It’s always a good feeling to beat up on Indiana, even if the Hoosiers are having a down year. What was even better about the 70-58 Illinois victory yesterday over Indiana was that this was the most complete and consistent game that the Illini have played in quite a while. Although the margin of victory doesn’t indicate a blowout, Illinois dominated the entire game and didn’t have any lapse where the Hoosiers could start a run.
Plus, the Illini big men stepped up with perimeter shooter Jamar Smith out serving a suspension for an undisclosed indiscretion and the rest of the team shooting only 3 of 17 from three-point range. With James Augustine leading the charge, Illinois scored 40 points in the paint. That’s something we need to see more of for the home stretch of the regular season and into the NCAA Tournament. We actually have a size advantage on most teams this year (in contrast to our guard-laden team last season), so we’ve got to capitalize on all of the mismatches in our favor down low every game.
The Big Ten race continues to be wild, as pointed out by Skip Myslenski of the Chicago Tribune, and the coaching situation caused by Mike Davis’ decision to resign from Indiana at the conclusion of the season is adding the proverbial fuel to the fire. Considering some of the names being thrown around by Indiana fans as head coaching candidates, it seems as though Hoosier basketball fans are as delusional as Notre Dame football fans. I’ve already said that Steve Alford would be nuts to take the job, but Thad Matta of Ohio State??? Matta has one of the greatest recruiting classes in the history of college basketball coming to Columbus next season. Of course, there’s a segment of the wacky Indiana fan base that probably truly believes that Matta would jump at the chance to move to Bloomington and bring in Phil Jackson and Pat Riley as his assistant coaches. To Hoosier fans: get over yourselves – your glory years ended two decades ago, so your rich history will only go so far in attracting the best coaches and players today.
Enough with the past of Indiana; let’s look at the present and future of Big Ten basketball with Illinois. All games until the end of the season are going to be big with such a close conference race, but this is going to be a pivotal week in particular for the Fighting Illini. The Super Tuesday game at Michigan is a must-win for both teams – for Illinois in order to keep pace for a shot at the Big Ten title and for Michigan to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Muck Fichigan is going to come in fire-up in front of their home crowd, so this is a dangerous game for the Illini. If we can get past the Wolverines, that would set up a showdown for first place with Iowa at the Assembly Hall on Saturday for the biggest game of the regular season to date. With only two more games after that (tough road games at Minnesota and Michigan), whether Illinois can win its third straight Big Ten championship is likely going to be decided this week.