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The Day After: This Is A Good Basketball Team

Saturday must have been a dream. It was far too beautiful to be real.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Fighting Illini teams of recent memory usually allow easy criticism. Their holes and strengths show so clearly that every game is easy analysis. We need to rebound, we need to get the ball inside, we need to stop relying on threes, etc.

But if you had to pinpoint the overwhelming weakness of the 2013-14 Fighting Illini, what would you choose? I think John Groce and the Illinois varsity have a solid team on their hands. I think they're damn good.

TRACY ABRAMS: That was glorious. That was beautiful. And because it ended the drought against Mizzou, it may be immortal, at least in my mind. I won't forget this game for a long time, and I won't forge the man who did the work, who drew the foul, who matched every Mizzou run with an and-one of his own. He deserves every bit of praise this week.

Any critic of Tracy who still has a beef with the man after Saturday, speak up. Let yourself be heard, so you can be promptly ignored. There won't be any toleration of hate this week. There will be only joy.

JON EKEY: Ekey could quit tomorrow, and all the effort put into his transfer and recruitment would be worth it. Abrams has received the large chunk of the praise following Saturday, all of it deserved, but there was no bigger shot in that game than Ekey's 3-pointer with 50 seconds left. Ekey is good. He's very good. Any hesitation or transition from the Missouri Valley to the B1G went away this non-conference season, and Ekey showed it by grabbing the pass, rising up and burying the biggest shot of the season without a moment of thought.


JOE BERTRAND: Bertrand didn't mark the two-year anniversary of his Illini arrival with another explosion, but he did his thing. The closer you watch the motion of the team, the more you recognize Bertrand's significance.

Somebody from the '09 recruiting class finally gets to hold onto that Braggin' Rights trophy, which might be the best part of the whole victory. Congratulations, Joe.

RAYVONTE RICE: He's the strongest Illini player since Shaun Pruitt or Brian Randle, maybe, and he's far more offensively skilled than either of those clowns. My youth may be overlooking an easy comparison, but I cannot remember watching an Illini player like Rayvonte Rice.

JOHN GROCE: Never leave coach. We love you too much.

Groce was asked in the post-game press conference how this win ranks among his other Illini victories. He dodged the question, saying he needed to think about it. I, however, immediately thought ,"No. 2," only behind the Indiana buzzer beater. The Indiana game saw three maligned seniors change the course of an entire program. It changed everything. This Missouri win ranks below that, but it's not far off. Saturday was huge. Illinois doesn't get walked over anymore.

The course of the game, following the exact trajectory of the previous four games, would have been comical if it wasn't so stressful. The Braggin' Rights games truly must be scripted. And finally, mercifully, amazingly, that script was flipped.