Well, the day is finally here—Wisconsin vs. Illinois. The unbeaten team vs. the team that doesn’t lose at home. Two of only 3-4 legitimate contenders for a Big Ten championship. Something’s got to give. And if that wasn’t enough to tell you that it’s important, Dick Vitale has the call tonight. That has to be a red flag.
Why a preview today? Not a lot of legitimate viewing got done last night. As I was about to sit down after some clean-up shoveling of my driveway, my friend Kosta invited me over for gyro night at his apartment. He cooked the meat while his roommate The Franchise painstakingly heated the pitas. That man sure can heat. I can give three quick reactions from some side trips I took to check out ESPN during the gyro-making process:
1) The “R” on Rutgers’ home court is far too big. I’d go so far as to call it comically large.
2) Great play at the end of the Rutgers-Syracuse game when Rutgers inbounded the ball for a final shot to win the game. I don’t know if it was possible for them to get a more open look. The shot was close, but rimmed out. Nice effort by a team that no one gave a shot to win heading into the game.
3) Oklahoma State—ouch. Yes, they got killed by Oklahoma last night, but I wouldn’t want to be the Sooners heading to OSU’s court later this year. OSU’s got a tough home court (which incidentally makes my list of top-3 places I’d like to see a game), and the Cowboys are bound to be mad.
Back to previewing tonight’s game. Originally, I wanted to do a basic matchup breakdown, but I figured the Journal-Sentinel would have that covered (and I’m told that they do, though I won’t look at it, as to keep from tainting my preview). So I’ll break down some of the matchups in some of the lesser points of the game:
1) Coach’s Roots: Bo Ryan and Pennsylvania vs. Bruce Weber and Milwaukee
--Ryan’s hard nosed Pennsylvania confidence and blue collar work ethic serves him well, but Weber’s from my hometown, and isn’t some guy that went to a bunch of private schools and had a cushy life. He’s one of the people. Edge: Weber, because you can’t deny a Milwaukean.
2) Prior Coaching Experience: Bo Ryan’s Resume vs. Bruce Weber’s Resume
--Ryan gains points for his numerous D-3 championships, but loses points for his prior time spent as a Wisconsin assistant when the Badgers were really bad. Weber loses points for staying too long as an assistant to Gene Keady at Purdue, but gains points for his rapid rise to tops in the game upon taking on his own program. Edge: Ryan—his parade of championships makes up for any affiliation he had with Steve Yoder.
3) Goofy Looking Substitute Factor: Brian Butch vs. Nick Smith
--Butch has gigantic ears and a body that doesn’t quite fit. Smith has a bad mustache and really tiny arms. Both have potentially harmful tempers, and like to shoot from the perimeter more than your average 7-footer. Edge: Butch, because he has slightly more game, and is a better tackler.
4) Badass Factor: Wisconsin vs. Illinois
--This one’s tough to gauge, since I don’t actually know any of these guys. Actually, this would have been an easy call 5 years ago, back when Illinois players still spent more time in the weight room than on the court of play. Of the stars in this game, Mike Wilkinson’s out, since farmers aren’t badasses. Deron Williams is out, since he looks like a very nice young man. Illinois’ best badass is probably Dee Brown, since he has always had the potential to become a team cancer, and has some badass hair. For the Badgers, I’d have to go with Andreas Helmigk, since he could very easily be a European special agent, and that’s pretty badass. Edge: Draw—Helmigk doesn’t really scare me, and Brown has become a model teammate. Neither of these teams is particularly badass.
5) Uniform Attractiveness and Functionality: Illinois Road Orange vs. Wisconsin Home Whites
--Wisconsin has relatively plain uniforms, as does Illinois. But there’s just something very attractive about the color orange. Plus, after last year’s meeting in Champaign, Wisconsin fans are likely to still be angry over the Illini’s decision to wear orange uniforms at home, making the orange vs. red matchup nearly impossible to decipher on television. Edge: Illinois—anytime a team’s choice of uniforms can draw the ire of opposing fans, you’re doing something right.
So, those are my five irrelevant keys to the game. I’m predicting a game that should be pretty tight throughout. I can’t say that I know who’ll win, but I sure hope the boys from Madison come out on top. However like the Marquette loss to the largely Wisconsin-native DePaul squad last week, a Badger loss to a Milwaukee-native coach would sting less for me.
Happy viewing this evening!