This is Going to Hurt You A Lot More Than it Hurts Me
The string of WTF(?!) injuries that has crippled the Michigan basketball team over the last month has provided a new, and unexpected source of comedy in the form of a phone call. Illinois head coach Bruce Webber called up Tommy Amaker to express his sympathy to the MASH unit that is currently masquerading as Michigan's basketball team.
This phone call can be seen a couple of ways: 1) Webber and Amaker could be friends, and this is just a buddy calling up to say "T.A. I got you baby"; or 2) Total-dueschbag-Lou-Holtz-move where he blatantly pretends to give a sh*t about the other team while chuckling through the interview, "Yeah they're banged up, but there's no way we can compete with that Courtney Sims kid, he brings his A-game every night."
After reading what Webber said, out-of-context of course, I'm going with option 2. In describing his phone call Webber made certain to intimate the fact that the Ann Arbor Torch and Pitchfork Company's shares have doubled in value over the last month, and that Michigan got their "butts beat pretty badly on Saturday at Michigan State." In looking at the records, the players, and skill level of both teams the only reason you make that phone call, and then let the news out about it, is to goose the opposition. Especially when that opposition is Michigan. He doesn't make that phone call to Izzo. He sends an envelope laced with anthrax before he calls Izzo to wish him well. It was a nice little sucker punch before tonight's game and going into the Big Ten tourney.
Webber's a politician playing to his audience. The folks in Champale-Suburbia love this crap. Of all the Big Ten schools, Illinois seems to harbor the most resentment towards Michigan for no apparent reason. Maybe its because we DON'T have a rivalry with them. Maybe its because Illinois' been a doormat athletically for the past fifty years while Michigan's been winning stuff (along with every other Big Ten school [including Northwestern]). Maybe its because we've shown a total indifference towards their rise to the basketball elite while we sank to the bottom licking our wounds. I honestly cannot figure it out. I asked a buddy of mine who's an Illinois graduate why he hated Michigan so much. He responded, (I swear this is true) "Its because you win everything." I'm fairly certain the first "Ann Arbor is a Whore" t-shirt came from Illinois. I still remember the frat house that stole the "M Go Blue" banner and wrote over it "M Go Blow" in 1997. Illinois does not like Michigan, no matter how indifferent we are to their loathing, and they love kicking us when we're down.
Which brings us to tonight. Michigan plays Illinois at Crisler at 7pm EST. Illinois has won the last eleven meetings between the programs, and currently sits 8th in the national rankings. To make matters worse, Illinois is also first in scoring defense in the Conference. Michigan has lost four of five, lost its starting power forward/spark plug, battling injuries or still recovering from them, and is dead last in the Big Ten for field goal, three point, and scoring defense. Tonight is also NASCAR night. This is perhaps the worst marketing ploy I have ever seen. It's like a Summer's Eve commerical in the middle of WWE Smackdown.
The key tonight is Dee Brown. As RBUAS points out, Illinois only losses have come when Brown is contained. If he torches us again, then Michigan is in trouble. Hopefully Dion Harris will be at full strength. If so, he'll bring some much needed stability to the backcourt and take some of the pressure off of an exhausted Daniel Horton. Courtney Sims remains Courtney Sims. If he plays like he did against Michigan State, actually showing some determination to get to the basket (albeit after the game was out of reach), Michigan may actually be able to match the Illini down low. However, it'll be up to Graham Brown to shut down James Augustine, who scored 23 the last time the teams played. But without an inside presence, Horton and Harris will have to score thirty a piece to pull this one out.