As I was talking to folks and carousing the web during the game last night, there was one common word that kept coming up.
Not only was last night  fun to watch, but I’m sure it was fun to play. And it’s always fun when you can snap a long losing streak to a league opponent. Also, it’s fun to get a game that’s not stressful every once in a while. The Illini offense got rolling early in this one and never looked back, grabbing over half of their missed shots and putting up one of their most balanced scoring attacks of the year with eight guys finding the bottom of the net.
And surely I’m not going to talk about last night without posting this…
Lots of talk on Twitter and on the DWS Postgame Show  about the last time an opposing coach was thrown out of an Illini hoops game. Bob Knight was the top name that came up, but News-Gazette Sports Editor Jim Rossow comes through in the clutch and points out this game  from 1997. Know of another? Leave a comment and let me know.
Rather than use a clip of Coach Groce talking about the same ol’ same ol’ in the postgame press conference, I’ll instead bring you this whimsical sounbite where Groce details his Valentine’s Day plans.
Taking a look at the prediction standings...
Railsplitter and illiniearl came up the big winners this go around. Overall, 83% of you correctly picked the Illini, but not many picked an Illini blowout, so the RSDTs were in the double digits. We had 40 pickers this game with no new faces. Overall, we had no change in the top four. Bob Patterson gets out of the basement with his first correct pick of the year, and Bwp 5p has the unfortunate distinction of being the first to reach double digit losses. Overall, we held steady this go around with 82 total pickers.
Had a lot of fun reading everyone's creative ways to refer to Purdue: Boilers, Poopdue, PU, Purdoggiedoo, Boiler boys, Pur, leakie steam pipes, Matt's Methane (coupled with John's Jock), PurWho, PUD, and the always popular Purdon't.
On to round two with Northwestern…
It’s no fun to bring up, but just one month ago , the Cats showed the Illini whose state it was with a beatdown at the Hall…one of the lower points in my time watching Illini hoops. Since then, the Cats have scored a home upset over Minnesota and haven’t done much else. It’s looking like another NIT berth and another “Ok we hit our low standard so we’ll keep Billy C for one more year” type of season in Evanston. What’s worse for them is that two of their starters – Jared Swopshire and Alex Olah went down with injuries over the weekend. We know Swopshire is out for the year, and Olah might be out this Sunday. That means NU will have to go deeper into its bench than it would like, putting in guys that don’t have much experience in league games and who might be outmatched in certain situations. This is just the most recent in a laundry list of injuries and setbacks that the Cats have had to deal with this year.
And of course, with home court advantage being so important in the B1G this year, you have to ask if that comes into play in Sunday’s matchup at Welsh-Ryan. Well, if you’re familiar with the arena, you know the answer is a resounding no. At Welsh-Ryan, there are two colors in the crowd…purple in the lower bowl and the color of the opposing team in the upper bowl. By that I mean opposing team’s fans often invade Welsh Ryan, and the Illini have been the worst (best?) offenders in recent years. Plus (and I’m trying to be nice here), W-R is not much of an arena to begin with. I once went to a game there with some family members who had never been to the arena, and as we made our way to the top row of seats whose surroundings resembled a boiler room, they had looks on their faces like, “Toto, we’re not at the Assembly Hall anymore.” And honestly, I feel for Cats fans. Having a great facility is key to having a great program. Heck, ours here in Champaign is serviceable and we’re still renovating it. But I digress…
Like the Purdue game, I’m not letting the last meeting between these two teams affect my picking. The Illini were down then…they’re up now…NU is an average team…who’s razor thin in depth…homecourt advantage plays no factor…hence…
MY PREDICTION: Illinois 70, Northwestern 53
I will caution you to keep an eye on NU’s backdoor cut that burned the Illini so much last time. And you can also expect another low scoring affair, as NU is a low scoring team in general…and the Illini could be held down by that.
Predictions, as always, are due by tipoff on Sunday. And please continue to let me know if I miss your pick when updating the standings. Picks are coming at me from all angles, and with all the math I’m bound to miss a few. And keep in mind that this blog is designed to be causal and present a fan’s take on things. So if the analysis isn’t hard hitting enough…if you’re lost in the pop culture references…if you’re a grammar freak…then head on over here .
- This is probably one of those “you had to be there” moments, but it’s too cool not to mention. One of the most popular fans at Illini home games is a youngster affectionately known as Popcorn Kid. As the name suggests, he dances to the Assembly Hall tunes with a popcorn bucket on his head. Well, last night, when the camera was trained on his seat, Popcorn Kid was nowhere to be found. Then, I look over at the Orange Krush and not only see the kiddo dancing…but all of the Krushers had popcorn buckets on their heads too. The crowd loved it, and a BIG kudos from me to whoever thought up that idea. It probably made the kid’s year.
- By now most of you have heard of Campus Spirit Revival, the U of I student group that recently surveyed students about a potential new symbol for the university (see one of the choices at left), replacing Chief Illiniwek. I have to be careful about what I say here because my day job has me reporting on this topic in an impartial manner. But, the whole thing is...interesting. The results of the survey aren’t being released due to a procedural hangup, and even when they are, it’ll be up to the U of I administration to make any changes, not the students or the Student Senate. Let’s face it…the Chief isn’t coming back, and a replacement for him will never fly. So let’s just all live our lives and focus on supporting the athletes on the court/field rather than clinging to pipe dreams.
- Want to welcome back one of my colleagues Brian Moline  to the blogosphere. Interesting stuff in his latest update .
- Speaking of interesting stuff, check out this blurb  from Chicago sports guru (and frequent DWS guest) David Schuster on Derrick Rose spurning the hometown media. In his road to recovery, DR had done everything right PR-wise up til now, but this is a misstep.
- Two programming plugs: Tomorrow at 5:10, I’ll be pinch hitting for Steve Kelly on SportsTalk on DWS. Some Illini hoops talk is on tap…we’ll talk high school hoops with the News-Gazette’s Matt Daniels…and will preview the Illini Baseball season with Coach Dan Hartleb. Then later at 7:30, Brian Moline and I have another high school hoops broadcast as Urbana takes on MacArthur. The Tigers have been playing spoiler lately and will surely bring their A game tomorrow night. If you’re out of the immediate listening area, you can hear all this on wdws.com .
COMING UP ON MONDAY: Northwestern thoughts, prediction standings, and Penn State predictions (with soundbites from Coach Groce and Coach Chambers)
[Spongebob photo via stuffpoint.com, Spongebob audio via YouTube, W-R photo via nusports.com, Colonel Kernel via Campus Spirit Revival on Facebook]