Wednesday, February 02, 2005

They're THAT good

When they were 15-0, it was easy to say "They aren't that good". In fact, when you looked at the strength of schedule (I believe it was in the 90s), you were practically drawn to that conclusion.

They aren't that good.

The Big Ten will get to them. After all, no one wins at Wisconsin, and no one (except Wisconsin when the home team gets too cocky) wins at Michigan State.



So wrong.

Illinois played at Wisconsin last week. They played at Michigan State last night. Instead of the home teams showing how tough it is for visitors to win in their respective gyms, it was the visiting team that did the showing off. Suddenly, Illinois sits at 22-0 overall and 8-0 in the Big Ten. The toughest remaining conference games are at Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio State, and at home against Wisconsin. While the odds of Illinois entering the NCAA Tournament with a perfect record are still not great, the odds of going into the Big Ten Tournament with said unbeaten record are much higher than they were last Monday, before they won in Madison.

With Deron Williams, Luther Head, and Dee Brown comprising the best three-guard lineup you can find in Division I, Illinois already has enough weapons to be dangerous. But they're not done on the perimeter. The biggest reason this team is perfect isn't any of the three guards. It's the inside play of Roger Powell and Brian Augustine. With Powell and Augustine both averaging in double figures inside, and the entire team doing a great job of staying out of foul trouble, the Illini have a complete starting five, and it's been nearly impossible to this point for anyone to exploit their overall lack of depth. If Bruce Weber's team gets tripped up at some point along the way, it will probably be because of turnovers and/or foul trouble.

The discipline of their starters and the ballhandling ability of their guards makes it hard to fathom, but anything is possible.

After the Wisconsin game, I said I thought Illinois was the best team I've seen all season. Fans of teams like North Carolina, Duke, Boston College, Wake Forest, and others might make arguments, but no one is as balanced on both ends of the floor as the Illini. And they just won road games at Wisconsin and Michigan State, venues that have been nearly impossible for visiting teams to win at over recent years. For now, that'll work for me.

Meanwhile, the college basketball world is trying to figure out exactly how Boston College has started 19-0 and become the last remaining unbeaten besides Illinois. When there were still four unbeatens standing, the "conventional wisdom" was that BC was the weak sister of the four, and that they'd be the first to lose. The Eagles still have to travel to Seton Hall, Notre Dame, Villanova, and Rutgers, and they still have Syracuse and Pittsburgh scheduled to visit Conte Forum. They'll probably get beat before the Big East Tournament. But they shouldn't be 19-0, and they are. If the one-two punch of Craig Smith and Jared Dudley keeps producing, the Eagles might end up being the best team in the country that no one knows a damn thing about.


Pinhead Nation said...


Your Illinois team has "bounced early from the NCAAs" written all over them. Big Ten is down this year and I could see one of three ACC teams taking them out. Good team, though.

Anonymous said...

You are a pinhead.