As DJ Richardson posed after a big second half three today, I couldn’t help but think he was thinking in the back of his mind, “Take that, critics.”
The reason I say that is because there were rumblings after the Purdue game about some chinks starting to show in the Illini’s armor in the areas of depe nding too much on the three ball and lack of rebounding prowess. Well, today the Illini proved they could win against top competition  without the treys (30% for the game…and at one point in the first half it was at 9%) and also by crashing the boards (Illini outrebounded OSU 40-30). The fast start helped as well, as it gave the orange and blue some breathing room, provided some frustrations for Thad “Cornjerker” Matta , and gave the sellout crowd  something to cheer about. And speaking of the crowd, let’s hope the attendance keeps up with what we saw today. These guys deserve to be playing in front of a full house. And as it always is in the Big Ten, we’ve seen that homecourt advantage will be HUGE this year (see Illinois @ Purdue and Indiana @ Iowa as two examples). Coach Groce touched on that in his postgame comments today…
For this game, we had 43 total pickers and 12 people picking for the first time. The picks were a bit more balanced this time (58% OSU, 42% Illinois) than they were last time  (92% Illinois, 8% Purdue). Looking at just the OSU game, krervin2 came up the big winner, as he/she predicted the Illini to win by the biggest margin, thus taking home the lowest RSDT. On the other end, DQ11 predicted an OSU blowout, so his/her 36 RSDT puts him at the bottom of the list. Overall, we’re up to 51 pickers, with walker in the lead by 2. Mike Goebel and I aren’t doing our company proud, as we’re in the basement of the standings. You’ll notice someone with a 1-1 record is above someone with a 1-0 record. That’s because you’re rewarded for picking as many games as possible.
Next up…those pesky Gophers…
I remember back when Tubby Smith got the job at Minny, I got worried in the back of my mind because I knew he’d have this team rolling faster than many might think. I kept saying, “Watch out…one of these years this team is going to sneak up on all of us and be super good.” And people laughed. So there’s a small part of me that wants Minny to go the Final Four this year so I can say “told ya so.” Either way, I think we can all agree that this is a solid and well coached Gopher team. Their schedule doesn’t impress me, but the results do. Per ESPN, the team rebounds nearly 50 percent of its offensive misses and leads the country in that category. That sound familiar, Illini fans? It should, because up until today, it’s been the O & B’s bugaboo this season.
Side note…was I the only one who was confused as a child as to why the Minnesota cheerleaders had an upside down W on their flag? Anyone? Just me? OK, that’s cool.
Anyway, I think Wednesday’s game will be tougher than today’s game, with the Illini needing a Hulk Hogan bodyslamming Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania Three-type effort to get the W. But the team showed me a lot today, so I’m going out on a limb with this one…
MY PREDICTION: Illinois 74, Minnesota 70
So now it’s your turn again. Give me your score predictions for the Minny game by leaving a comment or e-mailing me (email@example.com ). Need ‘em in by 8 PM Wednesday. Also keep up with the analysis…it’s fun to read.
- Has the Matto Award been retired? We all know that the annual hustle award named for former Illini Matt Heldman  was a staple of the Bruce Weber era. But so far, I haven’t seen any mention of it in the basketball game notes. I understand Coach Groce wanting to carve his niche in the program, but it would have been good to keep the award going to honor Matt’s legacy. Maybe I’m wrong and the Matto points just haven’t been publicized. Let me know if you hear anything.
- Not sure if this tweet  from SI’s Pete Thamel regarding Ron Turner's new staff is meant to be taken seriously. For those who don’t know, Kurt works as the color man on our Illini football broadcasts. I get the privilege of being up in the radio booth during football games, and I can say Kurt is a ton of fun to be around. I’d hate to see him go, but would certainly be happy for him if he does. Coach Turner briefly touched on the matter during his appearance on WDWS’ Saturday Sportsline  today.
- Did you think I’d end the blog without another pro wrestling reference? Check out this mark out moment  from a women’s play by play announcer and leave a comment if you get the reference.
COMING UP ON THURSDAY: Minny Thoughts, Prediction Standings, & Wisconsin Predictions
[Groce audio via Illini Productions, Hogan photo via onlineworldofwrestling.com]