Illini Wonk
Thursday, March 31, 2005
  Illinois in the NCAA Final Four...
...and Illini Wonk is cursed by bad timing. How, you might ask? I don't normally like to talk about myself, but loyal readers must be noticing that while the Illini are rapidly approaching their biggest weekend of the last decade and a half, posts on Illini Wonk have dwindled.

There's an explanation. Believe it or not, Illini Wonk actually has a day job (if more of you visited the advertisers on this blog then perhaps that could be avoided) and that day job has been a time-hog lately. That involved crunching big-time for a new-business pitch on Tuesday and wouldn't you know, they fell for it and Wonk had to start working on the account the next day. Such is life. They say good things come in threes, so here's hoping that means a national championship for the orange & blue.

Okay. Enough about the blogger and more from the blog. Since you may have missed the news from the past few days, surf over to IB's daily news and catch up on the in-state news. While you're at it, don't forget Mark Tupper's blog. He's promised to post every day until the season ends. While there's way too much to hit all the highlights, there are a couple that are worth noting.

First, Iowa is the only team to play every Final Four team this season and coach Steve Alford thinks that the Illini will win. Fellow Big Ten coaches Dan Monson and Bill Camody also rave about the team. As for Thad Matta, he's in USA TODAY giving tips on how to beat them.

Big Ten Wonk salutes the 2005 Illinois Fighting Illini for their season thus far. Elsewhere in the blogosphere, illinitalk has been taking the media pulse and illinigirl has more Illinois coverage.

At, Andy Katz says that if the game is on the line, the consensus pick for who you'd want to have handling the ball is Illinois' Deron Williams. Agree or disagree? Go vote.

As for the game, CBS SportsLine gives Illinois a slight edge over Louisville. While their senior sports-writer says their three guards may be the best in any college basketball season, they ultimately believe the edge will come from Augustine in the paint. Sports Illustrated Illinois gets the edge and that James Augustine is the x factor in their game against the Cardinals.

Closely following the media talking points in a streaming interview here, Clark Kellog also calls Augustine the x factor (along with Roger Powell) before picking the Illini to advance. Kyle Veltrop of The Sporting News must have missed the press briefing, as he is content to simply heap praise on Augustine.

That's all for tonight. Back to work. The day job that is.
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
  Illini in the NBA
Every year, as soon as the nets are cut down at the Final Four weekend, the speculation about the NBA draft begins. This year, that speculation will be on the minds of all Illinois basketball fans, as they have two juniors who were named the Sporting News Player of the Year and the MVP of the NCAA Tournament Chicago Region. Rather than wait until the final whistle, Illini Wonk is letting you know today which members of the Fighting Illini will be drafted and what their careers will be like at the next level.

I'm sure you're asking: "How can Illini Wonk know all of this?" Well, I don't. That's why Wonk has an exclusive interview Brendan McGovern of Guide to Basketball. In case you haven't heard of him, McGovern's NBA Mock Draft is a must read for those interested in who will go where at the next level. What follows is a little Q&A on the NBA prospects of the current crop of Illinois basketball players.

Illini Wonk: Although Coach Bruce Weber has said he's staying in college unless he's a top 15 pick, Deron Williams has hinted that he will go pro if he's likely to be taken in the first round. Seth Davis of SI said he's the second best point-guard in the draft behind Chris Paul and will be a future NBA star. After the season the Illini are having, is there any way Williams doesn't go pro and if he does where will he be selected and what kind of future will he have at the next level?

Brendan McGovern: There's really not much "business to be finished" for Williams now that the Illini are headed to St. Louis so I can't really think of a scenario where he DOESN'T come out. The comparisons to Jason Kidd are acceptable, but he doesn't have quite the vision that Kidd does. Not many players in history have. Williams spots his teammates off the dribble very well, but he's clearly not as comfortable going left and he lacks the innate ability to create even when his first passing option is taken away. That's what separates the great from the very good. On the positive, he's a better shooter than Kidd. His weight will be an interesting consideration for NBA teams. His size can be an advantage -- he can back down smaller guards and take contact in the lane -- but it may also hinder his ability to guard people on the next level. The ease with which Salim Stoudamire was able to get the corner on Williams probably settled it: Williams needs to shed some pounds off his upper-body. If I had to offer an NBA-comparison, I'd say Terry Porter.

(Note: Brendan projects Williams to be the 15th selection in his Mock Draft and lists him as the #5 guard prospect).

Wonk: Hopefully it won't take breaking his jaw again. Luther Head has been called one of the most improved players in America and was a candidate for most of the major hardware. You list him #4 in your Top 10 Draft Sleepers and as the #42 pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. Do you think Head is still a sleeper or has his performance this year earned him a first-round selection?

McGovern: Head will still be on the outskirts of the First Round, because of his size and his obvious ceiling as a solid combo-guard off the bench doesn't offer the kind of long-term potential that teams drafting in the late First Round are looking for. With the way his basketball skills have caught up to his tremendous athleticism, I think he'll only continue to get better and will enjoy a nice career as a seventh man off the bench a la Antonio Daniels.

Wonk: You list Dee Brown #38 in your NBA prospects for 2006. In recent weeks, Brown has won Big Ten and Sporting News player of the year. Although he has said he will most likely stay for one more year, he has left the door slightly ajar. Can you make Illinois fans extremely happy and guarantee that Brown will be in Champaign next season or do you see a scenario where he leaves this year?

McGovern: I think Brown understands that he can really improve his draft stock by being THE guy for Illinois next season. Brown can help himself most by simply running the offense and showing that he can be a full-time distributor. Which is really how he started before Williams grabbed the reins of the offense, so I fully expect Brown to excel in that role next year and work his way into the upper half of the First Round. Everything about Brown is eerily similar of Jason Terry.

Wonk: Whew! That will make Illini fans happy. Roger Powell surprised everyone and declared for the 2004 NBA Draft before withdrawing his name and returning to Illinois for his senior season. Although a very good college player, some are saying that his in-between size (6-6) could cost him a draft selection. Do you see an NBA career in Roger Powell's future?

McGovern: Not really. He's built like an Adonis but he doesn't really have a position on the next level as an interior-oriented 6'6" small forward without a great outside shot, nor great ball-handling skills. He could carve out a niche as a tough one-on-one defender with his size and strength, but he hasn't shown to have that mindset at Illinois.

Wonk: I guess that will leave plenty of preaching time for the Reverand. James Augustine has developed into one of the best big men in the Big Ten and some say he could score more, but he understands his role on a team of scorers. What do NBA scouts think of Augustine or are they reserving judgment until after his senior season?

McGovern: I think everyone knows Augustine could and will score more in his senior season, but his offensive skills are still pretty limited to shots from 10-feet and in and offensive putbacks. I'm not sure how much more he's going to develop offensively, but he can get by in the NBA with his energy and athleticism. At this point, he projects to be an Andrew Declercq-type player on the next level.

Wonk: Some fans on the IlliniBoard might disagree with you on that one. Moving on, are Jack Ingram and Nick Smith destined for European basketball if they want to play competitively after college or could their size get them looks from NBA teams?

McGovern: Ingram and Smith are really two peas in a pod. They're both very skilled offensively and have good range on their jumpers, but neither can compete physically in the NBA. Smith, in particular, lacks the lower-body strength to stand his ground has been shown to be allergic to the paint. It's a shame since he has such great size and is an intelligent offensive player. They seem destined for Europe, but I think Ingram could get a look this summer by an NBA team in camp.

Wonk: At 36-1, Illinois has been THE story in college basketball this year. How much does that help or hurt the draft prospects of the individual players?

McGovern: It can work both ways. A lot of International and High School prospects benefit from NOT being seen ... they're guys who are going to be drafted on skill or physical attributes alone so playing in real games doesn't necessarily help them. It's better for college players to be seen since they need to demonstrate actual on-court skills (quite a novelty, eh?) and game film exists on all of them and is readily accessible. There's no mystery surrounding NCAA players so playing on a high level and playing well is the best way to improve one's draftstock, especially for guys who scouts aren't setting out to see (Ingram, Smith) but who may catch someone's eye with their play.

Wonk: Lastly, the Illini are so balanced and unselfish this year. Who's the top NBA talent on the team?

McGovern: Williams' physical limitations could really undercut his career, but I'd still give him the nod over Brown simply because Williams' passing talents are in such demand in the NBA.
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
  Deron Williams among top Yahoo! Searches
Yesterday, it was Illinois Basketball and today it's their floor leader, Deron Williams, who is among the fastest movers in the Yahoo! Sports Buzz Index. Williams scored 14 points in the final 9 minutes of Illinois' historic comeback over Arizona and earned the Chicago Regional MVP award. In the NCAA Tournament, Williams has averaged 16.5 points and 8.5 assists, both ahead of his season averages of 12.6 and 6.7, respectively. He's starting to look like a lottery pick.

Illinois was the #3 most requested search term among College basketball teams on the Lycos Top 50 behind North Carolina and Oklahoma State. In response to last weekend's exciting games and in anticipation of the Final Four, March Madness is the #2 search overall.
Monday, March 28, 2005
  More blogging on the NCAA Tournament
Illini Wonk had planned to spend more time on the blog tonight, but time slipped away and, well, you don't want to hear it anyway. Rest assured, much more is coming this week.

In the meantime, Big Ten Wonk has followed the same trajectory as his beloved conference. Under-rated and good all season and now shining during March and April. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the Big Ten the most teams in the Elite 8 (Illinois, MSU and Wisconsin), half of the Final Four and the best record in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. His 2,800-word (that's right, twenty-eight hundred) post today has more news on the good half of the Final Four than CBS Sportsline and combined.

You may remember a challenge played by the Big Ten several months ago, when it didn't matter, against another conference that used to be considered the best: the ACC. Well, they did get one team into the NCAA Final Four and it's the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Heels will be looking to defend their conference honor by possibly playing the two best teams in the Big Ten. You can follow what's left of their conference at ACC BasketBlog. (You may remember their carnival of hoopsters from a few days ago that mentioned yours truly as the place to find Illini blogging news).

More to come tomorrow...
  Illinois Basketball among top Yahoo! searches
For at least the third time this season, the search term Illinois Basketball is among the top movers on the Yahoo! Sports Buzz Index. Not surprising after their most recent win.
Sunday, March 27, 2005
  Best win in Illinois history?
I woke this morning, Easter morning, and couldn’t believe what had happened last night. In what everyone is calling one of, if not THE, best comeback in NCAA tournament history, the Illinois Fighting Illini beat Arizona 90-89 in overtime.

The Illinois Fighting Illini started the season with three goals:

  1. Win the Big Ten regular season
  2. Win the Big Ten Tournament, and
  3. Win a national championship
They have completed the first two goals and are now just two wins away from the third.

How did the Fighting Illini win this game?

Two things did it for them. First, it’s surprising to say in a game where their opponents scored 89 points, but the Illini did it with defense. They converted 17 turnovers (12 of which were steals) into almost 30 easy points.

Second, the big three for Illinois were perfect when they had absolutely no margin for error. Over a seven minute stretch the “three-headed monster” scored 28 points, made plays, had assists, got steals and did everything they had to do to keep this magical season alive.

I’m not a big fan of clichés, but there’s no way to describe this game without using them. It was historic. It was unbelievable. It was epic. It was the best win in Illinois basketball history. As Illinois coach Bruce Weber said, it’s a game that will be replayed many, many times.

The Illini were trailing by 15 points with just over four minutes remaining. They trailed by 8 with one minute to play and in the next 19 seconds got a three-pointer from Luther Head, a steal and a lay-up by Dee Brown and then a steal and three-pointer by Deron Williams to send the game to overtime. In the extra time, they ran out to a six point lead and held on for the one-point victory.

They’re now being called a team of destiny and how can you argue with that label. The Illini now go to the Final Four for the first time in 16 years. Illini Wonk can’t wait to see what they do next.

To get the reaction of the punditry, go to Big Ten Wonk. He's got a good list. Illini Wonk had planned to post more (and was actually up until 2:30 a.m. posting, but Blogger ate the last one and left me too tired to blog) but a long Easter Day with the family took up the entire day (but I still found time to watch the last ten minutes of the game three more times).

Illini Wonk promises more tomorrow. Ya'll come back, now.
  Illini cut down the nets
Bruce Weber, the Naismith coach of the year, cutting down the nets after an historic overtime win against the Arizona Wildcats. Next up...the Final Four. Posted by Hello
Saturday, March 26, 2005
  Illini head to NCAA Final Four
The Illinois Fighting Illini played their way into NCAA Tournament lore with an epic come-from behind win over the Arizona Wildcats. Down 13 points with 3:30 left in the game and down 8 with 54 seconds left, the Illini fought back and tied the game, sending it to overtime. Over a 7 minute stretch, covering the final 4 minutes of regulation and the first 3 minutes of overtime, the Illini scored 30 points to take the lead for good.

CBS Sportsline has many of the best highlights including Williams and Weber cutting down the nets and they have post-game audio here. The Chicago Tribune lists the 12 scores in A look at how Illinois erased a 15-point deficit in 3 minutes 26 seconds. Also in the Trib, Rick Morrissey asserts a declarative sentence not up for debate: it was one of the greatest comebacks in the history of college basketball.

Joe Drape was covering the game for the New York Times and said it was a miraculous 19 seconds that propelled the Illini to victory. It was the play of the "three-headed monster," the Illini's starting three guards that propelled them to victory. The Guard trio scored 28 of Illinois' final 30 points. Gregg Doyel of CBS Sportsline said Brown and Head put on a nine-minute dissertation on All-American guard play.

Deron Williams was absolutely incredible at the end of the game and had the three-pointer that tied the game and sent it to overtime. Williams finished with 22 points and ten assists and his defense on Salim Stoudamire held the hot-shooting guard to 9 points on 2-13 shooting. John Mullin of the Chicago Tribune reported that he was named named the Chicago regional's top player.

Luther Head hit a couple of big threes, had huge steals and willed the pain in his leg away. He finished with 20 points, 4 steals and no turnovers.

Dee Brown was at his best with 15 points, 7 assists and 3 steals. His offensive put-back late in the game, the break-away layup, the assist to Williams on the tying three-pointer. He was awesome. As for the win, Brown said it was a miracle. has a recap of the jaw-dropping comeback and has a poll on their front page asking which College basketball comeback was more impressive (they've also got some press conference video worth checking out).

Grant Wahl of was at the game and compared the atmosphere to when France won the World Cup at home. Even the Philadelphia Inquirer had a reporter at the game and he said There's a reason Illinois has been the consensus No. 1 team in the nation this season. It's shown it can win under any circumstance.

In the Trib, Mike Downey writes: The winningest team in the University of Illinois' history won one Saturday the hard way … no, the crazy way … no, the impossible way.

The blogosphere is abuzz. illinigirl live blogged the game and you can see her despair replaced by jubilation. Tom Sherman asks Is this a team of destiny? before answering: It sure seems like it. Apparently the win took two years off this blogger's life. According to illinicentral, Words simply cannot do it justice! Jason says it was SIMPLY AMAZING! Gateway pundit (it was inevitable) labels the Illini the comeback kids.

Yahoo! and have photo gallerys.

The Fighting Illini now head to the Final Four for the first time since 1989 where they will face the Louisville Cardinals who overcame a twenty-point deficit to win their game. The March to the Arch continues!
  UNBELEIVABLE!!!! Illini Win!!!!
That was the best comeback I have ever seen!!! More to come soon! Leave your congratulatory post below.

The talking heads on ESPNEWS don't get what happened on the final stop by the Illini. They keep saying that Lute Olson didn't draw up a play. He did draw up a play, but Bruce Weber is the better coach and anticipated it. He knew that Hassan Adams had been killing Jack Ingram all game and had all their points in the overtime. So the play that Lute drew up was for Hassan to drive on Ingram and either score or draw the foul. Instead, Weber, anticipating the call, switched the quicker Deron Williams and Hassan couldn't get past him. Game Over. He gambled switching Williams off of Stoudamire and it paid off. Weber deserves every coaching award he received. Wow!

UPDATE: it turns out that Williams switched to guard Adams because he was cramping and didn't think he could stay with Stoudamire. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good!

More to come...Illini Wonk might be up blogging all night...
Friday, March 25, 2005
  Luther Head's Hamstring
Tomorrow night in the NCAA Tournament regional final, the Illinois Fighting Illini will play the Arizona Wildcats. The day before the game, an anxious Illini nation is focused on the hamstring of senior guard Luther Head.

Head "tweaked" his hamstring in practice on Monday, didn't practice at all on Tuesday and then practiced light on Wednesday. Illinois coach Bruce Weber said that Head was a game-time decision and according to Mark Tupper, Weber was ready to start Rich McBride.

In what his coach called "a gutsy performance," Head went on to play 33 minutes against Wisconsin-Milwaukee and had 12 points and 6 assists without a single turnover.

After the game on Thursday, Head said I can play. In a post to his blog tonight, Tupper says there’s no doubt in my mind Head will start and play as hard and long as he can.

This is obviously an important point for the 35-1 Illini. In the Chicago Sun-Times, Herb Gould noted that the status of Luther Head weighs heavily because he regularly has guarded an opponent's best perimeter player. Losing a starter would be especially crucial considering that the Illini have not had much production from their bench this year and in their last game the Illini reserves were scoreless.

Weber hasn't changed his starting five all season and he certainly doesn't want to start in the Region Final against a good Arizona team.
  ACC-Big Ten Challenge Part II
Tonight in the Sweet 16 the ACC-Big Ten Challenge Part II played out and the Big Ten won decisively when it really mattered. Michigan State defeated Duke and Wisconsin beat North Carolina State to join Illinois in the Elite 8.

If a conference is bad and gets three teams in the Elite 8, what happens when the conference is good?
  SDSU vs. Illinois
If you've read Illini Wonk's profile (at the bottom of the right-hand column) you know that the Wonk resides in South Dakota. Well, Illini Wonk picked up the local paper this morning and found that South Dakota State University will be the first victim of the Illini in their season opener this fall. Chris Solari of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader has the story here.

The head coach of the SDSU Jackrabbits is Scott Nagy, a 1984 graduate of Centennial High in Champaign who served as an assistant with the Illini in the 1988-89 and '89-90 seasons. This was SDSU's first year in Division I and it wasn't pretty. They ended the season 10-18 and won only one game in 12 tries against Division I opponents.

Don't worry. On November 18, this blogger will cheering for the Fighting Illini.
Thursday, March 24, 2005
  Rematch! Illini vs. Arizona in Region Final
Some late heroics from Salim Stoudamire set up a rematch of the 2001 regional final for this Saturday in Chicago. That was one of the toughest losses for Illini Wonk to swallow as Illinois was called for what seemed like 100 fouls and one more would have likely forced them to send in their trainer.

According to your votes on the latest Illini Wonk poll, two thirds of you said this is the team you wanted to face. Illini Wonk agrees, not because Arizona will be easy (they won't), but because Illinois has not matched up well with mobile big men this year like Alando Tucker, Matt Sylvester or Joah Tucker and likely would've had trouble with the Oklahoma State big men.

Bonus Illini Wonk Pleasant Thought of the Day: Coaches Bobby Knight and Bruce Pearl lose on the same day that Illinois advances to the Elite 8. That's a pretty good day!
  Illini in the NCAA Elite 8
In a Sweet 16 match-up against the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Illinois Fighting Illini came away with a 77-63 win. The Illini are now in the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament and will play the Arizona for a trip to the Final Four.

The team shot 49.1 percent from the floor and all five starters scored in double figures. The Illini were led by Deron Williams and Dee Brown with 21 each (Williams added 8 assists). James Augustine had his third straight double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Roger Powell added 12 points and 9 rebounds and Luther Head 12 points and 6 assists.

Williams showed tonight why this will likely be his last year in college basketball. He ran the offense like a well-oiled machine while racking up 8 assists and got his 21 points on 8-12 shooting while only committing 3 turnovers. After taking a few swipes at Illinois fans, Gregg Doyel pays tribute to Williams and his beautiful game.

Brown showed why he was Sporting News' college basketball player of the year as he made big play after big play and provided the Illini with a lot of energy.

For the Associated Press, Nancy Armour wrote: it's tough enough stopping one of Illinois' standout guards when he's having a good night. Make it two, and that's just not a fair fight. In the New York Times, Joe Drape said the Illini showed what harmony in the backcourt is all about.

It was a good thing that all five starters performed well because the Illini got zero points in only 19 minutes from their bench. Illinois will need more out of these guys as they go further in the tournament.

For a "mid-major," UWM was a good team and even with their best player shooting 4-17, they refused to let Illinois get too comfortable in this game. The Panthers simply came up against a team that was too good for them. Were in not for a career scoring night from Joah Tucker, it likely would have been a blow-out.

The AP has a great photo gallery of the game. As for Bruce Pearl? The Associated press reported that Illinois fans booed him loudly and long when he was introduced.

Tomorrow, Illini Wonk will have more on this game and the Elite 8 match-up the Illini face on Saturday.
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
  The Fighting Illini vs. the Panthers
In case you haven't heard, the Illinois Fighting Illini have a Sweet 16 game against the Panthers from Wisconsin-Milwaukee at 6:27 p.m. on Thursday night. The Illini will have to ignore Bruce Pearl (which is tough to do considering how loud, obnoxious and ugly he is) and focus on beating the lowest remaining seed who is still in the tournament thanks to two straight upsets of top-25 teams.

For a complete scouting report on the Panthers, see the interview that Big Ten Wonk had with Chris West of the Chris West Basketball Journal. In Chris' opinion, the Panthers are coming off the best game that UWM has played all year and of the game with Illinois he says it’s a bad match-up for UWM.

After that, Illini Wonk did his usual Google News search looking for information on the Illini. Save yourself the grief and DON'T do likewise. Most of the articles were about how midwestern buffoon Illini fans should just forget the whole "Pearl thing" and "behave ourselves" Thursday night. Oh yeah, and there were a few articles about the racist Chief Illiniwek as well. Illini Wonk's advice if you want to avoid heartburn is too not pay any attention to any columnist or sportswriter outside the state of Illinois until after the season is over (you may also want to avoid some windbags from the Windy City while you're at it).

Rather than wasting your time with those overpaid high-school dropouts, read the latest offerings from Mark Tupper (who predicts a 79-65 win for the Illini) and John Supinie. Then check out a column of the year nominee in the category of humor from Peoria Journal-Star sports editor Bill Liesse. If that's not enough to satisfy your need for Illini news, you can try the official game notes.

UPDATE: illinitalk has a preview of the game and other news.
  Illini rake in the Awards
Previously, Illini Wonk has brought you news of the awards that are piling up for this year's Fighting Illini basketball team. First of all, the Illini dominated the Big Ten Conference Awards. Then, Dee Brown and Luther Head made the first and second team, respectively, of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Bruce Weber was named their coach of the year.

Now, Brown has been named player of the year by The Sporting News and was part of a Fighting Illini sweep as Weber was named TSN coach of the year.

As for the Associated Press, Brown was named second team All-American, While Head and Deron Williams made their third team.

On the All-American list for Basketball Times, Brown made second team and Head was on the third team, while Weber was their coach of the year. Williams made the all-mideast regional team.

All well-deserved awards for a very accomplished team.
Monday, March 21, 2005
  Blogging the NCAA Tournament
Illini Wonk is not alone in covering the Illinois Fighting Illini basketball team in the blogosphere and the NCAA Tournament has given a boost to that coverage. Previously, Illini Wonk brought you blogger predictions on Illinois in the tournament and now we'll look at some of their coverage of the games.

First, ACC Basketblog has the carnival of hoopsters, which lists the blogs that cover the 65 teams in the Big Dance. Yours truly is listed as the best overall coverage of the Fighting Illini.

Also listed in the carnival is illinigirl whose Notes from the RCA Dome is a great first-hand account of the two Illinois wins. Illinigirl. What a great name! I see some mutual linking in our future! (In fact, you can find my permanent link to illinigirl at the right).

While you're cruising the blogosphere, you'd be missing out on a lot if you don't get to big ten wonk. Wonk is noticably pleased by the three Big Ten teams in the Sweet 16, which ties with the ACC for the lead. Lots of Illini coverage here.

Illini Wonk has given you the tip of the iceberg on the coach of the Illini's next opponent, but if you're looking for more, surf over to jotsheet and read Bruce Pearl: Get ready, rat, because the Illini are comin'.
Saturday, March 19, 2005
  How Sweet it is
The Illinois Fighting Illini march into the Sweet 16 of the 2005 NCAA Tournament with a 71-59 win over the Nevada Wolf Pack. The win gives them 34, which is a single-season record for a Big Ten team, and sends them back to Chicago where two wins earns a place in the Final Four.

The two dominant storylines following the game were the play of James Augustine and the good performance (finally) from the Illini. Marlen Garcia of the Chicago Tribune said Augustine intimidated Fazekas, one of the nation's top scorers, like only a few players have this season. According to Mike Downey, also writing in the Trib, Augustine carried college basketball's No. 1 team on his shoulders. After Augustine scored his 17th point of the first half, Jay Bilas said "who says Illinois is a guard-oriented team?" Wolf Pack star Nick Fazekas said our game plan was to have a lot of attention towards the guards and the big man ended up hurting us tonight.

In the New York Times, Joe Drape said that Augustine proved the Illini do have an inside punch. Writing in the Quad-City Times, Steve Batterson agrees with Drape.

Although Augustine stole the show for the Illini, Deron Williams had an impressive 15 points and 10 assists which caused Decatur Herald & Tribune's Mike Albright to remark that Williams was the quiet man behind it all.

The Tribune's Rick Morrissey was in Indianapolis and remarked that Illinois was having fun again. In the Indianapolis Star, Bob Kravitz sums up the performance thusly: After watching Illinois' second-round victory over Nevada, the anxiety should be gone. Mike Nadel said in the State Journal-Register, Welcome back, Fighting Illini.

The two storylines for Thursday's matchup with Wisconwin-Milwaukee is the recruiting feud their coach Bruce Pearl instigated with Illinois over Deon Thomas and the Illini's return to Chicago. David Haugh has the story on Pearl in the Chicago Tribune. Jimmy Collins, an Illinois assistant coach at the time and current UIC coach, won't even shake Pearl's hand, despite the fact that the two teams are in the same conference. Mike Imrem says the Illini will be in a good old-fashioned grudge match. Speaking of Pearl, Mark Tupper says for 15 years now, he has been Illinois basketball's anti-Christ. Tupper writes: I've always thought of him as one of the game's great weasels, a sneaky, conniving guy who went to inexcusable extremes when he lost out on a high school recruit.

Jay Mariotti has more here. According to Mariotti, a loss to UWM would be worse than death itself for Illinois fans but the current batch of Illini players don't really care. "I was a little kid then, Dee Brown said. "That's old news."

Lindsey Willhite lets readers know that when Illinois comes to Chicago, it will be the first regional on state soil since 1967.

Illini NCAA news bites...

...Luther Head sank his 97th three-pointer of the season, setting the school's single-season record...Dee Brown's mother already has her hotel room in St. Louis reserved...Bruce Weber's brother, Dave, won the Illinois Class AA basketball championship with his Glenbrook North team...Haugh breaks down some strange numbers in the Trib...
  Illini in NCAA Sweet 16
In the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Illinois Fighting Illini defeated the Nevada Wolf Pack 71-59. James Augustine had a career day, scoring a game high 23 points on 9-11 shooting from the floor and 5-5 from the free-throw line. He also added 10 rebounds and 3 blocks. Gregg Doyel of CBS Sportsline says Augustine made a meal of Fazekas in Illinois' 71-59 romp Saturday, outplaying the WAC player of the year. Posted by Hello
On his blog, Mark Tupper praises the play of Augustine and tells Illinois fans what it means for their team: As Illinois moves onto the Sweet 16, Augustine (fresh off his Big Ten Tournament MVP recognition) has given future opponents something to think about. They now have to game plan specifically for his athletic play inside. And that should open up more opportunities for the guards and for Powell.

Deron Williams posted a double-double with 15 points and 10 assists and gave the Wolf Pack a clinic on the motion offense. For much of the game, the Illini looked the team that won 29 straight games earlier this year. Their offense looked much better than it had in the past five games and they shut down Nevada with a ferocious defense that has become a trademark of this team.

CBS SportsLine has video highlights and post game radio interviews with Augustine, Williams and reserve Jack Ingram who had an Illinois career-high 12 points and 4 rebounds in 19 minutes for the Illini. has video of the press conference on their home page.

The win sets up a meeting with the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, coached by former Iowa Hawkeyes assistant Bruce Pearl. Illinois basketball fans will never forget the role that Pearl played in the "Deon Thomas affair" when he accused Illinois of offering Thomas money and a Chevrolet Blazer, and taped telephone conversations as "proof." Illinois was later cleared of the charges. Dan O'Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has more of the story here.

Illini Wonk will update this post as news of the win rolls in.
  Wolf Pack vs. Illini in NCAA Tournament
After a first-round NCAA Tournament win over Fairleigh Dickinson, the Illinois Fighting Illini now have the Wolfpack of Nevada to play for a spot in the Sweet 16. Nevada (25-6) earned the date with Illinois by beating the Texas Longhorns and are trying to reach the Sweet 16 for the second straight season.

The slumping Illini?

The concern is mounting over the performance of Illinois over the past two weeks. Daily Herald sports writer Lindsey Willhite notes that Illinois' vaunted motion offense has gone from perpetual and patient to problematic and impatient. Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes The tournament has started. It's time for the Illini to start playing like it.

Marlen Garcia of the Chicago Tribune says Illinois must find the formula that had kept the team unbeaten until March 6. Also in the Trib, Rick Morrissey thinks he may have the formula for revival and wonders if maybe an angry Brown can ignite the sleepy Illini.

For their part, Illinois has tired of being asked where's the offense? Luther Head says it's it's live or die now. Dee Brown says The Illini aren't worried about style points.

Who's afraid of the big, bad Wolf Pack?

Nevada coach Mark Fox isn't sure what all of the naysayers are talking about and delivered the appropriate "don't piss them off" quote: trying to prepare for Illinois is like trying to learn how to climb up Mount Everest overnight. The Chicago Tribune's Neil Milbert (does the Trib have any reporters left to assign to anything else or are they all covering the Illini?) profiles the Illinois-Nevada matchups and gives the edge to the Illini at every starting position. In the Daily Herald, Addam Rittenberg says the Illini's defensive focus will be WAC Player of the Year Nick Fazekas but Decatur Herald & Tribune sports editor Mike Albright says the Illini better not overlook WAC Freshman of the Year Ramone Sessions.

Illini NCAA Tournament Bites...

...The Illini received a pep talk from 2003 Big Ten player of the year Brian Cook who was in town with the Los Angeles Lakers for a 103-97 loss to the Indiana Pacers...James Augustine's stellar play of late earns him a profile In the Indianapolis Star...Willhite calms Illinois' fears by reporting that no 8 or 9 seed has defeated a 1 seed in an odd-numbered year...In his blog, Mark Tupper looks at the Illinois connection in Nevada's athletic his column, Tupper tells the Illini to have some fun...SportsCenter listed Deron Williams #6 in the Top Ten NBA Prospects playing in the NCAA Tournament...

Game Details

The game starts at 4:40 p.m. and can be followed online with the GameTracker available here. Rumor has it that the Illini will be sporting their orange jerseys today.
Friday, March 18, 2005
  How far will the Illini go in the NCAA Tournament?
Don't miss voting in the poll on the right side of this blog. It's just another new feature from Illini Wonk. So far, the majority of voters believe the Illini will win the national championship. As P. Diddy would say: Vote or Die!

UPDATE: Here's the final tally:

Round of 32: 2 (1%) we already know they're both wrong
Sweet 16: 3 (1%) we're hoping they're wrong
Elite 8: 8 (4%)
Final Four: 22 (10%)
Second Place: 13 (6%)
National Champs: 163 (77%) we have a winner!
  Illini Wonk now has Audio!
If your eyes are growing tired from reading all the Illinois Fighting Illini're in luck. A new service called Audioblogger allows blogs (including Illini Wonk) to post their thoughts in audio. The link below is this blogger's first attempt at an audio post and has me quite excited at the thought of being able to post from the sports-bar during the games (bear with me, I promise future audio posts will be better).

this is an audio post - click to play

Illini Wonk will be audioblogging throughout the NCAA Tournament so stay tuned for more.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
  Illini Win NCAA Tournament opener
The Illini opened the NCAA Tournament with a 67-55 win over No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson. The players of the game for Illinois were Dee Brown with 19 points and James Augustine with 11 points and 15 rebounds. Augustine's rebounds were especially big because they were half of his team's total as the Illini were outrebounded 42-30.

But the win didn't come as easily as expected. According to Jim Paul of the Associated Press, Fairleigh Dickinson made No. 1 Illinois work. At the Peoria Journal-Star, sports editor Bill Liesse said the game started to remind him of two decades of Illini NCAA chokes. CBS Sportsline has highlights of the game under the headline Illini struggle past FDU. At, their video of postgame press conference with Coach Bruce Weber and Dee Brown is titled Illini a little troubled.

Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Tribune says the Illini were rescued from a poor outing with a second-half performance that was vintage Brown. In his column, Mark Tupper says Brown gets the credit for side-stepping catastrophe and on his blog he chronicles Illinois' shooting woes.

In postgame conversations with the media, Illinois' opponent had a disagreement over just how fast Dee Brown really is. Despite running past their entire team on a couple of occasions, Fairleigh Dickinson's Mensah Peterson said of Brown: He's very quick but not as quick as everybody says. FDU head coach Tom Green said He's a jet. He's about as fast as anyone I've ever seen on a basketball court.

Mike Nadel of the Journal-Star gives the frustrating season story of medical red-shirt sophomore Brian Randle here. As the Illini were being out-rebounded last night, Illini Wonk bets Bruce Weber wishes he could have told Randle to pull off his warm-up and get in the game.
  Let the Madness Begin!
In case you've been buried under a rock for the first half of this week, you should know that the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament tips off today. Illinois, the 1 seed in the Chicago region will play at 8:40 p.m. CST against Fairleigh Dickinson. The official game notes can be found here. Chicago Tribune preview here.

On his blog, Mark Tupper says I think this team is ready. In his column, Tupper heaps on the pressure by (accurately) saying As spectacular as this season has been, what happens beginning tonight will ultimately define this team's staying power in Illini basketball history.

In Today's Chicago Tribune, Rick Morrissey predicts that Illinois is going to win the national championship. The rest of the Trib's coverage can be found here. For video of practice in Indianapolis and team interviews, go to WEEK-TV.

Illini Wonk will be updating throughout the day, so stay tuned for up-to-the-minute coverage of Illinois' March to the Arch.

UPDATE: Tupper has a pre-game update on the atmosphere in Indianapolis on his blog.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
  Coach of the Year Bruce Weber
One can only imagine what's going through the mind of Coach Bruce Weber at this time of the year. The unanimous #1 team in the country, ranked at the top for the 15th straight week. He's also greiving at the loss of his mother last week. Pat Forde pays tribute to Weber in an article for, writing he's not a replacement coach anymore. He's the head of the Illinois basketball family. To which Illini Wonk says: Amen.

Now, news came that Weber received the Henry Iba Award, which is given out annually by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association to the national college basketball coach of the year.
  On the Magazine Rack
Coverage of the Illini doesn't stop with the daily's but has routinely extended to the magazine rack. Illini Wonk has informed you of Sports Illustrated's Illinois articles here and here, but other mags have gotten in on the action.

One of the most recent is Slam with a story titled Champaign Thoughts. Unfortunately, they came to Champaign for the Iowa game, but it's still well worth the read.

Another is Sharing the Victory Magazine from Fellowship of Christian Athletes with a cover story on Roger Powell. Illini Wonk was involved in FCA while attending college near Chicago (although they didn't put me on the cover of their magazine) and can attest to the great things they do. As an interesting side note in the piece, it points out that Brian Cook was responsible for introducing Powell to FCA. My opinion of both of them went up as a result of reading this story.
  Read Mark Tupper...NOW!
Every once in a while a column comes along on the Illini that you just have to read. Today that column is from Mark Tupper of the Decatur Herald & Review. Illini Wonk thought about excerpting part of it, but you really have to read the whole thing about American's Team. If you're a fan of Illinois basketball, it'll make you proud.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
  Pundit Illini Tournament Predictions
You've heard from the bloggers, now it's time to find out what those who get paid for their prognostications think about the Illini's chances in the NCAA Tournament.

The Fighting Illini fair the best at Sports Illustrated, where six of their seven experts picked the Illini to make the Final Four and five of those six picked them to win the NCAA Tournament title. Those who picked the Illini include Senior Writer Grant Wahl who explains his bracket here and writes the story for the magazine, Writer Stewart Mandel, Senior Writer Alexander Wolff, Senior Writer Kelli Anderson and SI on Campus Writer John Walters.

At CBS Sportsline Gregg Doyel is the only one of their four experts who pick the Illini to win it all and only half of them have the Illini making it to St. Louis.

Only 5 of the 14 experts at Yahoo! Sports pick the Illini to win the title and 8 of the 14 don't even pick them to make it as far as the Final Four. Clark Kellog, Dan Wetzel, Larry Beil, Charles Robinson and Jermey Stone pick Illinois to win.

As for, Illini Wonk gave those details in this post. What do you think? Use the comments section below to sound off.
Monday, March 14, 2005
  Blogger Illini Tournament Predictions
The entire premise behind blogs is to allow people to give their opinions and the brackets exist so anyone can register their opinion on who will win the NCAA tournament. Mix the two together and you have an opinionated bunch of posts. Here's some of the blogosphere's take on the Illini's chances in the NCAA Tournament:

Stormin' the Court predicts Illinois to win the Chicago Regional in OT over the Oklahoma State Cowboys. At All Sports All The Time, Aspen says Illinois should make the Final Four. Chris, of Ceebs in Chicago believes Illini Nation should book their hotel rooms in St. Louis. Someone nicknamed sportsguy picks Illinois over UNC in the championship game and Jay has Illinois in the Final Four with Duke, Wake Forest and another one he forgot. At Diarrhea of the Mouth, Rufio says My brain says the eventual winner of the Chicago region will be the Illini, but my heart is always with the Cats. Sportszilla and the Jabber Jocks goes out on a limb and predicts the Illini in their first-round game. According to Guy, everyone knows THE ILLINI ARE GOING TO WIN!!!!

There were a couple of blogs who apparently didn't get Guy's message, as Screamindemon says Salim Stoudamire and the Wildcats will beat the Illini. Also, in selections based on the team mascots, Electric Commentary claims the Cowboys will knock off the Illini. Concurring with Electric Commentary, albeit for slightly different reasons, is Canadian Bacon and Basketball, who also has Ok. St. beating the Illini for a trip to the Final Four.

On the more informative end of things, golgafrinchan created a system to calculate the likelihood that one NCAA men’s basketball team beats another. He doesn't post his math, but comes up with a better than 50 percent chance that Illinois wins the championship. His conclusion? Don’t bet against the Illini!

As for Illini Wonk? I'm not sure about golgafrinchan's math, but I agree with his conclusion. Let's start the March to the Arch!

UPDATE: Ben Silverman, who's PR Fuel is a regular read of mine, bases his pick on and places his bet on Illinois just before the tip-off of the first game.
Sunday, March 13, 2005
  Illinois in the NCAA Tournament
When CBS announced the brackets for the NCAA Tournament, Illinois, at 32-1, earned the Top Overall Number One Seed and the #1 seed in the Chicago region. CBS SportsLine senior asked How can the 2005 NCAA bracket have four No. 1 seeds if the Chicago Region has four all by itself? Despite the tough road, Doyel still picks Illinois to win the region of doom and says they might just be the 2005 national champion. In the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, columnist Jeff Gordon concurs and says Illini won't have easy road to St. Louis. (In a dissenting opinion, Mike Lopresti calls the Chicago bracket probably the thinnest of the four).

For Illinois, it's Two goals down, one to go. As has been discussed on this blog previously, if Illinois goes to the final game, they will play two games in Indianapolis, two games in Chicago and two games in St. Louis. All of those sites are within a bus ride of Champaign and led AP writer Nancy Armour to pronounce Illinois couldn't have a better draw unless the NCAA tournament was moved to Assembly Hall.

Because Chicago is a Thursday/Saturday bracket, Illinois does not play the winner of the "play-in game" but instead looks forward to a first-round contest against the 20-12 Fairleigh Dickinson Knights. When told of their opponent, the Knights' head coach said they are definitely feeding us to the lions. The Knights made it to the NCAA's by winning the Northeast Conference tournament. The game tips off at 8:40 p.m. CST. If nothing else, at least FDU earned an article in the New York Times.

So, how will the Illini do in the NCAA Tournament? Stewart Mandell of Sports Illustrated says Forecasting the 2005 NCAA tournament boils down to one central issue: Are you or are you not an Illinois believer? At, Ray Glier says Illinois has lost enough lately. The unbeaten season. Bruce Weber’s mom. They won’t lose again.

Illini Wonk's Thoughts

With the Chicago bracket named first, this blogger's first reaction was that Illinois drew an unreasonably tough draw to get to the Final Four. However, as the rest of the field unfolded, it became apparent that there are a lot of good teams this year and a lot of parity. Bottom line: there are no easy games left after the first round. With that said, the Illini have arguably the toughest teams to face before St. Louis. Within the last few weeks, Oklahoma State, Arizona and Boston College were all talked about as potential #1 seeds in the tournament and none of them will be easy wins.

Illini NCAA Tournament Bites...

...If you're curious about Illinois' history in the NCAA Tournament, has your fix...On their Bracketology special, five of the seven ESPN analysts picked Illinois to make the championship game with three (Jay Billas, Rick Majerus and Digger Phelps) picking them to win the title...On his blog, Mark Tupper tells Illinois fans not too worry, but to place great faith in our head coach...With all the talk this season about Illinoi's passing and defending, New York Times writer Pete Thamel (in at least his third article of the season on the Illini) says don't forget about the midrange jumper...Illinois is 13-0 vs. teams that made the NCAA Tournament...
  Illinois wins the Big Ten Tournament
Illinois won their second Big Ten Tournament title behind strong play from All-Conference center James Augustine. ESPN has more pictures of the game here. Posted by Hello
  Big Ten Tournament Champs
In a rematch of last year's Big Ten Tournament final, the Illinois Fighting Illini beat Wisconsin 54-43. In beating Wisconsin for the third time this year, Illinois held the Badgers to 27 percent shooting and a season low for points.

Illinois played well, especially on the defensive end, but shot poorly, hitting only 36 percent of their shots (32 percent from behind the three-point arc). Illinois, which set a school record for wins in a season, had really only one question mark entering the post-season: post play. James Agustine answered that question. He averaged a double-double in the tournament with 38 points and 31 rebounds in three games and was named Player of the Big Ten Tournament. Roger Powell also had an excellent tournament. He was named player of the game in the final by CBS with 15 points and a career high 12 rebounds.

Their problems in the conference tournament were on the offensive end. In this blogger's opinion, the played fairly well but couldn't hit their shots. And, when Illini Wonk says they couldn't hit their shots, he means THEY COULDN'T HIT THEIR SHOTS.

Big Ten Conference player of the year, Dee Brown was held scoreless, missing all eight of his shots, and only had 15 points over the three tournament games. Luther Head, who joined Augustine on the all-tournament team, was 15 for 39 over the three games. Deron Williams was 3-10 in the final after taking only 4 shots in the first two games.

The Illini became only the second Big Ten team to win both the regular season conference title and the conference tournament. They also won their second conference tournament in their fifth try. They have two rings in their posession and have one more to go.
Saturday, March 12, 2005
  Gophers next for Illini in Big 10 Tournament
Today, the Illinois Fighting Illini have the Minnesota Gophers in the semis of the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago. The teams only met once during the regular season and Illinois blew them out at home during their centennial celebration (Illini Wonk recap here). Illinois has made it to four of the seven Big Ten Tournament finals and they'll be looking to make it five of eight today.

However, Illinois did not play particularly well in their win over Northwestern yesterday and Minnesota looked pretty good against an Indiana club that had been hot lately. Add to that, the emotions the Illini will carry into the game due to the death yesterday of Bruce Weber's mother and this is a game the Illini need to show up for. In an understatement, Jim Benson of the Pantagraph says Gophers hope second time the charm against Illinois.

Much of the pre-game coverage is on Bruce Weber's loss and Sports Illustrated says Coach Bruce Weber will have a heavy heart. Illini Wonk has covered this extensively here, here and here. Jim Paul of the Associated Press has some more details here.

Tune in to CBS at 12:40 CST for the game and find the link to the GameTracker here.
  How will Bruce Weber's Illini Respond?
Throughout this magical season, Bruce Weber has been the backbone of this team. The teacher and master motivator has guided this team to a 30-1 record (the second 30-win season in Illinois' 100 year history), a second straight outright Big Ten title (the first Big Ten coach to ever do that in their first two seasons) and 14 straight weeks ranked atop the AP poll.

In a statement, Bruce Weber made it clear that he will be on the Illinois sideline today when they face the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Everyone is saying they're not surprised. The bigger question is: how does the team respond?

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti has a guess and believes the Illini will be playing with added purpose. Mariotti's column includes quotes from Illinois basketball players, some encouraging: ''We're going to help him get through this,'' James Augustine said. ''He's our coach, and we've got to go out and play and win for him." Others not so encouraging: ''His mother? Man,'' said Dee Brown, visibly shaken. ''If it was my mother, I don't know what I'd do. I'll be saying my prayers.''

More details on the unfortunate events of yesterday come from Herb Gould and Shamus Toomey in today's Sun-Times, Jim Benson in the Pantagraph and Jeremy Rutherford in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Friday, March 11, 2005
  Bruce Weber to coach tomorrow
BREAKING NEWS: ESPN College Basketball Reporter said on the phone at the halftime of the Duke/Virginia game that Bruce Weber would coach Illinois' game tomorrow against Minnesota despite the death of his mother today.

In a released statement, Bruce Weber said My mother has been very influential in my life and career, and that is why I have decided to coach the team on Saturday, because that is what she would have wanted.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell has more on Coach Weber and why he will be on the sidelines [Saturday] afternoon. "Coaching means too much to the people in the Weber family," writes Burwell. He also discusses the decision of Bruce Weber's brother, David, to coach his high-school team Friday night. (Warning: if you are easily moved to tears and don't want to be...don't read this story).

As for the game tomorrow, the Illini are Pressing on, in grief. So are we.
  Bruce Weber: Our Prayers are with You in loss of mother
The Illinois Fighting Illini won their quarterfinal game in the Big Ten Tournament today, but sometimes other events intrude on sports that make winning and losing seem trivial. News came shortly after the game that the mother of Illinois Coach Bruce Weber was taken to the hospital to repair a torn aorta. The 81-year-old Dawn Weber did not make it and passed away at about 6:00 p.m.

Apparently, Mrs. Weber felt chest pains shortly after arriving at the United Center for the game and was taken to Rush University Medical Center. The Associated Press has more details here.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Bruce Weber and his family, particularly his four siblings. There's nothing more important in this life than family and Illini Wonk can't imagine how tough it would be to lose your mother.

Earlier in the season, Illini Wonk posted a profile of Bruce Weber done by Pete Thamel of the New York Times. You may remember from that profile, that Dawn Weber was a widow as her husband, Lou, died of a heart attack in the late 1980's.

The aorta is The main vessel leading from the heart providing oxygenated blood to the body(courtesty of WebMD). Illini Wonk will ask Mrs. Illini Wonk (a cardiovascular technologist) more about this tomorrow and dutifully report.

UPDATE: Not surprisingly, Weber's status for Saturday's tournament semfinal against Minnesota is undetermined.

Stay tuned to Illini Wonk for updates as they come in.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
  Big Ten Tournament
Illinois had the longest winning streak in the nation at 29 games, but tomorrow when they take the floor against Northwestern, they will be trying to avoid a different streak: two straight losses. The tournament is in Chicago at the United Center, Illinois' home away from home.

In the Chicago Tribune, Neil Milbert argues that the tournament has been improved the Big Ten's performance in the NCAA tournament. Mike Downey, another Trib columnist, has a humorous look at the tourney.

With the loss against Ohio State, Illinois maintained their #1 ranking and probably their #1 seed in the Chicago region. Do they need to win the conference tournament to lock up that seed? The selection committee is keeping coy with Illinois' potential seed. Regardless of how many wins they need this weekend, their recent loss has Illinois determined to capture crown.

Illinois tips off against the Wildcats for the third time this season at 11:00 a.m. The official games notes are here on a smartly redesigned site. For the GameTracker, go here.
  More Three-Headed Monster Awards
Illini Wonk can see that it's going to be difficult to keep up with all of the awards that this team is going to receive. All that can be promised is that we'll do our best.

Today, it's the U.S. Basketball Writers Association who named Dee Brown First-Team All-American and Luther Head to the Second-Team. The two of them, along with the third member of their backcourt, Deron Williams, are also finalists for the USBWA's Oscar Robertson Trophy.

One sports-writer who posted his vote is Gregg Doyel. He put Brown on his first team and Williams on the second team. For coach of the year, Doyel has Boston College's Al Skinner edging out Bruce Weber due to Illinois' regular-season-ending loss at OSU. Doyel may want to rethink that in light of BC's performance today.
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
  The Awards, Please!
Today, much of the buzz as the conference prepares for the Big Ten Tournament tomorrow is on the conference awards bagged by the Illini. Dee Brown, the heart and soul of top-ranked Illinois received news of his conference player of the year award from his mother Tuesday morning right after undergoing a root canal.

For his part, Brown thought his roommate, Head, would win and said he's never been into the individual stuff. Brown also won defensive player of the year and became only the third player to sweep those awards in the conference. Not content to simply give Brown the conference player of the year award, the Pantagraph's Randy Kindred says Brown is the most exciting player in the Illini's 100 years of basketball.

The "Three-Headed Monster"

Marlen Garcia wrote in the Chicago Tribune that with Brown joined on the first team by Luther Head and Deron Williams, it marked the first time since 1975 that at least three players from the same school had earned first-team honors. If you want to read about the two other Illini teams who placed three players on the all-conference team, go here.

The Trib

The Chicago Tribune writers mostly toed the line and gave their awards to Brown and Bruce Weber. The notable exception of the pack is John Mullin, who picks Carl Landry (yes, the one with the knee injury who won seven games) as his player of the year and Dan Monson (yes, the one who's team was 2-5 against the top 50 RPI and 6-6 in road and neutral games) as his coach of the year.

No Roger Left Behind

James Augstine made the third team and Roger Powell received an honorable mention. Weber said I just wish Roger would have squeezed in, because we really are a team.

That's why they play the games

Dick Vitale names his All-Rolls Royce Teams, placing Deron Williams on the second team and Dee Brown on the fourth. Bruce Weber is his coach of the year. Readers of this blog know that when Vitale posted his pre-season version, of these awards, there wasn't an Illinois player to be found in the top 25.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
  Dee for Three!
Dee Brown earned a trifecta for his season performance this year. In Big Ten conference regular-season awards, Dee was placed on the first team and named player of the year by both the coaches and the media. To complete the trifecta, the coaches also named Brown the defensive player of the year.

Brown was far from the only member of the Illinois family that received accolades as the award list took on a decidely orange & blue flavor. Bruce Weber was named Big Ten Coach of the Year by the media and all five starters were included on the list of all-conference players. Brown was joined on both first teams by Luther Head and Deron Williams, while James Augustine was included on the third team and Roger Powell was honorable mention on both lists.

Oh yeah, and all three guards were also named Finalists for the Wooden Award.
Monday, March 07, 2005
  Where'd all the reporters go?
Well, if nothing else good comes of this loss, Illini Wonk at least hopes that the amount of Illinois basketball coverage will decrease. Not simply because some time out of the media spotlight might be good for the team, but also because this blog is wreaking havoc on my personal/professional life.

Case in point is the news coverage from today:

I know there's been a lot of interest in the Illini this year, but the Christian Science Monitor? The Monitor doesn't even have a sports section and after trying for a few minutes to find an article in their archives about any other college basketball team, Illini Wonk gave up.

And, of course, nothing has been said about anything until the Morris Daily Herald weighs in, which they do on the Illini here.

Then there's all the usual suspects. Mark Tupper wonders where Dee Brown went on Sunday. Could it have been due to the Ohio State taunts? Adam Rittenberg notes the Killer screen set by Terence Dials that freed Matt Sylvester for the game-winning shot. Illinois fans still profess to love them anyway.

In-State Nay-Sayers

Jay Mariotti, who has been saying for weeks to anyone who would listen that the Illini would be better off with a loss, now says that time will tell if it was a good thing. It's no wonder that the good people at the Illiniboard Hoops Forum call him Moranotti. Speaking of in-state nay-sayers, Mike Imrem expected Illinois to lose a game like this and doesn't believe Illinois is good enough to win the national championship. Illini Wonk normally tries to stay objective and simply report the facts, but this guy is either stupid or is just trying to get a rise out of his readers. He should look no further than this past weekend, when #1, 3, 6, and 8 in the AP Poll all lost, while #2 and 4 won on last second shots. Every year, (due to parity, the three-point line, the one-and-done nature of the NCAAs, etc.) any one of about 20 teams could win the national championship and to say that Illinois is not one of those teams this year borders on lunacy.

As Mark Tupper said in a recent column, Critics have been drawing a line in the sand for some time now, placing the No. 1-ranked Illinois basketball team on one side of it. On the other side, they're putting every other team. That's how it looks to me when someone is only willing to say they don't think Illinois can win the national championship. That means they're taking the rest of the field, prepared to say, ''I told you so'' should Illinois stumble before winning the national championship game April 4 in St. Louis. Hey, that's easy. That's gutless. And it takes no skill at all. If that doesn't apply to Imrem, then it doesn't apply to anyone.

Illini News Bites...

...Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Mark Bradley says Illinois would win the ACC if they were in that league...The USA TODAY had, not one, but two articles on the Illini today (warning: the latter is more agreeable to Illinois fans than the former)...
  Still #1 part II
The Daily Quickie at says of the Illini: They'll still be a No. 1 seed and should still be your favorite to win it all. Illinois is also leading the poll on that page with 70 percent of the vote.

Despite the loss, CBS Sportsline keeps the Illini atop their poll, they keep the top spot in the Pomery Ratings and the Greenfield Power Ratings but drop to second in the Sagarin Ratings. Most importantly, Illinois keeps the #1 seed in Chicago, according to ESPN's Bracketology and Warren Nolan.

Illini Wonk will update with AP, Coaches and other polls as they come in. At least one AP Voter kept Illinois in the top spot.

UDPATE: Dick Vitale keeps Illinois in the top spot on his poll and Stewart Mandel has Illinois the #1 seed in Chicago on his Bracket Watch.

BREAKING NEWS: Illini still No. 1, but not unanimously. Same goes for the Coaches Poll
  Still Buzzing
Illini Wonk has regularly blogged on the buzz surrounding this team, most notably here. Even though they lost yesterday, searches for Illinois Basketball were the fourth fastest mover in the Yahoo! Sports Buzz Index, increasing 60 percent in one day (the Big Ten Tournament made the list at #17). Too bad the Illini couldn't have given them a better story...

Since Illini Wonk is at work (stupid reality imposing itself on virtual reality, stupid bills, etc.) surf over to Big Ten Wonk to get your fix on the Illini. As usual, John Gasaway has good insight and lots of links to Illini news.
Sunday, March 06, 2005
  Illinois: still #1
After the first loss of the season, the question on the minds of many Illinois basketball fans is now: did the world come to an end? Just kidding. Of course it did. The real question: will the pundits still love them in the morning? Enough to keep them ranked #1?

Andy Katz says yes. Illinois is still the #1 team in the country. Illini Wonk says matbe, but it doesn't matter. Far more important is another #1 and that's the #1 seed in the Chicago bracket. Katz thinks they still have the #1 overall seed in the tournament and this blogger agrees, but if the Illini want to take it out of the hands of the committee, they have to win the Big Ten Tournament.

Gregg Doyel of CBS Sportsline says You can have the rest of the NCAA Tournament field if you'll give me Illinois.

Of the loss, Mark Tupper blogs we’ll all get to find out if it’s a good thing. He says: Losing at Ohio State Sunday doesn’t bother me too much and then says What does worry me is how Illinois played.

Mike DeCourcy was at the game and filed this report. He quotes Coach Bruce Weber saying Everyone said we needed to lose. I hope they're right. I'd rather lose now than three weeks from now.

Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey and said The team we saw Sunday is not the team we saw in the previous 29 games. He also said All of what happened Sunday was fixable, basketball-wise and psyche-wise. In the same paper, Neil Milbert handicaps the Big Ten Tourament and says Now the top-ranked Illini have something to prove. Oh yeah, and he predicts the Illini will win it. You can also vote in their poll on whether or not you think the loss was a good thing. Milbert also recapped the game and apparently Matt Sylvester is a psychic. Marlen Garcia, another Trib sports-writer wrote about the struggles by Illinois' guards and, in another write-up said Their storybook season isn't over yet. Even fairy tales have moments of despair and uncertainty.

Remember New York Times reporter Pete Thamel and his profile of Weber earlier in the season? Well, he was in Columbus, too and wrote this: Weber blamed himself for a halftime adjustment that allowed the Buckeyes to stay in the game. Weber told his players not to trap ball handlers on screens, but the lack of pressure allowed Ohio State to run its offense freely. The Buckeyes had no turnovers in the second half.

Nine more games to go?

UPDATE: Dick Vitale says Illinois still has right stuff for title.
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