Back from vacation, having recovered from my college basketball illness in time to have watch most of the Sweet 16 games down to last night’s final. And the title of the post says it well. Duke and Coach K get too many calls. They just do. Yes, their guys made plays and shots when needed. Yes, they run an offense designed to open driving lanes and draw contact. Yes, they were lucky the Badgers were worn down from the Kentucky game.
However, if you look at last night’s championship, you’ll note a very key point in the game, with Wisconsin playing well and up by about 7-8 at around the 15 minute mark of the second half. Suddenly, the refs find their whistles. The same thing happened against Michigan State and Gonzaga. Four fouls in a row. Every bump is a foul. A Duke player jumps into the defender it’s a foul. Duke charges are instead blocks on the other team, etc. On the other end, Duke hand-checked with abandon and it wasn’t called. Maybe the refs can only take so much of Coach K’s voice and at some point they just capitulate and start making those calls.
No one was more surprised or annoyed than Wisconsin coach, Bo Ryan. As he told reporters after the game, and as he’s said many times, “We just don’t foul.” It’s pretty much true. The Badger haven’t been whistled for many fouls this year or in recent years with Ryan as the coach. It’s how they play and also testament to Bo Ryan’s own sideline presence. So it must have been pretty disheartening to see Duke in the double-bonus with so much time left.
As an Illini fan, I truly didn’t like the thought of Wisconsin winning a title. It just doesn’t seem right. But as a basketball fan I was really pulling for the Badgers down the stretch. A big part of it was the officiating. Too much. And that’s a shame.
7, 31, and 10.4… 7 of course being the current Illini hoops losing streak, the worst in years. Last night the Orange and Blue got down big to loathsome Iowa – 21 down in fact in the first half. Texted my brother that they looked football-team bad. Now that’s saying something… People where booing in the
Hall State Farm Center, which not only ticked off Coach Groce (and yours truly), it seemed to trigger something.
Illinois started playing hard and making some shots, and they roared back. Went to halftime only down four. The Illini actually took the lead and built it to five in the second half, but then Iowa countered. And the emotional toll of such a big comeback as well as the now familiar lack of execution in the final 3-4 minutes yielded another defeat. There were plays to be made at the end, and Illinois couldn’t make them. Egwu couldn’t quite catch the ball on an in-bounds right in front of the basket (would’ve been a dunk). Abrams’ contact drawing-drives drew no fouls, while on the other end Marble’s drives (even with no contact) got the whistle. Classic Big 10 Refs. Jon Ekey airmailed an open three (he was cramping up from too many minutes). And down we go. Again. Continue reading
The Fighting Illini basketball team have almost no margin for error. We’ve seen that the last two games. With Rayvonte Rice nursing an injury and far from himself, Illinois managed to drop two they should have won – two games they needed to win against Northwestern and Purdue. Most likely, those two losses have sunk any NCAA tourney aspirations.
So now Michigan State comes to town, looking like the top team in the conference (7:00, BTN). They’re very tough as usual, but they too, have some injuries. It’s a home game, and Coach Groce says Rice is nearly 100%, so we’re saying there’s a chance… And the Illini better take it. Road games against good teams are on the horizon.
To beat the Spartans, a couple of things need to happen: Ray Rice needs to be himself again and drop in about 20 or so. Tracy Abrams needs a strong game offensively and he must avoid turnovers at key points. Egwu needs to snap out of it and provide something on offense (which means he has to play and avoid foul trouble). And someone – Ekey, Hill, Nunn, Bertrand – needs to hit some timely 3s. As we said – little to no margin for error. Steal a win and keep those slim post-season hopes afloat.
We admit it’s a lot to ask. We realize it’s unlikely. All the same – go Illini!
For the Fighting Illini, it started on Friday, when we learned one key recruit who had previously committed to Coach John Groce’s team changed his mind and decided to go with his hometown school. It continued in Chicago later that day, where a future NBA player and prodigious talent (and potential program changing guy) decided to pad the numbers at Kansas when many (including us) thought he was an Illini lean. Bill Self and Jerrance Howard haunt us again. The less said about that the better. As usual, Robert at A Lion Eye/Illiniboard summed it up best.
Saturday, our first and only family outing to a football game at Memorial Stadium, and the Buckeyes were in town. Why would we choose that game as our family outing? Simple, really – extended family from Columbus were in town as well as my sister up from Texas. The final score of that game 60-35 Ohio State. And the game was on ESPN, which means they talked about our conference losing streak about 62 more times.
Sunday we learned the Illini hoops game against Bradley was not on TV. It was on the Big Ten Network’s Digital-only internet feed (a pay service). Why was this game not on local TV? People care about watching two downstate schools play? When the Big Ten Network went live, they assured us these types of things would no longer happen – games would be broadcast on their overflow channels. Why, Mike Thomas? And we see another game in December has likewise been relegated to the internet. Not cool. To make matters worse, driving back from St. Louis during the first half, and I couldn’t find the game on AM radio after losing the St. Louis station. What? No Illini hoops on local radio between Greenville and Divernon on I55? When did this happen.
Silver linings, though. Turns out, the Taylorville/Pana FM station was carrying the game once I checked. Still pretty mad about the TV situation. Continue reading
Well, the Big 10 Conference (B1G for you noobs) has added Maryland and Rutgers. Welcome, Turtles and New Jersey-ites…
Does anyone like this move? Is anyone excited? We can’t really find them. Maryland fans don’t want to leave their regional ACC rivalries, but they understand why it’s a good move financially. They’re broke after all and had to cut seven sports last year. This is basically what ESPN talking head and Maryland alum Scott Van Pelt said on the radio: “don’t like it; understand it.” Are you looking forward to that sub-500 Illini-Turtles football clash? I know I am (we might be able to actually, you know, beat them).
Rutgers opinions are pretty similar. They understand the financials and certainly understand the tenuous situation of the Big East. On the other hand, they’re worried about winning games in football and basketball, and who can blame them. Rutgers has been a lot better in football the last several years, but the Big East has also been substantially weakened. It will be an uphill battle to bowl eligibility for them. In basketball, well, good luck there. Continue reading
…or, like Wile E. Coyote, have they already gone over the cliff but have yet to realize it? Since our last entry on the topic, Bruce Weber’s Illini have dropped three straight. Three straight close games, two of which came down to the final play of regulation and included some pretty terrible calls by the officials. But that’s three losses, which drops them out of any aspirations for the conference title and begins to put NCAA tourney hopes on thin ice. Realistically you wanted to win two out of the last three if you’re for real.
But these Illini are what they are – a pretty tough defensive team (though not elite) prone to long futile offensive lapses. They have some good athletes and good role-players, but at certain positions lack enough skill or talent to put them into contention for the Big 10 and deep tourney runs. This has been the case for the majority of Bruce Weber’s tenure. According to Illini beat writer Paul Klee, in the years AD (After Dee) the Illini are .500 in conference play: 48-48.
That’s not good enough for Illini fans.
My brother (sometimes known as the Rube) posted a couple of long rants on the last blog entry. They are quite entertaining and offer a good deal of insight. The Rube was a member of the Rebounders’ Club for years until quite recently, attended practices and interacted with players and coaches more than most fans. He opines what most of us believe: Coach Weber works as hard as any coach in the nation, runs a clean program, cares for his players intensely, and is a good and decent man. But his teams have not executed well enough and won enough. After several long and heated discussions, here are our three main points: Continue reading
Every so often, Illini fans get the home football-basketball double-header. It’s a chance to see both major sports on campus, but as memory serves, the results never quite seem to go according to script. So it was Saturday, as the football team still seemed dazed and staggered by the metaphorical kick in the nuts that was the Michigan game. The Zooker’s boys made lots of mistakes, missed lots of tackles, had some crap luck, and let an inferior Minnesota team hang around and sneak by them in the final minute. Final score, 38-34, and lots of questions about the leadership and heart of a team that seemed destined for a decent bowl less than two weeks ago.
A few hours later, Bruce Weber squared off against his former employer and former assistant in the form of the SIU Salukis, coached by Chris Lowery. This was supposed to be the first physical test for the Illini, as SIU has a couple of strong post players, but Demetri McCamey dominated the tempo and the offense, and Illinois proved to skillful and athletic for the dawgs. In Beemsville, we have a soft spot for SIU and will root for them in every other game they play, but undergrad loyalty trumps grad school loyalty. It was good to see the Orange & Blue play with poise and intensity en route to an 85-63 win.
A nice result for the basketball team that doesn’t really make up for the horrible disappointment of the football team. Five points in a dual-sport pentagram…