A few thoughts on the 72-64 Illinois loss to Michigan last night:
1) Michigan Needed It and Wanted It More – I was worried that Michigan would come into the game more fired up than the Illini since they were playing for their NCAA Tournament lives and that proved to be correct. The Wolverines played with a sense of urgency while we looked like we were looking past this game toward Saturday’s tilt against Iowa. The way the Big Ten season has played out, no one can take any game for granted, especially on the road. Coach Bruce Weber had this to say about his team’s performance: “I told them after the game that we haven’t grown as a team. And we have to grow pretty soon or the season’s going to be history.” Ouch! That’s true, though.
2) Opponents Continue to Rain Threes – After shutting down Indiana on Sunday, Illinois reverted back to its disturbing trend of allowing its opponents to get hot behind the three-point arc. Last night, it was Daniel Horton’s turn to have the game of his life with 39 points and going 5-for-7 from three-point range. The Illini strength from the first part of the season on holding down opponents’ field goal percentage has taken a serious hit in the last 5 games. This team needs to get back to form on its perimeter defense now.
3) Big Ten Title Still in Reach for the Illini – I almost wish that last night’s loss was truly the death knell for our chances of winning the Big Ten title so I can stop worrying about it and just concentrate how we’ll perform in March. However, despite Illinois’ best efforts to give away the championship, we’re still more than alive.
The Illini have a tough final stretch of the regular season with Iowa at home, at Minnesota, and finishing at Michigan State. If we can win those three games (and that’s a substantial but not implausible “if”), consider the schedules of the teams ahead of us in the standings. Iowa will need to play us at the Assembly Hall, so if we beat them, the Hawkeyes are back in a tie with us. Wisconsin has to play at Michigan State and then at Iowa to finish the season (not to mention a trap game tomorrow night at Northwestern). Ohio State has a road game tonight at Michigan State and then a home game against Michigan this weekend.
If there’s one thing we know about the Big Ten, it’s that no team has proven that it is unstoppable. There’s a better than even chance that all three of the teams ahead of us are going to drop one more game before the end of the season. We just need to take care of our own business in the meantime.