Well, if my 0-6 start didn’t ruin my credibility, this one  certainly did.
I thought I wasn’t going out on too big of a limb in picking an Illini victory , but the more I read y’all’s comments, the more I started to doubt myself. Granted, it wasn’t an MSU blowout as many of you were predicting, but either way the Spartans outhustled and outmuscled the O and B…with much of it coming in the second half. And don’t think that the importance of having a hot start applies just to the first half. It applies to the second half too, and when you’re the Illini and you don’t make a field goal for the first six minutes, you put yourself behind the 8 ball. The ESPN announcers picked up on this and mentioned something along the lines of “Well, maybe they can get it done from the free throw line.” Uh, what? If you think you can win a game in the B1G on just free throws alone, you need to get your head examined. And on the subject of shots falling…it’s been said many times that when the shots fall, this Illini team is great. But doesn’t that apply to every team…seeing as though that’s how you measure success in the game of basketball? So are we really saying that Illinois is an average team that gets lucky?
A couple of other observations from tonight…(1) Tough to see Tyler Griffey have another off night. After making that shot early and breaking his 0 for 20 streak, you thought he was ready to bust out. When I’m sitting at games at the Hall, I hear a lot of chatter about Tyler’s ineffectiveness (Doug in B-6, I’m lookin’ at you), but I’m not selling him yet. He puts a ton of effort in on his own in practice, and I’m hoping he finds some magic come B1G Tournament time...or perhaps sooner. (2) I like my athletes to have a little bit of a mean streak in them, and as such, I’m becoming more and more of a Nnanna Egwu fan. He was right in the middle of the barbershopping during the Mizzou game…and tonight when Tracy got tied up with an MSU player who was swinging his elbows a bit too wildly, Nnanna swooped in. In hockey, that’ll get you a second man in penalty…but in basketball, it gets you the respect of your teammates and this blogger.
Another intense postgame moment from Coach Groce (which I'm always a fan of) about his guys emulating the intensity of the MSU players.
Well, as much as I h ate to do this, I think it’s time to look at the bigger picture . There are 10 B1G games left, and the Illini need 7 wins to get to .500 in league play, which many consider a benchmark to get an NCAA Tournament berth. So where are those wins going to come? Penn State and Nebraska at home seem pretty safe. Northwestern and Iowa on the road are winnable, but tough. So if you’re generous and pencil in those wins, that still requires you to pull off a few upsets. Wisconsin and Purdue are your best bets there, but I don’t really have a ton of confidence considering the prior results vs. those two teams. If you can pull out some Houdini magic and upset someone like Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan, or Ohio State, then that helps you out a ton, even if you don’t get to 9-9. But at this point, I’m not sure if I see any of that happening. So Assembly Hall staffers…let’s give Cirque Du Soleil a raincheck this time .
Now to why you’re all here…
The picks were all over the place this game. 78% of you correctly picked an MSU win, but some of the picks were MSU blowouts resulting in a large RSDT…and some of the picks were pretty close, including nndsmom, who had a perfect RSDT on his/her first pick of the year. We had 46 pickers overall this game, including 4 people picking for the first time. We’re up to 76 pickers total, and walko has pulled into a tie for second. And as we approach the final game in the “first half” of our prediction season, there are a total of 12 people who are still in the running to win in the first of our two prize giveaways. We’ll also keep an eye on Mike Goebel’s Superbowl pick .
Next up…those pesky badgers again. This time, they’re in our garden…eatin’ our carrots.
Since the debacle up in Madison , the Badgers have for the most part trended in the same direction as the Illini, going 2-3 with impressive wins over Indiana and Minnesota…but a bad loss to Iowa. That probably works against the Illini’s favor…insomuch as the Badgers are fighting for enough wins to be in a good spot come March…and they’ll pull out all the stops to get those wins. The Badgers also continue to be stout defensively, with a lot of stats working in their favor [these were all valid at the start of the week]: (1) opponents putting up just 55 PPG...that leads the Big Ten and is 8th in the nation (2) leading the nation with 9 turnovers per game (3) fifth in the nation with four three-pointers allowed per game...that’s a stat that directly conflict’s with the Illini’s bread and butter. Jared Berggren is a big part of all this, averaging 6.5 rebounds per game while on pace to break some UW block records. With all the talk from Coach Groce about the Illini shoring up their defensive effort, it’ll be interesting to see if the Illini can match the Badgers punch for punch (or maybe in this case, block for block) in that regard.
Of course, the change in venue comes into play as well. Will homecourt advantage be enough to swing things in the Illini’s favor? If the team gets out to a fast start and gets the crowd into the game, you lean toward answering “yes” to that question. However, considering the Illini’s performance vs. MSU…and all the stats mentioned above…the stars aren’t aligning for the Illini in this one. It hurts to do this, because every loss means the fight to get in the Big Dance gets harder and harder. But, I have to pick with my brain and not my heart.
MY PREDICTION: WISCONSIN 68, ILLINOIS 62
So this is it for those of you in the running for our mid-season prize. One last pick before we tally things up. Get yours in by 2:30 Sunday. This reminder…we’ll continue the picks through the end of the regular season, with the winner at that point getting tickets to the Illini football home opener in the fall. Whoever wins the midseason prize will be ineligible to get that prize, though. So don’t give up now if you’ve come this far!
Also on the topic of looking ahead, I plan to post a mini update on Sunday night with just standings…so that our winner can make arrangements to get his/her prize ASAP. Then on Monday, I’ll post a full update with a preview of the Indiana game, including soundbites from Coach Groce and Coach Crean from the Big Ten Teleconference.
- Have you ever wanted to get a behind the scenes look at Illini sports broadcasts? Then you should follow WDWS’ chief engineer Ed Bond on Twitter . He’s at every football and basketball game and tweets plenty of pictures. Check out the one at left to see what Ed’s pregame snack of choice is.
- A reminder – high schools hoops tomorrow night on WDWS  at 7:30 – Urbana vs. Bloomington. Then a bonus high school hoops broadcast on Saturday, as we bring you the SVC Tournament title game from Parkland College at 6:30.
COMING UP ON SUNDAY: Prediction standings and the naming of our first winner!
COMING UP ON MONDAY: Wisconsin thoughts and a look ahead to Indiana…featuring soundbites from Coach Groce and Coach Crean
[Sparta sound via YouTube, Sparta photo via bellaxthree.wordpress.com, CDS photo via gandeyworldclass.blogspot.com]