PSU Thoughts, Standings, & UM Predictions
In my best Jerry Seinfeld voice…what’s the deal with Illinois-Penn State games being played like they’re in another dimension?
Seriously, that one gave me flashbacks to sluggish games of UI and PSU’s past. A win is a win, though, and I don’t think the coaches and the players will dwell on it for too long, with the obvious exception of watching the tape. A part of me wants to give both teams as pass, considering there seemed to be a foul called on every possession (52 total, thanks Ed!), which kills the momentum and flow of the game. Good to see DJ continue his consistent play (18 points) and Brandon start to climb out of his mini scoring funk (16 points).
On the whole, though, to never have a double digit lead vs. a team like Penn State is a little concerning. And I’m not buying the whole “PSU has been playing well lately” defense. They gave some teams a good run, but everyone in the Big Ten has been doing that this year. This is a bottom feeder team without their star. Ok, I’ll stop before I start sounding like a Scrooge.
One person who’s not a Scrooge is John Groce, who was spreading the wealth around after the game.
That right there is a prime example of the positive reinforcement that Groce brings to this team and that we didn’t see in previous years. Other coaches might lead off a press conference after a game like that by listing the negatives. Not Coach Groce.
Groce was also semi-candid on the high foul count in the game.
More “creative names for the opponent” highlights this go around: Puny State, Pig Penn Sty, State Penn University, Quittany Lions, Penn Smells of Cover Up U, Naughty Lions, JoePa (paired with Zooker), P State, Penny State, We miss Taylor Battle, and Lion at the bottom of the Big Ten standings.
Next up…a rematch with the
Similar to Minnesota, you could say that the Illini were the kiss of death to UM after the teams’ first meeting. They’ve gone 3-3 (although none of their losses are bad ones) and have fallen two games back of the Big Ten lead. But (and you know where I’m going with this) they’re still a darn good team that has a player of the year-type stud, doesn’t foul a lot, and goes deep into its bench. The team was outrebounded against Penn State last weekend, so that’s one possible Achilles heel to keep an eye on. And the Illini appear to have turned a corner in that regard as well, as they’ve out rebounded two of their last three opponents, breaking a streak of being outrebounded that started after (you guessed it) the last meeting vs. Michigan. And speaking of that UM-PSU game, that’s the last game UM will have played before Sunday. So the question of ring rust comes into play. Well, the Wolverines so far this season have had two breaks of one week or more, and in each of those cases, they’ve followed up the break with a win. And honestly, I think at this point in the season, any team will welcome the break to rest up and get some extra scouting in. Heck, the Illini women had eight days off recently and followed it up with a big win over Wisconsin. Apples and oranges, probably, but just thought I’d bring it up.
A late soundbite addition...here's UM Coach John Beilein on defending the Illini's three point shooting attack.
Want to make a note as well of the venue this weekend…the Chrisler Center (formerly Chrisler Arena). I say formerly because the building just underwent a big renovation, and judging from the photos, it looks real sharp. I’ve mentioned it before, but facilities can go a long way to a success of a program. No recruit wants to practice or play in a dingy, outdated shanty. Now…I just hope the folks at the CC have become a bit friendlier than in years past. I say that because six years ago, I was a part of a famed Orange Krush roadtrip to UM, and even though we were well behaved, we weren’t treated very friendly. One memory that sticks out is when our group revealed that we were Illini fans, an usher rushed up to us and said, “Any problems from you guys tonight any you’re out of here.” We were just cheering, dude. Chill out.
Anyway, this is a game that several blogs ago I pegged the Illini to lose, and I’m sticking with that. There’s a talent disparity between the two teams, but the fact that the Illini are riding high on a win streak will make this one closer that it would normally be.
MY PREDICTION: Michigan 75, Illinois 67
Other news and notes…
- Seeing all the photos from hockey at Soldier Field last week got me thinking again of the future of the Illini club hockey program. After Penn State’s program went D1, there was some scuttlebutt that Illinois would soon do the same. That talk has since died down, and it’s a shame that it has. It was take a major financial commitment to go D1, but I think the team could sustain itself if it did. During my college years, I had the fantastic opportunity to be a part of the Illini hockey radio broadcast crew, and I can tell you that (a) the program is well established (two national titles, three regular season league titles, six league tournament titles, an undefeated season in 08, and a partridge in a pear tree) and (b) it has a cult following. The only missing piece of the puzzle would be to get Chad Cassel to come out of retirement and coach.
- Here’s another one for you history buffs…check out this Illini Football ad in a 1939 issue of The News-Gazette. In case you can’t read the fine print, the limited broadcasting capabilities at the time formed a NG sports staffer to wire details of the game back to the mothership, then a DWS sports announcer would do faux play-by-play, complete with sound effects. That practice would probably be frowned upon today, but it’s pretty cool to imagine it back then.
- Speaking of DWS, there’s a chance we’ll be broadcasting a state title celebration on Saturday, as we’ll have live coverage this weekend of the Saint Thomas More girls basketball team at the IHSA state tournament. We’ll take the air for their semifinal game on Friday at 8, and will have either the championship or third place game on Saturday. STM has been one of the big surprises of the prep sports year, as they’ve handled most of their opponents behind a head coach with college experience. Should be a fun listen. Catch it on 1400-AM or online here.
COMING UP ON SUNDAY OR MONDAY: UM Thoughts, Standings, and Nebraska Predictions
[Twilight Zone audio via YouTube, Groce audio via Illini Productions, Beilein audio via mgoblue.com]