When we last saw the Illinois Fighting Illini cagers, they were trying desperately to salvage any possibility that they might actually do the unthinkable and sneak in to the NCAA Tournament field. Alas, as time expired, Tracy Abrams wide open 5 foot runner caromed off the front of the Bankers Life Fieldhouse iron and just like that the NCAA Tournament dream was dead.
At times like these, it’s nice to get a little perspective, and I could think of no better perspective than the following quote provided by Alexander Graham Bell:
“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
Dwelling on what could have been if Abrams shot had fallen is very dangerous this time of year. The moment has ended and a new opportunity is about to present itself tomorrow night when Illinois travels to the Agganis Arena in Boston, MA to face off with the regular season Patriot Conference Champion Boston Terriers (24-10).
The Terriers are a team that goes as leading scorers Maurice Watson, Jr. (13.5 ppg) and D.J. Irving (12.2 ppg) go. In their only two losses since February 5th, D.J. Irving was shut down completely while registering 3 points in a Feb. 23rd 10 point loss to Bucknell, and 2 points in a 19 point throttling at the hands of American in the Patriot League Tournament Championship. Watson’s downfall in the American game was his 7 turnovers, but that can be directly attributed to the solid defense that American displayed on that night.
In the game recap on ESPN, Irving admitted as much when he said, “They were all over us from the start of the game and we just didn’t have an answer for it.” Clearly, their guards struggled with pressure defense, and that’s huge because that’s exactly what the Illini have been bringing to the table down the stretch while turning their season around.
If the Illini stay committed to what brought them to the party, namely stifling defense and pure effort on the glass on both ends, I feel like they are going to win this one with relative ease. The Terriers do not rebound particularly well, and they are going to be giving up size to the Illini in the guard match-ups.
Bottom line, Illinois just needs to play their game. Defend, rebound, and attack the basket like they have something to prove. If the Illini play with urgency on both ends of the floor the win will take care of itself, and if the Illini need any further motivation they need to look no further than the #1 seed in their region, St. John’s, who dropped their NIT opener to a more hungry Robert Morris squad.
I’ll leave you with John Groce’s take on Boston, and where the Illini are at preparation-wise heading in to their first post season game courtesy of the IlliniProductionsHD YouTube channel. Feel free to drop back in during the game and chat with other Illini fans in the comments section below with any observations you may have!
When: Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 6 PM CST
Where: Agganis Arena – Boston, MA
TV: ESPN2 (Directv 209 / DISH Network 144)
Announcers: Sean McDonough (Play by Play) and Tim Welsh (Analyst)
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer.
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