Well, Saturday truly was a tough loss for the Illini at the Assembly Hall. It was probably the best game of the season effort wise for the team. Everybody on the team played really hard. The only guy who looked lost out on the court was Jamar Smith. He's just in the slump of all slumps. At this point, I'm concerned about his future within the program. He kind of reminds me of that pitcher for the Cardinals a few years back who was on track to be a superstar, but then suddenly couldn't even throw a strike during the postseason and he had to be sent back down to the minor leagues. Seriously, Jamar is in that bad of a slump. But here's to hoping he'll pull out. I listened to Bruce Weber on the radio this morning, and he really sounded down. I haven't heard him like that before. That tells me he is really concerned about this team. But he hasn't given up on them yet. He talked about how resilient kids are, and that they'll bounce back before fans or the news media will. At the same time, he said that Randle is doubtful for Tuesday's game against Indiana, and that even worse, Pruitt is "day to day" due to a twisted knee. Yep, that's the same knee he hurt at that crucial point in Saturday's game. So, it's going to be tough on Tuesday against Indiana. Weber believes Indiana is playing the best ball of any team in the Big Ten, or so says his scouting report. They are playing some tough, team basketball. And so here is my prediction for Tuesday night:
Illinois is going to lose by 8 points. Taking a wild shot at it, I'm going to go with a 65-57 final score. I believe it'll be a dogfight until the last 8 minutes of the game, when Indiana will pull away. I sure hope I'm wrong, and I have to be honest, I'm such a partisan fan that I almost always pick Illinois to win. But for some reason, I just have a feeling we'll lose Tuesday.
I believe that Tuesday's loss against Indiana will be rock bottom. Illinois will then have to stare into the Abyss, knowing that gaining an at-large birth is all but out of the question. I think that they will face this fact well, however. I think they'll pull together as a team, and that they'll rally around Weber as a coach. They'll finish relatively strong in the Big Ten, at 8-8 overall in the league. I think they'll win their last 3 or 4 in a row going into the Big Ten tourney, though, as Weber will have them peaking at just the right time. Then, in the Big Ten tourney they'll have to run the table to go to the Big Dance. Odds of that happening at that point? I'd say about 1 in 5. But, hey, that's 20%. It'll be an exciting challenge.