I think I’ll let Phil Connors do the talking for me on this one…
Indeed, the Illini have fallen into similar ruts in back to back games…with a slow start, a poor defensive effort in the first half, then a poor offensive effort in the second half. This one , of course, stings much more than Wisconsin because it’s your in-state rival…at home…in a game that you’re favored in. So if you’re looking for answers, I don’t have them. That’s kind of the beauty of this blog. It’s called “For The Fans” because, like any other fan, I’m just along for the ride.
Other observations from last night:
- Tough break for Mike Shaw in a game where he was given the opportunity to earn a bigger role. Two early fouls kind of killed his chances, and he ended up with goose eggs in the box score.
- Northwestern can sure run that backdoor cut, can’t they? It’s not rocket science that if you get a whole lot of uncontested high percentage shots, you’ll have good results.
- Remember a couple blogs ago  when I said it’s not in your best interest to constantly boo at a game? Well, we’ll make Jim Burr the one exception to that rule.
- Good to hear Coach Groce tell it like it is when talking about the team’s slump, especially when referring to defense.
No w, I know I’m not the first one to point this out, but with back to back shocking losses, I think it’s worth noting. Last year’s Illini team started the Big Ten season with a bang, highlighted by the upset of Ohio State  at home. After that…the season finished with 12 losses in 14 games…and a mass exodus  by the coaching staff. And this year…the script is looking eerily similar. An upset of Ohio State  at home, now three straight losses…with five of your next six games vs. opponents either ranked or getting votes. With the obvious exception of Meyers Leonard, this squad has the same impact players as last year. So will they repeat history and go down with the Titanic? Or turn it around? The X factor, of course, is the new coaching staff and whether they can motivate the guys in the right ways.
Taking a look at the ever-growing prediction standings…
Funny how this one turned out, as geriatricillini picked the Cats not because he/she thought they were going to win, but because he/she was trying to go 0-18 in picks. Well, sorry dude or dudette, but you got a W…and were the only person to do so. And since most of the rest of you picked double digit Illini victories, the RSDTs were high this time around. The 43 put up by tmh2196 is the highest single game RSDT this year. Overall, walker is in the lead with penniless nipping at his or her heels. We had 40 pickers this game, one person picking for the first time, and we’re up to 62 pickers total. We’ve also heard from some new states – Washington, Nebraska, and California – and I’ve also confirmed at least one former Illini athlete that’s submitted a pick. So that’s cool. And the consensus answer to the question of "Will NU ever be really good/an NCAA Tournament regular?" was no.
Next up…Nebraska…a football school with a basketball problem
The Huskers are similar to Northwestern in that they’re not having the most stellar of years (9-9, 0-5 B1G, averaging 49 points per game in league play)…and they’re also a bit like Illinois in that they’re starting a new era under first year head coach Tim Miles (four new starters and an eight man rotation that features only two players that saw PT last year). The team has been battling injuries as of late, but still managed to hang with Michigan State and Purdue down to the wire. Dylan Talley has been a consistent scorer, despite seeing more time at point guard than shooting guard.
An interesting couple of soundbites from Coach Miles after the team’s loss to Purdue…sort of an “I feel your pain” moment for frustrated Illini fans…
Anyway, as far as a prediction goes, as much as I’d love to continue to pick my alma mater, in the words of Cletus The Slack Jawed Yokel…I can’t, I simply can’t. If you can’t compete with Northwestern at home, how can I expect you to compete with a similar caliber team on the road? And it’s not like history isn’t on my side…’member this game ? I’m nowhere near the top of the prediction standings, so I have nothing to lose and hope the guys prove me wrong.
MY PREDICTION: Nebraska 55, Illinois 50
So what do you think? Leave a prediction and some analysis in a comment below or shoot me an e-mail. If you need some guidance, former Illini Sean Harrington has been doing a good job breaking down the Big Ten  for IlliniHQ this year. You’re also welcome to sound off in the comments after the game is over. I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughts on the team so far, so keep it up. Again, that’s what the blog is all about…you and your opinions.
Want to also give you an update on prizes. Earlier I said we’d name a winner at the end of the month. I’m actually going to push that back until after the Wisconsin game on February 3rd so it’s at the exact halfway point of the Big Ten season. The top picker at that point wins two tickets to the Indiana game on February 7th…as well as tickets to the Illini women’s basketball games on 2/10, 2/18, 2/23, and 2/28. At the end of the Big Ten season, whoever is the top picker wins tickets to next year’s Illini football home opener. The same person can’t win twice though. So now you know what’s at stake…get pickin’!
- Do you know the first website I check each day when I get home from work? No, it’s not kellyclarkson.com, but that's a close second. It’s the YouTube channel for Illini Productions , the video department for Illini Athletics. If you haven’t checked out their work, you should. Their mini-documentary series on Camp Rantoul recently won an Emmy, and they’re currently doing a similar series  on the basketball team. What’s also great about IP is that they’re posting more practice/postgame/press conference interviews, which gives the average fan a way to get firsthand information without sneaking into Ubben (which my brother totally did one time, but Gary Nottingham was cool with it).
- What are everyone’s Superbowl Picks? I’m going Falcons over Pats.
- I don’t like to get caught up in the “heavy” sports stories, so check out the photo at left for a lighter moment from the Lance Armstrong nonsense. Let’s just hope their actual thread count was as high as their advertised thread count.
COMING UP ON WEDNESDAY: Nebraska Thoughts, Prediction Standings, and (gulp) Michigan Predictions
[Groundhog Day photo via IMDB, Groundhog Day audio via moviesoundclips.net, Burr photo via USA Today, Miles audio via Huskers.com, Armstrong photo via CBC]