Just like Taylor Swift remembers when we broke up the first time…just like Skid Row will remember you…just like Michael Jackson remembers the time…I vividly remember the events of December 1st, 2004 . Like every other day, I woke up at 7, had breakfast, showered, threw on my #34 Brian Cook jersey, and was on my way. Then, like siblings often do, I got into a pretty good dust up with my younger brother for what I’m sure was a frivolous reason. He got off scott free. My punishment? Not being allowed to watch the Illinois-Wake Forest game on TV. I was relegated to my room to listen on the radio. Ironically, I now work side by side with the man I listened to  that night. But I’ll never be able to say I saw the Illini’s upset over #1 as it happened…only in replays.
This time…I got to witness the magic from Section B6, Row 4, Seat 5.
Wow…what can you say after that one ? Great fight shown by the guys. IU’s open looks were killing the Illini all night, and ironically it was a wide open look that won it. Keep in mind that was Tyler’s second game winner this year . And although TG will get all the press, major credit goes to DJ Richardson for turning up the defensive pressure down the stretch. Also give credit to Brandon Paul for not retreating into the shadows after being taken out of the starting lineup last game. That shows maturity. Two other stats that stand out…28 Illini points off of 14 IU turnovers…fast break points 8-0 Illinois.
Here's Coach Groce and Tyler talking about the big win...
So how do we feel about the postseason now? One win does not an NCAA Tournament berth make, but the resume wins are piling up…and may offset that fact that the team might not get to 8-10 or 9-9 in the league. I guess we can dare to dream.
Well, let’s compose ourselves and take a look at the prediction standings…
Credit goes to the top nine pickers this game, who either had an intuition or went out on a major limb and picked the Illini. Top spot goes to krervin2 who picked the margin of victory right on the nose. Also kudos to CLBlood, Chris Glazik, and Derek Martin for nice picks on their first go around. For the rest of us though, the RSDTs were higher than we would have liked, as most of us picked a big IU win. We had 47 pickers overall this game (the most for a single game this year), 6 people picking for the first time, and had 84% of pickers choose IU.
Overall, BleedOandB holds on to the top spot as the only picker with a 7-3 record. However, remember that since he/she won our midseason prize, he/she is ineligible for the year end prize. So the top person in the running for that prize right now is walko, who’s the only one at 6-4. We have six folks who are within striking distance at 5-5, with mbelcher and wincer_85 making a big jump in the standings with their correct picks. Looking at some of your analysis…buckhunter2  was correct in predicting a buzzer beater, just didn’t have the right player. CLBlood  was one for two…he/she correctly called a big night for Griffey but missed the mark on a career game for Egwu. Overall, we’re up to 81 pickers, which matches my goal for the season!
Now, on to act two with Minnie soda…
Were the Illini the kiss of death to the Gophers? After the team’s win in Champaign, they lost four straight, lost five of their last seven overall (with the wins coming over lowly Iowa and Nebraska), and in my eyes have dropped out of Big Ten title contention. However, the team is just as dangerous as the last time around, with Trevor Mbakwe not seeming to show many if any effects of that lingering wrist injury. One Gopher who has seen some fluctuation in his offensive production, though, is Rodney Williams, who has had outputs ranging from 2 to 23 points in B1G play. Besides their offensive prowess, this team likes to rebound and block shots. So if you’re an Illini fan, you have to hope for a lights out shooting night to have a chance in this one. Plus, there’s just something about playing at the Barn that rattles you. I’ve been there for a game, and it’s nowhere near a raucous atmosphere (Minnesotans are polite, dontcha know?), but still, the Illini have lost two out of their last three there.
Here's Coach Groce on what he took out of the Illini's first meeting with the Gophers...
Normally I’d go L here, but the momentum from the big win has changed my mind…
MY PREDICTION: Illinois 81, Minnesota 79
One are a that might help the Illini in this one is getting points off turnovers. I caught a little bit of the Minny-MSU game last night, and the Gophers had trouble hanging on to the rock in key times, leading to 19 points off turnovers for the Spartans. And as I mentioned above, points off turnovers was an area where the Illini excelled vs. IU.
So if you’re still with us (which I hope you are), get your pick in either as a comment on this post or by e-mail by 5 PM Sunday.
- A quick point of personal privilege…you all I’m sure have noticed the pro wrestling references on the blog this year. It’s not just for kicks…it’s because I’ve been a lifelong fan. So you’ll imagine my SUPER DUPER INCREDIBLE EXCITEMENT when I got the chance to interview current WWE superstar Wade Barrett (that's him over there) this week, ahead of WWE’s stop in Champaign this weekend.
- Tough break for two of my favorite Olympic hotties…er, I mean athletes. Lindsey Vonn tears up her knee and Champaign’s own Katherine Reutter retires. Best of luck to both in their future endeavors.
- No one wanted to take a stab at guessing the movie quote at the top of the last blog . Maybe you didn’t know…maybe you didn’t want to admit you knew. Either way the answer is BASEketball, a hilarious and raunchy flick that shows you what happens when you create a sport that’s the combination of baseball and basketball. Definitely worth a watch.
COMING UP ON SUNDAY OR MONDAY: IU recap, Standings, & Purdue Preview (hopefully including soundbites from Coach Groce and Coach Painter)
[Groce/Griffey audio via Illini Productions/Fightingillini.com, Barn photo via www.vigilantsports.com, Barrett photo via WWE.com]