Kedric: Now that you are no longer playing college ball, how much Big Ten hoops do you get to see?
Kevin: With my coaching position and new 8-month-old daughter, I don't see them all. I do occasionally catch games on Wednesday nights, and the Saturday afternoon triple-headers are great! The Internet is good way to keep up also.
Kedric: You've had the chance to see Illinois and Iowa both play - different teams of course. How do you see them doing in the Big Ten Tournament and what do you like about them both?
Kevin: I really like Illinois this year. Coach Weber has done a nice job with them in his first year. Although they are a little undersized, they really rebound the ball. I particularly like Dee Brown – a class act who leads his team. In the Big Ten you have to have good backcourt players to win games (Brown & Williams). I would think with the way Illinois defends they are primed for a Big Ten Tourney Championship. Six man rotation and Iowa finished 4th in the Big Ten. That is a solid Big Ten season with injury and academic setbacks. Coach Alford prefers man defense but the 2-3 zone has been good to them down the stretch. Three games in 3 days with 6 or 7 players would appear to make it difficult, but I like the toughness of those guys. Iowa has won the tournament before when nobody thought they had a chance.
Kedric: Kevin, you were in a strange situation having grown up in Illinois but going to Iowa. How hard was that for you or your family members?
Kevin: Some people in the community considered us "traitors" in a way, but our friends and family supported my brother, Jeff, and me with our decision. We were Illini fans our whole lives and I have no ill feelings toward the Illini. Most of my high school friends are Illini fans but they always supported me and wished me well. Iowa was the best situation for us at the time and we have no regrets with our decision. When Illinois is not playing Iowa I hope they win!
Kedric: People think the Big Ten is down this year. Do you agree with that, and if so, why?
Kevin: On paper it would appear that it is, BUT the Big Ten is one heck of a tough conference. The coaches are excellent, and the teams are so prepared every night. The Big Ten teams beat up on each other during the season because of the physical play and tough defense. I have a lot of respect for the ACC, BIG 12, SEC, etc., but it will be a shame if the Big Ten only has 3 teams in the NCAA tournament.
Kedric: Do you think the Big Ten Tournament is good for the teams to get ready for the "Big Dance"?
Kevin: Yes, I think it is great. Unfortunately I graduated before the tournament started, but it was a good move for the teams to play games with quick turnaround times.
Kedric: Okay, now be honest - tell the fans what was the rivalry really like between both schools? How much did the Illinois game mean to you guys? Was it a game that the coaches got up for just like the fans?
Kevin: Every game in the Big Ten is so important. Winning the Big Ten was the #1 goal we had every year, because when you win this league you have really accomplished a lot. For every guy it is a little different as far as who the BIG rivalry game is, depending on where you are from. When I was playing (91-95) the rivalry was huge, due largely to the Deon Thomas and Bruce Pearl situation. Dr. Tom Davis was always very business-like in his approach to opponents so we never had the "you have to beat the Illini speech!!" But deep down we knew this was a game we wanted a little more than the others!
Kedric: Who do you see winning the Big Ten Tournament this year?
Kevin: I have to say Iowa, don't I? My heart goes with Iowa, but Illinois can play with anyone in the country with the way they defend. Wisconsin and Michigan State will stick their nose in there and Michigan could make a run too. They are putting it together at the right time. You always have to watch the teams that NEED the tournament championship to get to the "Big Dance" - a little extra motivation!
Kevin Skillett is a former Iowa player that grew up rooting for the Illini.