Friday, March 16, 2007

Down Goes the Chief - A fitting ending...

Up 12 with 9 to go. Up 10 with 4 to go. Down go the ILLINI (54-52) to the Hokies (castrated turkies) from Virginia Tech. Quite honestly, it doesn't get much worse than this. I think I felt better after the title loss to Carolina in 2005. At least we played the Tarheels tough for forty minutes; the better team won that night. 90 days of mourning begin tonight. I won't be the same person after this loss. A part of me died tonight on that hardwood inside the Value-City Arena of Columbus, Ohio. Kick-off 2007 in 166 days!

Sure the officiating was lousy down the stretch. It doesn't get much worse than what transpired in the last 5 minutes of that backyard brawl. The men in stripes burried their whistles, thereby abdicating their authority and control over an NCAA sanctioned event. What a shame. This used to be the greatest of all the NCAA championships. In reality, we now know that March Madness is little more than a supersized reality TV show. Want fries with that?

Don't get me wrong, we had our chances to close the deal down the stretch and didn't capitalize. We missed free throws, open shots, fast breaks, and open three-point looks. Tonight was a microcosm of the entire season. How many times did we turn W's into L's? With the exception of two bad lossses to Ohio State and Purdue, the other ten were basically missed opportunities. Tonight's loss reminds me of Maryland, Xavier, Michigan State, Indiana, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Iowa all over again.

Oh, to have Dee Brown back in the starting line-up just one more time. His ball - handling leadership was missed immensely last night in Columbus, and all year. In the end, Frazier and Meachen (both sophs) just collapsed under the full-court Hokie pressure. We simply don't have a realy ball-handler at the point right now, someone who can breakdown the pressure with the dribble and shoot foul shots at a high rate of efficiency. I'm not saying that Trent or Chester can't be those guys next year, but right now I just don't know. Here's hoping that Demetri McCamey (4-star 6'4" / 190 lb. PG prospect out of Westchester, IL) can fit right in next year and make a difference right away. Next year's squad will look a lot different after Carter and McBride move on. It will be interesting to see how the 2007/8 Fighting Illini come together as a team under Weber. He has a knack for getting the most out of a wide range of talent. My expectations for next year: be competitive in the BIG10, win a few conference tourney games, qualify for the BIG DANCE, and reach the 2nd round of the NCAA tourney. Anything more that this will exceed my expectations. Anything less, ........ugh!

In the end, I guess I should have expected such an outcome. We had too many off-the-court distractions this year to be a worthy team. What goes around comes around. We simply weren't worthy of advancing beyond the first round. Quite honestly, it's hard to see how we made the big show. We didn't have a quality road win all season.

Tonight marked the end of a nine-game NCAA first-round winning streak. That tends to happen when you miss your last seven shots and mix in three turnovers. What a shame. We held the Hokies to 36% shooting for the game. "Coach always says that life isn't fair," Carter said. "But we sort of put ourselves in this situation. We just couldn't crawl out of it."

This blog is over, at least for this season. I may never put finger to keypad again. Simply put, I'm spent. It's been a very very long hoops season in Champaign this winter, with so many highs and lows (usually more lows). It can be said that this team underachieved at times. It can also be said that this year's squad also overachieved considering the nightly variation in talent that took the court. It was hard for Coach Bruce to field the 5 same starters night in and night out.

So I leave you this night with one simple request, please join me one more time in watching the last dance of the CHIEF inside Assembly Hall. This memorial video is a dedication to more than 84 years of CHIEF ILLINIWEK history and tradition. Oskee Wa Wa Illinois. Hail to the CHIEF.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

NCAA Selection Committe Got it Right!

Sure, some teams were left out of the BIG DANCE this year while others got in. Imagine that! What a shocker. No syracuse, FSU, Drexel, Missouri State, or WV. But guess what, this happens every year. At least we're not talking about who's #1 or #2 or #3 with a right to play in the BCS title game like we do each December for CFB. This is one of the biggest reasons why I love March Madness and bracketology. If you care, these might be the biggest snubs.

Although, a strong argument can be made that the 31 automatic bids is a little ridiculous. Quick, name the Horizon League Champ? (Wright State). I'm still not sure I like the idea of 31 automatic bids. Perhaps you get an AUTO bid if you win both the regular season AND your conference tourney. Otherwise, let's have a more expanded chat. Maybe there should be more AT-LARGE bid discussion to ensure that diversity doesn't become perversity. Point, I have one. Isn't the point to get the best 64/65 teams in the country into the BIG SHOW? I submit that the answer to this question is YES. I'm not sure that the current process accomplishes this end.

That being said, I'm totally against expanding the field to anything more than what we have today. There are some out there who think the field should be expanded from 65 to a number bigger than 65. This would not be a good thing for many reasons, including destroying the symmetry of a near-perfect example of FAIR PROCESS. Plus, we don't need to see the CBB season extend any further into April than it currently does. For Pete's sake, the MASTERS is right around the corner. Go TIGER!

Back to this year's field; I think the committe did a great job with the #1's this year: FLORIDA, UNC, Ohio State, and Kansas. I don't see it any other way. Is this the year we see all four #1's make it to Atlanta? Or, is this the year #1 goes down early to a #16? That's not likely to happen considering it never has. UCLA had a strong #1 case until it lost its first-round game to CAL last week in LA. Conference tourneys give us a rare but quck glimpse into how teams will perform in tournament play on neutral courts. And, while Memphis may have won 22 games in a row to close the season, they did most of their damage in CUSA. Quick, who did they beat to win their tourney? A = Houston.

So, bring on the BIG DANCE. I'm ready for what should be a wide-open tourney. I don't see any single dominant team this year as in years past. All four #1 seeds have proven over and over again that they can lose.

Friday, March 09, 2007


We had to beat Indiana tonight - and did. Xavier, Nevada, and Kansas State didn't do Illinois any favors today. We had to make our own noice - and did. This was a classic BIG-10 showdown between border states. Let me put it politely, we hate them and they hate us. It's just about perfect. This war goes way back.

Pruitt and Carter led the ILLNI tonight inside the United Center where both are undefeated wearing the orange and blue for the Chief. Combined, they scored most of our points, but it was their defense which led the way to victory. You've been hearing about this here for months, defense wins championships. Who play's better 'D' in the land than ILLINOIS - quick? During conference play, we've been holding opposition below 45% and 60 points on a regular basis in giving up just 57 points / game.

At 31-6 all-time in the house that Jordan built (United Center), we're getting ready to extend our 18-game winning streak tomorrow afternoon against a hungry and talented Wisconsin squad. The last time we lost inside the UC was pre September 11th, 2001. But, at 11-7 in BIG-10 play including two big wins in the conference tourney this year (23-10 overall), we're inside the big dance and off the bubble at this point. Who knows where this train will stop this year? It's been a crazy season in CBB this year with no clear-cut favorite. Bring on selection Sunday and the first-round games. I'm ready.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Illinois Basketball - More Work to Do....

This one will be short. There simply are NO easy wins in the BIG-10, especially on the road. After today's inopportune loss on the road to a game Iowa Squad (60-53), we still have more work to do before we can say we're safely of the perverbial NCAA bubble. At this point, I might even suggest that the ILLINI are on the outside looking in on the big dance.

To the point, our regular season came to an end today (9-7 in conference) and 21-10 overall. That may NOT be good enough to continue in the post-season. So, here's what it comes down to in my humble opinion.
  • If we win two games in the BIG-10 Tourney (up in Chicago) - we're definintely in the big show. No question. Hail to the Chief and go get 'em with that big-time defense! Two more wins would include a first-round victory over Penn State on Thursday and a quarterfinal win over Indiana on Friday. If we get to 23 wins, there is not question.

  • If we don't win another game this season - we're pretty at the mercy of the selection committee and I don't like our chances. There are too many good teams across the land sitting squarely on the bubble who can easily make a good claim. Stick a fork in us. You can't lose to Penn State on a neutral court in early March.

  • If we win only one game in the BIG-10 Tourney, the I would say we have a 50/50 chance to make the NCAA tourney, but it wouldn't be a sure thing. I don't like sitting on the fence. Honestly, I think this deal will come down to the quarterfinal on Friday with Indiana. Without a convincing conference win this year away from home, the committee will be looking to see if we're worthy of a bid. Many teams have proven they can lose, but the ILLINI need to prove that they can win a big game away from home.

Again, our best wins of the year were at home (Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan, and Iowa). And while it's true we don't have a loss outside the top-100, it's also true that our best road wins in conference were against NW, Minnesota, and Penn State - not exacly powerhouse competition this year. So, that' show I see it as the calendar flips to March. Check back in a week or so to see how these predictions turned out.

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