Illini Wonk
Thursday, February 17, 2005
  Slezak vs. Couch
Greg Couch has a column today on the Fighting Illini that appears to this blogger to be a response to his fellow Chicago Sun-Times columnist Carol Slezak. You might remember Slezak's column Tough to grade Illini without a test from an earlier post by Illini Wonk.

In his column, titled Biding their time, Illini stay razor sharp, Couch writes what can only be taken as a response to Slezak. Two columns, two days apart in the same paper leads you to wonder if they're both watching the same team. What follows is a point/counter-point from the two Sun-Times columnists:

Slezak: They are a perfect 25-0 but hardly a perfect team.
Couch: Whatever, while we're waiting for the NCAAs, we pick away and look for holes in the perfection.

Slezak: [The Illini take] offense with anyone who points out an obvious flaw, such as their lack of an inside game or their tissue-thin bench.
Couch: The inside game? James Augustine has developed from a hindrance to a solid, even good, center. The thing is, the bench is fine, and not overly important in the NCAA tournament anyway, where there are more and longer TV timeouts for rest.

Slezak: We know Illinois is a very good team. But just how good is hard to figure out. At times...the Illini look unbeatable. Until one stops to consider the competition, that is. It's not Illinois' fault that the rest of the Big Ten is lousy. But the fact that this is a down year for the conference makes the Illini's tournament prospects an iffy proposition.
Couch: The schedule? Well, the Illini have pounded Wake Forest in Champaign, Cincinnati in Las Vegas and Michigan State in East Lansing.

Slezak: It's hard to imagine that lowly Penn State or sinking Iowa or little Northwestern or even Purdue or Ohio State can challenge the Illini. So we must look ahead to the Big Ten tournament and hope some team will provide competition. Is Tom Izzo's disappointing Michigan State team peaking at the right time? Can Bo Ryan's Wisconsin squad, clearly less talented than Illinois, grit its way through the conference tourney? Because these teams are the Illini's best hope for a reality check before the NCAA tournament begins.
Couch: Is this too easy? Is the schedule too weak? Are the inside players too soft? Is the bench falling apart? Will the pressure get to them? And what's going on with Roger Powell? I don't know. These questions don't seem too serious to me, but it's what we keep hearing over and over. And over.

Slezak: This is no way to prepare for the NCAA tournament. This is no way to prepare for Kansas or Oklahoma State or Arizona. It's no way to learn how to remain poised under pressure.
Couch: These guys are ready.

Slezak: With these huge expectations as the backdrop, the untested Illini are being set up to fail. Neither Weber nor his players have dealt with anything like this before. And if the Illini are still undefeated and a unanimous No. 1 come NCAA tourney time, the pressure will only increase.
Couch: The team is relaxed. Pressure? They play better under pressure.

Slezak: Weber's players seem to have grown more confident with each victory. But an undercurrent of doubt remains. They, too, must be wondering if they really are the best team in the country.
Couch: Meanwhile, No. 2 Kansas lost to unranked Texas Tech this week, and No. 3 Kentucky lost to unranked South Carolina -- and Illinois never loses.

Slezak: It might not be fair, but a perfect record won't mean a thing come March. No one knows how good the Illini are, but we all know what will happen if Weber's team stumbles in the NCAA tournament. Just as soon as the "over-rated'' chant ends, the "I told you so'' chorus will begin.
Couch: Maybe the talk should be about just how beautifully they move that ball around. With Deron Williams, Luther Head and Dee Brown, they fling that thing around like the Harlem Globetrotters. Or maybe we should talk about the way the Illini guards absolutely own every passing lane on defense. As a game goes on, the pressure builds and other teams realize that their passes have to be perfect. These guys are ready.

At the start of this post, Illini Wonk speculated that they can't possibly be watching the same team. Turns out that was correct. At the top of Couch's column is the location he wrote from: State College, PA. Meaning, he was at the game. Slezak? Probably back at her desk.
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