Nonconference season thoughts & Indiana predictions
It’s time to put your fake Internet money where your mouth is and start picking. But first, let’s talk about how we got here.
I was keeping an eye on three things during nonconference play. One, will the Illini gel with all the newcomers on the squad? I think the answer so far is yes, with guys falling into their roles nicely. Two, how will the block/charge rule change impact things? At first, it was all we could talk about. And rightfully so, because I’m in the majority that thinks it’s a bad change. But the hubbub has died down, and I think coaches have now had plenty of time to coach their guys to deal with it. Three, who will rise to the top in the Big Ten? Over the past couple weeks, I watched at least one game featuring the three top dogs, and to me Wisconsin looked like the most complete team. That’s not to say MSU or OSU have no chance. But, the Badgers are the leaders in the clubhouse right now.
As far as prospects for the Illini go, this year seems similar to last year. The talking heads aren’t expecting the O & B to be at the top of the mountain, but the talent is there to do so. A finish in the top half, maybe even top third, of the Big Ten and a couple wins in the Big Dance will keep the needle moving forward. (You’ll note that unlike this football season, I am setting expectations for John Groce’s squad. Read between the lines however you’d like there.)
Turning our attention to the candy stripers…
You don’t need me to tell you that this is a rivalry game that both squads will get up for no matter how the seasons are going. The two rosters look somewhat similar this year in that they both feature plenty of either newcomers or underclassmen. In fact, the Indianapolis Star earlier this month deemed the Hoosiers “young, raw, and full of potential.” And I’d be inclined to agree. Yogi Ferrell has embraced his role as the go-to guy and is one of the few IU players who have improved their three point shooting. The team also is tops in the nation in rebounding margin, so the Illini big men will need to step up on Tuesday.
My prediction: Illinois 75, Indiana 70 (a painfully familiar score, but this time it’s in the O & B’s favor)
Side note…I’m probably going to be labeled a Grinch for this, but I think it’s time to move on from endlessly playing the Griffey layup highlight. It was a top moment in Illini sports history, for sure, but let’s show the current squad that it is our focus. As a wise animated character once said…
So you know the drill. Get me your prediction by tipoff Tuesday. It’s the start of a long, fun journey.
Coming up Tuesday: Indiana thoughts, standings, & Penn State predictions
[Crean photo via AP & NBC]