Feb. 1, 2005
EAST LANSING, Mich. — I was really surprised to hear what Illinois guard Dee Brown said to ESPN reporter Doris Burke after Illinois prevailed 81-68 at Michigan State on Tuesday night to stay undefeated.
Brown claimed that the Illini (22-0, 8-0 Big Ten) wanted to show their doubters that they would win.
Doubters? Who is doubting the Illini? They're the unanimous No. 1 in the polls. Illinois is one of two undefeated teams left in Division I basketball (Boston College remained perfect with Tuesday's home victory over West Virginia).
The Illini have won 22 straight games, the longest streak in the nation, and 18 straight Big Ten games (10 on the road).
|After helping Illinois soar, Dee Brown has declared for the draft (but hasn't hired an agent).|
I understand that coach Bruce Weber is trying to create an us-against-them mentality to motivate his team. But come on, I don't understand the claim that people doubt what this Illinois team has accomplished.
If you can build a 38-point lead against Gonzaga, lead by more than 30 against Wake Forest, dominate against Cincinnati and win in hostile environments like Madison, Wis., and East Lansing, Mich., there is no doubt that you've done your job.
Illinois plays hard and has all the parts to win six straight games in March and cut down the nets at the Final Four in St. Louis. But I wonder whether the Illini can run the table in the regular season. They have eight games left, four at home and four on the road.
Since Indiana went a perfect 32-0 in winning the national championship in 1976, 13 teams have raced out to a 20-0 record in the regular season, but none have won the national title. I feel that Illinois and North Carolina right now are locks to make the Final Four. The other two slots are really up for grabs among programs like Kentucky, Louisville, Oklahoma State, Boston College, Syracuse, Wake Forest and Duke (among others).
Illinois really showed something in the first half against Michigan State, connecting on nine trifectas. It's always nice to trade 3-pointers for two-point baskets, and Michigan State did not do a good job defending the perimeter. Give the Illini credit for converting.
The Illinois backcourt is as good as any in America, and the trio of Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head combined for 54 points against the Spartans. Williams showed his great vision and passing ability. Brown's speed was impressive — he's a lot like Allen Iverson with his quickness in the open court. Head is Mr. Versatile, getting it done on both ends of the court.
The Illini are unselfish and share the basketball. Every player gets involved in the game offensively, making them tough to stop. If Williams, Head or Brown struggle, James Augustine,
Roger Powell or one of the talented reserves steps up and contributes big-time. The Illini take quality shots and make them.
It was impressive to see Illinois make 12 straight shots against a good Michigan State defense. Good passers set up good shooters in the offensive attack.
The defensive effort was outstanding too, producing 12 steals. Illinois forces turnovers and does a good job handling the ball on offense, limiting mistakes.
The pressure on Illinois will continue to mount as the team tries to remain unbeaten. Then comes the postseason, and the Illini may feel they still have something to prove. I guess it's all about the us-against-them mentality. I just don't understand why Illinois feels it has doubters.
Just look at this week's poll, baby! Illinois won in hostile environments the past two Tuesdays, snapping Wisconsin's 38-game home winning streak and then beating a Michigan State team that had been brilliant in East Lansing under coach Tom Izzo. The Spartans were 95-6 at home in their past 101 games at the Breslin Center before Illinois prevailed Tuesday.
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question to Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.