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Dispatches From Blogfrica: Hail To The Orange Talks Iowa-Illinois Hoops

If I was a good blogger, I would have started this feature a few months back. But I'm a half-assed blogger, so you'll just have to live with getting it now (and for the duration of the season). What is it? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an opposing team's blogger, they answer. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Next up: Friend of the Pants Joe Kutsunis. from SBN's excellent Illinois blog, Hail to the Orange.

1) I hate to pour salt on your wounds, but I'm not sure it can be avoided... just what the hell has gone wrong with this season? It looked like you guys would be legitimate Big Ten contenders after you knocked off Ohio State on the back of Brandon Paul's insane game. Since then you've gone 1-9 and the one win was a very ugly 42-41 win over Michigan State. You've lost to good teams (Ohio State, Michigan), bad teams (Nebraska, Penn State), and every variation in-between. What's changed? Injuries? Off-court trouble? An evil voodoo curse?

It seems to me that the problem has very little to do with talent or skill and everything to do with confidence and mentality. The Illini were on top of the world when they beat OSU earlier this season. Then they went to Happy Valley and lost for a third straight year to a basement dwelling Penn State team. This team has had shaky confidence for three years now, and that game started to undo what they had built up. Then they lost in overtime to Minnesota, which was a game they should have won. Then Northwestern at home, and Purdue and so on and so on. This team needed to win either PSU or Minnesota, but didn't and now the season has spiraled out of control.

They know what's going on with Bruce Weber, and they pretty much have accepted it I think.

2) Brandon Paul is obviously a stud -- that 43-point game against Ohio State was something to behold -- and he figures to draw a lot of defensive attention from Iowa's Roy Devyn Marble and Matt Gatens. Who else should Iowa be worried about?

The defensive game plan for every team that doesn't have top line big men (see everyone except MSU, OSU and Gonzaga) has been to double up Meyers Leonard, and take the risk of freshman point guard Tracy Abrams not killing them. He has gone off for 20 plus points twice recently, but largely doubling and tripling Meyers has been an effective route to victory. If Tracy decides to go to the hoop every time he is slumped off of though, he will get a ton of points.

3) Among Iowa fans, there's no real consensus about which school is our biggest rival in basketball. Some folks say Iowa State, some say Wisconsin, and many argue Illinois. The Iowa-Illinois rivalry was pretty epic in the '80s, between the quality of the teams themselves and, of course, the Bruce Pearl/Deon Thomas incident. It seems like that rivalry has lost some of its luster over the past two decades, though. What are your feelings on the Iowa-Illinois rivalry? Is this just another Big Ten game for you guys or does it have some extra juice?

I am from the Illinois side of the Quad Cities, across the Mississippi from Davenport, and only about 90 miles from Iowa City. It may not be as true for Illinois fans elsewhere in the state, but around here Illinois fans REALLY dislike Iowa, if for no other reason than close proximity, and Bruce Pearl certainly didn't help that. (By the way, you guys brought a coach with a five year show cause sanction to sign autographs at Carver Hawkeye? Really?)

That said, the Todd Lickliter years really made Iowa a lot harder to hate. A little too one sided.
4) Meyers Leonard: WASPy name or the WASPiest name?

I dont really have an answer for that, but I do have a youtube compilation of his Meyers faces, apparently assembled by Demetri McCamey

5) The general consensus among Big Ten fans seems to be that Bruce Weber's days at Illinois are winding down. Do you agree that this meltdown over the last few months will cost him his job? Should it? What will be your enduring memory of the Bruce Weber era at Illinois? Speaking as an outside observer, it seemed like there were a lot of frustrating years, but at the same time there were a lot of NCAA trips and that 04-05 team was an all-timer.

If Bruce Weber's contract is bought out, and the AD replaces him, and I believe he will, it won't just be because this team has disappointed. It will be the fact that this will be the third season in five where Illinois hasn't made the tournament, and that is with an expanded field.

My enduring memory will likely be of the 2004 2005 team, because it was one of the most exciting basketball seasons I, or anyone, has ever seen, and I really do think that Bruce Weber's coaching was the reason they got so far.

That said, since Dee Brown left, Illinois is like six or seven games below .500 in the Big Ten. They haven't even been a threat for a Big Ten title for four years. At a certain point, this just need to change. How many seasons without making a bowl would Iowa fans tolerate from Kirk Ferentz?

6) Okay, prediction time -- who ya got?

If Illinois plays like they can, they will most likely win. But frankly I have not seen anything to lead me to believe they will play with confidence like they used to. Iowa could very well win this game.

Thanks for being a good sport, Joe. Be sure to check out Joe and the rest of the HTTO gang over at Hail to the Orange. You can also follow Joe on the Twitters here. The Iowa-Illinois game is in Champaign, IL on Sunday, February 26rd at 5pm CT, with television coverage from BTN. Oh, and Gus Johnson will have the call.