Not going to dwell on Wisconsin  much, because (a) we’re two days removed and (b) who really wants to? We’ll just burn the tape, excommunicate Steve Stricker, and move on.
Since this blog is about you, the people, I’m going to highlight a good point that Stumblefoot brought up  in the last blog. The Wisky game, this upcoming game, and the Nebraska game make up a key stretch of games that will help the team reach .500 in the Big Ten (which many consider a benchmark this year for making the Big Dance), not to mention boost their confidence. So you might consider this a critical point in the Illini’s season. Win on Thursday, then win next Tuesday, and you get the train back on the tracks. If you slip up on Thursday, it means serious problems.
As far as picks go, only 10 out of 44 (23%) of you picked Wisky and came up a winner. No one picked a Badger blowout though, so the RSDTs were in the double digits. Looking at the overall standings, walker is back in the lead, with BleedOandB dropping from first to fourth. Penniless has risen from third to second. The other four near the top – illiniphil85, walko, mbelcher, and ReIllini – are still within striking distance. We’re up to 61 pickers overall (20 to go til we hit my goal), and five people picked for the first time this game.
Next up…the purple people eaters of Northwestern…
My first thought when doing research on the Cats was to answer the question…are they missing Drew Crawford? Well, the stats appear to say no, as the team was averaging 67.4 points per game with him…and is now putting up 65.3 points per game without him. However, I would think a leader like Crawford would bring some intangibles to the table as well. Some guys have stepped up in Crawford’s absence…Reggie Hearn and Dave Sobolewski are averaging in double figures and the young gun Tre Demps has shown signs of greatness after a rough start to the year (didn’t hit a three in the first nine games). Like Wisconsin, Northwestern is a low scoring team (three games in the 50s this year, including their most recent). This one might be a race to 70. Not really any high profile wins on their schedule either, and while the Illini are in a stretch of winnable games, the Cats are starting grueling stretch of games against top 25 opponents (Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota). Also interesting to note that the teams have traded wins since 2010 after the Illini had won 19 of the last 20. The Illini lead the all-time series 129-37, by far the best record against any B1G team.
Got some soundbites from the Big Ten coaches teleconference today. Here's John Groce on Northwestern's strengths...
And here's NU coach Bill Carmody on the new-look Illini...
Side note…what are everyone’s thoughts on if or when this Northwestern program will ever get rolling? I don’t know if it’s safe to say they’ve been on the cusp of that elusive first ever NCAA Tournament berth in recent years, but they haven’t been outright awful in that time (every season over .500 since 08-09). I mean…Billy C still has his job, right? I remember an Illini fan telling me this funny little saying a couple years ago…Go to the NIT at Illinois, lose your job. Go to the NIT at NU, get a contract extension. Seriously, though, I know there are Wildcat fans in C-U. Give us some firsthand perspective. You don’t have to predict if you don’t want to, but you totally should.
MY PREDICITON: Illinois 77, Northwestern 65
So it’s once again your turn. Give me your score prediction by tipoff on Thursday…either here or by e-mail. If you haven’t missed a game this year, I would especially encourage you to keep picking, as it’s going to take as much participation as possible to come out on top and win those Indiana tickets. And don’t give up if you’re not near the top, as we’ve seen a lot of movement in the standings recently. Also…if any of you are following the blog from far away parts, let me know. So far, I’ve heard about readers in Missouri, Michigan, Texas, and Florida. And I’d love to see who else is out there. After all, I’m just talkin’ to whoever’s listenin’.
No random thoughts this week…just another shameless programming plug. I’ll be on the DWS airwaves  on Friday night for high school basketball. We’re excited to be featuring Judah Christian and University High…two teams that haven’t been on our airwaves in a long time, if at all. Hope you’ll join us.
COMING UP ON FRIDAY: Northwestern thoughts, predictions standings, and Nebraska predictions
[Stricker photo and coaches audio via BTN]