In a fair and just world, Illinois would have walked away from last week’s slugfest against Indiana with a W — and with a lot of respect to go along with it considering their less than successful season. Instead, they are among the biggest disappointments in college basketball, dropping ten of their last twelve games, and fast becoming the laughing stock of the league, keeping company with the likes of Northwestern and Penn State.
What’s more is that they not only lost the game, they actually handed it to their archrival, on a platter, with a thank you note attached. Shaun Pruitt is still holed up at Huff Hall, shooting free throws, muttering silly things to himself as he wipes away his tears. And what’s even more is that Chester Frazier — the has-been who never was, the Dee Brown replacement that never developed — set the tone from the beginning with an unsportsmanlike conduct call without a whistle. He should have been teed up the very moment that he plowed into Gordon, or at the least, been warned that this type of behavior is simply inappropriate and intolerable.
None of the things that make college sports better than pro were present at Assembly Hall West on Thursday, and as a result, the Illini are still licking their wounds from a 2OT game, thrown away on poor play and bad attitudes.
As of Monday, Feb. 11, the story involving Illini athletic director Ron Guenther apologizing to Indiana University was still making headlines on the college basketball pages of ESPN, CBSsportsline, Foxsports and SI/CNN. Four full days and the poor behavior of Illini nation, both crowd and team, is still of interest to the country. And it’s not because the story is all that engaging — at least, no more so than your average hiccup. It’s still news because the nation is mourning the loss of one of their favorite powerhouses.
We’ll see how Bruce Weber responds in the next two years, but for now, the Illini are good and well in the fridge at the morgue.
Elsewhere, Purdue has recently become the nation’s Cinderella story, being referred to as the “Baby Boilers” no matter where they pop up. The hype holds merit: With the type of play that they displayed at the Kohl Center in Madison on Saturday, the Tykes of Tippecanoe proved to most everyone that they are capable of hanging with just about any team in the nation. They are too young, at this point, to start speculating a run in the tournament, but they are 19–5 and 10–1 and currently sit alone atop the Big Ten. That’s good enough to lock them in for an at large bid, what with two games left against Northwestern and a game at home against a manageable Minnesota team.
The battle for the Big Ten prize has become a serious horse race, and The Turn happens this week, just before we get to the home stretch in early March: Purdue plays Michigan State, Indiana plays Wisconsin and Michigan State plays both Indiana and Wisconsin. Needless to say, by next week at this time, we’ll know a lot more. My predictions? Below.
Let’s see what’s on tap for this week:
Season’s Record: 112–32
Last Week’s Record: 5–5
Big Ten Record: 44–14
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 12
Michigan State 66
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 13
Ohio State 72
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 14
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 16
Penn State 74
Michigan State 79
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 17
Ohio State 65