Illini Wonk
Monday, January 31, 2005
  Darn those deadlines!
Timing, they say, is everything. Timing is also very difficult for sports writers who write for magazines. By the time you see what you submitted in print it can often be quite dated.

That was the case today for Sports Illustrated columnist Seth Davis. In the January 31 edition of SI, Davis noted that James Augustine only made one of six shots against Iowa and said the Illini needed him to improve (he made no mention of the rest of Augustine's stats in that game: 14 rebounds, 7-8 on free throws and two blocks).

Coincidentally (and poor timing for Davis), on that same day, the Big Ten announced that Augustine was named the conference player of the week for the second time in the month of January (the Big Ten release for the first time is here).

As Illini Wonk has mentioned in a previous post, needlessly defending Augustine against sports-writers is becoming tiresome. Especially when all is required is a quick look at his stats: 10.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg, and 1.5 bpg while shooting 64% from the field and 76% from the line. Whoever is compiling the Big Ten all conference team had better reserve a spot for James Augustine.

Marlen Garcia of the Chicago Tribune, who's deadline is much shorter, has a glowing profile of Augustine here. Mark Tupper of the Decatur Herald & Tribune has writes that the Illinois frontcourt is a strength recently .
  It's Unanimous!
Last week, the Fighting Illini received 71 of the 72 #1 votes in the Associated Press Poll (Illini Wonk outed the one Duke voter here). Since that vote, the Illini went to Madison and ended the Wisconsin Badgers' 38-game home winning streak and thrashed the Minnesota Gophers in Champaign.

This week, it's unanimous as Illinois became the first team in three years to get all 72 votes in the Associated Press Poll. Their ninth straight week at the top is the most since Connecticut was #1 for ten consecutive weeks in the 1998-99 season.

Illinois also stayed atop the Pomeroy Ratings, the Sagarin Ratings and the Sportsline Top 25 and moved up four spots to #4 in the Sportsline RPI. To understand why the Illlini do not have the top RPI, see this post.

Blogger and Minneapolis Star-Tribune repoter Jeff Shelman, one of the AP voters, posts his poll every week on his blog.

UDPATE: Last week's lone Duke voter, Austin Bishop tells the Chicago Tribune's Ed Sherman that he switched his vote back to Illinois due to their win at Wisconsin. The article also says that Bishop received e-mails from a handful of fans after Illinois beat Wisconsin. He got a "bunch more" after Duke lost. I wonder how they got his email address?
  King James
James Augustine was named Big Ten player of the week for the second time this season. You'll recall that Illini Wonk named him the man of the match against Wisconsin and it's nice to see that the conference continues to give him the recognition he deserves. Post play was often listed as the only question mark entering this season and Augustine has turned that question mark into an exclamation point!
  Roger Powell, he be doin' it
First it was the Chicago Bears and the Super Bowl Shuffle and now there is a Fighting Illini rap. Nothing Illini Wonk could type would do it justice, so click here to listen. Rich McBride, he be doin' it.

Sunday, January 30, 2005
  Free gmail accounts for Illini fans
Illini Wonk has six invitations for free gmail accounts that will go to the first six Illinois Basketball fans who email Illini Wonk.

UPDATE: Sorry, but they're all gone. Congratulations to Oliver, Chuck, Matt, MPA, Thomas and Natalie!

Keep coming back and Illini Wonk promises that if Google sends any more my way, you'll be the first to get a shot at them. Meanwhile, if anyone else has Gmail accounts to give away, feel free to leave your email address in the comments section of this post.
  Centennial Coverage
With the Illinois Fighting Illini basketball team poised to spend yet another week at the top of the polls (this week likely to be unanimous unless Austin Bishop or some other sports-writer completely loses their mind) the media coverage has become overwhelming. This post is an attempt to hit some of the highlights.

As Illini Wonk said in this recap of the Minnesota game, Illinois fans should take comfort in the performances of Roger Powell and Deron Williams. The main-stream-media picked up on this point with the two hoopsters being the focus of most of the game reports. Adam Rittenberg of the Daily Herald writes an article headlined Illini's Williams in the groove.

Recaps of the game are also available from the Bloomington Pantagraph, the Decatur Herald & Review, the Peoria Journal-Star, the Quad-City Times, the Springfield State Journal-Register and the Tinley Daily Southtown.

Mark Tupper contributed an article on Lou Henson, a report on the Centennial festivities and a report on the alumni game.

Minnesota Star-Tribune sports-writer Jeff Shelman, a blogger who used to cover Illinois basketball for the Danville Commerical-News, had a recap of the game here that included heavy praise for the Illini from the Gophers. Here's the quotes

  Illini Wonk in the Blogosphere
Illini Wonk has been drawing notice from all over the Blogosphere, but has been too busy covering the Fighting Illini basketball team to post any updates on the coverage and reciprocate the links.

Recent links have come from Discursive Recursions and Unknown Column.

Illini Wonk's live-blogging and re-cap of the Wisconsin game generated links from Cheap Seats, illinigirl (even though the link was labeled IlliniPundit) and College Basketball.

Outing last week's lone Duke voter in the Associated Press Poll was noticed by Illinitalk and Hey...Listen!

Thanks to all for your links!
  Illinois basketball Reunion
More than 350 former Fighting Illini were in Champaign on Saturday to celebrate 100 years of Illinois basketball and watch the current team beat the Minnesota Gophers. Posted by Hello

Saturday, January 29, 2005
  Another day...another record
The Illlini put on a show for the orange-clad crowd today that had gathered to celebrate 100 years of Illinois basketball and watch perhaps the best team in that 100-year history. An almost perfect performance in the first half saw the Fighting Illini take a 21-point lead in route to a 89-66 victory over the Minnesota Gophers.

It was their 17th straight Big Ten victory, which tied a team record that had stood since 1916. More good news for the Illini came from the shooting performances of Deron Williams and Roger Powell. Williams had 18 points on 7-10 shooting and 6 assists, while Powell made 8-12 shots for 21 points. Between the two of them, they were 6-8 from three-point land.

James Augustine added 15 points and 7 boards, while Luther Head added 10 points in only the second game of conference play that he did not lead the team in scoring (complete box score here).

Game photo gallery here. Rebounders luncheon photos here.

When the Centennial Celebration was planned months ago, who would have thought that the festivities would have been eclipsed by the current team. But that's exactly what's happened. Jeff Shelman of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (a current blogger and former reporter with Danville Commerical-News) has a quality profile here.

Many of the former players and coaches who made an appearance today had good things to say about the 2004-05 Fighting Illini. Neil Milbert of the Chicago Tribune has some of it here. Trib sports-writer Mike Downey has more from former Illini and speculates what the 150th anniversary will look like here.

Not to be outdone a windy-city paper, the St. Louis Post Dispatch has a recap of the game here and a column by Bryan Burwell here.

From Illini Wonk, happy 100th birthday Illinois hoops. May this year be your best.
Friday, January 28, 2005
  Care for some Gopher?
Earlier this week, the Illini finished off the Badgers and now it's time for the Gophers, made famous by the classic movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? The sentiments of Everett no doubt apply to the Illini, as the gophers can only arouse their appetite as what they're really looking for is something a little more Spartan (relevant audio clip here).

6th-year Minnesota head coach Dan Monson has not won a game in ten tries against Illinois. But this year's team has been perhaps the biggest surprise of the Big Ten with a 14-5 (4-2) record that has them tied with Wisconsin and Indiana for third place in the conference. Although the Fighting Illini will be tempted to look past this game to the second-place Spartans, they clearly can't aford to do that. The Gophers will/should be hungry for this game since they have lost all four games they've played this year against teams in the top-25 (Alabama, Oklahoma, Iowa, Michigan State). They are on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament and need a quality win for their resume.

As excited as Illini Wonk is to see the Centennial celebration during and after the game, it has the potential to be an added distraction. As usual, coach Bruce Weber is on top of it and is using it as motivation for his team.

You don't want to miss this game. If you can't get to a TV, then here's the link to Gametracker and the link to Yahoo! Sports College Broadcast. For those willing to spend $6.95 to register for a one-month membership to College Sports Pass, you can watch the Centennial events online here.

Illinois official game notes here.
  Sound off on 100 Years of Illinois basketball
One hundred years of Illinois basketball has provided a lot of memories. Use the comment section below to sound off on your favorite memory.

Illini Wonk hasn't even been around for half of the 100 years (okay not even one third), but the good memories are plentiful. The best might be the come-from-behind win at Minnesota in 2002 where Corey Bradford hit a couple of late threes and Frank Williams made the last second shot for a one-point victory and a share of the conference title.

More than 300 former Illinois basketball players, coaches and support staff will be in attendance, including Lou Henson who will have a street in Champaign named after him. Go here to see a list of former Illini who will be in attendance.

UDPATE: Steve Batterson of the Quad-City Times wrote an article entitled Century of memories on this same topic.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
  Much love for the Illini
Illinois' victory at Wisconsin last night serves as a convincing reminder to the college hoops nation why this team is undefeated and ranked #1. The press (most of them) are gushing over the Orange & Blue.

Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn writes about the what the victory does for the Illini here. He writes: After this win, the Illini are No. 1 -- with a renewed swagger. They are No. 1, owners of enough magic to overcome the spell of what had become college basketball's most daunting road trip, and clear arguably the largest hurdle on the path to an undefeated season.
Continuing with SI, Grant Wahl takes a humorous look at the Fighting Illini's top eight players with the help of Nick "Chainsaw" Smith. In Chainsaw lets it rip, Wahl says Smith is the MVP of the interview room for the nation's No. 1 team. Still at SI, Seth Davis picks Luther Head and Deron Williams as two of his top three player-of-the-year candidates in the Big Ten and lists Bruce Weber as the conference coach of the year.

Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News, perhaps in an attempt to make up for his last Daily Dish profiled here, Dishes today on, who else, Jack Ingram. Opening quote: There have been a lot of games played in 100 years of Illinois basketball, a lot of players doing a lot of spectacular things, but Jack Ingram's performance against Wisconsin will be cherished above much of that history.

On the Illinois page at, web surfers will find a video of Max Kellerman debating the Illini with I, Max cohost Michael Holley. They weren't debating whether or not Illinois was the best team in the country (on that point, they agreed) they were debating whether or not they would go undefeated (Holley says yes, Kellerman says no).

In Unlikely source lifts Illini, Jonathan Linder has more on reserve hero Jack Ingram's second-half performance. Elsewhere from, Kedric Prince says the the MVP of the Illini season thus far is...Coach Bruce Weber. Prince closes his article with: Right now Illini fans are living a dream season and their coach is proving to all the doubters that he's one of the best teachers in the game today. The players on this team are good, but it's time for the teacher to get his due for providing his class with the tools to be successful.

The local press didn't need the reminder of Illinois' ability and were practically giddy with the result. Illini Wonk tried to pick a quote to lift out of John Supinie's column in the Peoria Star-Journal, but couldn't narrow it down. You'll just have to read the entire thing. Supinie also wrote about Dick Vitale's first look at this season's Illini here and gives the Illini an A for their performance in his report card here.

Mark Tupper writes in Kohl'd snap: down by eight points in the second half, No. 1-ranked Illinois did something no Big Ten team has done at the Kohl Center in more than three years. They showed iron-clad guts, steely determination and made a fabulous rush to the finish to overpower No. 18 Wisconsin 75-65 on Tuesday night. On his blog, Tupper wrote to Illini fans: Don’t get too hung up on the next challenge that you forget to really soak in all the joy of a game like we witnessed Tuesday night. That was a truly wonderful college basketball game, one to stick in the vault. Replay it. Talk about it. Debate it with friends. Savor the moment when this exciting Illini basketball team looked an eight-point second-half deficit in the eye, spit in its face, then used its courage and guts to completely reverse the game’s momentum.

There's too much more Fighting Illini coverage for Illini Wonk to cover. It might have something to do with the fact that Wisconsin issued a record 217 press credentials for last night's game. So, that will have to do for now.
  Duke voter outed
This week, the Fighting Illini were ranked #1 for an eighth consecutive week in the Associated Press College Basketball poll. With Kansas falling from the ranks of the unbeaten, Illinois increased their tally of #1 votes to a one-short of unanimous 71. The only dissenting vote went to the 15-0 Duke Blue Devils, who have only played one team who was ranked in the top-25 at game-time.

Well, David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune has outed the lone Duke voter as sportswriter Austin Bishop of the Neshoba Democrat in Philadelphia, Miss. In the Trib article, Bishop said he has ranked Illinois #1 ever since their win over Wake Forest, but put Duke ahead of them after the Illini struggled to beat Iowa at home last week. Bishop also kidded he would prefer keeping his e-mail address and office phone number out of the Chicago papers.

Well, it may not be in the Chicago papers, but Illini Wonk does not exist to supress information that might be of interest to fans of the Fighting Illini, so here's his email: and phone number: 601-656-4000. If you agree or disagree with his vote, feel free to let him know.

Hat tip to College Basketball (who else) for bringing the Trib article to our attention and labeling it "a terrible mistake."

Also, the AP picked up the story and it ran in the Aberdeen American News, which hails from Illini Wonk's home state.

UPDATE: 11-5 Maryland ended this debate with a 75-66 victory over Duke at Cameron.
  The Great Fox Debate
It's not Hannity & Colmes, but has a debate between Sporting News' Kyle Veltrop and Benson Taylor over whether or not Illinois would win the ACC if they were in the conference. Here's a little piece of what Veltrop had to say in arguing the affirmative:

Why is it so hard to grasp that this is the best team in the country? Illinois will win the Big Ten, and if it were transplanted to another conference, it would win the ACC, the Big East, the Big 12, the Pac-10 and the NBA's Atlantic Division. Illinois has steamrolled practically every opponent, including Gonzaga, Cincinnati, Oregon and Wake Forest. (Oh, and what conference do the Deacs play in again?)
  Circular Reasoning from TSN
Despite their perfect, 20-0, start to the season, there were no Illinois Basketball players on the Sporting News Mid-Season All-American Team. Mike DeCourcy, the sports-writer whose byline is listed at the bottom of that page, felt compelled to explain why there were no Illini in this column.

Ironically listed as one of his "nuggets of wisdom," the column is actually a text-book example of circular reasoning. Why were Deron Williams and Dee Brown left off the list? Even though they have the talent to make the list, they haven't scored enough; their stats weren't good enough. Why was Luther Head excluded? Even though his stats are great, he's not the best player on his team. So, to be clear, for Williams and Brown, stats are the criteria and for Head, it's talent.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
  Vitale - Illini recap
In between interviews with SportsCenter and ESPNEWS, Dick Vitale found time to type out this recap of the Illinois/Wisconsin basketball game for This blogger was a little leary of having Vitale courtside with a microphone during such a tense game, but I thought he did a nice job (and only mentioned Duke twice by my count). Besides, as Illini Wonk pointed out in a previous post, Dickie V has joined the Illinois bandwagon.

While we're on, Andy Katz has more on the win and the next couple of weeks for the Illini here. Katz has a lot to say about Illinois' clutch performance from the bench by Jack Ingram.

While you're there, be sure to check out the highlights of the game on ESPN Motion (they sure got that up quick). Both of Ingram's three-pointers are there along with a couple of Augustine dunks.
  Augustine with the throw down!
Augustine has one of his three dunks as Illini Wonk names him player of the game in the win at Wisconsin. Posted by Hello

  Illini win the "Struggle of the Streaks"
As Illini Wonk said in a previous post, the Illinois Fighting Illini wanted Wisconsin to maintain their streak so they could come in and end it...and end it they did. Illinois used a balanced attack to score an historic win and end a 38-game home winning streak from the Wisconsin Badgers.

The most impressive thing about this win is the deficit they overcame late in the game. At about the mid-point of the second half, the Illini were staring at an eight point defecit and a crazed crowd. While holding that eight-point lead, the Badgers had two offensive trips that could have extended the lead to double digits.

But, as Dick Vitale said in the postgame on SportsCenter, "all of a sudden you could see the look in their eye. They had the look of a champion and responded in a positive way." The positive response by Illinois was a 13-2 run led by their bench to retake the lead. But, Wisconsin wasn't done. Two straight baskets from Mike Wilkinson and one by Alando Tucker gave the Badgers a 64-61 lead with four and a half minutes remaining in the game.

After that, Illinois went on a 10-o run and outscored them 14-1 over the last 4.5 minutes. James Augustine led the way with six of those 14 points and Luther Head's free throws salted the game away. It was the first visitor win in the Kohl Center since 2002.

How balanced was the Illini offense? Six of the eight players who saw playing time scored at least eight points and four of the five starters were in double figures. It makes it difficult for Illini Wonk to pick a player of the game.

Luther Head led the way with 18 points and 5 assists. Deron Williams had 13 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists and was really looking for his shot for the first time in a long time this season. Roger Powell had a solid 11 points and 3 boards in time limited by his 4 fouls. Perhaps the biggest contribution came from Jack Ingram, who had eight crucial points (which tied a season high) off the bench to go with 2 boards and a key steal from Wilkinson down the stretch.

But, for this blogger, player of the game honors go to James Augustine who had 12 of his 14 points in the second half along with a game-high 9 rebounds (it seemed like 100) and 4 blocks. He also had a SportsCenter top 10 nominee with his block and coast-to-coast dunk in the first half. It was in a post merely two days ago that Illini Wonk expressed exasperation with the media for labeling Augustine's play "inconsistent." Hopefully, this will silence his critics.

With the win, Illinois moves to 20-0 and doesn't have that many tough tests left on their schedule. Vitale said that if the Illini can win at Michigan State next week, they should finish the regular season unblemished. The Illini can't afford to look past any Big Ten game, especially on the road, but other than at MSU, the rest of the games are very winnable.

ESPN recap here. CBS Sportsline here. Sports Illustrated here. here. Official Illinois site here. If you move quickly, the Illini are on the front page of all of those sites.

In a first for this site, Illini Wonk live blogged the game here. Links to the online event came from College Basketball and Hey...Listen! Before today, the most hits Illini Wonk had in a single day was about 250 and today was over the 300 mark at time of publishing this post. It may happen again in the future...
  It's game time!
The SEC is done. It's time for the Big Ten game of the season thus far. Live blogging will follow on this post.
During the Kentucky/Tennessee game, Rick Majerus (former coach of Andre Miller) said Deron Williams is the best passer of the ball in college basketball and Luther Head is the best perimeter defender.

Almost game time
Use the comments section to leave your thoughts on the game. Dick Vitale says his first words and they're full of praise for both teams. Saves his best words for Bo Ryan's home Big Ten record.

Tickets are going for $800-1,200. Press credentials for the game: 217 vs. a normal 120. 15-20 members of the press were turned away. Tip off!
Luther Head controls the tip for the Illini...nice pass from Brown, Augustine is fouled and makes both foul shots... 2-0 Illini.
2-2, but Wisconsin has the first turnover between two teams that don't have many. BLOCK by Augustine and coast-to-coast dunk!
1:52 seconds until they showed Mike Wilkinson's girlfriend for the first time. He misses the second freethrow while she doesn't look.
Willams layup...Dee Brown steal and assist to Luther Head 3-pointer. Illinois 9-3
Luther Head with a blow-by lay-up. Vitale says he may be the player of the year in the Big Ten. Augustine gets called for an over-the-back for his first foul. Illinois is hot...4-5 from the floor, while Wisconsin is 2-5. Illinois leads 11-6. The early lead is important for the Illini, but Wisconsin has proved very capable of coming from behind at home.
Both teams are shooting the lights out. Brown for three. Luther Head with a tough baseline lay-up. Wisconsin hangs in with a couple of threes...Illinois maintains a three-point lead.
Nick Smith checks in with Rich McBride. Let's see if the subs can keep up the pace the Illini started the game with...McBride gets burned on his first defensive set.
Deron is really looking for his shot. Misses one and then hits the second. Shot looks good. If he's shooting well, he's unstopable...McBride misses a wide-open three.

Vitale makes his first mention of Duke at the 11:15 mark of the first half.
After a great spin move from Williams, Vitale compares him to Jason Kidd...Illinois gives up another easy three. Nick Smith can't stay with Wilkinson. Tie game.
Brown with the steal and get's hacked on the lay-up with no call. Vitale says he was fouled as he's sitting under the basket. The three guards are looking good for the Illini, but the Badgers are getting too many open looks from beyond the three-point arc. Wisconsin is 6-9 from three-point land after starting 1-3. That's not going to get it done. Illinois ball after the TV timeout and with the game still tied.
Wilkinson should have been called for a travel before he got fouled, and Head get's caled for a travel he didn't commit. Guard trio continues to blister the Badgers as Head and Williams hit mid-range jumpers (the lost art of college basketball isn't lost on this team).
8-2 run from Illinois. Any thoughts from all of you online thus far?

Wisconsin players were laying on the floor twice without a travel call. Uh, refs?
Ref update: Illinois has six fouls to Wisconsin's two. Can I get a call?

Leave your comments below...
Williams called for....a carry? Another questionable foul call on Powell...his second. Jack Ingram with the air-ball. Chambliss closes his eyes and hits one from 25 feet. Another gift call to the Badgers on a rebound.
Illini finally get the benefit of a bad call. Wisconsin get's called for a travel they didn't commit.

Brown shoots a three to get two-for-one. Probably too late. Stripped by Williams! Luther Head at the buzzer airball? Ouch.

Illinois is on top by two at the half...only the fifth time during this streak of Wisconsin's where they haven't been ahead at the half. After 20 minutes we're pretty much right back where we started.
Half time. Both teams shot 44% from the floor as the Badgers really closed the gap late in the first half. Wisconsin shot themselves in the foot at the free-throw line, but made up for it with their performance from behind the arc. Illinois had four times as many fouls called on them and have Augustine, Powell and Ingram with two. Weber was clearly saving the forwards for the second half as long as they kept the lead. If the Illini can get contributions from the big men (who looked pretty good on the offensive end when they were on the court) and the starting trio of guards continue to play well, I like their chances to end the Badger's streak in the Kohl Center.

What do you think? Leave your comments below...
Illini start their same starting line-up. Start with Augustine from Williams. Two Points...After an offensive rebound for the Badgers, Augustine tites up Wilkinson...Tucker gets his first bucket ona nice jump-shot...Luther for three! Easy lay-up for Wilkinson...great dish from Williams to Powell...Tucker again...Augustine again as our big men start out tough.
Augustine has one rattle out and Wilkinson banks one in over Powell, who might be laying off due to having two fouls. Time-out Illini. The game has started out a fast-pace in the second half, which should be to Illinois' advantage, but Wisconsin is hitting their shots. Illini Wonk can't believe that last one from Wilkinson stayed in. Chambliss needs to open his eyes once in a while.
Luther Head lays off another three point shooter and the Illini pay for it. Then he misses a shot and get's burned on defense.

On the replay, Powell clearly got hit on the arm by Wilkinson after he caught the ball.
12-0 run for the Badgers as they've hit 8 straight shots. Illinois needs to hang around for when they come back down to earth.
One more Duke mention from Vitale at the 12:15 mark.
Wisconsin is shooting better than 56%. Part of that is poor defense from Illinois, but they are making some pretty tough shots. You gotta think they can't keep this up all game...can they?
Finally from McBride on the three-point shot. We need those from him...followed by a great defensive stand from the Illini...Deron Williams goes to the line and makes both...

Vitale still picks UNC to win the whole thing.
Illinois goes on a 7-0 run of their own. You gotta admire their heart in sticking with the Badgers when they loked like they were gonna pull away....TIE GAME!
JACK INGRAM!!!! for back-to-back threes! Ingram comes into the game averaging 3.7 points per game and shooting 29% from three-point land. We'll take 'em!
Illinois' bench leads a 13-2 run that puts them back in the lead. Then Powell gives up two buckets to Wilkinson.
Jump ball? Foul on Powell? These refs are playing to the crowd. We're going to have to win this one on our own.

Wisconsin has a swagger in their step that's scary. They're playing confident and hitting more than 55% of their shots. This is going to take a supreme effort by the Illini to pull out a win on the road.
10-0 run from the Illini. This aint over...remember Michigan State. It comes down to free-throws.
Illinois wins! What a performance. Illini Wonk is breathless. 20-0. Recap to come as soon as Illini Wonk gains some composure.
  Illinois vs. Wisconsin
One of the most anticipated games of the season for the Illinois Fighting Illini is against the Wisconsin Badgers tonight at the Kohl Center. A previous post Illini Wonk profiled the game as the "Struggle of the Streaks."

At the half of this boring SEC game, the ESPN studio commentators said Wisconsin will have a tough time guarding the Illini and detailed their streaks:

For Wisconsin:

For one of the two teams, all of these streaks will end. The live-blogging will commence soon.

  Live bloggin' the "Struggle of the Streaks"
At 8:00 CST tonight every television set in college basketball-land will be turned to ESPN for the "Struggle of the Streaks." At the same time, every computer should stay tuned to Illini Wonk where live blogging coverage of the main event will be provided.

Fans feel free to use the comments section to sound off during the game while your blogging host will provide streaming commentary on the game, Dickie V and whatever else comes to mind.

UDPATE: the live blog tonight has been noted by none other than College Basketball, the foremost authority on college hoops in the blogosphere. If you came via this site, welcome to the main event. Festivities will start at game time.
Monday, January 24, 2005
  We don't need no stinking badgers
The Wisconsin Badgers men's basketball team has won 38 straight games at home in the Kohl Center, including the last five against the Illini. The most recent home victory for the Badgers was of the improbable come-from-behind variety against the Spartans of Michigan State. Coach Bo Ryan has never lost at home in Big Ten play. Steve Batterson of the Quad-City Times has more on the streak here.

The Illinois Fighting Illini men's basketball team is 19-0 and ranked #1 in the nation for the eighth straight week. They have won 15 straight regular season Big Ten matches and eight straight conference games on the road. Illinois coach Bruce Weber is approaching the game as if the Illini are underdogs.

Wisconsin's 38 consecutive victories at home is the longest current homecourt streak in NCAA Div. 1, while Illinois' 19-game winning streak is the longest current streak in NCAA Div. 1. One of those two impressive streaks will become an impressive milestone in the other.

The game also has important implications for the conference title. In the updated standings, Illinois is alone at the top at 5-0, with Wisconsin, Michigan State and Indiana close behind at 4-1. If the Illini win at Wisconsin, they will stay in the driver's seat for the regular season conference title. Lose, and they drop into a tie with one to three teams.

Both teams have played great basketball this year. Illinois' record and ranking speak for themselves, but Wisconsin is no slouch. In the most recent Associated Press poll, the Badgers climbed to #18 on the strength of wins over Michigan and Michigan State. Senior Badger forward Mike Wilkinson has won the Big Ten player of the week honor two weeks in a row, the first of which he shared with Luther Head. This is a game that either team could win.

With that said, Illini Wonk believes that the outcome of this game depends on the Illini. It goes without saying, that if they shoot like they did against Iowa, their chances aren't good. But, if Illinois plays like they're capable of playing - like they did against Wake Forest and Cincinnati - it should be theirs to lose.

Add to that Illinois' desire to be the one to end the Badgers' streak. According to press accounts, Illinois wanted Michigan State to lose at Wisconsin last week so they'd get the shot. "We were hoping they would beat Michigan State [Jan. 16] so we can go in there and try to end their streak," lllinois guard Deron Williams said. "That would mean a lot to us, to go up there and beat them at home. That's a game we've definitely circled on our schedule. It definitely would be an upset." (More on that topic from the Chicago Tribune here).

Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times takes an historical look at the Fighting Illini's travels to Madison here. Fans of the Orange & Blue will remember some of the heart-breaking losses.

The college basketball world is anxiously awaiting the game, as evidenced by front-page previews from CBS Sportsline and CNN/SI. In the Sheboygan-Press, columnist Dave Lubach says UW-Illinois worthy of the hype. The game is also the primary topic of the weekly men's basketball release from the Big Ten. The winner in the most obvious headline contest is MSNBC with No. 1 Illini not overlooking dangerous Badgers.

Dick Vitale, who recently joined the Illini bandwagon, will be courtside for ESPN on Super Tuesday. In his preview, Vitale says the Kohl Center will be the center of the basketball universe. According to Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Vitale sings a different tune when he's on the air.

DON'T FORGET: The game was changed to 8:00 p.m. CST. Illinois game notes here. Wisconsin State Journal preview here.
  The Buzz on the Illini
Illini Wonk has noted on several occasisions the buzz that surrounds this Fighting Illini basketball team (posts here, here and here). Recent coverage of the Illini has shown up in newspapers all across the country and they can't go anywhere unnoticed.

Well, the Internet has confirmed the Buzz surrounding the team. The Buzz index from Yahoo! lists Illinois Basketball as the eighth highest mover in their Top 20 Sports Searches. Yahoo! searches for Illinois basketball today are up 77.59% and rising faster than LeBron James and Maria Sherapova.

Also, Overture recorded more than 40,000 searches in the last month of 2004 for Fighting Illini, Illini Basketball, Fighting Illini Basketball and (which explains why Illini Wonk has been unable to attend a game) Illinois Fighting Illini ticket.
Sunday, January 23, 2005
  Profile Day
It's Sunday on a weekend the Fighting Illini basketball team has off, so that means that it must be time for newspaper profile pieces. There's Deron Williams and James Augustine; both of which must have been written a while ago since the press has been cut off from the Illini players since Thursday night following the win over Iowa.

Coach Bruce Weber likes to say Brown "is the poster child for Illinois basketball.'' And Luther Head has emerged as the Illini's top scorer. But Williams, in his quiet and understated way, remains Illinois' most important player. That comes from Deron doing it all for No. 1 Illini, an article in the Chicago Sun-Times by veteran sports writer Herb Gould. The profile of the pre-season Big Ten player of the year includes everything from Williams' stat line to his upbringing and features interviews with Bill Self, his mother and his girlfriend.

Marlen Garcia of the Chicago Tribune looks at James Augustine here. Garcia discusses the media consensus of Augustine's inconsistent play, a subject that Illini Wonk is growing increasingly tired of. Augustine is averaging 9.8 points and 7.7 rebounds on the #1 team in the nation...a team that doesn't need him to score. In the profile, Augustine has the following quote: "Coach always talks about knowing your role," Augustine said. "I see myself as just playing defense, rebounding and scoring a couple points when we really need it."
  USA Yesterday
Malcom Moran of USA Today takes an extended look at the Illinois basketball team in a piece titled IIllinois' hit show tops the charts. Although this was written before the Iowa game, there's a lot of interesting information, a great photo gallery, a profile of Luther Head and a poll on whether or not you think the Illini will finish the season undefeated. Illini Wonk was so impressed that the USA Today Illini page was added to the media links on the right.
Saturday, January 22, 2005
  The winding road for Weber
Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber has cut off the availability of his players to the media until after their game at Wisconsin on Tuesday (more in this post from Illini Wonk). However, he hasn't cut himself off as is evidenced by this fascinating profile from Dick Jerardi of the Philadelphia Daily News. The article details the difficult road that Weber faced on his way to Champaign. Here's some of the highlights:

He was just another anonymous assistant coach trying to get somebody's athletic director to notice him. He interviewed for just about every head job in the Mid-American Conference. Eventually, he figured he would just stay where he was until his mentor retired and succeed him.
Then, Purdue hired a new president and athletic director. Gene Keady told Bruce Weber he probably would not get the job when he retired. Told him it was time to go somewhere else.
Today, Keady is coaching his final season at Purdue. And Weber is head coach of the No. 1 team in the country.

"I can't even tell you how many times I interviewed,'' Weber says. "I think I did the whole MAC conference. I did Miami of Ohio twice and Toledo twice. It got frustrating.

"I was happy at Purdue. I was happy with my job. Coach Keady treated me great. I had a lot of responsibility.''

When the Southern Illinois job opened in 1998, Keady pushed Weber for the job, figuring it was then or maybe never. Weber got it. Four years later, his team was in the Sweet 16. After five seasons, his record was 103-54.

When Roy Williams left Kansas for North Carolina after the 2002-03 season, Bill Self left Illinois for Kansas. And Weber got called upstate to take over at Illinois.

Last season, it was 26-7 and a Sweet 16 loss to Duke. This season, it is 19-0 and No. 1.
  Vote early and often
In the last post, Illini Wonk cited a column from Mark Tupper that wondered when the first Illini loss would come. Well, the Quad-City Times has a poll asking visitors to vote on when they think that first loss will come. Here are the options:

Right now, Tuesday's game against Wisconsin is leading the voting. Do your civic duty and go vote!

  Living with the ranking
The overtime win for Illinois has led to concerns about how the Fighting Illini are holding up (most teams get concerned after they lose; this team gets concerned when they win close rather than in a blow-out). In his Friday Decatur Herald & Tribune column, Mark Tupper said the performance has the Illini wondering when they're first loss will come.

Bruce Weber blames the circus atmosphere surrounding the team and moves to shield Illini from spotlight by cutting off their availability to the media until after Tuesday's game at Wisconsin. More on that topic here and here.

Perhaps the most disturbing report comes from Tupper's blog. Most of the others are simply pundits who are giving part of the pack opinion. Tupper on the other hand, is a seasoned observer of the Illini who's opinion can not be ignored. After the Iowa game, Tupper blogged:

I believe being No. 1 in the country was an absolute ball for the Illini players the first three weeks or so. But now, I think it’s beginning to take on a little weight. I think there are some subtle pressures building, not the least of which is the media circus that has beginning to surround this team.

Bruce Weber says the players have mostly made fun of it so far. But I can tell at practice that they may be growing weary of being asked the same questions and of seeing more and more tape recorders and microphones being poked in their faces. On Thursday, the media room in the basement of the Assembly Hall was packed to the gills. It was nuts. And it’s going to get even more nuts as national writers and broadcasters show up to take a peek at this unbeaten, top-ranked team first-hand.

We'll have to watch how the Illini respond next week.

UPDATE: Pat Forde of has more on Illinois fighting to stay on top.

UPDATE #2: Mark Tupper has even more on how the Top billing takes its toll on Illini in another column.
Friday, January 21, 2005
  The search for meaning
It was bound to happen. The Illini had set expectations so high so far this season that they had to disappoint sometime. They weren't just winning games, they were blowing out good and bad teams alike. So, when the Illini were taken to overtime by a good Iowa team, it raised a few eyebrows.

Media post-game coverage focused mostly on the close call. When I picked up my USA Today this morning, the front page sports teaser had a picture of Roger Powell and said "Illinois survives a scare." (Their write-up is here). The headline in the Chicago Sun-Times was Illini scared but unscathed.

Then, it was like unleashing the pundits who, as always, were waiting in the wings to swoop down and over-analyze the meaning of the game. Why was Iowa able to hang with Illinois at home? Are the Illini slipping? Did Iowa show the way to beat Illinois?

Matt Trowbridge of the Rockford Register Star, for one, thinks that they did. In his column, titled Iowa falls, but shows how to beat Illini, he gave his keys to beating Illinois:

(Thanks to College Basketball for bringing this to Illini Wonk's attention).

Pundits, who get paid to write, will always try to make meaning out of a game, even when it might not be there. Illini Wonk believes that is what happened in the case of the Iowa game. The Illini simply had an off game. Iowa can take some credit for that off night, but nothing they did forced Rich McBride to miss wide-open three-pointers or Roger Powell to get stuffed by the rim on a lay-up.

Yoni Cohen at the aforementioned College Basketball wrote: Anytime a teams shoots less than 35% from the field but still manages to defeat a Top 25 opponent, they're something special. IW agrees. This team continues to find a way to win, this night on the back of Luther Head.

The blogosphere had some good coverage of the game here, here and here.

UPDATE: Lindsey Willhite of the Daily Herald also believes the Iowa game showed the way to beat the Illini and offers a how-to to interested opponents.

  Mile High Praise
Colorado's college basketball teams are having a tough season. Thomas George, Sports Writer for the Denver Post, thinks that they would do well to emulate the Fighting Illini. In a column titled Illini show how to play ball, he writes:

Watch the craziness of the crowd at Assembly Hall, where Illinois is 72-3 over the past five-plus years. Watch this team's speed and quickness and hustle and humility. It exhibits a rare quality:

It excels equally on offense and defense and everything in between.

It has won 14 straight Big Ten games over the past two seasons.

It has led for 92 percent of all minutes played this season.

This team has a chance to become only the fifth in the past 62 years to stride through the Big Ten season unbeaten.

All Colorado NCAA Tournament hopefuls, pay attention - Illinois offers a view from college basketball's mountaintop. A slice of what winning basketball provides.

Bonus quote from Illinois forward Roger Powell: "God is doing something with this team that is blowing our minds. We're going to stay hungry and humble. Enjoy it, yet appreciate it."

Bonus observation: This column includes quotes from Coach Bruce Weber, meaning he actually did an interview with this guy. As Illini Wonk has said in the past, the Illini are #1 in media relations.
Thursday, January 20, 2005
  The rich get richer
In light of this truth, it shouldn't be a surprise that donations to the Illinois athletic program are on the rise this year. Mark Tupper has the details here.
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
  Illini in the news
The praise continues to be heaped upon this Illini basketball team. We'll start in the home state of Illinois.

Illini Wonk shouldn't even have to link to individual articles of Mark Tupper at the Decatur Herald & Tribune. His column and blog should be a must read for every fan of Illinois basketball. There isn't a sports-writer who knows more about the Illini basketball team than Tupper. In fact, he's probably forgotten more than most of the others know. As usual, yesterday's column offers up some tasty nuggets on the respect that other Big Ten coaches have for Junior Illini guard Dee Brown. Quoted are Steve Alford, Thad Matta and Tom Izzo, the latter who was quoted as saying that he shows tape of Brown to his team "because of how hard he plays." When Tom Izzo says a player plays hard, that means something.

Jeremy Rutherford has more about coach Izzo's film viewing habits here in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. In the Chicago Sun-Times, Jim O'Donnell discusses the NBA and season prospects of the current crop of Illini here and here. Lindsey Willhite writes about the Illini's trapping defense, Brian Randle's status and the Century Celebration for the Daily Herald here. Reid Hanley of the Chicago Tribune writes here that Illinois just might have the right combination to become the fifth team in the last 62 years to make it through the Big Ten basketball season unbeaten. Also in the Trib, Neil Milbert writes about the Illini's preparation for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Steve Batterson of the Quad City Times says the big men could play a big factor for the Illini against Iowa.

Over at, they've picked their Final Four and the Illini are joined by Wake Forest, UNC and Kansas. Jeff Shelman writes the recap on Illinois, which is headlined Illini rolling because they are unselfish. In the article, Shelman discloses that he has voted for the Illini as the number one team every week since they defeated Wake Forest on December 1. In his final analysis, Shelman writes:

Illinois, simply put, is the best team among this season's college hoops fab four because they play like kindergarteners. They share, they laugh and they trust each other. They clearly were in attendance when the teacher talked about playing nice with others. puts the Final Four through ESPN College Hoops 2K5 and has Illinois losing to Kansas by 3 who then goes on to lose to Wake Forest by 14. If you believe it would turn out otherwise, go to and vote. Right now, the Illini are leading the poll. (Bonus Time Saver: while you're there, check out highlights of the Illini victory at Northwestern on ESPN Motion).

Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl says in his mailbag that the Illini will be the team to end Wisconsin's longest in the nation home winning streak next week. Frank Burlison agrees with Wahl's prediction here and says that Luther Head is one of 12 players not on the pre-season list who could win the John R. Wooden Award.

If your eyes are turning orange after all that reading, but you still want more, try the Illini page on to the right and watch the Dee Brown interview with Max Kellerman.
  Bloggin the Illini
Big Ten Wonk has decided to update his All Wonk Team with a 3.0 edition. Amazingly, the first two editions included no Illini, but the latest includes Luther Head and Dee Brown.

In advance of their Thursday matchup with Iowa Hawkeyes, Hawkeye Hoops has extensive Illini offensive stats here.

BLOG UPDATE: Mark Tupper has more on the defense the Illini will play against the Hawkeyes. Coach Bruce Weber tells Tupper that Illinois will be trapping the ball.
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
  Please: No more "Head" jokes
Along with being named co-Big Ten player of the week, Senior Illinois guard Luther Head has a last name that newspaper headline writers can't resist. Maybe it's because Illini Wonk reads more Illinois basketball news than your average web surfer, but ENOUGH PLAYING WITH HEAD IN THE HEADLINES!

Here are just some of the recent examples. The Daily Herald has the Head of the Class. From the Chicago Sun-Times: Illini's hot Head not making waves. The Decatur Herald-Review had Head lights out. Not to be left out, the Pantagraph slapped Head-y stuff across their sports page. 18-Oh! Illini head home with school record made the Chicago Sun-Times. Luther headlines blowout of Penn State was in the State Journal-Register.

As the most consistent offender, the Peoria Journal-Star has had both Heading up the Illinois MVP race and Heady Illini handle smack attack at NU. Earlier in the year, they had Luther's consistent play turns heads of pro scouts.

But, if a prize was handed out to the most egregious use of Head in a headline, it would go to the Daily Northwestern for No. 1 Illini be-Head Cats. It must be in journalism school where these writers learn the tricks of the trade.

So, as you can clearly see, a clever play on the name Head has been played out. In order to help the underpayed, overworked headline writers, allow Illini Wonk to suggest a new headline for the next game:

Dee-lightful Illini pierce Hawkeyes

  Illini World
It's an Illini world...we're just living in it. Their play continues to lead to the question: will Illini lose?

Mike Nadel has some more details about their rock-star status in his Sunday column:

The night before the game, the team watched the movie "Coach Carter" at a suburban theater. When a few players were recognized as they went to the lobby for popcorn, they were surrounded by kids and other fans. Eventually, the team got a nice ovation.

At the hotel late that night, people started calling players in their rooms. Autograph seekers - not just kids and fans but those pathetic, middle-aged men who hawk signatures on eBay - started knocking on players' doors

Luther Head's good play (26 points against Northwestern) continues to gain attention for him. Dick Vitale was singing his praises during the Texas/Okl. St. game tonight. Herb Gould has a nice write-up in the Chicago Sun-Times about Head quietly leading the team in scoring while remaining in the shadow of Dee Brown and Deron Williams. Matt Trowbridge of the Rockford Register-Star continues with that theme here.

Head is one of three more Illini starters who will soon join Brown in the 1,000 point club. According to Marlen Garcia here of the Chicago Tribune, Head needs 33 points to reach 1,000, Williams is 37 points shy and [Roger] Powell 56.
  Hawkeye Hoops
This week brings a game against the toughest Big Ten opponent for the Illini basketball team thus far. Although they're 1-2 in conference play, the Hawkeyes are still rated in the top 25 and have wins this year against Texas and Louisville.

In preperation for the game, Hawkeye Hoops profiles the Illini offense here. Here's how the post begins:

Iowa's defense was the main reason it was able to hold off Minnesota on Saturday. That defense will get its biggest test of the season as it goes on the road to challenge the nation's best offense on Thursday. That's right - the best offense in the country. Better than North Carolina. Better than Washington or Wake Forest or anyone else.

How good is Illinois's offense, you ask? Scary good.

Go read the rest.
Monday, January 17, 2005
  Seven weeks and counting
The 18-0 Illini will spend their seventh week atop the AP and Coaches polls. With Kansas at #2 for all seven weeks, that is the longest such run for the top two seeds in six years. The Illinois basketball team also stays atop the CBS Sportsline poll and maintains a #1 seed in the midwest of Joe Lunardi's Bracketology at

In the Sagarin ratings the Illini fell one spot to #2 while Duke replaces them at the top. This is curious, since both teams are 1-0 vs. the top ten while the Illini are 5-0 vs. the top 30 and Duke is 2-0.

Also, the Illini fell from 4th to 8th in the Sportsline RPI poll. For an explanation on why the Illini are ranked so low in RPI (including being behind Wake Forest), see this post from Big Ten Wonk. One of his readers writes:

I removed the Chicago State and Oakland games from the Illinois schedule, the Illini magically jumped into first place in the RPI. Imagine that! Likewise, if you add Oakland and Chicago State into KU's schedule, they drop to 7th. Funny how that works.

Funny indeed. Read the entire post. It's enlightening.
  Dickie V: Welcome to the bandwagon
As the Atlantic Coast Conference has improved the last few years and filled some of the void left by the Big Ten it seems at time that Dick Vitale has become cheerleader-in-chief for the ACC. This has not made him popular with Big Ten fans and even Illini Wonk has taken a (well-researched) shot at ESPN's bald commentator in this post.

However, Illini Wonk has noted in a more recent post that Dick Vitale has admitted the error of his early-season predictions and given the Illini their props. According to Vitale's midseason report, there is no doubt the "Flyin' Illini" have been the best team, he names Bruce Weber the coach of the year and has Deron Williams on his "All Rolls-Royce First Team.

In addition, on his midseason lists, Vitale puts Deron Williams on his "All-Thomas Edison Super Six" (creators at point guard) and Luther Head on his "All-Blenders" (best at blending in and helping the team).

Well, Vitale follows that up today with a column that heaps praise on the Illini. The headline is Can Illinois be perfect? and while Vitale doesn't directly answer that question, he does write:

The Illini have a premier backcourt — it doesn't get much better than Dee Brown and Deron Williams. That duo is up there with the best of them, including Wake Forest's Chris Paul and Justin Gray and North Carolina's Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants.

But Illinois is more than just a backcourt tandem.
Luther Head and Roger Powell provide great athleticism. James Augustine has improved and provides solid inside play. The Illini have tremendous balance and are well-coached and well-schooled.

Then he closes the column by saying: This team looks like a favorite to get to the Final Four. It looks like Illini fans will have to leave "Dickie V" off the hate mail list this week.

We'll have to stay tuned to see if he remains the only ESPN analyst with Kansas ahead of Illinois on his Power 16 list.

UPDATE: Vitale may have been replaced by Digger Phelps as the ESPN analyst who will get the goat of Illini fans. I was watching the UCONN/Seton Hall game and during the half time show, Digger said that North Carolina is still the best team in the nation. He must have missed this game.
Sunday, January 16, 2005
  Best Illini start ever
This Illini basketball team, which has been so fun to watch, wrote another page in the history books of the Illinois basketball program with a 12-point victory over Northwestern. That conference road win pushed their season record to 18-0 - the best start in school history.

Coming into the game, Northwestern was 7-2 in Welsh-Ryan Arena and the loss to the Illini is their largest home deficit of the season. Although the Illini forced 16 turnovers, they had defensive lapses that allowed Northwestern to keep hitting shots and keep the game within reach until late.

The Wildcats making the most news were their obnoxious fans. On his blog, Mark Tupper said that the fan behavior was a motivation to the Illini, especially to Luther Head, the game's top performer. Tupper has more on it in his recap for he Decaur Herald & Tribune, here. Lindsey Willhite has more on the motivation factor here. According to Willhite, coach Bruce Weber also felt the fans crossed the line.

Nevertheless, the victory keeps the Illini atop the Big Ten standings and the national polls. As John Brumbaugh put it here, Coming into the game this weekend, Illinois had heard the national media (and even this site) question who was the "real" number one team in the country. With North Carolina's loss to Wake Forest on Saturday afternoon, the Illini will not be hearing any more of these questions for a while as long as they went out and took care of business in Evanston.

Even as the Illini stay undefeated while other top teams continue to lose, some sports world observers still don't get it. Exhibit "A" would be Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News who wrote here: perhaps the Demon Deacons can view their debacle at Illinois as kind of a mulligan. A Mulligan? Or, perhaps, Mike, the #1 ranked, 18-0 Illini who have won all but two games by double digits, and trailer fewer minutes this season than it takes you to comb your goatee when you wake up at the crack of noon, are actually good? Maybe even, dare we say, really good? No. It couldn't be that. If the best Big Ten team beat the best ACC team, it wasn't a real deserves a mulligan. Good call, Mike.
Saturday, January 15, 2005
  Memo to Pundits
To: Basketball pundits (especially those at ESPN)

From: Wake Forest & Illinois

RE: Shut your cake holes!

The beautiful thing about competitive sports is that you actually have to play the games and the decisions aren't left in the hands of the punditocracy. For the last week, the debate raged about who was the best team in the country: UNC or Illinois (as detailed in this recent Illini Wonk post here). After big wins over (overrated) Maryland and Georgia Tech, most of the pundits were siding with the Tar Heels.

Then, January 15 came and the unbeatable Tar Heels lost by 13 points to a team that the Illini were leading by 32 and defeated by 18. The Illini? Vanquished another Big Ten opponent on the road. The debate is over for this week. Illini Wonk will have more later on this historic day for the Illini.
  U of I or UNC?
Illini or Tar Heels? McCants/May/Felton or Brown/Williams/Head? Who is the king of the court in college hoops this year? The debate has been raging over the past week.

A recent post from Illini Wonk included the following comments from a column by sports writer Frank Burlison:

What we're about to propose might be so obvious that we're almost clubbing you over the head with it:
Based on what has taken place this deep into the season,
Illinois and North Carolina are far and away the two best teams in the country.
And we're not convinced that there is a particularly close No. 3, be it
Kansas, Wake, Forest, Boston College, Oklahoma State, Syracuse, Duke, Gonzaga or anyone else you'd care to toss into the debate.

Stewart Mandel of Yearns for a UNC-Illinois ballet.

But, for most hoop fans, it's not enough to narrow it to 1a and 1b. Most of us, like Greg who posted the question yesterday, want to know: Who's the best?

First, let's turn to the experts. Wait, before we get the opinion of the experts, let's see what Jay Bilas thinks. Since you have to pay for his column at, let's look at what he says on the tube. Last week, when asked where he had the Tar Heels ranked, his answer was:

One. And there's no one within shouting distance of them right now from a power standpoint. I think you could easily say Illinois has played the best as a team.

Huh? Thanks for clearing that up, Jay.

Brian Curtis of College Sports TV has an equally compelling argument in his Thursday thoughts:

North Carolina is the best team in the country right now. Yes, I know that Illinois has been playing great but can you honestly say that the Illini are playing better than the Tar Heels? McCants, Felton, May & Co. aren't just winning--they are destroying teams, including very good Georgia Tech and Maryland teams. If not for the hiccup against Santa Clara in early December, the Heels would be undefeated and #1. They will lose one or two ACC games as the conference is just too strong, but they get my vote for #1.

It's hard to argue with that scientific dissection of the strengths and weaknesses of the two teams.

But not everyone agrees. Luke Winn has the Illini atop his Power 16.
Friday, January 14, 2005
  More random articles
Man! These Illini are getting harder to keep up with! Los Angeles, Milwaukee, San Diego...what's next? Moscow? Tripoli? Here's Friday's must read:

SI sports writer Grant Wahl puts the Illini among The Magic Eight teams who could win it all. My favorite quote from the article: The way the Illini move the ball as a team, it's as if they got together with LeBron James and said, Let's start a trend of showing kids how to play the right way. Still at SI, the Illini sit atop of Luke Winn's Power Rankings.

Frank Burlison makes the random compilation again with his contention that UNC & Illinois are simply better than the rest. In the front page article, Burlison says that he's not convinced that there is a particularly close No. 3 to the Tar Heels and the Illini.

The success of Luther Head this year didn't come as a surprise to Ed Graney who wrote in the San Diego Union Tribune: "San Diego State fans likely remember Head. He's the player who as a freshman scored a season-high 19 points against the Aztecs in an NCAA Tournament first-round game in Chicago." The full profile can be found here.

While we're on Illini profiles, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel sports writer Dan Manoyan takes a closer look at second-year coach Bruce Weber here. Why is the Journal-Sentinel interested in coach Weber, you might ask? Well, that's because Weber grew up on the north side of Milwaukee and graduated from UW-Milwaukee...which you would know if you only read the full profile.

It's good to have the newspaper kids back on campus, with Daily Illini articles here, here and here.

Even the left-wing political rag called the LA Weekly is getting in on the act with an admission from regular columnist Dave Shulman that he is "an addict" of Illinois basketball. Read the full column here.
Thursday, January 13, 2005
  Random article Roundup
With the Illini #1 in the nation, it is becoming more difficult to keep up with the press coverage. Since Illini Wonk doesn't want to offer excuses, this is a way to hit the highlights.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch today wrote about the Weber approach to playing with the #1 ranking. To Couch, Weber has the Illini playing loose while handling his first 15 minutes of fame perfectly. Yesterday's column from Couch on Orange fever chronicles the fans that the Illini attract on the road and the difficulty faced by fans who don't have tickets yet.

Stewart Mandell of says Kansas-Kentucky was nice, but UNC-Illinois is what I'd rather see. He wonders if the Illini will be able to go come tourney time so he must not have seen their games against Wake Forest and Gonzaga. (Thanks to College Basketball for drawing this one to our attention).

Frank Burlison's list of candidates for the Wooden Award (submissions are due on Jan. 31) on includes all three starting Illini guards.

Deron Williams makes the finalist list for the Cousy Award, which is given to the most outstanding point guard in college basketball. (Also on the list is University of South Dakota point guard Josh Mueller, which is why you can read about it on my local CBS affiliate here).

The Chicago Daily Herald's Lindsey Willhite has uncovered the press report of Illinois' first basketball game played in 1906, which was a 71-4 victory.
  Get off his back
Against Penn State, Nick Smith was 4 of 5 from the floor with an assist a block and two steals in 15 minutes of play. Growth in the membership of Sports Writers Insulting Nick E. Smith or "SWINES" has only been eclipsed by ESPN commentators for the Tar Heels over the past month. Let's hope last night cuts back their membership.

P.S. I have no idea if Nick Smith's middle inital is "E" but it worked well with the acronym so I went with it. If anyone knows his real middle name, don't tell me (unless it starts with E).
The victory over Penn State last night gives Illinois a record of 17-0, which matches the school's record for the best start to a season. The last time the Illini basketball team started a season 17-0 was in 1988-89 which is also the last time they were ranked #1 and made it to the final four.

The 90-64 win was also the 1,500th in the school's 100-year history. There are only 14 other Division One schools in the 1,500 win club and the only other team in the Big Ten is Indiana with 1,536 (at the rate the two teams are playing, the Illini might pass the Hoosiers next season).

The win kept Illinois at the top of's Power 16 ranking even though their television commentators are falling all over themselves to praise the North Carolina Tar Heels. (Illini Wonk had to mute the television last night after about five minutes of Dick Vitale calling the North Carolina/Georgia Tech game last night). However, even Dickie V has come around to the Illini. In his midseason report he says there is no doubt the "Flyin' Illini" have been the best team, he names Bruce Weber the coach of the year and has Deron Williams on his "All Rolls-Royce First Team. As John Supinie's headline read, No. 1 Illini continue to make their case.

Williams certainly put up All Rolls-Royce First Team stats last night. He filled the stat sheet with 11 points, 3 rebounds, 4 steals and a dozen assists. The career-high 12 assists raised his season average to 6.9, which is good enough for tenth in the nation. Weber is reportedly pleased with Williams' focus and the leadership he's providing to the team. Mark Tupper has more details about the coach and the player on his blog.

He wasn't the only one in an orange uniform filling the stat sheet last night. Four of the five Illini starters scored in double figures (and the fifth had nine) as they set a school record with 15 3-pointers. The Illini also had 26 assists on its 34 baskets.

All the local pundits recap the game. Tupper is here. Jeremy Rutherford here. Marlen Garcia here. Herb Gould here. Lindsey Willhite here.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
  Now or later?
That's the question facing Brian Randle and the Illini. Randle broke his shooting hand in November and was cleared to practice last week. According to John Supinie (here), no decision has been made on whether or not he will try to play this year although the Pantagraph said he is set to dress tonight. He's on the CBS Sportsline roster.

The question for Illini Wonk readers is: should he try to come back for the last half of this year or preserve another full season of eligibility? The Illini are talented and balanced but not particularly deep. On the one hand, the 6-8 Sophomore could contribute to what might be a special season for the Illini. On the other, to come now would be effectively giving up at least half of a season of a promising career.

What do you think? Send Illini Wonk an email or use the comments link below to give your opinion.
  Can they run the table?
When Big Ten Wonk asked this question here, it was in reference to the Nittany Lions and said that they might not win a conference game all season. Tonight against the Illini will not be their best chance for a win. The Illini are still undefeated and ranked #1 in the nation and would have to be pretty bad to lose to Penn State.

Since, as usual, the game is not televised on national TV, I will be following it online while I watch Kansas play at Iowa State. Here's the link to gametracker.

In his preview of tonight's game, a writer for Penn State's newspaper wrote (here):

It doesn't seem fair, having that much talent in one backcourt.

Penn State has for much of the season struggled to trot two healthy starting guards onto the floor. Illinois has three who could easily wind up first-team All-Big Ten selections.
Need a bucket? A steal? An assist? Pick one.

No. 1 Illinois (16-0), two wins away from its best start ever, is loaded at every position, but the Fighting Illini who figure to do the most damage when the shorthanded Nittany Lions visit Assembly Hall on Wednesday are senior Luther Head and juniors Dee Brown and Deron Williams, the nation's best backcourt and maybe the best guard trio in conference history.

Illinois game notes are here.
  Saint Augustine
James Augustine was named player of the week in the Big Ten for his performances against Ohio State and Purdue in the Illini's first two wins of conference play. Illini Wonk has more on Augustine's performance in the Ohio State game here. Consistent post play was the biggest question mark entering the season and with Augustine playing well the Illini have very few identifiable weaknesses.
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
  The inside dish on the Illini
Regular readers of this blog are not strangers to Mark Tupper of the Decatur Herald & Review. Rarely does a day go by when Illini Wonk doesn't reference something from his column or his blog or both. Tupper has forgotten more about the Illini basketball team than most natinoal sports writers who have spent the last six weeks scrambling to figure out just what this team from fly-over country is all about.

Along with writing a column every day and frequently updating his blog, Tupper somehow found time for an interview with Big Ten Wonk that you can read here. For Illini fans, it's worth your time.
Sunday, January 09, 2005
  The media rock stars
What a year to start blogging about the Illinois basketball team! Their undefeated, 16-0 start to the season has brought an increased amount of media attention to the boys from Champaign. The prolific Mark Tupper wrote today in the Decatur Herald & Tribune about the Illini becoming a Big Ten roadshow. In the article he had this to say:

More Illini fans are turning out, and so are more Illini media. Purdue's sports information folks had to decline requests including one from a country-western radio station that apparently just wanted a good seat. Some of our local TV people were relegated to the basement media work room because there were not enough seats on "press row."

Newspapers that once sent one writer are now sending a writer, columnist and photographer. Interest in this team is rising, with beat writers from the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune being told to crank out more copy. The Bad News Bears didn't give the city a playoff team to follow. The Bulls, though improving, are still a painful work in progress. And the Blackhawks have simply decided to take the winter off.

That leaves Illinois as the best sports story in the vicinity.

A little earlier in the season, Jay Mariotti (of ESPN's ''Around the Horn'' fame) wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times, here:

MTV is on Line 1, ignoring Lindsay Lohan for a day so it can profile Dee Brown. ESPN is on Line 2, hoping to feature the team in an episode of "The Life.'' A New York radio station is on Line 3, Dickie V. is on Line 4 (though no one wants to talk to him because of his alleged pro-ACC bias) and a producer is on Line 5, wondering what Bruce Weber will be cooking next time.

Unfortunately, that makes it highly unlikely that Illini Wonk will get a press pass to attend an Illini game this year. It also explains why there has been so much coverage to sift through.

By the end of the season, Illini sports information director Kent Brown and his staff probably deserve raises.
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