In the workplace, a meeting is a way to get paid for sitting and staring. Maybe you get a free lunch too. But in the game of basketball, apparently a meeting…a players-only meeting to be specific…has some tangible results.
In all seriousness though, I can’t emphasize enough how important a fast start is in the Big Ten this year, especially on the road. And that’s exactly what the Illini did last night . Really, they stretched that start into a solid first half and never looked back. The stats don’t lie: rebounds were 40-28 Illinois, while the Illini rebounded around half of their misses…the Huskers didn’t hit a field goal in the final 9 minutes of the first half…several Husker players in foul trouble with low scoring outputs…and, of course, most importantly, a career night from DJ Richardson…
This is exactly what DJ needed after some recent rumblings about his ability to contribute. Let’s hope it carries over to the next one. And overall, from watching the body language of the guys on TV and reading some reports from media members who were at the game, it seemed like the Illini players were really committed to giving a good effort…hustling for loose balls, cheering teammates even when they make a mistake, etc. All good things to see. The only question I have…and I think you can apply this to any team that goes through ups and downs…is why can’t that aura be there night in and night out? Without being with the team every day to know what’s going on behind the scenes, none of us can really ever know.
Other observations from last night:
- I’m a HUGE social media guy (follow DWS on Twitter  and Facebook !), so I was grinning from ear to ear when I saw Tim Miles’ halftime tweet . Apparently that’s a regular thing for him, and I think it’s great that he’s embraced the technology.
- I’ve heard varying opinions on this, but after hearing former Illini Eddie Johnson on BTN commentary for the first time last night, I really enjoyed it. He was very knowledgeable, was funny at the right times, had an appreciation of Big Ten basketball history, and wasn’t over the top. What did you all think?
- More postgame talk from Coach Groce about defense, defense, defense…
Looking at the predictions for just this game, tmh2196 put up the best single game performance so far this year by only missing the Illini margin of victory by two points. If he would have spotted Illinois three more points and the Huskers one more point, then we would have had our first perfect prediction of the year. This comes one game after he put up the highest RSDT of the year . Maybe it was the adrenaline rush ? Also have to give credit to UIBaton8, who predicted DJ’s big night . Overall, we had 46 pickers this game (the most for any one game this year) and eight people picking for the first time (also the most for any one game this year). Picks were slanted about 2-1 in Illinois’ favor, as 63% of you called an Illini victory, compared to 37% who favored the Huskers.
A bit of movement in the overall standings this time around, as illiniphil85 is now on top, with BleedOandB, walko, and penniless nipping at his/her heels. We’re up to 70 total pickers (11 more til my goal!), and included among the guesses were some interesting quirks:
- We had “IlliniGradMom ” and “IlliniGradDad ” make picks back to back, with mom picking the Illini and dad picking the Huskers. Hope dad isn’t sleeping on the couch because of that.
- Only one person, Illini-Phil, gave a Superbowl pick . Unfortunately, it’ll be a losing one, as the Patriots didn’t make it. I’m in the same boat, as I picked Atlanta to win it all. Oh well…
- Openmind is predicting  a 19-14 record and a first round NIT loss. We’ll keep tabs on that just for fun.
- 74illini is looking at  a 7-11 or 8-10 B1G record. We’ll keep tabs on that one too.
- Sunnyd503’s musical reference  was good for a chuckle.
- Speaking of chuckles, I liked everyone’s unique way to refer to the Huskers: corndogs, red, cornjerkers, corney, cornshuckers, big red, cornlovers, the other guys, cornhuskers, and corn people.
- Basketball junkie1123 called for Coach Groce to resign  after the game. No comment on that one.
Next up…the Goliath to our David…the Michigan Wolverines
What else can you really say about these guys except that they’re darn good? If you exclude their loss to Ohio State, the team is averaging just shy of 84 points per game in Big Ten play…with an average margin of victory of just under 20 points. And honestly, that Ohio State loss doesn’t lessen my opinion of this UM team one bit…simply due to the fact that homecourt advantage really is that big this year in the Big Ten. Play that game on a neutral court, and Michigan wins.
The play of Trey Burke speaks for itself, but the team also goes 10 deep, getting contributions from all six of their freshmen. Unless the Illini defense does a 180, I’m not sure how this UM offense can be stopped. I would say that maybe a few calls in the Illini’s favor would help the cause, but Michigan barely fouls at all to begin with (11.6 per game before the Minnesota game, which led the nation)…not to mention the fact that the Illini’s free throw shooting has left a little to be desired (71% heading into the Nebraska game, which is not bad at all, but you have to make ‘em when they matter).
My confidence has risen a bit after last night, but UM is just too darn good for me to pick the home team. Don’t take it personally guys.
Interesting tidbit from the UM game notes…their team slogan this year is “We On” which stands for “When Everyone Operates N’Sync” So you chose to reference a 90s boy band rather than just saying “in sync”? Orange Krush…I hope you’re reading this.
So you what say you, Illini nation? Leave your score prediction and analysis in a comment below or email me by 5 PM Sunday. More importantly, make plans to head out to the Hall on Sunday if you can get your hands on a ticket. After two hot crowds for OSU and Minnesota, things dropped off a bit for Northwestern. And the good guys will need all the help they can get on Sunday.
Other off-topic nuggets…
- ‘Member a couple blogs ago  when I brought up the whole Steve Stricker in a Wisconsin hat? One of Strick’s colleagues, Illini golf coach Mike Small, kinda sorta called him out on it on Monday’s edition  of the News-Gazette Sports Page on WDWS. You tell ‘em Small-y!
- Speaking of DWS, you’ll want to put us on your radio dial favorites for the next few months if you’re a college basketball fan. We have the perk of being able to carry games other than the Illini’s, and we’re taking full advantage of it this month with 20 bonus games. In fact, there’s not a day in January where there’s not a sports game broadcast on the DWS schedule. Give credit to fellow HQ blogger Brian Moline  for setting up that schedule. Also, if you ever wonder what games are on tap, head here .
- Another blog flashback – to the one where I thought that the Matto Award might be retired . A little detective work proved my hunch wrong. Listen to this clip from the latest episode of the TNT documentary series revolving around this year’s team…
So the Matto Award lives, but it’s not being publicized. I guess we can live with that. Sure was fun, at least for me, to follow along week to week, though.
- As far as commercials featuring Big Ten coaches go, this one  is giving this one  a run for its money for the top spot. What are some of your favorite sports commercials?
COMING UP ON MONDAY: Michigan Thoughts, Prediction Standings, & Michigan State Thoughts (including audio from Coach Groce and Coach Izzo)
[Do Not Disturb photo via victorystore.com, N’SYNC photo via amazon.com, Matto audio via Illini Productions]