Broken Record

Ed Thomson

Ed Thomson

By BobLa Gesse

Some games just aren’t important.

Being only the 15th school to win 1,500 games.

Doesn’t matter.

Tying the 1989 Flyin’ Illini for the best start ever at 17-0.

Who cares?

For the Illini players, accomplishing both in a 90-64 drumming of Penn State is just left overs. Give them to the bum on the corner.

So what then is Illinois’ five-course meal?

“National championship,” said Illinois junior guard Deron Williams. “That comes with maturity. What do wins (during a season) mean if you’re out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament?”

As much as I want to tell Williams to lighten up and enjoy the accomplishment – programs like Louisville, Purdue and Cincinnati don’t have 1,500 wins – I can’t.

Illinois, the No. 1 team in the land, may now be in the same class on paper with Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina, but they are not in the same league.

Just look at the last week.

North Carolina, with the second-most wins in college basketball, is hotter than Desperate Housewives.

The Tar Heels are fresh. Even hip.

So they get all the buzz. And the buzz says they’re the best.

The Illini, who have been No. 1 in the polls for six weeks, are right there with “CSI” – so 2004.

The only way for Illinois to get the recognition it deserves? Win in the final ratings battle of the year – the April 4 national title game.

“I don’t think anyone respects us,” said Illinois head coach Bruce Weber. “They didn’t respect us before.”

Read that again.

When is the No. 1 team in the country not respected?

Wake Forest, Gonzaga and Cincinnati respect Illinois. But they don’t count.

The media counts – especially ESPN. Everyone listens to Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas and crew.

That’s the way the sports world works.

And right now, North Carolina is the flavor of the month. And not without good reason.

The Tar Heels have a rotation full of future NBA players. Their only loss was without their point guard.

They torpedoed then-No. 22 Maryland and No. 8 Georgia Tech by a combined 56 points in the last week.

Sounds like Illinois against Wake and Gonzaga doesn’t it?

The difference, then, is Carolina’s history and short-term memory by the college basketball world.

The Tar Heels have three national titles and 16 Final Four appearances.

Illinois has just four Final Fours.

The Illini are just the opening act in the JV game. The Tar Heels are playing in the varsity contest.

North Carolina has the history. They have their own shade of blue for crying out loud.

You don’t hear people referring to the Illinois color scheme as Illini orange and blue, do you?

If roles were reversed and Illinois was chasing North Carolina, would there be an argument going on about whom is really the No. 1 rated hoops team?

“Probably not,” Weber said.

Analysts would point out the strength of Carolina’s wins – no matter when they occurred – and would then end the argument with how strong the ACC is and how “weak” the Big Ten is.

Illinois doesn’t get that defense.

History and a tough conference earn you that defense.

But what is the definition of a tough conference? It’s about as easy to decipher as the definition of “is.”

“Everyone says the Big Ten is no good even though we are number three in the RPI,” Weber said. “(The national media is) looking to prove themselves right.”

Weber expects more Big Ten bashing to become as trendy as Carolina is right now.

A national title is the only thing to reverse the trend.


“(A national title) would help,” Weber said. “Then you’ve probably got to do it again. Kentucky didn’t do it with one (title).”

So Deron, you may want to change your goals. Celebrate after the second national title.

But to be safe, it’s probably best to wait till the third.