The moment of greatest tension came just before tip off, as everyone watched, and waited, for the teevee girl to give the go-ahead. Sheathed in white angora, she held her right hand aloft, signaling to official John Hughes that the Big Ten Network was still at commercial.
Hungrily anticipating a beatdown, 16,000 orange-clad, elderly white people sat on pins and needles, and then stayed awake long enough to watch Illinois jump out to a 21–2 lead over an intramural squad masquerading as Indiana's Hoosiers. Then, everyone went to sleep. On the drive home, they found out from the radio that they'd slept though a 76–45 conquest that wasn't really that close.
Indiana's best player, Devan Dumes, went down in a heap (left) at 13:29 in the first half, with his Hoosiers trailing 19–2. He started the game in the doghouse — rather than on the court — having arrived late to the team bus, then saw just two minutes of action before shredding an ankle. So the crowd didn't even get the excitement of watching Indiana's star player.
On the other hand, the locals saw a fine performance from Verdell Jones III, a 2008 graduate of Champaign Central. Jones moved well with the ball, maintained good body positioning on offense and scored 10 points. His movement without the ball was typical to slightly better than most freshman. But like the rest of the Hoosiers, Jones was incapable of preventing the Illini from getting open shots and making almost all of them.
Indiana both sucked and blew Saturday. They couldn't even make lay-ups. With five minutes remaining in the first half, Indiana freshmen Daniel Moore and Jones combined for a blown fast break opportunity. In a flash, three attempts from zero feet missed. Moore may have been intimidated upon checking into the game by Bruce Weber's insistent cries of "GAYDAR! GAYDAR!" Then again, Weber may have been calling a play named for Florida's mascot.
It's unreasonable to assess the Illini performance against this group of patsies, many of whom are playing their first and last season for Indiana. Yes, Trent Meacham made seven of nine three-pointers, but he stepped into those seven in rhythm, with lots of time. With 14:50 left in the second half, Meacham got overconfident and attempted a three without time to step into his shot. It missed.
Alex Legion continues to take shots before his teammates can position themselves for rebounds. And he continues to miss. His Messianic quality remains the stuff of legend, or perhaps just rumor. Saturday's performance left less credible evidence of divinity than did the Bible. Legion hit one field goal in six tries. His first two free throws used every part of the rim before crawling in. His second pair simply fell off. Naturally, if his shots were going directly through the hoop — as they do with Mike Davis, as they did with Jamar Smith — Legion might indeed appear to be the Second Coming. On the bright side, he continues to look like a more aggressive defender than his billing, collecting two steals and a rebound in 18 minutes.
Mike Davis led Illinois with 27 minutes played. Most of those came, as did all his field goal attempts, in the first half. Davis finished with 12 points on four of seven shooting. He was perfect from charity, and added two steals, a blocked shot and an assist. Dominique Keller also made all four of his foul shots and added three of four treys. As each shot fell, the wizened journalist to my left flogged the dead horse about Keller knowing his role. I wonder how long it took old guys in the Detroit media to stop saying the same thing about Bill Laimbeer.
Mike Tisdale had his best game in a while. He scored only two points, but he blocked four shots and changed others. He was physically assaulted on two plays and failed to cough up the ball both times. The grain of salt with which to season this accolade: He did it against Indiana, a team composed of the kind of slower, shorter, lesser-recruited kids Tisdale dominated in high school.
One bit of analysis that can be taken from this "contest" — an imbalance of officiating may be a problem in conference this year. Ted Hillary, a longtime Big Ten referee, maintained the no-blood-no-foul tradition of league officials. The other two, Hughes and Eugene Crawford Jr., have acquired ACC disease. Lots of feather-touches drew a whistle. It seemed to flummox the Illini. "For real?" read their facial expressions.
THE CASE FOR EFREM
It's a crime that Efrem Winters' two sons had to spend Saturday afternoon sitting below 30 honored jerseys hanging from the Assembly Hall rafters, when non of those jerseys bore the name of their father.
Winters is not only subjectively one of the five greatest Illini ever, he's statistically one of the five greatest Illini ever. He's even nice to old ladies.
But it's subjectivity that really matters. If subjectivity were not important in sports analysis, then why are you reading this column? This box score would ostensibly tell you everything you need to know.
The reason that Jamal (14 years old) and Elliot (21) got to sit under Luther Head's somewhat worthy (of honoring) jersey, Brian Cook's less worthy jersey and Frank Williams's inexplicably present honorific, is that the Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics made a desperate, failed attempt at objectivity when choosing the honorees. Their criteria: "Players selected to have their jerseys hung at the Assembly Hall must have achieved one of the following criteria: 1) National Player of the Year; 2) Enshrined in the National Basketball Hall of Fame; 3) U.S. Olympian; 4) Big Ten Player of the Year; 5) Consensus First- or Second-Team All-American; 6) Illinois All-Century Team Member."
In other words, four of the six categories are left to the predilections of the media (you know, the people who rank Missouri higher than the Illini) and another to a non-scientific fan vote, biased (by method) toward a group of people not actually old enough to really vote. When you ask 15 year-old netizens to name their favorite all-time anything, you will get predominantly current events among your results.
Brian Cook did a lot of the same things Efrem did. They both displayed a great shooting touch from outside. Both collected a lot of rebounds. They played on teams which shared championships with other teams. But Brian Cook looked scared and raw for most of his career. Winters was poised, dominant, The Man.
It's true that Efrem's stats diminished in his later years. That's not because he flatlined, it's because he was joined in the middle by Ken Norman (who was honored). Similarly, Cory Bradford (not honored) gave way to Frank Williams. The fact that Bradford is not on the list shows the media's susceptibility to press releases. After Bradford's exciting freshman season, the Wayne Larrivees and Greg Kelsers of the world were given game day Talking Points highlighting Williams. Later, those memos emphasized Nick Smith's unique height.
The plan on Saturday was to elevate Derek Harper's jersey to the rafters, if Derek could make it to the game. Derek didn't come.
Efrem showed up. Unfortunately, he's not as "qualified."
MY HEROES CAME BACK
The 1984 team would have intimidated even George Orwell. Back in the days when college basketball was good, and the best players stayed for three or four years, these guys pulled off a 15–3 Big Ten season and ended the year ranked sixth in the country after losing by three points to Kentucky in the NCAA tourney (in a game played in Lexington).
Of course, now they're mostly fat old guys. Center "Big George" Montgomery, for example,
is now Enormous George Montgomery. Even ex-beanpole Anthony Welch had a gut on him.
Tony Wysinger is still tiny, though. Corey Wysinger, Tony's son, is even tinier, especially when framed with Dee Maras and Doug Altenberger (left).
Quinn Richardson now looks like a banker, because he's a banker.
Lou and Mary were glowing. They looked better than ever.
LOOKS GOOD IN ORANGE
The smashing Danielle Douglas acquired this lovely jacket at Macy's, in Aurora.
For today's game, she accompanied her uncle ...
Mandi Patrick was the Illini baton twirler for years. She then traveled to Newport, Rhode Island, to find this fantastic orange belt.