Everybody relax…it turns out it’s our state, our team after all.
 Yup, that o ne  feels good, and the momentum continues at the right time. That mini first half scoring drought with some missed bunnies probably won’t fly in the Big Dance, but against Northwestern, you can get away with it. Especially if you follow it up with a 10 minute, 26-0 run. Brandon Paul was more of a facilitator in this one (8 points, 5 assists, 6 rebounds), and again, that won’t do you many favors in the postseason, but here, it was a good time to show his versatility. Also good to see the Illini shore up two categories that led to their first loss to the Cats : turnovers (18 last time, 9 this time) and bench points (last time 22-6 Northwestern, this time 22-16 Illinois).
If you’re wondering, the 41 points given up by the Illini is by far the lowest of the season (previous low was 51 vs. Nebraska ). But as far as the all-time record goes? Well, the record book only lists opponent lows in home games, and in that category, the lowest was 34 two times…Savannah State in 2006 and Wisconsin-Green Bay in 1985. The fewest points given up in a home Big Ten game is 37 three times…twice vs.  (you guessed it) Northwestern in 2007 and 2008 and vs. Penn State in 2004. Again, those are home games, so not really comparable to last night. But just throwing them out there for fun.
Prediction-wise, this one turned out very similar to the Purdue game . Most of the 41 pickers (83%) chose the Illini, but most didn’t pick a blowout, so the RSDTs were in the double digits. Interesting to note that for the last Northwestern game, tmh2196 checked in last  with the highest single-game RSDT this year (43). This go around with the Cats, he’s in first and only missed picking the spread by one point. Analysis-wise, pennil ess  was correct in predicting that the bench would be cleared in the final minutes. And wincer_85  called a less than stellar three point shooting night for NU (5 for 27).
Overall, no big changes in the standings. It looks like it will be a two person race between walko and penniless for our end of the season prize, although penniless has some work to do (down by 21). Once again, we held steady at 82 total pickers this week.
Like last time, I got a kick out of everyone’s synonyms for Northwestern: Northsoutheastern, ChildCats, Purple Felines, Kitties, Cats, Kitty Kats, Pussy cats, Weary Cats, Pukey Purple, The court that looks like purple blueberry barf, Carmody’s Comedy, North by Northwestern, Mildcats, Mildkittens, and Wildcan’ts.
Next up…Penn “Can we have Taylor Battle back please?” State…
Not a ton to say about these guys, as they’ve been following the script of PSU teams of the past. No Big Ten wins this year…not a balanced offense (50% of scoring coming from Newbill and Marshall)…not getting to the free throw line at a good clip…foul prone…missing their top player (Frazier) due to injury…etc., etc. Newbill has been hot lately, putting up 18 ppg in his last 8 games, but one person does not a stellar offense make.
Had a chance to watch some of PSU’s game vs. Michigan yesterday, and while I give the Lions credit for hanging with the Wolverines til the end, it doesn’t sway my opinion a whole lot…simply because that’s been the norm this year in the Big Ten. The underdog hangs with the favorite. Sometimes they pull the upset, sometimes they don’t . What is a better indicator in my mind is how those underdogs handle themselves late in the second half. And in this case, PSU didn’t grade out very well. Bad passes, offensive fouls, guys in foul trouble (Newbill included), trouble breaking the UM zone, etc.
Nothing good from Coach Groce on the Big Ten coaches teleconference this week, so I'll just include this one soundbite from PSU Coach Patrick Chambers on the team's recent offensive development.
Interesting to note that the Illini haven’t dominated this series like you might have thought. Illinois leads 24-13 and are 11-5 at home. The O and B had a good streak going from 1993 to 2005 (18-3, with win streaks of five, three, four, and six), but it’s been mixed results since then, with the good guys going 6-7 and losing two of their last three. This series, though, has produced one of the more memorable games in my Illini basketball fandom: the blizzard game on February 1st, 2011 . From trudging through mountainous snow drifts to get the Hall…to being in awe of the low attendance (3,470 – a one fifth full Hall)…to watching fans rush for better seats when it was announced that they could fill the empty ones (see photo at left)…to watching the Orange Krush’s jubilant reaction when it was made known during the game that classes were cancelled the next day…to finding out postgame that Bruce Weber was almost snowed in and didn’t make it to the game…it was a bizarre but memorable night.
Anyway, this is another easy pick. One team is clearly superior. Another low scoring affair results in…
MY PREDICTION: Illinois 69, Penn State 52
I will give kudos to Penn State in one area, though. Coach Chambers seems like a good guy. He’s media savvy and pretty generous  to boot. And if you haven’t heard the story of how he found his calling coach, it is a must read .
As always, predictions are due by tipoff on Thursday. Get crackin'.
Other random thoughts…
- Last blog I wrote about Illini hoops superfan Popcorn Kid. It dawned on me after writing that this kid deserves more exposure. So PK or PK’s family, if you’re reading, e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org ) and we’ll set up an interview.
- Also last blog, I wrote that the higher ups at Northwestern were probably going to stick with the status quo and keep coach Bill Carmody around for another year. Well, not so fast says Chicago sportswriter Teddy Greenstein, who was a part of the DWS pregame show yesterday.
- Deron Williams overweight? A certain high ranking U of I alum thinks so .
- Tubby Smith loses the moustache…and gains some dance moves .
- Back to the first line of this blog, which alluded to Illinois’ “Our State, Our Team” slogan. First of all, some people think it’s cocky, but I have no problem with it. It shows you who’s boss, and I like my athletic department to have a bit of a ‘tude. But the whole thing got me thinking…how do the U of I and Northwestern truly stack up on the playing field? Well, I did the math. These sports are the ones who had series records listed in their media guides, with the numbers accurate at the start of this school year.
Baseball: Illinois 161-86
Men’s Basketball: Illinois 129-37
Football: Illinois 54-46-5
Men’s Gymnastics: Illinois 9-0
Men’s Tennis: Illinois 58-37-2
Wrestling: Illinois 42-32-2
Women’s Basketball: Northwestern 34-32
Women’s Soccer: Illinois 10-3-3
Softball: Northwestern 16-11
Women’s Tennis: Northwestern 44-8
Women’s Volleyball: Illinois 48-27
OVERALL: 562-362-12 (Illinois winning percentage of 60%)
So yes, it really is our state, our team. Barely.
COMING UP ON THURSDAY OR FRIDAY: PSU Thoughts, Standings, & Michigan Predictions
[DJ Photo via @IlliniHoops on Twitter, Newbill photo via gopsusports.com, Groce/Chambers audio via BTN]