Illini Wonk
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
  Get on board for the big win
After another another impressive Illinois win the pundits who were predicting a loss at Michigan State last night are falling all over themselves to get back on the bandwagon. (video highlights available from and

On ESPN College Gamenight, Mike Jarvis and Jay Bilas were impressed with the win and both said that Illinois has what it takes to go undefeated. When asked if the tournament started tomorrow and they had to pick one team to win it all, they both said they'd take the Illini (although Bilas made sure that he left the door open for North Carolina). The best quote of the show came from Jarvis, who said: I think that this team can go undefeated and if they continue to listen to Digger and get motivated and really believe that nobody thinks they're going to win these games, they will probably go undefeated and I think that they've got the mindset and the mental toughness to do it.

Senior CBS Sportsline writer Greg Doyel gushes with praise for the Illini and throws down the gauntlet with this headline: Anything less than undefeated will be slighting Illini. Whiel the entire article is well worth the read, the best takeaway quote is: Now that they've gotten past Michigan State and the Breslin Center crowd of 14,759, the Illini have no business losing this season. Not once. Anything less than perfection, and Illinois will have underachieved.

Andy Katz of reports on the game here and writes:

Michigan State is done.


Wisconsin was beaten last week in Madison to end the Badgers' 38-game home-court winning streak.


During the nonconference portion of the schedule, the Illini beat Wake Forest, Gonzaga and Cincinnati.

What's left?

Not much and that's why it's time to start talking about an undefeated regular season.

Greg Couch of the Chicago Sun-Times says they're going to do it. In the Peoria Journal-Star, John Supinie writes that No. 1 Illinois made it look so easy.

In her game notes, Marlen Garcia of the Chicago Tribune reported that Coach Weber used the Phelps prediction as a motivator. Deron Williams said: We want to let them know they can keep on doubting us and we're going to keep winning. In her recap, Garcia quotes "Tom Izzo saying I think they have the ingredients to win a national championship," Izzo said. "I don't want to put that on their backs because there are so many other things on their backs. But as Bobby Knight once told me [in 2000] about my team after we beat them, 'You have a real chance to win it,' and that was the year we won." Mike Conklin of the Trib ads a report about a group of Illinois students who have been watching the games in London.

As far as Illini Wonk is concerned, you have to take most of these pundits with a large grain of the case of Digger Phelps an entire salt-lick. But, when Mark Tupper, the Illini sage of the Decatur Herald & Tribune, writes, attention must be paid. That's why this post made me stand at attention. Rather than excerpt it or take the chance that you're too lazy to go to his blog, Illini Wonk has decided to post the entire thing:

30-0? 39-0? Now you just say, ‘Why not?’
I picked Michigan State to beat Illinois Tuesday night, not because I thought the Spartans were the better team. No, you were either in one camp or the other. Either you thought Illinois would run the table in the regular season or you thought that too unlikely. I felt the latter. And once you subscribe to that theory, you have to pick ‘em to lose somewhere along the way. Playing at the crazy home of the nation’s 10th-ranked team, going against a coach I respect so highly, this was the logical place to look for a stumble.

But after watching Illinois just bully-slap Michigan State 81-68 Tuesday, there’s no more picking against a team whose confidence has rocketed through the roof, who have such uncanny balance and who are possibly about to get better as Deron Williams finds his shot and James Augustine discovers his swagger.

Wow! That’s what Tom Izzo said and that’s clearly how Bruce Weber felt. As I watched Bruce Weber lean against a concrete block wall in the basement of the Breslin Center, surrounded by a wave of media, he looked awash in wonder. He knows he has a tiger by the tale, a once-in-a-lifetime team with an incredible will to win and an uncanny poise and taste for the limelight.
It’s their taste for the big game that has been interesting to watch. Dee Brown has always loved the spotlight, and Deron Williams has never been bashful about it, either. But Augustine and Luther Head are warming to it, too, and you can see them playing off each other, feeding one another energy as they defy angry, loud sellout crowds and win like no other Illinois team ever has.

I have just one piece of advice for you fans. Fasten your seatbelts. This is the ride of a lifetime, no matter how it ends. This is like being tied to the front wing of an Indy car with the accellerator bolted to the floor, Mario Andretti main-lining espresso at the wheel, no stopping and no slowing down until this bullet of a ride runs out of fuel.

When that happens I don’t know. But I’ll pick ‘em to win every game, because given all they’ve done – how they’ve won, who they’ve beaten and where that’s happened – they’ve earned the right to believe they can do just about anything. To win them all, they’ll have to go 30-0 in the regular season, 39-0 for the national title. Who’s to say that can’t be done? Not me. Not any more

Tupper was a little more restrained in his column for the Decatur Herald & Tribune, but the message was the same: Tuesday night, after Illinois strutted out of the Breslin Center with its No. 1 national ranking shining brighter than ever, "unbeaten" is sounding like more than an achievable dream.It's sounding like a destiny. Folks, when Mark Tupper gets this excited about this team, it's time to get on board for the big win.
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