Team of the Week: Illinois
Plenty of words have been written about the importance of this past week for Illinois. When you’re in the midst of a losing skid — the Illini had lost eight of their last 11 games — there really is no better way to snap yourself out of it than to beat the No. 1 team in the country (Indiana) and follow that up with a win over the No. 18 team in the country (Minnesota) on the road. All of a sudden, the Illini are back in bubble contention and, more importantly, are playing with confidence.
Personally, I think the reason for this turnaround is Tyler Griffey, and that’s before you factor in the game-winning layup he had to beat Indiana at the buzzer. Griffey had been mired in a devastating slump, missing 22 straight threes. He played just eight minutes against Wisconsin last Saturday. He had become a non-factor, and that was a huge problem for John Groce because Griffey’s versatility — his ability to pull an opposing center away from the rim — created more space for penetration and forced defenses into longer rotations. And while no one is going to confuse Griffey with Nerlens Noel, he’s big enough to block a few shots and grab a few boards. Illinois needs him on the floor, playing well and hitting shots. This week, he averaged 15.0 points and hit 6-13 from three.
Teams that deserve a shout-out:
Memphis: Is this a new year for the Tigers, or simply the same old narrative? Struggle through non-conference play only to turn things around against their weak Conference USA slate? Memphis took a two-game lead in the league standings thanks to an impressive win at Southern Miss on Saturday afternoon.
Oakland: Thanks to 54 points in two games from sharp-shooter Travis Bader, the Grizzlies were able to knock off both North Dakota State and South Dakota State this week, climbing into fourth place in the Summit League standings, just two games behind Western Illinois and a game behind both NDSU and SDSU. With WIU visiting the Dakota schools this weekend, Oakland has put themselves in a great position to make a run at a league title.
Miami: As of this moment in time, the Hurricanes are playing the best basketball in the country. They don’t have the best resume, they may not be the favorite to win the national title come March, but at this very second, there isn’t a team that I would pick to beat them on a neutral court. This comes after handing North Carolina a 26 point beatdown on Saturday afternoon.
Murray State: The Racers let the nation know that they’re still the biggest name in the Ohio Valley as the knocked off Belmont at home on Wednesday and followed that up with a 21 point win over Tennessee State on Saturday.
Wisconsin: After beating Iowa in double-overtime, the Badgers took down Michigan in OT thanks to this shot from Ben Brust. They’re now tied for second in the Big Ten standings.
They were good too: Colorado, Georgia, Indiana State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Pitt, Virginia
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.