The way you break down this game probably depends on whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist. A glass half empty guy would point out the porous Illini defense which led to monster games from Talley and Gallegos…and would say that this should have been a game that the Illini handled easily. A glass half full guy would say a win is a win…and a win in spite of the aforementioned performances…and a breakout game for Myke Henry.
Me? I’m in between. Coach Groce has been high on the team’s defensive effort in the second half of the season, so you wouldn’t expect any missteps this far in. But at the same time, this one isn’t setting off the alarm bells for me. It’s the bigger picture that matters. We’ve seen this team go through peaks and valleys, and today was just a minor valley where you hopped off your burro for lunch. Or something…I don’t know…here’s coach…
WLSILLINI takes top prediction honors this game with a perfect RSDT. And the majority of the rest of the pack who picked Illinois had pretty good picks compared to some recent games with RSDTs in the single digits. We had 41 pickers this game, including three new pickers which boosts out season total to 84 pickers. I’m very pleased to see that type of participation! Overall, not too much movement in the standings. With just two games left and 27 RSDT points to make up, penniless will probably need to get a pick right and have walko get a pick wrong to get that end of the season prize.
Two more left…let’s keep chuggin’ along…
I should point out right away that Iowa is my most disliked Big Ten team…and my second most disliked team overall behind Mizzou And as I wrote this, I tried to come up with a definitive reason why, but I couldn’t. It’s a little bit Bruce Pearl. It’s a little bit having friends who are obnoxious Iowa fans. And I’m sure I could think of a few more things, but it’s not worth my time. OK, off the soapbox.
Hawkeyes Squakeyes certainly will be the more motivated team on Tuesday, as they’ll be looking to move closer toward a possible NCAA Tournament berth at 18-10, 7-8 B1G. The team has a couple resume wins over Wisconsin and Minnesota, both at home, and played Michigan State down to the wire at home as well. In fact, the majority of their Big Ten games were close, whether they ended up being a win or a loss. So once again, a fast start might go a long way for the Illini in this one. It’ll help as well if Iowa comes out cold shooting, as the team is 15-1 when shooting at a better clip than its opponent. Roy Marble is a big part of that, averaging 19 PPG over the last five games.
As I’ve done in previous blogs, I want to take a sidebar to talk about the opposing team’s (a) coach and (b) arena. So…Fran McCaffery…is he the guy to turn the program around? I think the jury is still out. In fact, it’s a similar situation as the Illini and John Groce. McCaffery had great success with a mid-major and has struggled a little bit out of the game in the big leagues. An NCAA Tournament berth this year would go a long way, but in the end a big factor will be if Fran can recruit guys for his system and have success with those guys…and if he can do that before the higher ups say “time’s up.” We know one thing for sure though…the man would beat George Bush in a shoe dodging contest any day.
In regards to Carver-Hawkeye Arena, it may be the one thing associated with Iowa that I actually like. I like to describe it as a crater, with the concourse on the highest level and the seats and court sunk down. So when you walk in, you have to walk DOWN to your seats rather than up, no matter where your seats are. It’s got in the round seating like the Assembly Hall, which I’m a fan of, and with a capacity of just 15,000, it’s a semi-intimate atmosphere. I’m basing all this, by the way, on my visit to the arena before it underwent a renovation, so I assume things are even better now. That visit, by the way, coincided with another legendary invasion by the Orange Krush…one that resulted in an e-mail being sent to Iowa students with the subject “Were you embarrassed by the Orange Krush?”. I also got to sit by Loren Tate on press row for that game, so doubly awesome.
Pick-wise, this is another game I pegged the Illini to win a few blogs ago (spoiler alert: I picked a loss to OSU next weekend). It’s all of matter of what transpired since then that would change the margin of victory. The Illini can’t afford many missteps, as the Hawkeyes like to put up the points at home, but I’m still comfortable with…
MY PREDICTION: Illinois 76, Iowa 70
Your picks are due by tipoff on Tuesday. I’ll sing the same refrain as before…if you are in the group that is still in the running for the end of the year prize, make sure not to miss either of the final two picks. And the rest of you should continue picking, too, because this whole thing is darn fun, right? And looking a bit ahead, I’ll roll out a new blog after the Iowa game either on Tuesday or Wednesday…then will roll out the final blog of the season on Sunday. Then we’ll break til the fall.
5. The Eric Gordon game on 2/7/2008. Out of control atmosphere? Maybe. But definitely the most raucous crowd I’ve been a part of.
4. The Michigan State game on 2/6/2010. Really the whole day was great, starting with College Gameday in the morning…something that every college basketball fan should experience.
3. This year’s Indiana game, simply because the outcome and the way it happened were so unexpected. And as I brought up in a previous blog, it was fun because I got to witness an upset of number one with my eyes and not my ears this time.
2. The Michigan State game on 2/6/2001. The Krush stormed the court after the upset, and a friendly usher let a wide-eyed 11 year-old me sneak down onto the court and into the melee. I somehow made my way to Lucas Johnson and, with the help of some college kids, hoisted him up on our shoulders. As an impressionable youngster, that made my year.
1. The Minnesota game on 1/29/05. Not because of the game itself, but because of all the alumni that were back in town to celebrate 100 years of Illini basketball. Getting to meet legends like Lou Henson, Stephen Bardo, Gene Vance, Dave Downey, and so many others cemented my desire to attend this great university.
What are your favorite Hall memories?
COMING UP ON TUESDAY OR WEDNESDAY: Iowa Thoughts, Standings, & OSU Predictions
[C-H photo via The Gazette, AP audio via iPeteCTorg on Youtube, JP photo via CBS Sports]