Unblemished regular season looks likely

Originally Published: February 1, 2005
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Luther Head and Deron Williams shuffled through the hallway of the Breslin Center, carting a souvenir.

Head was carrying a sign that read, "S Brown owns D Brown."

As in Michigan State's Shannon Brown owns Illinois' Dee Brown.

Luther Head
APLuther Head and the Illini are likely to be No. 1 when the Big Ten Tournament starts.

They laughed at the sign, as if it was just another failed attempt to rattle the Illini.

But the Illini don't need any more validation of their latest conquest.

You don't even have to witness the games anymore. You just need to see the score and you'll know that Michigan State was just more roadkill in Illinois' path toward an undefeated season.

The Illini ran away from the Spartans, 81-68 on Tuesday night by making 13 3-pointers in a game that was supposed to be the one that knocked the Illini from their undefeated perch.

Yeah, right.

"Everyone keeps picking upsets but we keep winning," said Illinois' Deron Williams. "What we've done so far is pretty special."

Michigan State is done.

Check.

Wisconsin was beaten last week in Madison to end the Badgers' 38-game home-court winning streak.

Check.

During the nonconference portion of the schedule, the Illini beat Wake Forest, Gonzaga and Cincinnati.

Check. Check. Check.

We didn't take our same Illinois basketball on the road last year. Now we have to understand that. We take the crowd out of the game right away.
Dee Brown

What's left?

Not much and that's why it's time to start talking about an undefeated regular season.

"Not too many teams are going to win up here or at Wisconsin," said Illinois' Dee Brown.

That's right, we can start talking about the Illini duplicating what Saint Joseph's did a year ago and run the table during the regular season.

We're not talking about the Big Ten tournament, or even the NCAA Tournament, just yet. That would mean 17 more wins if the Illini were to go undefeated all the way through the national title game in St. Louis.

That, we admit, is looking a bit ahead. But looking at their remaining Big Ten schedule isn't far-fetched.

The Illini have eight remaining games. They play Indiana, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Purdue at home. Don't expect a loss in the blinding orange of Assembly Hall.

The road games -- Michigan, Penn State, Iowa and Ohio State -- are getting less imposing by each day. Purdue clobbered Michigan by 29 points Sunday. Iowa pushed Illinois to overtime two weeks ago but the Hawkeyes could end up being without their top scorer, Pierre Pierce, if his legal troubles lead to charges.

Pierce is reportedly the subject of a police investigation and his playing status is undetermined.

With or without Pierce, it's hard to imagine the Illini losing unless they simply don't show up.

"We lost [our edge] a bit 10 days ago but then we got it back against Minnesota [last Saturday]," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "We were playing like we did at the beginning of the year again. I still think we have a ways to go and have some tough road games. You don't know what's going to happen. Did you expect Purdue to beat Michigan by nearly 30? That's crazy."

Weber admits that this "we don't get respect thing," is just a bit of fun. He said the players have to do something to maintain an edge.

"Deron was saying how those guys on television have to have an opinion and get paid for it so we've got to show them they're wrong," Weber said. "No one is really mad or feeling disrespected."

But Weber is running out of gimmicks. His rah-rah speeches are running dry. He's calling friends and reading books. He's cutting out some of the competitive drills in practice so the players keep their edge in games.

The Illini were the aggressor against the Spartans. They snatched the ball on a few occasions, ending up with 12 steals.

Home, road, nothing seems to matter for the Illini.

"We didn't take our same Illinois basketball on the road last year," Brown said. "Now we have to understand that. We take the crowd out of the game right away. We're just trying to get a good seed and play for the Big Ten championship."

What does he mean, a good seed?

"Well, we're hoping for a good seed," Brown said.

Not sure that's an issue anymore. The Illini will likely be undefeated going into the Big Ten tournament, a lock for a No. 1 seed, and the host school in Indianapolis and then likely Chicago on the way to St. Louis.

Far-fetched?

No, not really, and you don't have to see them play anymore to believe it could occur.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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