Illini Wonk
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
  Illini get huge win at Wisconsin
For the second year in a row, the Illinois Fighting Illini went into the Kohl Center and emerged with a win. While it was definitely more fun to end a 38 game home winning streak than extend a two game losing streak, this year's win was much more significant in the race for the Big Ten conference title.

With both teams entering the game 5-2 in conference play, the win puts Illinois alone on top of the standings with half of their conference games behind them. The other two conference teams at 5-2 are Iowa and Michigan. Tomorrow night Iowa is at Purdue and Michigan goes to Penn State, so the lead may not last long but it's a lead and we'll take it for a day.

Very solid games were logged by every starter expect Shaun Pruitt, who never got into a rhythm and finished with three points on 1-5 shooting and 1-3 from the free throw line. Dee Brown had a solid effort with 16 points and 7 assists. James Augustine may have only had 7 points and 9 rebounds, but it was undeniable that the Illini were a better team with him on the floor. Jamar Smith, apparently forgetting that freshman aren't supposed to play well on the road in this conference, contributed 12 points in 26 minutes off the bench without missing a shot or a free throw or committing a turnover. Frazier gave some good minutes, but Smith provided the only points off the bench for the Illini.

But for this blogger, two other starters shared player of the game honors: Brian Randle and Rich McBride. Randle did everything. He put up a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds, with 7 of those rebounds coming on the offensive end. He also drew the defensive assignment on Alando Tucker for most of the game.

McBride had his second consecutive excellent game, scoring 16 points on 5-10 shooting, 4-6 from behind the three-point line. It was McBride's three-pointers in the first half that really carried the Illini and gave them the half-time lead that they never relinquished.

The game was a game of runs. Wisconsin jumped out to a 6-0 lead by making their first two three-point tries (they would only make one of their next 18) before the Illini responded with a 7-0 run to take their first lead just over four minutes into the game. Then, Augustine went to the bench with his second foul and the Badgers came back with an 18-6 run of their own, grabbing a 24-13 (their largest of the game) just over half-way through the first half. In a gutsy coaching move, Bruce Weber brought Augustine back into the game as the Illini ran off 19 straight points over the next eight minutes and closed the first half with a 34-28 lead.

In the first 3.5 minutes of the second half, the Illini pushed that lead to 39-29 on a three-pointer from Dee Brown. But just as Illinois was threatening to pull away, Wisconsin closed the gap to two points and, while trailing 44-42, had a three-pointer from Ray Nixon that barely rimmed out. The Illini then went on a 11-1 run to take a 55-43 lead and were never threatened again. Despite shooting only 56 percent from the free-throw line on the game, the Illini made all six in the last 2:18 to seal the game.

Despite the comparable final margin, a few bounces here or there could have impacted the outcome. Augustine could have committed his third foul when entering the game mid-way through the first half. Nixon's three-pointer almost gave the Badgers the lead mid-way through the second.

But once again, it was Illinois' defense and rebounding that really won this contest. They really prevented Wisconsin from executing in their offensive sets, holding the Badgers to 35.6 percent from the floor. Illinois also outrebounded Wisconsin 43-28.

In his regular post-game blog post, Mark Tupper said: A team looking for a signature victory now has one. And a team struggling for confidence on the road after losing at both Iowa and Indiana has that, too. Believe this: The rest of the Big Ten took notice Tuesday night and Illinois has now raised its stock in the quest to win a third straight outright Big Ten title.

The win made the Illini the first team to reach 20 wins on the season. Next up, Illinois welcomes Penn State to Assembly Hall for a late game on Saturday night. For more news on this game, click here.
Monday, January 30, 2006
  Illini face huge opportunity at Wisconsin
With their 33rd straight home victory coming against lowly Purde on Saturday, the Illini moved into a tie for the Big Ten lead with Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa. Tomorrow, it's on to Wisconsin.

Don't let North Dakota State fool you. This will not be an easy win...there are no easy wins on the road in this conference. As of today, the top seven teams in the Big Ten are 25-1 at home in conference play. The only road win came in overtime with Michigan State winning at Ohio State.

Although it will be a tough game, it's probably a game that Illinois has to win if they're going to repeat as conference champions. Illini Wonk continues to believe that in this stacked conference, 12-4 will probably be enough for at least a share of the Big Ten title. That belief was strengthened when we reached the half-way point with two losses good enough for a share of the conference lead.

In order for the Illini to finish conference play with only four losses, they will have to sweep at home and win three of the following five road games: Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan, Minnesota and Michigan State. If they lose at Wisconsin, that means the Fighting Illini can only lose one game the rest of the way. That led Dee Brown to say about the game in Madison: 'I think it's a must-win.'

But the game also presents an incredible opportunity at the mid-point of conference play. Because there have been so few road wins against quality opponents in the Big Ten, a win would put Illinois in an excellent position to repeat as conference champions.

I don't think I'll ever forget last season's game at Wisconsin. This year, Mark Tupper says there will be Someone coming off the bench and being this season’s Jack Ingram. Who will it be? Can the Illini get it done? I can hardly wait.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
  Painter v. Weber: Round 1
When the Purdue Boilermakers visit the Illinois Fighting Illini this afternoon at 3:30 p.m., their best players will be wearing street clothes. Injuries to Carl Landry and David Teague have the Boilermakers in tenth place among the 11 Big Ten teams and make them unlikely candidates to prevent Illinois' game home winning streak from reaching 33 games. On his blog, Brett Dawson summed up the matchup today, saying: Purdue won't win at the Assembly Hall.

Left without much to talk about on the court, the beat reporters were sent in search of a theme for their coverage. They did notdisappointt. They reached up on the shelf and dusted off one of the old standbys in sportswriting, officially billing today's game as 'Teacher v. Mentor.'

In the Decatur Herald & Review, Mark Tupper wrote that Weber, Painter reunited ... on opposite sides of court. Tupper lays out the entire history. It was Weber who, while an assistant at Purdue, recruited Painter to play for the Boilermakers. It was Weber who gave Painter a place on his staff at Southern Illinois.

After recruiting Painter (twice), little did Bruce Weber know that they were destined to become Big Ten coaching rivals. But, according to the Indianapolis Star, they're still friendly foes. The Daily Illini says Coaches' shared past gives game importance.

The Illini are no doubt looking ahead a little to a Tuesday night matchup with Wisconsin, which, if they take care of business today, will be for a share of the top spot in the conference. For Gametracker, click here.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
  Deadspin: closet Illini fan?
One of the truly fun things about blogging on the Illini basketball team is the opportunity to meet Illinois fans and alumns from all walks of life. Illini Wonk gets emails from them all the time and they are one of the highlights of my time in cyberspace.

I also enjoy the Illini basketball fans who are out there blogging and interact with Illini Wonk on a regular basis. One of the most recent that I've run into is Will Leitch of Deadspin. Will graduated from the University of Illiniois in '97 and covered the Illini for the Daily Illini from '93-'97 and for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in '97. He's originally from Mattoon and his been an Illini fan about as long as I have.

Will is now the blogger behind Deadspin, which, according to it's profile, provides Sports News without Access, Favor, or Discretion. It's a member of the Gawker family of blogs. Basically, if you're looking for box scores, it's the wrong place, unless you're referring to something Carolina Cheerleaders do occasionally and then it's the only place.

But we here at Illini Wonk don't care about any of that (okay, we read it every day in the office) but what really matters is that he's a fan of the Orange & Blue. Here's an interview with the infamous blogger:

IW: First of all, what was it like working at the Daily Illini?

WL: My fiancee went to Northwestern undergrad and Ohio State grad school, and was one of those annoying people who went to every class and took notes for people like me to steal the night before finals. My time at Illinois, studies-wise, is kind of a blur; I was the type of person who would wake up in time for my 9 a.m. class, make it all the way to Greg Hall and then, right before I walked in, turn around and go get a cup of coffee or something. I'm not really a classroom type, which is to say, I'm not very smart. But the Daily Illini, man, I pretty much lived in the bug zapper from the first day of my freshman year until I graduated (in four years, somehow). I couldn't believe I could type something on Tuesday night and have it in print 12 hours later. I was there from 93-97, and other than a couple ugly incestuous Daily Illini relationships, it was among the highlights of my life. I miss it terribly.

IW: What was your favorite after-game hangout in Champaign?

WL: At the U of I, as you and your readers well know, the Greek system reigns supreme. But personally, I was all proud of myself when I was there for my "individualism" and never joined one. This, in retrospect, was a wretched decision: I would have had much more sex in college had I been in a frat. Oh well. My point: Not much Kam's and C.O.'s for me, though I did sneak in a few Time Warp Tuesdays. I was much more of a Murphy's, White Horse and The Library person; I spent my 21st birthday doing Prairie Fire shots off the Library's oaken tables. Since I was covering the games, I'd file my story and then drink with the other DI people once they put the paper to bed. Then I would pass out and wake up just in time to walk to Gregory, then turn around.

IW: Where were you during the 1989 Final Four loss to Michigan?

WL: In my parents' living room, throwing our cat across the room. I greatly prefer recalling the Nick Anderson two-thirds heave against Indiana that year. My father and I were jumping around with such abandon that we accidentally hugged each other. We're not the most outwardly emotional family, so we looked at each other for a second, grunted and then started screaming again. That's still my favorite Illini sports moment, though, obviously, last year's Arizona NCAA game is awfully close.

IW: Both moments definitely belong in the top five. Is it true that C. Montgomery Burns from the Simpsons is actually based on Loren Tate?

WL: Actually, Loren Tate died in 1943. It's his mummified corpse still typing those stories; you didn't notice, did you? (This is the time in the conversation when I point out that Loren was always quite nice to me, actually.)

IW: We've never met him. Anyway, who was your favorite Illinois basketball player to interview and why?

WL: Without a doubt, Brian Johnson. I know everybody loved Lucas Johnson, but Brian was just the coolest, most laid back, accessible, down to earth guy. Plus, he let me borrow his notes one time too. Can you imagine? Copying notes from a basketball player? I still can't believe I graduated, I really can't.

IW: What's the most exciting game you covered?

WL: Well, I covered the end of the Lou Henson years, so ... slim pickings. I'm going to be sacriligous and say the Penn State-Illinois football game. That was the undefeated Penn State team that had Kerry Collins, Ki-Jana Carter and Bobby Engram. (Funny, those names seem less impressive now.) Illinois had that game. You could see I-Block just shaking, they were so ready to storm the field. It still kills me they lost that game.

IW: Funny, that is actually one of the few games of...ahh...what do you call it...oh yeah, football, that I ever attended. But back to a real sport: When you were with the PostDispatch, did you find it difficult to be impartial? Did you even try?

WL: Well, actually, I was a senior when I covered the team for them, so it wasn't too hard; I was sitting in the same spot on press row as I was when I was writing for the DI. But it is impossible for any beat reporter to be impartial, and anyone who says otherwise is lying to you.

WL: I knew it! Well, enough about dead tree sports writing..what impact do you think the blogosphere has had on sports coverage?

WL: I'd look at the Clinton Portis story as an example. When he first started doing those goofy press conferences, nobody was paying any attention at all. But myself and other blogs picked it up, and we kept riding it, and now it's on the Fox pregame show. We can pick up stories and hit them faster, funnier and with less burden than the major networks. They're obviously noticing; expect much bigger blog presences on the ESPNs and SIs in the next year or two. Sports is ideal for blogging; we can drive the news cycle. Once you've done that, your'e home free.

IW: Drive the news cycle? I'm just trying to keep up with it. How did you end up at Deadspin?

WL: Basically, I pitched Gawker Media on it. They had been wary of doing a sports site before this -- I think they thought it would either be all stat nerd stuff or "JETS SUCK!!!" message board junk. I knew Nick Denton and Lockhart Steele from my other site,, so I sat them down in a meeting and gave them my vision of how the site would work. And, the suckers, they bought it. But before this, and after college, I've been all over the place, working for finanical mags, media mags, other Websites, in doctor's offices, even Telemundo. (Just for one day; apparently they prefer that you speak Spanish.) And I wrote a couple books, which I encourage all Illini fans to totally buy. I kept busy. But this is the most fun job I've ever had. Except for maybe the DI.

IW: What's it like being part of the Gawker empire?

WL: You basically have tons of access to free gay porn. Not my cup of tea, but I tell you, by typing the phrase "free gay porn," I just guaranteed that Illini Wonk's Web traffic is going to triple in the next week.

IW: Uh, thanks I think. Well, what else do you want to tell Illinois hoops fans?

WL: Every game you're watching, I'm sitting in front of my television, wearing my Jamar Smith jersey, screaming. We're all in this together. Oh, and Richard Keene totally, completely sucks.

IW: Now that you've read the interview, go read the blog. You won't be sorry. BTW, when it comes to the Illini, he's way out of the closet as a big fan.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006
  Illini win 14th straight over Gophers
The Illinois Fighting Illini basketball team won their 14th straight contest against the Minnesota Gophers by a score of 77-53. Associated Press writer Jim Paul said "The Gophers had no answer for Illinois' inside-outside game in the second half."

With the win, the Illini join four other teams at 4-2 and in second place behind Wisconsin in the conference standings. The win also gives Illinois a school record 32 straight victories at home. The Illini now have two days to rest before going for their 33rd straight win at Assembly Hall agsinst Purdue on Saturday.

Of the losing streak, 13 belong to Dan Monson who has never won against Illinois in his seven seasons at Minnesota. With the loss, the Gophers fall to 0-6 in the Big Ten and you have to wonder how much longer Monson can hold onto his job.
Monday, January 23, 2006
  Illini Win one on the Road
The Illinois Fighting Illini got their first road win in Evanston on Saturday, by beating Northwestern 58-47. It was the tale of two halves...well the first 25 minutes and the last Illinois raced out to a 26-point lead and then coasted to an 11-point win.

Tim Cronin from the Daily Southtown called it an Ugly Victory for Illinois. In a rare double-entendre from Herb Gould (or the headline writer for the Sun-Times) the Illini survive sloppy 2nd (in case there are any Indiana fans reading this blog, you might want to go to Wikipedia for the definition of double-entendre).

How did the Illini get it done? According to John Brumbaugh, they did it with Dee and Defense. He points out that the Illini posted an offensive efficiency of 98.24 and a defensive efficiency of 79.61. Dee Brown led the Illini in points (18), assists (8), steals (2) and minutes played (40, tied with James Augustine). As Carol Slezak put it elsewhere in the Sun-Times, One gun hits, other fires blanks. The first gun refers to Brown and the second to Vedran Vukusic, the leading scorer for the Wildcats and in the Big Ten.

Vukusic entered the contest averaging 20.9 points per game and the Illini held him to five on 1-14 shooting. A small post-game debate broke out over whether that had more to do with Vukusic or Augustine, who drew the defensive assignment. Those subscribing to the Vukusic theory were, well, Vukusic and his coach Bill Carmody. Those who thought that it was more Augustine included the afore-mentioned Brumbaugh, along with the Chicago Tribune's Terry Bannon, who said Augustine excelled on defense. Scout's Coach Ray wrote that Augustine put on a clinic on how to shut the Big Cat down. In Scott Duncan's article for the Daily Northwestern Vukusic was Hounded by Illinois’ James Augustine. Coach Bruce Weber agreed, saying Augustine should feel good about what he did on Vedran.

So, to recap. Bill Carmody and Vedran Vukusic believes that the latter's five points are mostly the result of his bad shooting. Taking the opposing viewpoint are Bruce Weber, John Brumbaugh, Terry Bannon, Coach Ray and Scott Duncan. Wait a minute. In another article, Carmody did give Augustine some credit, saying He's a lefty and he contested a lot of Vedran's shots.

Regardless of who stopped who, the Illini posted their first road win in three tries and the Illini will take it, says Bill Liesse of the Peoria Journal Star. More importantly, it keeps them in the hunt for a conference title. According to the Adjusted Big Ten Standings, no team in the Big Ten has more than one road win and the only team with a road win against a team in the top half of the conference is Michigan State who won at Ohio State. The win also kept Illinois Seventh in the latest AP Poll.

Next for the Illini is a home game against the Minnesota Gophers, who are winless in conference play after five tries.
Saturday, January 21, 2006
  Northwestern strategy: Don't piss 'em off
The Illinois Fighting Illini basketball team plays at Northwestern today. For Illini fans and returning players, the trip to Evanston will no doubt bring back memories of last year's game and the despicable conduct of the Wildcat fans.

This year, the Wildcats are hoping to avoid a repeat. A columnist for the Daily Northwestern writes: Whatever you do folks, don’t throw food this time.

But more importantly, the Illini desperately need a win on the road, which is never an easy prospect considering the quirky Wildcat schemes. To say today's game is a "must-win" is an understatement. The Illini are currently tied with three other teams in fifth place in the Big Ten Standings. A loss today would put the Illini ahead of only Purdue and Minnesota, potentially in ninth place in the Big Ten Standings and leave them out of the running for a conference title.

Could the Illini be out of the conference race after only five games? The short answer is yes. The long answer is yes, here's why: Bruce Weber believes that it will take 12 wins to take the conference title this season. Considering that six teams are ranked in the top 25, he's probably right and you certainly couldn't win it with 11 wins or fewer. That would mean Illinois would have to win 10 of their last 11. To do that, they would have to sweep their last six games at home, which includes games against Iowa and Indiana. Although that won't be easy, it would be even more difficult to only lose one of their last five road games. Those include contests at Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State. Losing only one of those four would be a remarkable achievement to say the least.

So, the Illini have to win today. It's that simple. For Gametracker, click here.
Friday, January 20, 2006
  Eric Gordon shows his stuff
I hope you got a chance to watch Illini 2007 recruit Eric Gordon play last night on ESPN2. I had seen highlights on Illinois basketball games. I heard about the show he put on at the Circle City Classic. I know Loren Tate said that he 'could be best player Illinois has ever recruited.' I was even aware that hundreds of Illini fans have attended his games. But this was my first chance to see him play an entire game.

Wow. I mean, WOW.

Okay, so they lost the game. Keep in mind that Gordon's team was playing Lawrence North, the #5 high school team in the nation, whose roster includes the highest rated high school player in this year's class: Greg Oden.

But Eric Gordon was incredibly impressive, unbelievable for a junior in high school. He had 27 points, 23 in the second half. Two of his first half points came on an amazing steal for a dunk in which he blew past the opposition. In the second half, he did it all. Three-pointers...floaters over Oden...mid-range jupmers...but nowhere was Gordon's athleticism more on display than when he blocked an alley-oop attempt in the second half of the game. It was one of the most spectacular plays I've ever seen at any level.

Gordon will have an instant impact for the Illini and would start at the two guard for them right now (maybe that's not such a big deal, considering our struggles at that spot). The only question is how long the Illini can keep him before he makes the inevitable early leap to the pros.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
  2010: Illinois vs. OSU
Tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m. CST on ESPN2, the Illinois Fighting Illini will square off against the Ohio State Buckeyes...sort of. Actually, Illinois recruit Eric Gordon and North Central High School will play Lawrence North and Ohio State recruits Greg Oden and Mike Conley.

The two teams already played last week in the championship of the Marion County Tournament and The Ohio State recruits came away with a 78-55 victory. Gordon, who fouled out with two minutes left in that game, scored 20 points and will be looking for sweet revenge in the nationally-televised rematch. The Illini fans, who have shown up in large numbers at past games of Gordon's, will be cheering on their prize recruit.

For past news on Eric Gordon, click here.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
  Illini drop close contest to Hooisers
Illinois started and ended the game well, but an 18-0 first-half run by the Hooisers and a big second half from Marco Killingsworth were too much for the Illini to overcome. The Illini drop to 2-2 in the Big Ten conference standings with a 62-60 loss at Indiana.

Illinois scored the first eight points of the game and had a 19-9 lead before they gave up a 18-0 run and relenquished the lead for good. A late three-pointer from Dee Brown (his only basket of the game) brought the Illini to within four at the break.

Early in the second half, the Hooisers built on that lead until Illinois found themselves staring at a 55-40 defecit with 8:29 remaining. The Illini fought back with a 12-0 run of their own and had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds, but a shot from Augustine rimmed out. Indiana made three of four free throws down the stretch and a half-court shot from McBride at the buzzer came up empty.

After the game, Mark Tupper blogged: It’s not a bad loss. But it could have been a great win. He's right. The Illini could have won this game with a few plays made at the right time. For more game coverage, click here.
Monday, January 16, 2006
  Illinois 10; Amaker 0...Davis 3-7
On Saturday, the Illini defeated the Michigan Wolverines 79-74. The loss was the tenth in as many tries for Michigan coach Tommy Amaker, but in the process the Wolverines didn't make it easy for Illinois.

After an 11-point lead at the break, the usually excellent Illinois defense allowed 46 second-half points on 61% shooting. The performance of the Wolverines after half-time took the game down to the wire, where it took two late free throws from Warren Carter and a defensive stand to seal the deal. But, as Jim Spadafore of the Detroit News so elegantly put it: This was not handgrenade practice. Not horse shoes. Close didn't matter.

As has been the case in conference play, the Illini were carried by their seniors. Dee Brown and James Augustine combined for 49 points, including 24 of the last 26. John Brumbaugh's look at the box score shows just how important the two seniors were, especially Augustine who was 9 for 11. With Augustine on the court, Illinois was +16. Neil Milbert had it right, Brown and 'Augie' came to the rescue.

Augustine's impact was especially pronounced late in the second half. When he drew his fourth foul and went to the bench with 8:58 remaining, Michigan went on a 7-0 run to take a 70-69 lead. Augustine came back with 4:01 left in the game and scored the next four points for Illinois to give them the lead for good.

Brian Randle also had a good game and a stat line that impressed Mark Tupper: Nine points, six rebounds, three assists, no turnovers, two blocked shots. His tip-in dunk at the end of the first half was highlight-reel material and gave the Illini their 11-point half-time lead.

Next up: Indiana on Tuesday night

The next test for the Illini looks like one of the toughest of the season. The Illini will head to the other Assembly Hall for a road game against the (10-3, 2-1) Indiana Hooisers. Indiana's only loss in conference play was in their last outing at Michigan State where wins are tough to come by.

John Decker of thinks freshmen guards will play a big role for the Illini. Based on their recent performances that would surprise this blogger. Chester Frazier sat out against Michigan for disciplinary reasons and Jamar Smith's ten-point per game scoring average has been cut in half since conference play started.

The Illini escaped with a 51-49 win at Indiana two years ago and Indiana coach Mike Davis has a comparably good 3-7 record against Illinois. If they're going to get a win this year, they'll need big games from the seniors, a better defensive effort than they had against Michigan and a third scorer to emerge. For the 6:00 game, ESPN will bring out Illini favorites Dick Vitale and Erin Andrews (oh yeah, and Dan Shulman).
Saturday, January 14, 2006
  Must-win against Michigan
Illinois' loss to Iowa a week ago has made today's 3:30 p.m. home game against Michigan a "must-win." Although, with a competetive Big Ten conference, Illinois will likely need to win every game at home if they hope to repeat as Big Ten champions. Two seasons ago the Illini had the talent to overcome a 1-2 start to conference play, but this team probably can't afford to get below .500.

These Illini are not accustomed to losing and the loss to the Hawkeyes has Dee Brown in a bad mood who said "Losing is just the worst feeling in the world." Coach Bruce Weber was not too pleased either and has been working his players harder than usual in practice this week. "Coach has been on us,'' said James Augustine who, along with Brian Randle, were forced to run laps as punishment for lapses in practice.

Michigan brings a 11-2 record to Assembly Hall and like Illinois is 1-1 in conference play. Jim Spadafore of the Detroit News says the Wolverines have lost 10 straight to the Illini and eight in row at Assembly Hall. Spadafore sees no chance of an upset for the Wolverines.

A win today will tie a school record for 31 consecutive home court wins for Illinois. For Gametracker, click here.
Friday, January 13, 2006
  Okay, no more vacations for Wonk
I leave one time and what happens? Illinois loses to Iowa? (I don't know what's more depressing. The fact that we lost to Iowa or that this was my first real vacation in more than a year). Anyway, I was in a place that had lots of sand, surf and sun...but very little in the way of Internet access. Contrary to what some people wondered, I was not hiding because Illinois lost.

I plan on watching the tape of the Iowa game tonight, but I'm interested in your thoughts. What went wrong? Is Illinois not as good as we were all starting to think? Which is the real Dee Brown? Were the performances of Jamar Smith (4.5 ppg, 25% fg, 0 apg) and Brian Randle (3.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg) in the first two conference games more indicative of their talent? Is it time to panic or was the loss no big deal? Will they be able to turn it around against Michigan tomorrow? Share your wisdom with the world...
Friday, January 06, 2006
  Who's next? Iowa, that's who
On January 7, the two best defenses in the Big Ten will meet in Iowa City. In order to try to thwart the Orange Krush, Iowa started selling tickets to the Illinois game two months late and made people purchase them as a multi-game package. Why? Because last year, 3,500 Illinois fans showed up and embarrassed the Iowans.

What are your thoughts about the game? Who walks out with this win? How many Illini fans show up? Does Dee Brown continue his campaign for BTPOY? Sound off.
  Dee Brown starts BTPOY Campaign
Dee Brown almost single-handedly defeated the Michigan State Spartans last night in Champaign. He poured in a career high 34 points on 12-22 shooting, nearly outscoring MSU's high-flying trio of Ager, Brown and Davis by himself. Thus begins his campaign to repeat as Big Ten Player of the Year.

When asked about the play of Dee Brown against his team, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said: "I thought we faced Vince Young tonight, to tell you the truth," Izzo said, comparing Brown to the Texas quarterback who led the Longhorns to the national championship. "This was a Dee Brown night. He won the Heisman tonight. There were at least four shots I said, 'I'm glad he's taking that shot.'

In case you missed it, click here for highlights and an interview with Erin Andrews.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
  Conference Kickoff!
Wow! What a way to kick off conference play! Thursday night on ESPN2, the Illinois Fighting Illini will put their nation's second-best home winning streak of 29 games on the line when they host the Michigan State Spartans. This game is what the Big Ten is all about and contains so many storylines.

The game features #6 vs. #7 in the latest AP Poll. Two teams from last year's Final Four. It pits the Disciple of Gene Keady vs. Disciple of Jud Heathcote. High school teammates Dee Brown and Shannon Brown battle it out for college supremacy. The two teams have dominated the Big Ten in recent years, with the two winning at least a share of seven of the last eight Big Ten titles.

Most importantly, the game is between two of the early favorites in the conference this year. Jeff Shelman of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune predicts a first place finish for the Illini. A top finish for the Spartans is predicted by Skip Myslenski of the Chicago Tribune, Jesse Osborne of the Wisconsin State Journal and Dave Dye of The Detroit News.

Mark Tupper has the defensive assignments for Illinois: Brian Randle will start on Maurice Ager, James Augustine will get Paul Davis and either Dee Brown or Rich McBride will take Shannon Brown. Tupper is predicting a 71-67 win for the Illini.

Illini Wonk? In my preview for Hoops Futures, I'm picking the Illini 76-67. As Big Ten Wonk has so masterfully shown, the Spartans are having troubles with their defense. On the other hand, the Illini are the second best in the conference, behind only Iowa. I say defense carries them against the Spartans.

What's your prediction? Post it below...if you dare going on the record.
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