Illini Wonk
Sunday, March 05, 2006
  Illini end regular season on a roll
Illinois beat Michigan State in the Breslin Center for the second year in a row to finish 11-5 in conference play and 25-5 overall. After dropping two straight conference games to Penn State and Ohio State, Illinois won five of their last six and finished on a three-game winning streak.

For most of their first 20 wins, the Illini did it with defense and rebounding. Better late than never, blogs Mark Tupper, but the Illini basketball offense has made positive strides in the last couple weeks.

When the schedule was set, a lot of people marked this game at Michigan State on their calendars as a game that could be significant in the Big Ten title chase. So how did the Illini end their regular season with a victory?

Some have suggested that it was simply "hot shooting" that led Illinois to victory. That is partially true, but a big portion of it comes from the way Illinois is moving on offense. In the last three games, Mark Tupper notes that Illinois had 16 assists to go with 23 baskets against Iowa, 22 assists for 26 baskets against Minnesota and Saturday the total was 17 assists on 25 baskets against Michigan State. Sounds kind of like last year, doesn't it?

Two other factors in the win were bench and balance. Despite having Dee Brown sit the last nine minutes of the first half and James Augustine out for a while with a banged up knee, the Illini were able to go into the lockeroom down only one point. The Illini had five players in double figures and got 31 points from their bench.

Last night during the Duke/North Carolina game, Dick Vitale said that the Illini were looking dangerous going into the post-season. Could they be peaking at the right time? Can they win a third Big Ten Tournament? How far could they go in the Big Dance? What seed will they get?
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