Illini Wonk
Saturday, February 19, 2005
  Iowa = Last Test?
Although the Buckeyes might take issue with this characterization, when the Fighting Illini take the court in Iowa City today, it's being billed as the last chance to derail a perfect regular season. Although Andy Katz says the best chance for a loss is in Big Ten tourney.

In motivating his team, Coach Bruce Weber said in the Belleville News-Democrat "It helps us that we had a tough game (against Iowa)," Weber said of the Illini's 73-68 overtime win Jan. 20 in Champaign. "They know they're capable.

The big difference this time, of course, is that Iowa will be without Pierre Pierce who was kicked off the team after being charged with first-degree burglary and two counts of domestic abuse and assault. In their previous game, Pierce played all 45 minutes and had 22 points while guarding Deron Williams. Hawkeye Hoops (wishfully?) thinks the Hawkeyes are playing as well without Pierce on the offensive end, but especially miss his defensive capabilities. At the time of his dismissal, Pierce was averaging 17.8 points. 4.2 assists and 2.5 steals and certainly heading for one of the all-Big Ten teams.

Illinois comes into the game a well-publicized 26-0 having recently run to a 22-point half-time lead in dispatching Penn State in University Park. A win today will move them into a tie with the 1960-61 Ohio State Buckeyes for the third best start in Big Ten conference history.

The Hawkeyes on the other hand after starting the season 12-1, are now 16-8 and 4-7 in the Big Ten. They have dropped three of their last four games and are coming off a loss at 7-15 Purdue. Marlen Garcia has more in the Chicago Tribune on the Hawkeyes' downward spiral and in the Sun-Times Herb Gould has Iowa perfecting fadeaway.

However, with the Hawkeyes currently on the outside of the NCAA's looking in, they know what a win over the Illini could do for their tournament resume. Lindsey Willhite's article in the Chicago Daily Herald is titled A victory over Illini today could do wonders for Hawkeyes, and has the quote of the day: As the number of criminal charges against Westmont native Pierre Pierce rises, so does the RPI number next to Iowa's name.

To be clear, Iowa still has several good players in Greg Brunner (fourth in scoring (17.3) and second in rebounding (8.5) in Big Ten play), Jeff Horner and Adam Haluska. In their last game, Erek Hansen's shotblocking ability gave the Illinois big men some problems.

It will be interesting today to see what Iowa will want in the game tempo. Do they try to run with Illinois, sans Pierce? Or, do they follow the lead of Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin in trying to shorten the game. Stay tuned.

Even though it's almost 250 miles from Champaign, the Orange Krush will be well represented at the game. Steve Batterson's piece in the Quad-City Times is headlined with: Orange crush to descend on Iowa. In the article Steve Alford suggests that 1/4 of the crowd could be wearing orange and blue rather than black and gold.

Sports Illustrated preview here. Illinois official game notes here.
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