Richey | Vote how you want but defend your choices

Mar. 4—CHAMPAIGN — The existence of Gary Parrish's 'Poll Attacks" column for CBS Sports during my early days as an Associated Press Top 25 voter kept me on my toes every Sunday.

It was incentive to give measured, reasoned thought to how I filled out my Top 25 ballot each week. That would have been my approach anyway, but not getting flamed on the internet come Monday afternoon served as reinforcement. Parrish saved his commentary for voters that, week after week, couldn't help themselves from illogical decisions.

There's obviously a level of subjectivity when it comes to ranking 25 teams every week. Some voters trust advanced metrics. Others lean in to head-to-head results. There's a "What have you done lately?" crowd, too.

I avoided being the subject of a "Poll Attacks" column until Parrish decided a couple seasons ago he would no longer fill the checks-and-balances role each week.

Not that there haven't been some outlandish ballots cast. Like last week's from the El Paso (Texas) Times' Bret Bloomquist that absurdly had a .500 Arizona State team ranked ninth before a late-night Monday correction.

This week? No such craziness — at least not to Arizona State in the Top-10 level — but still some head scratchers.

Dropping Marquette 10 spots after losing by 12 at Creighton, but without Tyler Kolek or Oso Ighodaro? Seems excessive, but do you JB Ricks.

Not ranking Kentucky a week after having the Wildcats at No. 17 the week prior? Can't see the argument in that one, Kellis Robinett, given John Calipari's guys picked up two more high-scoring wins in the SEC.

Voting for 12-loss Michigan State and 12-loss Villanova? That might require an explanation, respectively, from Brian Holland and Kevin Sjuts.

Especially the Spartans, who have lost three straight games, including two at home to Iowa and Ohio State. The Wildcats have at least won six of their last eight games even if that included beating Georgetown twice.

Fans from every team could mine the AP Top 25 data and find an argument about why their team is ranked too high or too low or not at all. Even No. 1 Houston wasn't a unanimous selection, garnering 52 of 62 first-place votes.

It's why there's value in the poll. Coaches might downplay its importance. Fans, in turn, will shout from the rafters how irrelevant it is. But it helps drive conversation around the sport for months. Value ... even if the complaints come fast and furious.

But there should be few complaints on the Illinois front this week. The Illini climbed one spot to No. 12 — maintaining their steady presence in the Top 15 since mid-December — and appeared on all 62 ballots.

The latter hasn't always been a given this season. Unanimity from the voters has wavered about as much as zero consensus on where Illinois should be on the ballot. This week saw the Illini garner two votes at No. 9, 11 more at No. 10, a slew in the teens and then Ricks the outlier with a single vote at No. 21.

Nothing too outlandish to attack.

Chance to pivot

Brad Underwood joked after Saturday's game at Wisconsin that Marcus Domask, who had just put up 31 points on the Badgers, had "14 pivots." It was a reference to the footwork the Illinois guard has shown off running nearly a season's worth of "booty ball."

"It's something that I've worked on a lot," Domask said. "I spent a lot of time working on if I'm cut off having an option — always having a way out in every situation. It's stuff I've put in a lot of time on, and it just kind of comes naturally now."

That effort is something Underwood also spoke to after a fourth straight win in Madison, Wis., and seventh straight overall against Wisconsin. How Domask's work ethic has put him in position to succeed after making the jump from Southern Illinois to the Big Ten.

"I probably don't have enough time for me to talk about what he's meant for us," Underwood said. "We knew he was a really good player. He was just shy of 2,000 points coming in here and missed three-fourths of a season at Southern. We knew his versatility. We just didn't know how we were going to see it. What it would be like.

"He's basically our full-time point guard now. ... I have not been around a player who spends more time. He gets three workouts a day in, including one of those is our practice. He is ridiculously committed to the game of basketball and his success. Whether it's treatments, whether it's the recovery piece — whatever it is — he is very committed to that."

Seeking out mismatches

Illinois enters games knowing it wants to seek out the best matchups possible to unleash what's become (and remained) one of the top offenses in the country.

But there's no set plan.

How opposing teams defend triggers what the Illini can do in response. Like going to Coleman Hawkins for post ups in the Michigan State game in East Lansing, Mich., because the Spartans defended the 6-foot-10 forward with 6-4 guard Jaden Akins.

"It's very much in game," Underwood said. "I obviously didn't think (Wisconsin center) Steven Crowl would play 14 minutes. We actually tried to go the other way and play Dain (Dainja)."

Crowl's foul trouble meant Wisconsin wound up playing four guards regularly in the second half along with Tyler Wahl. While "booty ball" typically happens when Domask has a size advantage on smaller guards, he still went right at the taller Wahl on Saturday. Successfully enough that the Illini kept going to it.

"I wouldn't say that's necessarily run for me," Domask said of the "booty ball" action. "It's run for me to create. A lot of times I get doubled and kick out of it. It really just depends on what the defense gives us. (Wisconsin) was staying home. If they don't come, it's on me to create for myself."