Tate: Let the storm roll in
Question of the day: Is it appropriate for Illini fans to rush the Assembly Hall court if they beat Purdue on Wednesday night?
Colin Cowherd, one of my favorite ESPN voices, joins those who feel these mob scenes are getting out of hand. Speaking from his studio — you might feel different if you were present, Colin — he criticized the outburst after Notre Dame’s five-OT defeat of Louisville (near 1 a.m. in South Bend, that’s reason enough to celebrate). He also questioned the Illini eruption after upsetting Indiana on Thursday.
“It’s an admission the other team is better,” Cowherd said.
Well, does anyone truly doubt that the Hoosiers are better? And Purdue certainly has been. The Boilermakers have beaten Illinois eight straight, and another win would give them two nine-game streaks in the last 18 years. They aren’t very good this year (12-12) but they spanked Illinois 68-61 on Jan. 2 — call it a New Year’s hangover — and have a way of defending that the Illini have yet to master.
As for Indiana, consider: The Hoosiers were brilliant Sunday at Ohio State, and they’re still No. 1 in the AP poll (Duke is No. 1 with the coaches). Indiana led here by 14 early and by 69-59 going into the last four minutes. Tyler Griffey’s layup triggered a perfectly appropriate explosion for despairing fans who had seen their favorites lose 19 of 23 games against Big Ten rivals and four straight at home.
Remember, Colin, these are college students, many of them looking for any reason to be rowdy. Believe me, they had reason last Thursday night.
Changing their ways
Sunday’s 57-53 Illini win at Minnesota was a grinder. Tubby Smith appears to be losing touch with his squad again — they’ve lost 6 of 8 — and were once again hampered by an absent regular: power forward Rodney Williams, bruised shoulder.
It is a team that is offensively inconsistent, and Illinois ignited a 17-4 pre-halftime rally after missing all eight fielders in the first 9:30 and falling behind 13-2 and 26-14. Illinois won because:
(1) With “keep shooting” encouragement from coach John Groce, the Illini were unfazed by another double-digit deficit and, once engaged, competed like bulldogs in the clutch.
(2) D.J. Richardson, co-Big Ten Player of the Week, sank game-changing treys to pull Illinois within 26-22, and the team cashed 11 treys for the first time since the 85-74 win Dec. 8 at Gonzaga. The game reversed itself and the Illini rode in on those 11 three-pointers.
(3) When big Gopher Trevor Mbakwe started having his way on the block, Groce elected to double-team him. This defensive adjustment paid huge dividends, particularly when Mbakwe threw the ball away just prior to Tracy Abrams’ tough three-pointer at :17. Trapping the post worked so well that the Illini might use it again vs. Purdue’s young monster, A.J. Hammons.
— Michigan State shot 87.5 percent in the second half (14 of 16) Jan. 31 and scored on every late possession to defeat Illinois 80-75. Since then, Indiana recorded two field goals in the last 6:45 here, and Minnesota managed just three two-pointers in the last 8:34 Sunday. Silly us ... we keep praising the offensive heroes.
— Wisconsin moved into the Top 25 while Minnesota and Missouri dropped out, leaving the Illini 4-4 against current members of the two major polls.
— The upset surge is rocking all levels. Creighton and Wichita State were once Top 25 members, but Creighton has lost 4 of 7 including Saturday’s home date with Illinois State (75-72), and the Wichita Shockers dropped 3 of 4 including a 64-62 result at struggling (9-15) SIU.
— Four non-seniors are assured of spots in the NBA’s first round and on the five-man Big Ten all-star team: Indiana’s Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, Michigan’s Trey Burke and Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas. Who’ll get the fifth spot ... Tim Hardaway, Keith Appling, Bo Ryan? I’ll take Bo (maybe he’ll turn pro).
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.