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So, We’re Good, Right? December 17, 2012

I’m voting in a blogger power poll this year. It’s on the Big Ten blog “Delany’s Dozen” (here’s a link to last week’s poll). It’s not really a big deal – just a bunch of nobodies like me (at least I hope they’re nobodies like me) ranking the Big Ten 1-12.

Each blogger takes a turn showing their work. This week it’s my turn. And I have no idea what to say about us.

I do get to show off a little bit. Each week there have been eight votes for Indiana as the #1 team and one vote for Michigan – mine. So, at least for a week, I get to be all “I TOLD you Tom Crean was the reason Michigan >> Indiana”.

But what do I say about Illinois? Where do I rank us? It would feel so great to put Michigan #1 and Illinois #2 in the poll, but do I really believe that? If we played Indiana on a neutral floor tomorrow, they beat us, right? Ohio State too, right?

When I watch a game like tonight’s game, the answer is yes. No chance we could beat Indiana or Ohio State (or Minnesota, or Michigan State) playing like we did tonight. 20 turnovers + 26% from three = 21 point loss to Indiana. No way I can put us anything higher than fourth in this poll, 12-0 or no 12-0.

But we’re 12-0. We beat Butler (by 17) on a neutral floor, and Indiana just lost to Butler on a neutral floor (transitive properties, yo). And we also beat Gonzaga at Gonzaga. You know who didn’t beat Gonzaga at Gonzaga? Lewis and Clark State College. They lost in Spokane by 47 back on November 29th. Oh, and also Kansas State.

OK, let’s get crazy. Say we win our next four games. Missouri, Auburn, at Purdue, Ohio State. We’re probably going 2-2 in those four games, but it’s not inconceivable that we’d win all four – heck, with Ohio State in Champaign, we’ll probably be favored in all four games. If that happens, and if Michigan and Duke have lost by then, you know we’re probably getting votes for #1 at that point, right? 16-0 with wins over two, maybe three (if Missouri is #10 tomorrow) top 10 teams, we’ll have one of the five best resumes in the country.

But it feels INSANE to type that. Because it is insane. Votes for #1? We might only be the 6th best team in our conference. I still think we’ll lose double digit games this season. Votes for #1? Get out of here with your votes for #1.

Hmmmm… there’s a dark side to this. What if we do start 16-0 and climb as high as #4 in the rankings? That could be setting up an epic collapse in this Big Ten. Something crazy like 16-0 start, 5-12 finish. I still think Minnesota beats us twice (Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe will both have 23 and 15 in both games). Michigan beats us twice, too. And I can’t see road wins at Ohio State or Michigan State or even Wisconsin. It’s so easy to look at our Big Ten schedule and find 9 immediate losses.

But that’s crazy, right? I said we had no chance at Gonzaga, and we won by double digits. I just wanted a 2-1 record coming out of Maui, and we won the thing. We’re probably #8 in both polls tomorrow. Why am I looking at a team like that and saying “yeah, 9-9 or 8-10 in the conference”? Maybe we’re actually… really, really good?

I have no idea where I’m going to rank us in this power poll. Gonna sleep on it. And I’ll probably dream of getting a two seed.

A few quick thoughts on the game tonight.

+ We just never make things easy. Since we returned from Hawaii, we’ve played four low-majors at home – Gardner-Webb, Western Carolina, Norfolk State, and Eastern Kentucky. And there hasn’t been a single game that was fully wrapped up by the under-4 timeout in the second half. Tonight was the largest margin of victory (13 points), but even this game was an eight point game at the under-four (with an Eastern Kentucky player coming very close to a steal and an uncontested layup to cut it to six).

So does it matter? Are all of these too-close-for-comfort wins a sign of trouble on the horizon? Or should we simply be encouraged that we’ve found a way to put all of these games away and all high-five each other because we’re 12-0?

(After typing “too close for comfort” above, I came thisclose to writing a Jim J. Bullock joke. You’re welcome, younger people. I’m sorry, older people.)

+ I hope John Groce can discover the Tracy Abrams switch in the next few years. When he turns it on, he’s pretty fantastic. Can get to the rim, can score in a variety of ways, and has even developed the little tear drop. He’ll be a big part of our success in 2013/14 and 2014/15. And, hopefully in 2012/13 too.

But it feels like it will be quite some time before he can perform at that level consistently. He’s had several off games (he was scoreless against Gardner Webb), but then he’ll turn around and score 15 or so with 5 assists. We’ll need him to find some consistency by the Big Ten season.

+ We saw a lot more of what I’ll call our “double bigs” lineup tonight – Egwu and McLovin on the floor at the same time. In the first 11 games of the season, we’ve almost always had a stretch four on the floor – either Griffey or Henry. Nnanna + Sam was never really a lineup we used very much. But tonight, especially in the second half, we played a lot of the DJ-Tracy-BP3-Egwu-McLovin lineup.

And it was highly successful. Especially on the defensive end. Egwu tonight was the shot-blocking 4/5 man we were all hoping to see when he signed. And McLovin altered his fair number of shots as well. I like that lineup a lot. Now if we could just get them to beat our own guards to the rebounds.

bbirkhead December 17th, 2012

I literally thought the exact same thing with the next four games and put in on my Twitter and Facebook. I’m choosing to buy in, not that we are an elite team just yet, but that we are a very good team and we should be competing at a high level in the B1G. Nothing but high hopes. Groce was a tremendous hire.

Steve December 17th, 2012

I’m struggling with this team right now. Not very happy with the last several efforts, feeling like there should be adjustments that we can make to put away some weaker teams and play some more guys and rest BP3 and so on and so forth. But, we’re 12-0 and it feels all Negative Nancy to say so. So, I’m tending to say less. Reading message boards, but not really posting, not sure what to say.
Must be tough for you, Robert. You have this blog thing. You sort of have to post something, don’t you? I mean, seriously, you’re an optimistic fan of the team with the weirdest 12-0 record in the country. In fact, I’m pretty sure that we are the ONLY 12 win team in the country. Why shouldn’t we be all loony, jump up and down, pound your chest proud? 12-0 !! Amazing. Fantastic.
But it doesn’t feel right. The style points are coming in low lately.
But after that cold wet towel right in the lap. let me just say that I am totally pumped for Saturday’s game !! We should have a very serious test and I’m absolutely certain that BP wants that game badly. If he can manage all of that desire and not get all tangled up in his cape, I like our chances. Saturday is going to be a lot of fun.
There, that feels better !

illiniranger December 17th, 2012

there is a line between aggressive and reckless basketball. we cross that line with regularity. that’s why we turn the ball over 20 plus times against an OVC team. we do not treasure the basketball.

ATOillini December 17th, 2012

I shouldn’t do this, but regarding your comment “there’s a dark side to this”, I just can’t forget my senior year…1978-79:
On 1/11/79 Eddie Johnson hits a shot to beat Magic Johnson and #1 Michigan State. We’re 15-0, and if we beat Ohio State two days later (Saturday), we’re going to be ranked #1.
I’m guessing you know how it plays out. OT loss to tOSU. Final ’78-’79 record…19-11. Yes, we finished 4-11.

IlliNYC December 17th, 2012

We’re good–top 20 good, make the sweet sixteen good, be a scary match-up for anyone good–a lot of holes but the team has a toughness about it that we didn’t have last year (or the year before that, or the year before that…)

The best news of all is it appears we found a very good coach.

mlp94595 December 17th, 2012

I also remember the 78-79 team and was thinking about them while reading the blog. We were even up by 8 at half on tOSU at home. Eddie had a chance to put the game away in regulation but didn’t dunk the ball and had his layup blocked instead. It was a young team, though (EJ, Mark Smith, Lanter, Judson, Bresnahan all sophs and Holcomb a junior, if I recall). This team has a lot of seniors.

This year’s team will do well when it shoots the 3 well and not well if they don’t. And for some reason they haven’t shot the 3 well at home. Give our guys credit for playing good D, though.

The turnovers were troubling, but the two guards for EKU were the best on-ball defenders I’ve seen this year (even better than the overrated Aaron Craft). Every time Tracy or BP tried to move, it seemed like the defender was already in front of him. No. 3 for them was incredible. A lot of the turnovers were from the pressure and trying to speed up to make plays. No excuse for a lot of them, and our guys need to learn to play against that kind of pressure.

Illinigrad December 17th, 2012

IIRC the 78 team had some injuries, a player or two lost for the season that really hurt them in BIG play.

Lou-a-villini December 17th, 2012

I’m sure Joe John Gottlieb has a 5-12 finish marked down in ink.

SouthernIllini December 17th, 2012

Hey, give the team some credit last night for beginning to learn. When the shots weren’t falling outside, Groce went with the 2 bigs, and we shot 70% from 2 point range.

This is a team that beats a somewhat down Wisconsin at Wisconsin. They’re senior led and they know exactly what’s in store for them on the road in the B1G.

I like this squad. They’re not that great, but they have ways of finding what works and just repeating it all night long.

illinitrueblue December 18th, 2012

I have no idea what to expect from this team over the next week or two.

We could (a) go 3-0 and make me ecstatic or (b) go 2-1, and make me smile or (c) 1-2 and make me weep or (d) 0-3 and make me stab myself.

OK, I’m gonna go with (e) and say all of the above.

illiniranger December 18th, 2012

i would say there are 10 games we should be favorites in right now looking at our B1G schedule. we won’t win all of those, and we will win some of the games that are tossups or we are not favored in. i say we lose to Mizzou on Sat, beat AU and are at 13-1 going into B1G play. We will probably win 11 B1G games and have 24 wins before the B1G tourney. I think we get into the NCAA somewhere around a 6 seed.

SouthernIllini December 18th, 2012

I think you’re exactly right Illini. I think there will be a confusing loss or two, offset by a marquis win or two during conference play. We get Ohio State, Minnesota, Michigan and Indiana at home this year. I be we win at least one of those games. Add one surprising road win, and we go about 11-7 in the conference. Now, if we can beat Missouri, we could very well be 14-0 going into the conference. That would be 25-7 with wins over Gonzaga, Missou, and 2 of Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan, and Indiana. I’d see at LEAST a 6 and more likely a 4 or 5 seed, depending on B1G tournament results.

The 11-7 finish might scare some people, but the strength of the B1G this year might actually produce a conference champion with a 12-6 record.

LongLiveTheChief98 December 18th, 2012

Call me a cynic, but y’all are way more optimistic than I. I see us being maybe 9-9, or 10-8 at best in the B1G this year. The conference is utterly ferocious this year. And I’ve been burned by being optimistic after good starts before (last year’s 6-0 football start with squeakers over “low-to-mid-majors”, and last year’s 10-0/15-3 hoops start), so call me cautiously middling.
I say we enter conference play 13-1, and go 9-9, for 22-10 going into the B1G tourney. With the depth of the league this year, that’s no problem to get in the big dance, at about a 7 seed.

SouthernIllini December 18th, 2012

I’d take that too, and we’d be a dangerous 7 seed for sure.