A hall of a different color

By Ian Gold

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Sports are a funny thing, really. Illinois beats Michigan State by 10 and Indiana loses to Michigan State by 14 and yet the 62-60 Indiana win makes perfect sense.

Now that Weber and Co. have to stare down a conference that features much more than two other good teams and space fillers, home-court advantage really starts to mean something. ESPN turned the phrase into an online game of whose fan base will waste more time voting time and time again. But in the Big Ten, it is very real, and it’s the only thing separating the top five teams in the league.

For Illinois this is a virtue, and the consecutive-game streak in the orange Assembly Hall proves this fact. But the Illini will be going uphill for the rest of the season if they don’t learn to play better on the road. The teams at the top of the standings right now have already gone over a few hurdles and also have the easiest in conference schedules. Illinois plays at Wisconsin and Ohio State without a payback opportunity at the Hall; luckily for the Illini, they don’t have to travel to murderous Penn State or Purdue. I can hear the Orange Krush dry heaving.

But the scheduling is out of Illinois’ control. What the Illini can learn is execution on the road. Indiana is much improved, but an 0-18 run is inexcusable against the Detroit Pistons. It’s hard to execute the offense perfectly on the road, and occasionally shots don’t go in.

The baskets are different, wild students behind the hoop are distracting and the noise can make over-anxious shots go long; what the crowd and stadium can’t touch is defense. Illinois’ calling card of the year has been defense, but when the shots stop falling the defense can get lazy. The Indiana scouting report said Ben Allen will not shoot inside the three-point line, but when Illinois had the chance to assert its defensive presence, it allowed open looks and fast breaks.

But narrowed down, I think Illinois’ road performance relies on two players – the Illinois seniors. Some of the younger players have showed they can perform – Pruitt putting in 17 or Randle with 15 – it’s James Augustine and Dee Brown that need to carry the squad on the road. Augustine has been a dominant athlete when he is on the court, on the court; for Illinois to go on the road and beat ranked opponents, they are going to have to keep their most reliable scorer and rebounder on the court for 35-plus minutes.

Additionally, Brown is going to have to silence a home crowd. The entire school salivates at the chance to heckle the reigning Big Ten MVP and face of college basketball. Brown has to come around and start scoring on the road. He finished with an 11 to 2 assist-to-turnover ratio, but Brown has to score and pop the jersey.

If you know in advance that Illinois is out-rebounded and shoots 50 percent from the foul line, say goodnight. And if you add a 1-of-9 shooting night from Brown and foul trouble for Augustine, then you can tuck them in early.

The Illini are inexperienced, but they have the potential to squeak games like this one out. The two-point loss at Indiana goes into the ‘L’ column, but as Weber mentioned, learning to win a few close games on the road is a ‘W.’

Not your father’s Indiana

It’s embarrassing to one of the great basketball institutions that students rush out from under their multiple National Championship banners and onto the court after winning a game in which they were favored.

Side note

I don’t agree with first-year seniors; it’s ridiculous that Killingsworth has become the face of the program and will only wear crimson and cream for one year. Mike Davis should owe the Auburn transfer at least 30 percent of his future salary – money that would be heading to the next in line if not for Marco. Hey . maybe Adam Morrison will transfer to Missouri?

Ian Gold is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]