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Since slumping to 2-7 in the Big Ten, Illinois has ripped off four wins in a row to greatly enhance its NCAA profile. And, it’s an impressive profile, with wins over the likes of Gonzaga, Butler, Ohio State and Indiana. D.J. Richardson has played a big role in the Fighting Illini’s surge.
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We’re only a few weeks away from Selection Sunday, and there’s only a handful of games left for teams to pick up signature wins. This weekend, some did, and some didn’t.
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This weekend featured a lot of games where the home team came out of the gate strong, though there were some second half scares as well. Indiana ran all over Minnesota in the first half on Saturday, opening up a 23-point lead after the first 20 minutes.
Indiana made a living at the foul line in a chippy 13-point win over visiting Illinois. For about 30 minutes, this was a tight, back-and-forth game, with six lead changes and 14 ties. Over the final 10 minutes, however, the Hoosiers took advantage of the foul-riddled Illini to pull away. Indiana not only got to the foul line at an astounding rate; it also shot incredibly well from there, going 35 of 42 (83 percent). Paired with the Hoosiers’ customary accuracy from the field and a low turnover rate, it powered Indiana to a scorching 1.26 points per possession, the highest allowed by the Illinois defense all season.
Every year, it’s a test of one’s will to avoid drawing any conclusions prior to the beginning of conference play. For instance, two years ago the Texas Longhorns jumped out to an undefeated mark before beginning their conference slate. Non-conference opponents included Pitt, UNC, and Michigan State. After opening conference play with wins over what turned out to be the bottom of the Big XII, Texas sat atop both polls (I still don’t understand the point of polls in college basketball) and was generally recognized as the best team in the country.
The Gene Keady coaching tree is scratching its head after last weekend. Both Purdue and Illinois lost, and lost in ways that have been all-too-familiar to fans of those teams. The Boilermakers started out well enough, nearly running Butler out of the gym in the first half: But it was a different story in the second frame: