Illini Wonk
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.

Dickie V may not be on the bandwagon quite yet...he STILL ranked the Illini as #2 in his last Power 16....right behind the formerly undefeated Jayhawks.

I can't believe that he might actually be forced to put the ILLINI at #1 in his power rankings this week...then we'll have the full on endorsement of Dickie V....which makes me very uncomfortable.
oh boy, oh boy, oh boy - it's gonna be a good one!!!!!
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