Illini Wonk
Thursday, February 03, 2005
  How good are the Illini?
Following the win over Michigan State, Illini Wonk published a post on the praise their win drew from pundits from all over the college basketball world. With the question of who's the best team in the country answered, the questions now turn to "just how good are they?"

When putting the Fighting Illini at the top of their Power 16, included the following notes: Not much more you can say. Have answered every challenge and rarely been challenged. We're starting to dust off the Unbeaten Watch. All seven ESPN experts listed Illinois #1 and several had comments on the Illini.

Jay Bilas wrote: Any doubt, now? Illinois is the best team. I am now on a crusade to get James Augustine the pub he deserves. He could start for any team in the country, and he is a really good player. I love watching the Illini play.

Pat Forde said OK, I'm softening my stance against Illinois' chances for an undefeated run. Twelve straight made shots against Michigan State? Take that, Izzone. And take that, everyone else. The Illini look more impressive every time out.

But the best quote came from Andy Glockner: Honestly, it's gotten to the point where I probably wouldn't drop Illinois if it lost a game. Illini have answered every challenge in emphatic fashion.

Mark Tupper takes a look at the rest of the Illinois season and true to his promise, predicts eight more wins and an undefeated finish to the regular season. (On his blog, Tupper talks about some phone conversations between he and Dick Vitale and Digger Phelps and Bruce Weber. Digger once again proved how out of touch with reality he is).

Marlen Garcia of the Chicago Tribune metions the elephant in the living room, by pointing out here that many of the remaining Big Ten teams that the Illini will face are losing their stars. Bracy Wright sprained his ankle and is unlikely to play against Illinois on Sunday. Michigan star Daniel Horton is facing domestic abuse charges and will not be facing the Illini on Tuesday. Finally, Iowa star Pierre Pierce has been dismissed from the Iowa basketball team in the midst of his own investigation.

Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl predicts an Illinois win if they were to matchup with North Carolina. He bases his prediction on UNC's lack of a win against a quality opponent in an unfriendly environment and the fewer mistakes made by the Illini. He also says that the jury's still out on Weber as a recruiter at Illinois. Mike DeCourcy agrees with Illini Wonk when he writes that Illinois already has Big Ten wrapped up.

John Supinie writes here in the Peoria Journal-Star that Illinois' impressive wins against Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan State erased any concerns that surfaced earlier in the month. Part of the reason for their improved play is the hot shooting from Deron Williams, who is profiled by Garcia here. According to Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Illini are shooting back into a groove and Chicago Sun-Times sport-writer Herb Gould ways the Illini are playing with confidence.

Illinois is playing well and seems to be getting better every game. If they keep up this pace, Stephen Bardo might have a hard time convincing anyone that the 1998-89 Flyin' Illini were the best team in school history.

UPDATE: It seems everyone these days has an opinion on whether or not Illinois will finish the regular season undefeated. Today it was the Boston's Globe's Mark Blaudschun who writes about both Illinois and Boston College here. Here's a flavor: Can either or both make it through the regular season unbeaten? The guess here is that they can't, but in looking at their schedules, Illinois would seem to have a better chance. But if either Illinois or BC pulls it off, it would rank as one of the more remarkable achievements in college basketball history, especially for BC, which was nowhere in sight in preseason rankings.
You know, even the Flyin Illini would present almost a dozen plays a game where you throw your hands up and scream 'What are you thinking!?!' almost every game. We have gone stretches of complete games without doing it once with this year's team.

I often believe a closer comparison between this team and past Illini teams is the 83-84 squad that played with astonishing heart and precision. That team even came within a few referee forced piggy back rides given to Bowie and Turpin at Rupp from getting to the Final Four.
The funny thing about Digger's comment is he doesn't take into consideration just WHO his mythical players are.
His comment that he can beat the Illini using a 1-3-1 seems to imply that he would win using any 5 stiffs. That is the ultimate slap in the fce to IL. I suppose the IL team wouldn't even make it out of their locker room for their fear of facing a Phelps coached team.
If he had a team that was dominate inside but a weak guard tandem, Head-Williams-Brown would chew his players up on both halves of the court. Brown & co would have fast break layups off of steals nearly every possession. If his so called team was strong up front but weak down in the paint then Auggie and Powell would have 25 points each. And the guard trio would have 20 assists or more.
moe & wpr,

Both great points. Illini Wonk has been developing some overall thoughts on this team and one of the biggest ones is their lack of lapses which always seemed to characterize Illinois teams in the past.

As for Digger, the guy just keeps digging himself deeper & deeper in the hole with Illini fans. If he truly believes that all it would take to stop this year's team is him coaching anyone in a 1-3-1 zone then the only conclusion we can draw is that he hasn't watched this team play. Illini Wonk hopes that he keeps dissing this team and this team keeps proving him wrong.
I know this isn't probably the right place for this, but thought it was appropriate in relation to this post. I have heard a similar version before, but thought all you Illini fans out there might get a kick out of it. Enjoy:

After living a full life, Dick Vitale passed away. When he got to heaven, God was showing him around. They came to a modest little house with a faded ACC flag in the window.

"This house is yours for eternity, Dickie," said God. "This is very special, not everyone gets a house up here."

Vitale felt special, indeed, and walked up to his house. On his way up to the porch, he noticed another house just around the corner. It was a 3-story mansion with an Orange and Blue sidewalk, a 50 foot tall flagpole with an enormous Illini logo flag, and in every window, a white towel with a big block "I" on it.

Dickie looked at God and said, "God I'm not trying to be ungrateful, but I have a question. I was a great announcer, I made College Basketball great to watch, and my personality was one of a kind.".

God said "So what's your point, Dick".

"Well, why does Bruce Weber get a better house than me?"
God chuckled, and said, "Dick, that's not Weber's house; it's mine."
I always loved that story Ice. Another good one on this week's edition of has a satirical article about Mike Krzyzewski getting a restraining order against his obsessed stalker fan...Dick Vitale.

I love Dickie V and his opinions are well educated from being such an adoring fan of the sport. He can be annoying, but no one can deny his passion for the game. Sure he throws out his UNC, Duke, Kansas, and even Illinois references in every game but I always felt that to Vitale, the two best teams in the country is always the two teams on the court in front of him. Even if it's someone like Indiana State vs. Butler because he is just so happy to be on that sideline doing what he's doing for a living.
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