With apologies to Charles Dickens…
It was the best of
times halves, it was the worst of times halves, it was the age of wisdom rebounding, it was the age of foolishness poor defense and silent stars, it was the epoch of belief another resume win, it was the epoch of incredulity a letdown, it was the season of Light a great tournament seed, it was the season of Darkness an OK tournament seed, it was the spring of hope the first six game B1G win streak since 04-05, it was the winter of despair a win streak snapped, we had everything a win before us, we had nothing a loss before us, we were all going direct to Heaven the Beef House, we were all going direct the other way to Taco Bell. In short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only the Illini let another one slip away.
Back to modern day English now…there must be something in the water up in the state that looks like a hand that makes Illinois teams do an about face in the second half. We saw it earlier vs. MSU (outscored 53-38), and we saw it yesterday (outscored 43-27). First half, rebounds were 18-12 Illinois and BP and DJ combined for 16 points. Second half, rebounds were 17-10 UM and BP and DJ were silent (4 points combined, with Brandon not attempting a shot). I know the talk around BP lately has been his role as a facilitator, but he can’t be just that if the team wants to make a run in March. Elsewhere, as much as some of us might dislike Dan Dakich, he pointed out a consistent theme of the Illini’s defense yesterday…which was defenders going to help then leaving a man open, leading to open looks for UM. On the flip side (and this may be too much of a “back in my day” grumpy old man post), I’d like to see an offense every once in a while that isn’t run and gun. Get in a set play and get a quality shot.
After typing that, I feel like I might be being too critical. But at the same time, it’s a matter of hanging on to a lead and closing out a game. Either way, this one is obviously not considered a bad loss, as the result is what the majority were expecting.
As you might expect, Coach Groce highlighted the difference between the two halves after the game.
Taking a look at our pick-em competition...
Illini70 takes top honors this game, as he picked the margin of victory right on the nose. Of the 35 pickers this game, 27 (or 77%) correctly picked UM. Overall, BleedOandB maintains his/her one game lead, and walko maintains his grip on second place and frontrunner to win the end of the season prize. There are eight people who are either one or two games back of second place and are still in the running for the prize. And there are 18 people who have picked every game this year, with records ranging from 11-4 to 3-12...although I think a few picks have been driven by the desire to get the team good karma and not necessarily based on who you all think will win. And there's nothing wrong with that...this is all for fun. We are still holding steady at 83 pickers for the year.
On to Senior Day…
Despite the Huskers being a lower caliber team, I would expect this one to be similar to the Penn State game and not be a blowout, but see the Illini maintain control throughout. I would assume that Coach Groce has all the Xs and Os figured out by now, but if he did want to throw some different combos out there, this would be the last chance to do it, with two tough road games left on the regular season schedule. Although I’m pretty content right now with how the guys have been used and plugged into different situations, and it seems like the guys have bought in as well (e.g. Griffey embracing his sixth man role). Any changes that you all would like to see?
Some interesting comments on today's Big Ten coaches teleconference. A reporter asked how the coaches are dealing with turnovers. Here's Coach Groce's response...
Pick-wise, this is another one that doesn’t require a lot of brain racking. The Illini were coming off a loss the first time they played the Huskers and got a big confidence boosting win. Talent once again prevails and the seniors get one last win at the Hall.
MY PREDICTION: ILLINOIS 73, NEBRASKA 61
Speaking of this senior class, what does everyone think about the legacy the left on the program? Obviously, things aren’t too impressive results-wise with only one NCAA Tournament win (so far), but you have to remember that there was major strife surrounding the program during the end of the Bruce Weber era, so the guys had to weather that distraction. And I think they did a good job with that, and overall these are a group of high character, charismatic guys who stayed out of trouble. DJ in particular, judging from stories from mutual friends, is a very humble guy who makes good life decisions. On the court, this class certainly produced some individual highlights: Brandon’s 43 point performance vs. Ohio State, Griffey’s game-winners vs. Gardner-Webb and Indiana, DJ’s buzzer beater vs. Hawaii, and others. So overall…not a legendary senior class, but a pretty solid one.
COMING UP ON SATURDAY: Nebraska Thoughts, Standings, & Iowa Predictions
[Groce/Miles audio via BTN, seniors photo via fightingillini.com, SLU audio/photo via JoeSportsFan1 on YouTube]