With apologies to Charles Dickens…
It was the best of
times halves, it was the worst of times halves, it was the age of wisdom rebounding, it was the age of foolishness poor defense and silent stars, it was the epoch of belief another resume win, it was the epoch of incredulity a letdown, it was the season of Light a great tournament seed, it was the season of Darkness an OK tournament seed, it was the spring of hope the first six game B1G win streak since 04-05, it was the winter of despair a win streak snapped, we had everything a win before us, we had nothing a loss before us, we were all going direct to Heaven the Beef House, we were all going direct the other way to Taco Bell. In short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only the Illini let another one slip away.
Back to modern day English now…there must be something in the water up in the state that looks like a hand that makes Illinois teams do an about face in the second half. We saw it earlier vs. MSU  (outscored 53-38), and we saw it yesterday  (outscored 43-27). First half, rebounds were 18-12 Illinois and BP and DJ combined for 16 points. Second half, rebounds were 17-10 UM and BP and DJ were silent (4 points combined, with Brandon not attempting a shot). I know the talk around BP lately has been his role as a facilitator, but he can’t be just that if the team wants to make a run in March. Elsewhere, as much as some of us might dislike Dan Dakich, he pointed out a consistent theme of the Illini’s defense yesterday…which was defenders going to help then leaving a man open, leading to open looks for UM. On the flip side (and this may be too much of a “back in my day” grumpy old man post), I’d like to see an offense every once in a while that isn’t run and gun. Get in a set play and get a quality shot.
After typing that, I feel like I might be being too critical. But at the same time, it’s a matter of hanging on to a lead and closing out a game. Either way, this one is obviously not considered a bad loss, as the result is what the majority were expecting.
As you might expect, Coach Groce highlighted the difference between the two halves after the game.
Taking a look at our pick-em competition...
Illini70 takes top honors this game, as he picked the margin of victory right on the nose. Of the 35 pickers this game, 27 (or 77%) correctly picked UM. Overall, BleedOandB maintains his/her one game lead, and walko maintains his grip on second place and frontrunner to win the end of the season prize. There are eight people who are either one or two games back of second place and are still in the running for the prize. And there are 18 people who have picked every game this year, with records ranging from 11-4 to 3-12...although I think a few picks have been driven by the desire to get the team good karma and not necessarily based on who you all think will win. And there's nothing wrong with that...this is all for fun. We are still holding steady at 83 pickers for the year.
On to Senior Day…
Despite the Huskers being a lower caliber team, I would expect this one to be similar to the Penn State game  and not be a blowout, but see the Illini maintain control throughout. I would assume that Coach Groce has all the Xs and Os figured out by now, but if he did want to throw some different combos out there, this would be the last chance to do it, with two tough road games left on the regular season schedule. Although I’m pretty content right now with how the guys have been used and plugged into different situations, and it seems like the guys have bought in as well (e.g. Griffey embracing his sixth man role). Any changes that you all would like to see?
Some interesting comments on today's Big Ten coaches teleconference. A reporter asked how the coaches are dealing with turnovers. Here's Coach Groce's response...
And a much different response from Nebraska coach Tim Miles...
And a bonus soundbite from Coach Groce on Nebraska's development this year...
Pick-wise, this is another one that doesn’t require a lot of brain racking. The Illini were coming off a loss the first time they played the Huskers  and got a big confidence boosting win. Talent once again prevails and the seniors get one last win at the Hall.
MY PREDICTION: ILLINOIS 73, NEBRASKA 61
Speaking of this senior class, what does everyone think about the legacy the left on the program? Obviously, things aren’t too impressive results-wise with only one NCAA Tournament win  (so far), but you have to remember that there was major strife surrounding the program during the end of the Bruce Weber era, so the guys had to weather that distraction. And I think they did a good job with that, and overall these are a group of high character, charismatic guys who stayed out of trouble. DJ in particular, judging from stories from mutual friends, is a very humble guy who makes good life decisions. On the court, this class certainly produced some individual highlights: Brandon’s 43 point performance  vs. Ohio State, Griffey’s game-winners vs. Gardner-Webb  and Indiana , DJ’s buzzer beater  vs. Hawaii, and others. So overall…not a legendary senior class, but a pretty solid one.
- After attending three events in as many days at the Assembly Hall, I have to give a “real men of genius”-type shoutout to the crew that works through the night to get things ready for the next day. Last week saw a men’s game  on Thursday, a country concert  on Friday (which I give a B-), and a women’s game  on Saturday. That’s a whole lotta work in a short time period, so hats off to those guys. As you might know, the Hall is celebrating its 50th birthday this year, and the News-Gazette has put together some great work on the matter here , here , here , here , and here .
- Speaking of the Hall, U of I students will soon vote on whether to chip in an extra $50 a year each to fund its renovation. That shakes out to about 17% of the total price tag. I attended countless events at the Hall as a student, so I’d have no problem with it. But what about those who don’t? Is it fair to reach into their wallets? This is another topic that I have to stay unbiased on, so I’ll leave that up to you all to decide.
- Great to see that a contract extension is on the way  for Illini soccer coach Janet Rayfield. Even better to see that she wants to end here career at Illinois. I've been working with Janet for several years (currently as the color man for DWS soccer broadcasts), and not only is Janet great to work with, she's arguably the best Xs and Os mind in the game today.
- Our Brian Barnhart  ought to love this one. SLU play by play man Bob Ramsey shuts down a ref who overheard some unflattering comments (see photo above).
- A couple blogs ago  I put the word out for an interview with Illini basketball’s biggest fan Popcorn Kid. I got to talk to him last week and put together this report. Hope you enjoy.
COMING UP ON SATURDAY: Nebraska Thoughts, Standings, & Iowa Predictions
[Groce/Miles audio via BTN, seniors photo via fightingillini.com, SLU audio/photo via JoeSportsFan1 on YouTube]