Illini Wonk
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.
Agreed that the WF loss to UI can't be called a "mulligan," but Mike DeCourcy loves Illinois. Has for years.
Good chance for a point of clarification. I don't think any commentators dislike Illinois (not even Dick Vitale, who as you pointed out on your blog has come around to the Illini). I just think Illinois is not playing according to the script that the east coast sports-writers are writing for their primarily east coast audience. DeCourcy himself has had columns this year about how great the ACC is and how bad the Big Ten is.

The primary point of my post was the one you agreed with. That game in the Big Ten/ACC challenge where Illinois destroyed Wake was no mulligan. That was the Illini.
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