Good job, good effort, Illinois Fighting Illini.
I say that with tongue in cheek, of course, but with the way four out of the last five games have gone, baby steps are OK at this point.
The Illini got off to a red hot start but predictably the hot shooting cooled off.
It looked like the Michigan State Spartans were going to pull away with a big run after halftime but a charge led by Brandon Paul brought Illinois close within the last few minutes.
They could have packed it in a few minutes into the second half. If this was last year’s team led by Bruce Weber, they would have. John Groce wasn’t going to let that happen. Let’s get to our quick hits….
- Paul was excellent most of this one doing a little bit of everything. He’s got the “big shot gene” as well which is so rare for players in college basketball. Your best player has got to step up especially on the road.
- Tracy Abrams is definitely coming into his own. I highlighted him as a player that needed to play well for the Illini to have a chance and he did just that.
- DJ Richardson actually used the drive tonight! That’s going to make him harder to guard going forward. When you just camp out on the three point line almost exclusively you are easy to defend.
- Shaking up the starting lineup was big. Sam McLaurin looked competent as a starter and the rotation overall flowed a lot better.
Saturday’s game against the Wisconsin Badgers will be the “make or break” game for the 2012-2013 Fighting Illini. Wisconsin is a very beatable team that has to play nearly a perfect game on the road to win. You should try to push the pace from the start and feed off the home crowd. The earlier game at that Kohl Center was a fluke, in my opinion.
Grab that one and you probably only need one more decent win, say on the road at the Iowa Hawkeyes or Northwestern Wildcats, to punch your ticket. That’s assuming you don’t lose to the Penn State Nittany Lions or Nebraska Cornhuskers at home that is.
Like my article? Hate it? Let me know on Twitter (@tmichaelcronin). I look forward to your thoughts.