Another impressive Illinois win
An almost eerily focused Illinois basketball team went into the Breslin Center against #10 Michigan State and simply took care of business, handing the Spartans an 81-68 loss
. In a game that was supposed to be their toughest test remaining in the regular season, the Illini shut down the Spartans and at times seemed to score at will.
Illini Wonk's typical pre-game routine is to spend time wondering which Illinois player will step up and make the biggest impact. But tonight, they all stepped up. The basketball clinic that the Illini put on tonight was a team effort. There was not a single member of the Illinois team that had a bad game. Luther Head had 22 points and 5 steals. Deron Williams continued to shoot well with 14 points on 5-8 shooting to go with 5 assists. Dee Brown was the most pumped up for a game that he's been all year and rode the adrenaline to 18 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals. Augustine didn't miss from the floor and had 11 points and 5 boards. Powell had the closest thing to an off night with 8 points on 2-5 shooting, but he was 4-4 from the free-throw line and hit a big shot down the stretch. Ingram, McBride and Smith all made contributions off the bench. (Complete box score here
While watching the game, Illini Wonk doesn't think that MSU played poorly. They shot a respectable 43% from the floor and were a perfect 13-13 from the line. They outrebounded the Illini by two and their 13 turnovers were due more to Illinois' 12 steals than anything they did wrong. Have you ever seen a team strip so many balls?
Most of the post-game pres coverage will focus on the starting trio of guards-and their 54 points were impressive-but this was a great team that won tonight. The Fighting Illini shot 57% against one of the best defensive teams in the country and was 13 of 24 from three-point land.
It's somewhat amusing that the Illini were a unanimous #1 entering this week, yet Illini Wonk couldn't find a single pundit who predicted that they would leave East Lansing with their perfect season intact (see this post
from earlier today. BTW, good call, Digger). In post-game comments from Bruce Weber and Dee Brown on ESPNEWS, both made reference to continuing to show the doubters what they are capable of accomplishing.
Following those comments, Dick Vitale said that he couldn't find any doubters...a theme he continued in his report
for ESPN.com. Well, try reading the previously referenced post from Illini Wonk. In case you can't figure out how to use a computer, ask your fellow ESPN analyst Digger Phelps what his prediction was for this game.
Other than that small point of contention, Vitale has a glowing review of Illinois' performance. He said they're a lock to reach the Final Four and have what it takes to win it all. He called their trio of guards as good as any in America
Illini Wonk will have a complete run-down of the praise that is certain to be showered on the Illini in tomorrow's news, but there are a couple of story-lines that are inevitable. First, much of the speculation will now turn to whether or not they can finish the regular season undefeated. Although Vitale said he doesn't think they will, after that performance, it's difficult not to get caught up in the speculation.
Second, barring a major stumble by the Illini (or some injuries) the Big Ten race is over. Michigan State and Wisconsin now both have two losses and would have to go undefeated the rest of the way while hoping for Illinois to lose two games. Illini Wonk continues to belive that a regular season Big Ten title, combined with what they did in the pre-conference games would be enough to earn them the #1 seed in the Midwest and a chance to play all six NCAA tournament games in closer and friendlier venues than Kohl and Breslin.