1. Bruce Weber's "prepararation coaching" was the central key to victory. The Illini were INCREDIBLY well-prepared for Mizzou's relentless "40 minutes of hell!" pressure. They moved the ball so easily up the court for most of the game that Mizzou may have been wise to let up on the pressure....but of course, that's not their philosophy or style. I do give the Tigers credit for flustering Illinois on the last two in-bounds of the game, and nearly stealing the victory from us.
2. Bruce Weber's personal will to win and energy, combined with a raucous Illini crowd, were the second and third keys to victory. Did you see Bruce on the sidelines during the second half? He was an absolute MANIAC over there! Man, he was coaching so hard that you could almost see veins popping out of his neck. Kudos to the fans, too, of course. You could clearly tell that the Orange Krush spirit was alive and well in the Scott Trade Center.
3. The high energy level and effort of the Illini players was the fourth key to victory. Give the team some credit-- they gave it everything they had last night. Did you see Warren Carter on the sidelines when he couldn't come back in due to his ankle sprain? He was so full of energy and frustration that he looked like he was in tears! I actually think, in his own way, WC is becoming a true team leader, if not THE team leader. That is something else, considering his past history of having nothing if not a "laid back" attitude. Anyways, enough of the keys to victory. Overall, a great game that only added to the already proud tradition of that series. Can't wait till next year. Now, on to the other 7 thoughts...
4. I watched the game on television, with the volume turned down. It was too difficult for me to watch Bardo strain to ensure he appeared impartial. We all know better! I have no doubt he did a good job during the game for ESPN, but I decided to press the mute button on the television, and to turn my surround sound to AM 1400 WDWS to listen to Barnhart and Hester call the game. I usually don't employ this method, because normally the television satellite feed is not action-synched with the WDWS radio feed. Usually, the radio action is about 2 seconds ahead of the television action, so it's annoying to watch. For some reason, last night, the television action was only about a quarter of a second behind the radio action-- this made it okay to employ the "muted television with radio audio" method. Whew! I know that explanation probably seems overly in depth, but it is leading to this very interesting question-- would it be possible to hound WDWS to ALWAYS ensure their radio feed is synched with the television action, so that Illini fans can watch the games while listening to the biased views of the WDWS crew, instead of having to listen to the ESPN crews? I would especially enjoy muting DUKE VITALE, and the rest of the ACC-biased ESPN stable of color analysts. (Once again, Bardo is not meant to be lumped in with them; I'm sure he did a solid job last night) It makes the game SO MUCH BETTER! Barnhart and Hester had ALL KINDS of inside information that made the game very enjoyable to watch and listen to. One example-- Barnhart informed us during the last minute of the game that Weber and the Illini had SPECIFICALLY, and EXTENSIVELY, practiced the scenario of having no timeouts and having to do multiple last minute in-bounds plays. Anyways, it'd be cool if WDWS could do that on a regular basis, and not just occasionally by accident. I think the technology exists to put in a timed delay, right? Oh well, anybody else agree with me?
5. Jamar Smith. I'm thinking that his ankle injury slowed him down more than first believed. He's more than likely all the way PHYSICALLY healed from that injury, but he seems to still be trying to get back his form and conditioning. On a more important note, I think having to sit out those games, and having to sit and watch guys like Calvin Brock and Trent Meacham reach new heights of performance, may have hurt his performance. I think he's putting tremendous pressure on himself to perform at a "superstar" level to prove that he's still top sophomore dog. I'm not saying he's consciously doing this, but he probably just can't help himself-- he's such an intense competitor after all. I still have great confidence in him, but I do think he needs to take a deep breath, exhale, and just play basketball like we all know he can. He should just PLAY!, and not worry about expectations, etc. I think it'll happen. Maybe dropping down in the rotation, as may now happen, will remove the immediate pressure on him and snap him back in to shape.
6. Where was Illini Fan Central for pre-game festivities this year? I wasn't in St. Louis, but I heard that Hooters is no longer at Union Station. Yep, that's just too bad, because for one day a year, Hooters Union Station was always "Delightfully Orange, yet politely Blue"
7. Where was Illini Fan Central for post-game festivities this year? Last year it was at Maggie O'Briens, but I heard that Mizzou took over that place this year. Yeah, I guess I'm just trying to live vicariously through people that were lucky enough to make the trip. Don't worry, I'll be back down there next year.
8. Did anyone notice that the tightness of this game forced Weber to settle on a "rotation" of sorts? I noticed that not as many guys got significant minutes as usual. Still, there was a lot of foul trouble in the first half, especially with Randle. Here's where I see the starting line-up and rotation should be now:
Frazier, McBride, Randle, Carter, Pruitt (solidified); Off Bench: Brock, Meacham, Smith, Arnold, Carlwell, Jackson
9. Why does Illinois always seem to get in foul trouble in big games? I'm trying to just not blame the refs for being "anti-Illini", because it happens so much, that there has to be a reason for it. Theory #1: All Big Ten teams face "foul call bias" in big games, to include the NCAA tournament. This is because the Big Ten has long had a reputation for being a physical, bruising conference. We don't notice it during Big Ten season, because the refs are able to adjust and call an even game. During big inter-conference games, however, the referees have that "physical" idea about the Big Ten ingrained in their brains, and they're determined to call a "close" game to prevent the "brutes" from the Big Ten from beating up on the "finesse" teams that make up the rest of the nation. Coaches like Lute Olsen, who are masters at subliminal media hypnotization of the referee crews, only magnify the Big Ten's reputation. My opinion on Theory #1: I think the whole thing about the Big Ten being "way more physical" is a bunch of bunk, an old wives tale. ACC games are just as physical, and so are Big East games. You know what the implication is, though, right? Yep, that's right-- media elites like Duke Vitale and Seth Duke-is are placing a silent dagger in the back of the whole Big Ten conference. "Physical Conference" is another way of saying "Lower Quality of Basketball Play". Anyhow, I guess the notion is out there about the Big Ten, because it clearly is a factor during non-conference big games. Theory #2: The Illini's bright orange uniforms, when inter-mixed with an opponent's usually dull, off-color jerseys on the court, make the Illini players stand out like neon sore thumbs to the officials. Thus, though the Illini are probably doing less "hand fouls" than their opponents, because the referees' eyes are sub-consciously drawn to the orange-hue surrounding our players' every slight move, they tend to call many more ticky-tack fouls on the Illini. Don't we usually wear the Orange jerseys in big games, too? My opinion on Theory #2: I don't know, but it sounds interesting. Does the Illini Sports Information office keep historical records of what uniform colors the team wears for every game? Maybe we could compare historical foul ratios for games when we're in orange to games when we're in white or blue. Am I going overboard? I guess I am, but then again, maybe there's something to this.....
10. The Illini frontcourt solidified itself as the backbone of the team. Pruitt, Carter, and Randle are gonna be tough to beat. What a difference this is from the pre-season, when everyone was focused on the trio of Randle/McBride/Smith. Yeah, Randle is definitely still in the mix, but now he's in a trio of big men, instead of being considered as a third "guard" or wing man to the guards. Didn't Pruitt have like 19 points and 19 rebounds? Awesome.
Well, that's it for today. Here's to the Illini taking care of business against Idaho St. tomorrow, before taking a well-deserved 4-day holiday break.