Sometimes you’re the Monstars. Sometimes you’re the Toon Squad who forgets to drink MJ’s Secret Stuff. It’s just the facts of life.
What I’m trying to say is…sure the loss hurts , but let’s not pretend that we’re shocked. As I was sitting at the game yesterday…watching UM get rebound after rebound, easy shot after easy shot…all I could do was sit back and say “Man, these guys are good.” Give the Illini credit…they had their bright spots. But anytime the good guys got on a run, the visitors would do the same. There’s no need for any of us to dwell on this one.
Interesting sequence in the postgame press conference. Coach Groce brings up the dreaded “m phrase” – mental toughness – then a couple minutes later, Nnanna Egwu addresses that very area.
Tmh2196 brought up a point  on the last blog about empty seats at the Hall. Yes, there were some empty A section seats last night, but the Hall was pretty full overall. What’s the explanation for the empty seats? Don’t really know. Folks could have been scared away by the weather forecast...they might have not been able to sell or didn’t made an effort to sell their tickets…maybe they just didn’t want to see a Wolverine butt kickin’. In the end, you can’t force people to show up. The one magic ingredient is sustained success. Have a year like 04-05, and attendance will be up, simply for excitement’s sake. There is one new variable in all this…and that’s the new tickets with bar codes, which means the athletic department can track who’s not showing up. So perhaps a friendly phone call will persuade some people.
Looking at our prediction contest, we hit a bit of a milestone this go around, as we had three people – stumblefoot, ehsfan, and yours truly – get a perfect RSTD. That is, those three picked UM to win by the exact amount that they actually did (14). And not to gloat, but I was just a couple points off from a perfect prediction. Too bad I’m not eligible for prizes. This game also saw the three people who had picked every game wrong – Bwp 5P, Marcus Jackson, and myself – get their first correct pick of the year. We had 46 pickers this game (tied for the most pickers for one game this year), two people picking for the first time this year, and had about a 3-1 split of people picking Michigan to Illinois
Overall, there was no change in the top five. While it may appear to be a four person race – illiniphil85, BleedOandB, walko, and penniless – there’s also a group of folks with a 3-4 record that could easily vault to the top. Overall we’re up to 72 pickers…9 more til we hit my goal, so tell your friends and neighbors!
Now let’s take a cruise on I-96 to East Lansing….
Well, in a year where the Spartans weren’t getting a ton of hype, guess where you find them? Right near the top of the Big Ten standings. It shouldn’t surprise you, because Coach Izzo is one of those guys who makes the most out of his roster, no matter what the talent level. I’ll even take it a step further…when all is said and done, I think Izzo will not only be a hall of famer, but be a part of that elite, count-on-one-hand list of coaches. Remember…this is the guy who turned down a chance to coach LeBron James in 2010. And the guy who’s gone to 6 of the last 14 Final Fours.
I had a chance to catch a little bit of the MSU-IU game yesterday, and I’ll give credit to the Spartans for hanging with the home team til the end in what’s considered a very tough place to play. MSU also got a lot of good looks in the paint, so this upcoming matchup is going to be another one where the Illini big men will need to step up. Although, I will admit it’s a very tough task down there amongst the trees…when you have to be aggressive, but not to a level where you get in foul trouble. One of the many reasons that being a center is a tough job, no matter what the level of competition.
Also had a chance to catch the Big Ten coaches teleconference today. Here's Coach Groce on keeping the team's confidence up in this tough stretch.
And here's Coach Izzo talking about what he's looking to get out of his team in this next stretch of games.
Another soundbite for you…from former Illini Sean Harrington, who checked in to SportsTalk with Steve Kelly  last week to talk about the Illini’s tough stretch of games ahead.
So if you buy Sean’s logic (which I do), you’d have to think that the next two…MSU and Wisconsin…are your best bets to get those two wins.
Side note…I’ve been to the Breslin Center once, and it really left a good impression on me. A couple logistical things were planned very well. One, for women’s games, the drape a giant curtain over the upper deck so there’s no unsightly empty seats seen on TV or in photos. Two, the Izzone student section rings around the entire court. So not only are they as close to the action as possible, but the seating arrangement is an intimidating sight on TV. It makes the student section look huge because no matter what camera angle you use, there are always students in it. Now I know what you’re thinking…Tim…where do the rich donors sit? Well, they have a section of courtside seats too. But it’s not on the side that the midcourt camera shoots. So it doesn’t stand out that much. The Assembly Hall renovators should check out Breslin as a model, IMO.
Prediction-wise, this is another tough one. As I previously mentioned, Breslin is a tough place to play, and we’ve seen how big home court advantage is this year in the B1G. On the other hand, if you take away the three game losing streak, the Illini have bounced back after every “L” this year. I’ll go out on a limb with this one…
MY PREDICTION: Illinois 66, MSU 61
So now it’s your turn. Get your pick in by 6 PM Thursday. We have just two games left until we give away those Indiana tickets, so if you haven’t missed a game yet, you have to keep going if you want a chance of winning.
Some other notes…
- Back to that MSU-IU game for a sec…for (at least) the third year in a row, Tom Crean didn’t get the memo that suits and sneakers does not equal jumpsuit and sneakers. I’m trying really hard to like you Tommy Boy, but stuff like that, coupled with faux postgame handshakes and postgame comments like “I don’t think we deserved to lose.” really make it hard.
- Tough break for Illini woopster Kersten Magrum . I don’t know if I’ve seen a program more snakebitten by injuries, transfers, etc. in recent years than the Illini women’s squad. This team still has an outside shot of making the dance…it’ll just be that much harder now. Don’t give up on them yet.
- Ed Hochuli is the man...
- Another high school hoops programming plug – Brian Moline and myself have the call on WDWS  on Friday of Urbana vs. Bloomington. Tune in at 7:30…and an angel gets its wings.
COMING UP ON THURSDAY OR FRIDAY: MSU Thoughts, Updated Standings, and Wisconsin Predictions
[Space Jam photo via saintwoods.com, Space Jam audio via YouTube, Groce audio via Illini Productions, Final Four photo via msuspartans.com, Groce/Izzo audio via BTN, Breslin photo via cbssports.com, Crean photo via BTN, Hochuli audio via NBC]