Friday, January 21, 2005

So Why Don't DePaul and Illinois Ever Play Again?

Thursday was quite the night for Illinois and DePaul. Both played nationally televised games on ESPN. Both won. And both may have reached a crossroads in their seasons.

For the Illini, their 73-68 overtime win over Iowa may have been just what they needed for more reason than just a win over a Big Ten contender. Hopefully, it served as an eye opener, a jolt to help the Illini realize that not everything will be "seashells and balloons," as Al McGuire used to say.

Close games, losses even, can go along way in steeling a team's resolve, and the Illini haven't had reason to show much resolve this season while routinely running opponents off the court and pondering the possibilty of an undefeated season. The most resolve they've had to show was turning down an offer to be featured on ESPN's "The Season," which was a wise and resolute move.

Iowa, however, proved that nothing comes easy.

Additionally, the Hawkeyes exploited what has long been regarded as the Illinis' weakness - their inside game. While the Illini did have a 46-38 rebounding edge and James Augustine did have a career high 14 rebounds, it's clear that the Illini struggle most when the frantic three-headed guard setup of Dee Brown, Luther Head and Deron Williams isn't clicking on all cylinders, which it wasn't last night.

Brown and Williams managed a mere five field goals between them. As a team, the Illini shot just 32.8 percent from the field, including 6-28 on three-pointers.

If not for 25 points from Head, who hit four of the three-pointers, and some home cooking - Illinois was 23-31 from the free throw line to Iowa's 6-12 - the outcome may have been different.

Nobody expects the Illini inside players to dominate, but if this season is to prove to be truly special, they will have to do more to compensate on the night's the usually dominant guards aren't feeling it.

Cold shooting nights are inevitable, and when they ocurr, the likes of Augustine, Roger Powell and Nik Smith will have to be more than bodies.

Meanwhile, DePaul, an 85-72 winner over 25th-ranked Marquette, notched its biggest win of the season since dominating Notre Dame in South Bend. The Blue Demons are quietly replicating last year, when they looked shaky early in the season and got hot after the new year on the way to the second round of the NCAA tourney.

It was nice to see Sammy Mejia lead the way with 26 points after briefly leaving the team last month because he was "going through some things." (Homesickness?)

I noticed this week that the Blue Demons are ranked 37th in the latest RPI. I had no idea they were so high. This bodes well for them as long as they keep winning.

Isn't it about time DePaul and Illinois play one another? Why haven't I seen this in my lifetime?


Lost in the shuffle of the Illinois and DePaul games was Illinois-Chicago's 63-57 over Detroit. At 9-7, and with five wins in a row, the Flames should once again battle for another NCAA bid. "Quietly consistent" adequately sums up Jimmy Collins' program.


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