R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the ILL-INI
After waltzing through a difficult non-conference schedule like they were playing high school junior varsity teams, the mid-season accolades from the national press have piled up for the Illini. Today's ESPN.com men's college basketball front page
looked like an advertisement for the #1 ranked Illini. Along with a link to Illini increase lead atop coaches' poll
, there were also three stories lauding the team's performance to date.
The Illini fare quite well in the ESPN.com experts' midseason picks
. Five of the seven experts pick Illinois to make an appearance this March in St. Louis and one, Pat Forde, picks them to be the last team cutting down the nets. Luther Head makes an appearance on three of the experts' all America first teams with Deron Williams on two, including that of the aforementined Forde who selects Williams as the National Player of the Year.
In an article
by Jay Bilas that ESPN actually expects people to pay for, he says that "No one has played better or more together than Illinois, the pre-conference team of the season."
The fan polls are also good for the Illini. In this poll
more than 50 percent of the respondents picked the Illini to reach the Final Four, more than any other team, while Williams and Head are 6th and ninth on the mid-season All-America team. On the conference poll
, 70 percent pick the Illini to win the Big Ten, ten times more than the votes received by second place Michigan State.
At CBS Sportsline, sports writer Tony Mejia thinks "dominant" Illinois could run the table
in Big Ten conference play. He obviously didn't read this post
from Illini Wonk. In another article
from Mejia, he cites the geographic advantage the Illini would have in the NCAA's and said we should "expect to see them in St. Louis." Also of interest to Illinois fans is his picks of Gonzaga and Wake Forest as two of the other Final Four teams.
John "Brumby" Brumbaugh doesn't think it too early to call the end result every Illini conference game and sees them losing only two-at Iowa and at Wisconsin-thus finishing with a 14-2 conference record. You can read his predictions here
In an article
for Sports Illustrated, Grant Wahl mentions (yet again) the coaching change dominoes at Illinois, UNC and Kansas. Wahl thinks it's a possibility that we'll see all three of them in the Final Four and has the following to say about the Illini:
At 14-0, Illinois has been the story of the season, thrashing Wake Forest, Gonzaga and Cincinnati. The Illini play the same kind of crowd-pleasing team ball that Detroit used to win the NBA title last summer, and their apparent lack of a dominant inside force has been erased by consistent play from James Augustine and a solid supporting cast. Everyone knew Dee Brown and Deron Williams were one of the nation's top backcourts, but the key has been the rise of Roger Powell Jr. and especially guard Luther Head. Credit Weber for sticking with Head during a tumultuous junior season and giving him a chance to turn things around as a senior.
Also at SI, Seth Davis rates the Illini a "Buy" in his College hoops stock report
The only question I have about the nation's top-ranked team is whether it can score enough in the post. But that's nitpicking. James Augustine's 9.2 scoring average is more the result of his teammates' abilities than his own shortcomings. At some point, when Illinois needs Augustine to deliver a strong performance, I believe he will. Also, with only a couple of real tests left on the schedule (most notably a difficult stretch against Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State beginning at the end of January), the Illini's stock will continue to tick up in the coming weeks.
The bottom line: these Illini are good and the national media are no longer able to ignore it.