It might not have made MJ do a double take, but it got the job done.
The Illini’s win over Auburn at the UC  on Saturday once again fell into the range of “too close for comfort” (or “grimy” as Coach Groce put it ), but as I was watching, I never felt the game was out of hand. Like the Mizzou game, the three point shooting wasn’t there (4 of 15), but instead of taking ill-advised  shots, this time the O & B drove in the paint, drew fouls, and made free throws down the stretch when they needed them (something Illini fans aren’t used to seeing in recent years – ‘member Shaun Pruitt vs. Indiana?).
The 11 Illini steals (blatantly ignoring Dora’s advice ) and 19 points off turnovers stood out to me on the box score as well. Now some bloggers might play devil’s advocate and ask if the Illini still would have won the game without Tracy Abrams’ career day. Me…I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole. I’ll just give TA a pat on the back and hope this is the start of another big Illini winning streak in the Windy City.
So what’s my take on this 13-1 and 11th ranked Illini team so far? Well, I like what I’m seeing. The big thing that sticks out is it seems that Coach Groce is giving the guys the right type of encouragement, and that’s giving them the fuel they need to play with confidence and toughness. I don’t have a problem with the team relying on the three ball, but you have to have a backup plan if that’s not working, and I think the guys are starting to figure that out. I don’t think this team will blow anyone out going forward, but if the shots are falling, they can hang with the top dogs.
OK – on to the B1G…
It’s the Illini vs. the choo choo trains, I mean Boilermakers on Wednesday. As I was reading my News-Gazette sports section last week, I almost did a spit take when former Illini Sean Harrington predicted the Boilers would miss the postseason . But then I did some snooping and found out that this isn’t your daddy’s Purdue team. The household names like Hummel, Jackson, Johnson, and Moore are gone (although DJ Byrd is still around ), and so far this year, the team has fallen at the hands of Bucknell, Oregon State, and Eastern Michigan.
Like this year’s Illini team, previous Purdue teams have lived and died by the three ball. But judging from their stats (4 threes made per game) and Matt Painter’s postgame comments from Saturday, it seems like the Boilers will try to attack the paint on Wednesday.
The Illini’s post defense (and maybe defense overall) has left a little to be desired this year, and the Illini have lost seven straight to the Boilers dating back to 2009, but I’m still giving them the edge in this one.
MY PREDICTION: Illinois 77, Purdue 69
As an aside, I’ll be watching Wednesday’s game on TV, and I’ll be interested to see what the atmosphere is like at Mackey Arena with the Boilers having what appears to be a down year. I’ve been to a men’s game at Mackey once before, and while it wasn’t overwhelmingly loud, the place was rockin’. Like the Assembly Hall, Mackey has in-the-round seating, but the arena itself is smaller and more compact, thus it can seem louder at times than it really is. Imagine if the Assembly Hall lopped off C Section and lowered the ceiling to the top of B Section. That’s Mackey. And since the building is smaller, the boisterous Paint Crew student section stretches all the way up to the nosebleeds, which is an intimidating sight.
OK, enough of my barbershopping. This blog is about you and your predictions. Leave a comment below with your score prediction for Wednesday’s game. Or, if you’d rather keep your prediction private, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Either way, the prediction has to be in by tipoff. You can also throw in some comments, analysis, etc., but keep it clean. Remember – you’re being judged on the following criteria (in order of importance): number of games correctly picked, how accurate you pick the score, and whether you can pick a score exactly right. Click here  for an example of prediction standings. I know so far I’ll be able to give some Indiana game tickets away to the best picker, and I’m hoping to be able to get some other prizes as well. So…get pickin’!
Other random thoughts from my noggin:
- Have you started to pay attention to the Illini women’s basketball team yet? Their upset of #6 and then-unbeaten Georgia  on Friday turned a lot of heads. One thing I’ve enjoyed seeing with the team this year is the amount of players involved with the offense. It’s not just the Karisma Penn show anymore…although ironically, Penn did kind of steal the show vs. Georgia.
If you have the chance, check out the woopsters (women’s hoopsters, get it?) at a game this year. As someone who’s been going to the games for a few years, I can tell you that there’s new life that’s been breathed into the Hall this year. The games are up-tempo and fun to watch.
- If you caught Friday’s edition of SportsTalk  on WDWS, you know Michael Kiser and myself had a spirited discussion about the college football bowl season.
What do you think…too many bowl games? I say no, and if you listen to the above sound clip, you’ll hear why.
- Speaking of DWS, here’s another programming plug. Brian Moline and myself will be behind the mic on Friday for high school hoops – Maroa-Forsyth vs. Unity at 7:30. Be sure to tune in.
COMING UP ON THURSDAY (OR FRIDAY): Purdue thoughts, prediction standings, and Ohio State predictions
[Bollant audio via fightingillini.com, Painter audio via purduesports.com, Mackey photo via purduebball.com]