Illini Wonk
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
  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 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.
Dickie V is such a blowhard. He talks out of both sides of his mouth. In his article he is, in a way, picking on the Illini players and coaches for rightly pointing out that many members of the media are only giving them token respect. (I'll bet if Illinois had 1 loss they would be about 8th-9th while NC gets the nod at the 2nd slot even though they have 2 losses and Wake is in 7th with 3 losses.) Anyhow he himself dissed IL tonite when he said NC will take it all becasue they are soooo gooood. And Wonk rightly pointed out Digger's snub as well.

Then he says that he doesn't think the Illini can run the table during the rest of the Big 10 regular season although for the last few weeks he said if they win in Madison and East Lansing that he thought they would.
Oh but that is not doubting them at all is it Dickie?
You know, UNC is pretty darn good. Our guys go out and earn their respect every game and they do get it. There are just some debates that are only going to be settled on that first Monday in April period.

The fact is that while fantastically talented teams go into Villanova or host Maryland and see the odds catch them, to this point the Illini beat the odds as easily as though they were Penn State. The Illini are THAT GOOD.

I doubted our guys before last night. Not that they aren't great but I believe I overestimate the odds' chances. Sure, I predicted an 81-67 U of I win prior but that was more a play on the Oakland results of both teams.

It's common sense to say that if the Illini face a good backcourt with a dominating post-up frontcourt that they will be at a disadvantage, but they have shown that to be a misconception. Somehow we have answers for that defensively and have proven it game in and game out. The Illini execute consistently and what it will take for them to lose to anyone will be a night where the ball decides to bounce out of the hole instead of go into it. Bad luck is their only adversary they will have to face this season.

One thing that concerns me even though it worked brilliantly last night was that the Illini slapped down at the ball all night. That worked out great in a game where the refs were going to let the teams play, but in many games the whistles are blown just on the appearance of a possible foul. That tactic could lead to a lot of whistles in a later game.

There are still tough road games coming up for Illinois and some worthy opponents yet to come to Champaign. It won't be easy in any game, but there is no doubt that the National Championship is the Illini's to lose.
just a quality win all around. the composure is the thing that is really beginning to impress as much as anything.
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