indeed. I will be in mourning for the next 25 days. Sure, this wasn't totally unexpected. I knew the 2nd-round game would be tough either way. But, to GIVE IT AWAY like we did tonight in San Diego is almost a crime. We deserve to be bounced - out. UCONN would have just emabarrassed us in DC next weekend. Yes, we held the DAWGS under 40% from the field. Yes, Dee and James at 15 and 19 points, respectively. But, we only shot 40% for the game - 26% from behind the ARC on 5-19. Yikes, not good. Where was Jamar (1 for 7 from the field missing all of his three pointers - including some open looks)? Where were those threes from Thursday night? Ugh - nasty loss. This one is going to stink in my mouth for the whole off-season. Give me some Listerine already. At least last year we were robbed by the officials. Nothing we could do against Carolina in the title game (the fix was in last year). But tonight, the loss was all on us. We just didn't execute down the stretch.

We should have been more aggressive moving under the 10-minute mark. Why did we go into clock management when our interior scoring was so good to open the 2nd half? The DAWGS couldn't stop our fast break or post play all night. You don't burn clock up only 11 against the DAWGS, or anybody else. You finish. You keep scoring, especially when your opponent is in the double bonus with 10 minutes to go. Ugh!. Sure, the officiating sucked in the 2nd half. Way too many nickle-dimers for my liking. Sorry Mike, I'm a BIG-10 guys who likes aggressive play and strong defense. Let 'em play guys. Let 'em play.

The BIG - 10 has been a disappointment in the tourney this year. For such a 'power league' known for beating up on each other, to win only three first-round games and none in the 2nd round so far, is a joke. We were definitely overrated as the nation's #1 RPI conference all season. I have no love for the RPI. Down with the RPI. No more RPI. Good riddens. It should go the way of the BCS in my opinion. What a joke. Out of 8 games, to walk away with only 3 wins is a travesty. Only Ohio State remains; and they get Georgetown today - no gimmie there.

I had my concerns heading into the big dance this year. As a conference, we just weren't shooting or scoring like the other leagues, especially down the stretch during crunch time. Illinois was a good example of that today. We went into 'keep-away mode' way too early, in my opinion. There is a difference in how a team plays to win and plays not to lose. We demonstrated that beautifully tonight. NCAA champion-ship ball is about sustaining instensity and execution for 40 minutes, plus. We failed to learn that again this year, only really playing for 10 minutes to close the 1st half and then again to open the 2nd half. Huge lapses really cost us today and all year. This is a fitting end in so many ways.

We out-fouled the DAWGS 28-17, way to go guys - yes. Nothing like playing 'lazy' defense with the feet. In falling behind 28-14, we missed our first 21 of 25 shots. Yes, excellence is contagious. It was a classic ILLINOIS/BIG-10 implosion. We hit the skids with 10 minutes to go and threw-in turnovers and fouls to boot. Yes, this will be a long off- season in Champaign. I just hope we make the BIG DANCE next year. Will we be worthy of another at-large invite? I don't see us winning the BIG-10 conference our tourney!

The blog is done for 2006. See you in September. Or in 25 days........

Friday, March 17, 2006

BU over KU - Love the River City...

On the banks of the ILLINOIS River lives the champs of the MVC. Yes, BU over KU tonight in the Palace of Auburn Hills. Franklin, Ruffin, Sommerville, and O'Bryant. The Braves from Peoria down the Jayhawks from Lawrence in the BIG DANCE of 2006.

Yes, this was for Dick Versace. Jim Les for President. These guys have heart. MVC forever. I think we're seeing the end of the power 6 conferences as we know them. There is too much parity in college BBALL these days. BU had the heart, the conviction, and the passion tonight. This was goes out to all those midwestern folk who love the smell of corn in September, the vision of fireflies in August, and the taste of Pabst Blue Ribbon in June.

KU goes DOWN for two years in a row. Fist Bucknell, now Bradley. But, to be honest, the BRAVES dominated tonight both inside and outside. How about that 45-foot jumper in the 1st half by Franklin. BU. BU. BU. BU. BU. BU.......

The Braves shot 44% for the game and 41% behind the ARC. They outrebounded KU 32 to 27 for the game. Jim Les for President. I love the smell of the River City tonight. If it plays in Peoria it pays in Peoria. Yes! Big WIN for the MVC and the state of ILLINOIS. Home to Big Al's (the finest in men's entertainment) and the Civic Center. Big 80's bands used to use it as their launching pad for world tours (Metallica, etc....). Home to Caterpillar and big-time pro wrestling, they love their monster trucks and corn futures in Pe0ria, IL. And yes, it's been a long-time coming for the Harvard of the Midwest and the NCAA tourney. Rarely are those words ever remotely linked in the same sentence. But the Hilltoppers (another nickname for BU) came through tonight on a national stage by taking down a perrenial b-ball powerhouse. They also wrecked my bracket.

On a sad note, Ray Meier died tonight. He was 92. The lengendary coach 0f DePaul lived only 3 miles from my house in Mt Prospect, IL. He coached for 42 years. He went to the FINAL 4 twice and won the 1945 NIT title. He was one of the game's best coaches. If you played for Coach Ray, you played for one of the game's best. He brought DePaul to national prominence in the 70's and 80's. Who will forget that '79 squad with Aguire, Cummings, and company. Those guys could shoot the rock. Comegys, Corzine - wow, what an awesome pool of talent.

"He was a coach's coach, he was a man's man," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who grew up in Chicago. "He was the face of college basketball in Chicago. When you think of basketball in that city, you think of Ray Meyer."

"He was one of the guys who helped make tournaments like this famous. He had to go through it when it was tough, really tough," former Georgetown coach John Thompson said.

"Whenever Coach had players, he was right there. Because DePaul was such a small, little Catholic school that didn't have a whole lot of funding back then, it wasn't that easy to get the players that John Wooden or Al McGuire were able to get," said DePaul women's coach Doug Bruno, who played for Meyer from 1969-73.

"He was a great coach, but a greater man," Heathcote said. "His longevity was unbelievable. He was a tremendous credit to our profession."

Meyer's team was ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll at the end of the regular season in both 1980 and 1981, and his 1982 squad ended up second. Those three teams had a combined record of 59-3 in the regular season but lost the first round of the NCAA Tournament each year.

Meyer's Demons also made seven trips to the NIT. His 1945 team won the NIT when it was the more prestigious of the two postseason competitions.

Meyer's teams posted 37 winning seasons and had 20-win campaigns 12 times. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Just Another Tourney Win - That's It!

This wasn't a good victory. Honestly, we should have pulled away by 20 or 25 points against this Air Force team. They don't really have an inside game to speak of. Our perimeter defense was flat-out abismal. Make that atrocious. It just sucked. We had way too many turnovers against a team from the Mounta West (11). Our 3-point shooting wasn't that great either (36% on 8 of 22). Dee is really struggling from the field, and you can see it in his eyes. We also gave up 6 steals tonight. If you want to hang with the big boys like UCONN and DUKE, you gotta protect the ball better than we did tonight.

On the bright side, Jamar Smith really stepped up off the bench with 20 points, most from downtown. Jay Bilas said it best that he can't shoot the ball enough. There isn't such a thing as a bad possession as long as Jamar shoots the rock. He's one of the best pure shooters in the land. The guy knows how to score from the outside, and his inside game isn't that bad either. He knows how to get results....points. Brian Randle also had a great game coming off the bench with 15 points. He made several athletic plays on both sides of the ball. He too can finish strong in the lane. As a team we shot 12-14 from the charity stripe (85%). Not bad, especially for us. For the game we were 57% from the field, but could only hold AF to 50% (not good for us).

Our big strength tonight was down low in the paint in terms of points and rebounds. We won both battles by double digits. The ILLINI had 29 rebounds versus 13 for the Falcons. Another bright spot was our bench scoring (47 points). That bodes well for a deep run in the tourney once our starters get in the groove. Warren Carter had 12 strong points and some solid minutes to boot. Dee and James were very average tonight, at best.

Brown and Augustine only combined for 18 points tonight versus the 27 points during the regular season. Dee did step - up and play on defense. He also had a bunch of rebounds and 9 assists. Can't complain there.

In my final analysis, we were lucky we didn't draw a stronger opponent tonight. At times we looked very mediocre. At teams we looked strong. But, in order to advance deep in this tournament you have to play each game like it's your last. There are no guaranteed wins. It's one and done if you play poorly. The competition is at the highest level this time of year. Any school can beat even the 'best' teams in the land when it comes to March Madnes. But, a win in the tourney is a win in the tourney and we should accept it for that and move on to round #2 against UTAH STATE or WASHINGTON.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

On the EVE of Madness

Well, with less than 24-hours to go before the BIG DANCE tips - off on Thursday, how many tweaks have you made to your bracket (s) over the past few days? I've been working on mine for a few hours this week. This is a good link if you're desperate and ignorant of the schools making up the 64 teams this year. Joe Lunardi usually does a good job with his picks and seedings. He claims to have correctly picked 10 of the last 16 possible FINAL 4's. I scrolled through his list and find some of his picks to be a little 'interesting'. Oh well, we'll learn more tomorrow I guess. I'll have to check - back on Friday night to see how he's doing.

Time for some useful numbers. Never in the 84 matchups since 1985 has a #16 seed beaten a #1 seed. Last time I checked that's an NCAA Tournament winning % of 0. While #1 seeds clip - along at a rate of 80%.. Sure UCLA and Kentucky have the most titles with 11 and 7, respectively; but don't look for either team to be cutting the nets down in Indy this year.

Don't discount my ILLINI this year. Sure they got the bum seed in San Diego as a #4. I'm not too worried about their opening round game against Air Force, but a second - round matchup against either UTAH STATE or Washington could be tough. I see my team making it out of San Diego to Washington DC where they play a good game against UCONN. Can they win against the HUSKIES? YES. But will they win? Hmmm - not going to disclose here.

Monday, March 13, 2006

What East-Coast Bias?

Sunday was a momentous day in college sports. Heck, it was a big day for the nation. It was the day when East-Coast bias officially died. OK - a moment of silence as we offer our intentions and reflections. Now, let's not talk about it again until football season.

Seriously, teams west of the Appalachians did well in terms of the making the BIG DANCE and getting good seeds. Those on the other side of the mountains are still pissed that the BIG EAST only got 8 and the ACC only 4. Yes, it was a glorious day for us West-Coasters. I love the selection committee. 7 of the 10 representatives were from non BCS conferences. God bless the USA.

Air Force IN, Cincinnati OUT. Utah State IN. Florida State OUT. UCLA was awarded a #2 seed in the OAKLAND region after ripping through the PAC-10 Tourney. The MVC (a conference on both sides of the Mississippi River) was awarded 4 bids matching the mighty ACC and PAC-10. Speaking fo the PAC-10, this was a conference that was looking like two or three bids at the most not too long ago. Thank God for Lute Olsen and Arizona. The PAC-10 gets 4 bids - like it or not. And while Gonzaga got a #3 seed, they don't have to travel very far for their first two games in Salt Lake City. What East-Coast bias?

You gotta feel for schools like Michigan, Maryland, Hofstra, Creighton, and Missouri State. Or mabye NOT. All had great resumes. But they all had shortcomings as well. You can't lose 9 of 11 down the stretch and expect to get an at-large invite, Michigan. Maybe things would have been different for Cincy had they beaten Syracuse in the opening round of the BIG E Tourney. Maybe Syracuse would be on the outside looking in. Bottomline, all of these schools had their chances to punch their own tickets. It's never a good idea to give the whole-punch to somebody esle.

Finally, this is the greatest sporting event of the season for many reasons. For me, it comes down to no easy wins. Nothing is promised. Nothing is guaranteed - no matter who you are or what conference you're from. Every game is an opportunity to prevail or fall short. It's one and done. No mulligans here. Doesn't matter who would win in a best of seven series. We're not playing baseball, football, or golf. Thank God. Bring on the games already. I can hardly wait any longer.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Breaking Down the Brackets - Mirek Style

You knew this was coming. Here are my early thoughts on what might happen based on the seeds. Definitely, some surprises.

A&M against Syracuse in round 1 - this should be a great game. Can the CUSE sustain their miraculous run coming out of New York and the BIG E Tourney? Is the magic gone? What about A&M after almost beating Texas on Saturday? Are they ready to take charge and prove that they belong in the big dance? This 12-5 match-up could go either way. And, it happens every year; at least one #5 seed will go down to a #12 seed in 2006. This might be the game. The Aggies are used to 2-3 zones coming out of the BIG -12. Texas and Kansas can play some good defense.

West Virginia / Souther Illinois in round 1 - MVC versus BIG E. On paper. the Mountaineers would seem to have the advantage coming out of the mighty BIG E. But don't discount the MVC Tourney Champs in the Salukis. This team has caused a lot of trouble for many good teams in the BIG DANCE of late. Keep in mind, Bruce Weber (ILLINOIS coach) used to coach here as well. I'm hoping this will be a good game. Wouldn't surprise me if the Salukis prevail. WV isn't playing to their full potential of late.

If things hold to form in the Atlanta bracket, the SWEET 16 matchups look pretty enticing on paper: LSU versus DUKE and Iowas versus Texas. Hmmmmmm - I still like the Dukies in this region.

In the OAKLAND REGION, the round 1 game between Arkansas and Bucknell might be good. I'm also watching the XAVIER / Gonzaga round 1 game. This could be a tough challenge for the DOGS. Bama versus Marquette looks good on paper too. This region might just have the best 2nd - round games with potential matchups between Memphis / Arkansas, Pitt / Kansas, Indiana / Gonzaga, and Bama / UCLA. Coming out of Oakland, I like Pittsburgh right now. This could change. But they have the inside / outside game which could be difficult for most teams to handle. UCLA may surprise a few folks as well, but not me if they make it to the Final 4.

Turning my attention to the DC REGION, I'm looking forward to Kentucky and UAB. Both teams have had up and down seasons. Who's worthy? In the 2nd round, there are some good potential matchups between the HUSKIES and ILLNI & SPARTY versus Carolina. This region should hold true to form with Connecticut (East - coast DAWGS) prevailing en route to Indianapolis. I don't see ILLINOIS making it out of this bracket to Indy, just in case you're wondering.

Finally, the MINNEAPOLIS REGION. Arizona versus Wisconsin might be a good first-round matchup. I'll be keeping an eye on Northern Iowa against Georgetown. Hmmmm. In round two, there are some good potential matchups here as well. But the real action takes shape in the 3rd round with potential games between BC and Villanova & Florida versus Ohio State. I like the WILDCATS from Philly in this region. Nope, make that the BUCKS. Heck, I'll take the Catholics and BC.

Who will win it all? DUKE? BC? UCONN? PITT? UCLA? Ohio State? NOVA? I'm not going to disclose my National Champion here.

Brackets Announced - ILLINOIS got Screwed!

And so did BC, in my humble but honest opinion. Are you kidding me, both of these teams at #4? What planet is the selection committee from again? Last I checked, there still wasn't life on MARS.

OK, you can tell that I'm a little perturbed about where my ILLINI were placed and where they have to go for a Thursday game, San Diego. I mean come on; #4? I had them as a weak #2 or a strong #3. Same for BC. Did the committee just not watch any of the ACC Tourney? BC was a lock for a #2 seed after almost beating the overall #1 seed earlier today, DUKE.

Definitely no love for ILLINOIS by the selection committee. That first-round loss to Michigan State on Friday really weighed heavily (evidently) in the eyes of the bad guys (committee). Not only are we a #4 seed, but we have to travel over 2000 miles to San Diego to open play against Air Force. Yes, that's right - Air Force. How did they make it into the BIG DANCE? Whom did they play? Whom did they beat? They lost to Wyoming in their conference tourney. I guess they beat Miami in mid November. But wow, this one was a shock to me. OK, they're in. We'll see what happens.

How does Tennessee get a #2 seed? Wow - this was also a major surprise to me. At 21-7 do they really deserve this? Looks like the committee put a lot of value on Bruce Pearl early in the season. Although, they did survive in the SEC conference during the regular season. But, they were bounced - out in round 1 by South Carolina and lost 4 of their last 6 games. I'm sorry - this is a bogus seed, in my opinion.

UAB got in, basically because they beat Memphis down the stretch. Arizona? How did they make it? I call this my charity bid of the big dance. Same for UCLA as a #2 seed? What are they smoking? Never mind, it has to be the kool aid. The PAC-10 does not deserve 4 bids this year, including a #2 seed. I don't believe Arizona deserves a bid at all this year. Too many off the court violations as well. But, in terms of play on the hardwood, they were just not worthy, in my opinion. They are several more deserving squads including George Mason, Missouri State, Creighton, Michigan, Cincinnati, and even Florida State. Thank God the Noles were shut-out of this one. I'm stunned that the Bearcats didn't get a bid out of the BIG EAST. I had them ahead of Seton Hall.

Of the 34 at-large bids, 26 went to the 6 power conferences. That's about right. I feel for Missouri State out of the MVC. They now hold the most dubious honor of being the highest-rated RPI school NOT to make the big dance at #21. This is not cool. The RPI thing is broke. RPI = BCS = CRAP. In the information age, computers are not working out when it comes to ranking or seedings in major - college sports. Of the 10 committee members this year, 7 were from non-power conferences. It was interesting to see how things worked out this year. Gonzaga a #3 seed? No love for the ZAGS either, in my opinion. Some EXPERTS had them as the 4th #1 seed overall.

But, DUKE deserves the #1 overall seed after what they did during the regular season and in their conference tourney by beating a very very very good BC squad. Kudos to Mike K and the Cameron Krazies. If ILLINOIS or INDIANA can't win the title this year I hope it goes back to Durham yet again. Mike does it right in ACC country.

Now go fill out your brackets. May the best man win. I can already taste that Whiskey - River BBQ sauce.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Selection Eve Update

Well, it's not good when you go 1 and done in your conference tourney like ILLINOIS. But, it's tough beating a great squad like SPARTY 3x in the same year. They were due for a win against us - too bad it was yesterday night. I guess they learned a little from their home-court loss to us last Saturday. Didn't help that Dee had a terrible night from the floor. I won't even go into the free-throw shooting or turnovers (only 57% from the line and 13 big ones, respectively). Ugh! We should have won this game, fairly easily. And, this is why we're NOT worthy of a #2 seed - in my opinion. Had we won 3 games in side the Canseco Fieldhouse, you would be hearing me lobby for a #1 seed instead of Nova or Memphis.

I am a little worried 'bout my ILLINI in the BIG DANCE next week. Actually, the BIG10 as a whole isn't really shooting the ball that well from the field. I think we're one of the worst power conferences when it comes to FG%. But, that's mostly because of the strong defense that's played in the conference. Only the BIG East can match us in terms of skill and intensity. That being said, we do need to pick it up as a conference (and as a team for ILLINOIS) going into next week. None of the games are played at home. They're all neutral - court affairs in mega - stadiums and domes. Bye bye gyms. We'll see what happens when we stop beating up on each other and start beating up on everyone else.

If you have CINGULAR (X) Wireless, check out their ringtone page and download your team's graphic and fight song. Nothing like the ILLINOIS LOYALTY chant to let you know how your alma mater is doing. Go ILLINI -

Here's who should be in the BIG DANCE from the BIG10: Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan State, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, and maybe Michigan (#7). In my opinion, it would be a crime for Florida State to get in at the expense of BIG BLUE. Again, who'd you play and who'd you beat? I'm with the ESPN guys on this one (Davis and Bilas). BIG -10 deserves seven teams this year.

OK, moving on. Should UCONN still be a #1 seed even though they lost in the first-round of the BIG E? Too bad for Nova. They could have been the overall #1 SEED with a BIG E Championship. But, they didn't look that great either going down to PITT. I do have to say that Memphis has been impressive of late, especially winning their conference tourney today. So, OK - I was wrong 'bout those Tigers. They are worthy of a #1 seed.

Right now, here are my #1's - #4's:

#1 Seeds = DUKE (overall for now), Uconn, Nova, and Memphis
#2 Seeds = Texas, BC, Ohio State, and Pitt
# 3 Seeds = ILLINOIS, Gonzaga, North Carolina, and Iowa
#4 Seeds = Kansas, UCLA, Florida, LSU (Tennessee)

And don't forget about March Madness on Demand. Sign - up early for your VIP account. And get in line behind me.

Finally, my hopes for this year's tourney:

1) An ILLINOIS championship - would be our first ever on the hardwood or grid-iron. We've waited a long time (> 100 years of tradition). We've come close before ('89 / '05), but maybe, just maybe, this is the year.

2) A long run for coach Davis of Indiana. What he's gone through over the past 7 years after replacing Bobby has been very difficult. I hope that if ILLINOIS loses that Indiana goes all the way and sticks it to everybody esle, including its own fan base, disgruntled alumni, and administration who have lobbied for his departure since day 1.

3) Coach K and the Dukies. Yes, I'm a closet Duke guy. I think Coach K is the best in the land and wins the right way. No program has been more dominant over the past 10-15 years.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Ronler Madness 2k6 is HERE! Finally.....

Click and login to play. You won't regret it. Fill in your bracket after 03/12/2006 and just be prepared to take me to lunch. I smell the Whiskey River BBQ sauce already.

Search: Ronler Madness 2k6
Password: 8675309

As far as who's in and who's out, it's still a little too early to say for sure. But teams like Syracuse, for example, don't deserve to be in the BIG DANCE. You have to demonstrate on the court that you're worthy. Losing by ~ 40 points on the road at Depaul in the Horizon is not a good case. I think Colorado and Maryland are in a similar boat. There are too many good basketball teams across the land who are worthy of a spot, both from power conferences like the BIG 10 and BIG EAST, and from conferences like the MVC. I submit that Bradley should be a player in the BIG DANCE especially if they make some noise in that conference tourney. Teams like UAB, A&M, and Florida State really haven't had a great year - but recent signature wins can't hurt either. Again, it all comes down to the following four questions for me:

1) Who'd you play?
2) When did you play them?
3) Who'd you beat?
4) Are you playing good ball heading into the MADNESS?

When you measure against this set of questions, I say the BIG-10 gets 7 teams into the DANCE: ILLINOIS, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, and Indiana. Is there a tougher conference this year in the land? I think not, especially on the road. The RPI speaks volumes, but so does a 72% home - court winning advantage in this league. The next closest is the BIG -12 at 66% (34% of the time the road team wins in conference play).

Brown Delivers Orange to Breslin

BIG WIN over SPARTY today at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, MI. WOW - how good are the ILLINI right now? Who's playing better ball? We've won 5 of our last 6 including two big road wins this week over Minnesota and Michigan State. Today's win over SPARTY was HUGE!

Pruitt is looking more like a Junior than a Sophomore after scoring 12 big points. Smith and Frazier are both playing like seasoned sophomores instead of freshmen. James and Brian didn't have great games today, but both played awesome defense against a very explosive Michigan State squad. Richie had a very clutch 12 points as well. After all, it was their season finale at home on Senior Day for Ager and Davis. It doesn't get much tougher or bigger than that. Michigan State is 111-9 at home over their last 120 games inside the Breslin Center. This is only their 2nd home loss of the season.

But, in the end, the ORANGE prevailed with a 75-68 win. Really, it was all about Dee Brown delivering 4 monster three - pointers to open - up the 2nd half. He was unstoppable for about 10 minutes in the last half. It looks like he's starting to find his pure stroke, and none too soon in my opinion. Dee was the leader of the ILLINI in the 2nd half, on offense and defense. He had 16 big points in the last 20 minutes, mostly from behind the arc. It was also good to see ILLINOIS hit their free throws down the stretch in a hostile environment. We were 15 -18 from the charity line (84%). YES! That was very big. We've only been shooting 65% for the season.

This was really a tale of two halves after the ILLINI were denied the half-time lead on a questionable call which went against them. Jamar looked like he had a clutch two points as time expired. But the men in stripes reversed the call at halftime to give the SPARTY a 1-point lead after the opening twenty minutes. In the 2nd stanza, it was all ILLINOIS behind the shooting over Mr. Brown. Yes, Brown delivered today. Is their a more explosive player in the land? Show me. He's our MVP.

Michigan State ended up at 46% from the field for the game after shooting near 60% in the first half. Wow, what a defense stand in the 2nd half. I bet Izzo will be glad to see Dee go to the pros next year. He has been an SPARTAN killer over the past 4 years. ILLINOIS has now won 5 in a row over the men from East Lansing. We have their number. With today's big win, we're now 4-4 on the road in conference play. We could easily be 6-2 were it not for two hard losses at Indiana and at Michigan last week.

ILLINOIS looks to be in agood shape heading into the CONFERENCE TOURNEY next week in Indianapolis (site of the Final Four, hmmmm!). Ohio State shouldl win the regular season title since they host Purdue today. But, give it up for the boys from Champaign. With their play over the past two weeks they've earned a #2 seed in the BIG DANCE, in my opinion. And who knows? If they win their next three games that could change, as BIG 10 Tourney Champs. They could land a #1 seed. Right now, nobody is a LOCK for a #1. Two much good b-ball remains with those conference tourney games. Anything can happen in March. It is that special time of year. But for now, the ILLINI NATION is enjoying a great victory to close the regular season. What a brilliant conference race to the end (ILL now 11-5 overall in the BIG - 10).

My Top 10 (as of Saturday Night 03/03) - you tell me what makes more sense (answer - nothing - send me your comments, go ahead):

1) Uconn
2) Nova
3) Ohio State
4) Duke
6) Memphis
7) Gonzaga
9) Texas
10) Carolina (Tar Heels)

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