Walker Carey attended the afternoon session (Minnesota vs. Illinois and Penn State vs. Michigan) of the Big Ten Tournament at the United Center on Thursday afternoon and filed this report. Follow him on Twitter @walkerRcarey
- Both Illinois and Minnesota are probably far too inconsistent to make any noise in the NCAA Tournament. The Fighting Illini and the Golden Gophers have struggled with consistency issues all season and all Thursday’s game proved was that neither team has alleviated those issues. If you recall, both teams started the season red hot — the Illini were once 12-0 and the Gophers were once 15-1 — but after Big Ten play commenced, both squads began to struggle. Both teams finished their conference slates with an 8-10 record. While such a record would usually not raise many eyebrows, Illinois and Minnesota have grabbed a lot of national attention due to some impressive victories and some head-scratching defeats. The Illini scored great victories over Ohio State and Indiana, but they also were defeated at home by a Northwestern team that finished 11th in the conference. Minnesota notched wins over Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Indiana, but Tubby Smith’s squad also suffered setbacks to Northwestern and Nebraska. It is fair to assume that both teams are solidly in the field of 68, but when you have to question what version of both teams will show up, it is also fair to assume that both teams will not be in the tournament for long.
- Illinois is going to miss Brandon Paul next season. While the senior guard has had an up-and-down career in Champaign, he once again showed Thursday that he is plenty capable of taking over a game and leading his team to victory. Paul scored 25 of the team’s 51 points and drained an 18-footer to beat the buzzer and give the Illini the 51-49 victory. Paul, whose legacy might be tarnished a bit due to his place on some subpar Illini teams, should be remembered for his ability to take over games like he did Thursday. Paul’s performance against Minnesota was quite memorable, but it was not the most memorable of the season. In Illinois’ December 8 win over currently top-ranked Gonzaga, Paul exploded for 35 points, shooting 10-of-16 from the field and 5-of-9 from deep. Paul’s talent and play-making ability is something that had been missing from the Illinois program since the days of Dee Brown, Luther Head, and Deron Williams, and because of that, the Illini are really going to miss him after their season ultimately concludes. Read the rest of this entry »