Is it too early to say the Illini’s NCAA Tournament hopes are on life support?
To use some coach speak, they’re all must-wins…but last night  was one the Illini REALLY needed to get. You can talk about shooting all you want, but with any team, there will be nights like last night where they’re not falling at the highest clip. So it all goes back to what Coach Groce has been harping on recently…defense. In his postgame press conference, Groce was a little flabbergasted over how the team hasn’t picked up the slack defensively…seeing as though the team’s defensive schemes haven’t changed that much this season. In fact, he was flabbergasted so much, that he decided to send a message by taking Brandon Paul out of the starting lineup last night…
Good move or bad move to bench Paul? I’ll leave that up to all of you to decide. Either way, the Illini were outplayed. Maybe another players only meeting is in order? Even though we media folks are supposed to stay unbiased, it’s no secret that everyone wants to see the team do well. A good team is much more pleasant to cover (and blog about) than a bad team. So here’s to the Illini finding lightning in a bottle in the second half of the Big Ten season.
Normally I’d put prediction standings here, but I took care of that last night . Moving on…
Where to begin with the Hoosiers? In my mind there’s no doubt it’s Illinois’ number one basketball rivalry. Great matchups between Knight and Henson…the Eric Gordon game  (yeah, that’s me over there)…the fact that the series is almost even (84-83 IU)…heck, it even made the cover of Sports Illustrated. Sadly, though, when it  comes to this year’s matchup, I think I could get away with copying and pasting my comments from either the Minnesota  or Michigan  blog. That is…these guys are good. It’s not just the Cody Zeller show, as they’re getting plenty of contributions from a member of the all-name team, Victor Oladipo, and others. They’re tops in the nation in outscoring their opponents and scoring in general. They’ve also made defensive improvements from the start of the season…going from 41% to 37% in field goal defense and from +1.8 to +10.3 in rebounding margin. Plus, they have a guy named Yogi…what’s not to like about that?
Speaking of Yogi, Coach Tom Crean was singing his praises today on the Big Ten Coaches Teleconference.
And here's Coach Groce on prepping for IU...
While we’re on the subject of Crean, what are everyone’s opinions of the dude? His demeanor seems to rub some people the wrong way, but you can’t deny the way he’s turned the program around after the Kevin Sampson debacle. Perhaps it’s a Wes Mantooth-Ron Burgundy-I hate you but I respect you- sort of deal. Either way, I think he’s in it for the long haul, and soon they’ll be taking down Sampson’s banners and putting new ones up.
Prediction-wise, this falls into the same camp as Michigan. Not expected to win…super great if you do. No one in the athletic department should be offended by any of our picks, assuming most of you go along the same lines as me…
MY PREDICTION: Indiana 80, Illinois 62
So now it’s time for you to sound off. It’s another early tipoff on Thursday, so don’t get caught napping and post past the deadline.
- Congrats to wincer_85 , who correctly picked both the winner and margin of victory in the Superbowl. No prize for that one…just bragging rights. What was everyone's favorite commercial ?
- The Illini women’s hoopsters continue to roll…picking up a road win  over Wisconsin yesterday. The team, now in 3rd place in the conference, has won five B1G road games in a row…a first for the program in a single season. You have to go back to 1999, when Lon Kruger’s men’s team went 14-18 and Theresa Gretz’s ladies went 19-12, to find a year when the women made the big dance and the men didn’t. Will we see that again this year???
- I’ve only briefly touched on the Assembly Hall renovation in this blog, but with some new photos coming out, I figured I’d give it a few lines. Unlike other renderings we’ve seen, these appear to be pretty official. And I like what I see. As much as the donors will hate it, the number one priority in my mind is to get as many students as close to the floor as possible…and then showcase those students on TV. It looks like this new plan does that. Per our Loren Tate, look for some movement  on all this in May.
COMING UP ON THURSDAY OR FRIDAY: Indiana Thoughts, Prediction Standings, & Minnesota Predictions
[life support & Yogi audio via MovieClips on YouTube, SI photo via sportsillustrated.com, Groce & Crean sound via BTN, Assembly Hall photo via Re-Assemble Assembly Hall on Facebook]