Friday, December 29, 2006
Another Poor ILLINI Showing - We Were Musketeered...
I know we're 12-3 on the season (and should be 15-0 to be honest), but tonight's loss was another good example of the problems we face heading into 2k7 and beyond. More in a second. In the four litmus-test games so far this season, we went 1-3 (not good). Sure, the three losses were all 'decent' losses. But they were LOSSES.
We need some leadership on offense, badly. Again, Dee and James are gone. Who's going to step up and stay there game in and out to provide the points when they're really needed? Scoring is a problem for my team right now. We just don't look in sync on offense. Nothing but inopportune turnovers are coming easily. On defense, there are too many ticky-tack fouls and not enough solid play. In every loss this season the opposition has gone to the charity stripe at least 10 more times than we have. We're just not playing great defense for 40 minutes. Sure, there are flashes - but they don't seem to last.
Beyond the leadership, scoring, and defensive lapses I just mentioned, I think the biggest problem might just be a lack of elite talent. Let me put it this way, who's the next pro? If you look at our BIG-10 Championship teams of late, they all had at least 2 or three NBA starters in the lineups: Brown, Williams, Head, Augustine, and Cook. We're missing that elite performer who can take over a game on both sides of the court as he leads the team, by will if required, to victory. I know Coach Weber can coach. He's a great teacher of the game who believes in gritty play on defense and motion in the half-court offense. We're not a run and gun squad anymore (like the '89 Flyin' Illini were - again, more serious pro-talent there).
So, what's really going on in Champaign these days? Obviously, losing recruits like Gordon to other BIG-10 foes (Indiana) doesn't help much. Illinois is a very rich basketball recruiting ground with some of the best high-school programs in the country coming out of Chicago, the burbs, and down-state (mainly Peoria). Perhaps Weber should steal a page out of the Zooker's notebook when it comes to recruiting. After all, Coach Ronnie and his team of recruiters do it just about as well as anybody in the country right now. And don't forget that this is basically his Gator team of seniors in the BCS title game against Ohio State. See my previous ZOOK BLOG. Until then, who's our next pro? I ask myself this question all the time.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
When you think about ILLNOIS football under Ron Zook (4-19 overall), winning tradition doesnt' come to mind. Nor does a recruiting power. And for now, you might be right about the former you'd be dead wrong about the latter. Illinois is currently ranked #12 in the nation by RIVALS.COM when it comes to next year's signing class. Wow, not shabby given our lack of winning lately.
We've landed some major names over the pat few months: McCray, Benn, and Wilson - all best in their respective positions. And, as we all know, CFB is all about people and personnel in every position from the AD's office to the coaches on the sideline. This is an interesting article to read, even if you're not an ILLINI fan. How does a coach with a career 27-33 record find a way to lure this talent?
Speaking about his decision to go with the Illini over his more prestigious suitors, Wilson told the Chicago Tribune he felt comfortable with the Illini's coaching staff -- specifically Zook. "I like this dude," said Wilson. "He wasn't an uptight white coach." Hopefully Zook will still be in Champaign in a few years to reap the benefits of his hard work off the field.
Now, all I want for Christmas is a good spring practice. The FUTURE of ILLINOIS football is taking shape on the recruiting trail this season. Hopefully, all of the hardwork off the field will pay-off handsomely come next September with the season opener against Mizzouri.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Bowl Games and Conference Domination
But this is 2k6/7. So the question becomes, which conference wins more bowl games and earns the right to be called the toughest conference in the land, in some respects? You can argue all you like about the SEC or the BIG-10 or the BIG East. But, when it's all said and done - let's see how things look after the games are played. And, the bowl-champion conference may not come from one of the six BCS districts. How about the Mountain West and their total domination in bowl games this year early on? TCU and BYU both opened up some serious cans of you know what against NIU and U of O, respectively. They actually looked like BCS teams.
Granted, it's still early. Many great games are ahead of us right now. But whom are you going to take in the UTAH / TULSA game this weekend? I know where my pick and points will be. The real question might just be why didn't I wager more?
At this point, I think the conference with the most to gain (and lose) is the BIG-10. Starting with the Insight Bowl (Minnesota versus Texas Tech) and ending with the BCS Title Game (Ohio State versus Florida), this conference can come up roses or go down in flames. History isn't necessarily on its side either. The BIG-10 appears in 7 bowl games this year. The competition will be fierce. I think they might only be favored in 2 or 3 at most to win, including the BUCKEYES over Florida. Realistically, 3 or 4 wins would be good. 5 or more wins would be fanatastic and totally unexpected for the conference. Going a perfect 7 for 7 is pretty much not going to happen (odds are better Oregon gets a Republican governor this century).
The SEC looks to be in good shape as it tries to defend the national reputation out there that it's the best in the land. They drew 9 bowl bids this year and have a realistic chance at getting 6 wins or more. I'd have to say that they're the insiders on winning the bowl challenge between conferences. The ACC, BIG-12, BIG EAST, and PAC-10 also are well represented this year with 8, 8, 4, and 6 bids, respectively. I'll be looking forward to see how Louisville, WV, Rutgers, and South Florida fair from what was once thought to be the 'softest conference' in the land. Last year the BIG-12 really did some damage in bowl season. I figure the ACC will lose a few games this year.
And the PAC-10 is really just the PAC-1. It's all about USC these days. Honestly, this conference may not win a bowl game, following in the shallow footsteps of Oregon. Oregon State, CAL, and UCLA may be their best shots. So, maybe the questions become will the PAC-10 win a bowl game, and if NOT are they the weakest conference in the land?
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Nothing like the Busch Braggin' Rights game every year this time. I love the holiday hoops action during the slow part of the bowl season. They've been writing new chapters of this story under the arch in St. Louis for the past 26 years. It's always been a battle between border states and brethren. Families and friends part ways each year, much like the Mississippi River separates the two states. It's the Busch Braggin' Rights afterall. The black & gold versus the orange & blue. The SAAVIS Center is always divided 50/50 by color (w/ 29k spectators in attendance). Throw out the rankings and records. Who cares? This game flat-out just matters! Physical half-court and full-court play are always on display. The BBR is quite simply a war of wills. You likely won't find many better early-season CBB clashes in the nation. No cupcakes here baby. Tonight's edition was no different. The BBR lived up to all of the pre-game expectations. Back and forth. Forth and back. Wooooaaaa, what a game! And like the past six matchups, this one was earned by the good guys in orange and blue (11-2). We needed this one badly after losing two early - season games in a row to national powerhouses (Arizona and Maryland). In so doing, Coach Weber won his 100th game at the U of I.
We got off to a good start in the first 10 minutes before foul trouble and bad basketball choices on both ends of the court cost us the 1st-half lead (38-35 bad guys). At times late in the first and then again early in the second half we lacked leadership, scoring, chemistry, and basketball acumen for long stretches of play. Winning at this level is about shot-selection (taking good ones) given current game conditions (score and time). Point guards need to be field generals, always thinking of how to score next the most efficient way. At times in the game tonight, my squad really struggled with these fundamentals. But, I have to give credit to MIZZOU who really played hard with the pressing full-court 'D'. Wow, that was impressive. Mike Anderson will have you guys ready for the BIG-DANCE come March - mark those words.
Smith, Pruitt, Frazier, and Randle all had big games tonight (all scoring in double-digits). Each also made great plays on defense to help hold the TIGERS in check down the stretch. Warren C. had a good first half before foul trouble dampened his 2nd-half performance. McBride really struggled tonight from the floor, but did make some big plays down the stretch to help his team win with the intangibles. Make no mistake about it, we needed this win tonight - probably more so than MIZZOU did.
Tonight's turning point seemed to come with ~ 10 minutes left on the clock. I think I saw my team come of age tonight during that stretch. My man Chester took the game over in terms of ball control. Shaun Pruitt started to execute down low en route to a career high (19 points), and Smith continued to light it up from downtown (is there a purer shooter in the country?). Keep in mind that key injuries and off - the - court distractions have taken their toll on this team since early November. This is only the 2nd game of the young season where McBride, Frazier, Carter, Pruitt, and Randle have all started. They've come along way in a few short days, but we have a long way to go as we grow into the start of the BIG-10 regular season.
We didn't shoot well from the floor tonight (43%). But we found a way to WIN. We really shot poorly from the charity stripe as well (continuing a bad early-season trend). We still found a way to WIN. But the real key to victory tonight was ball protection, especially by Chester Frazier. We just didn't turn it over against a savage TIGER defense. Next up, Idaho State at home in the HALL Thursday night.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Pretty impressive stuff. His teams are skilled, tenacious, and known for their agressive pressing defense (at both ends of the floor). Coach Weber has led the ILLINI through its most successful stretch of CBB in school history, including Lou Henson's reign.
Here are some additional imposing numbers:
- Under Coach Bruce, we're 47-3 at the hall (94%).
- The 2004/5 season ties the NCAA record for most wins (37). Should have been 38!
- We're 39-9 in the BIG-10 under Coach Weber's leadership. Wow! (81.3%).
- 44-4 during the regular season against non-conference foes.
- 20-7 on the road (74.1%).
- 8-3 in the NCAA Tourney, including our first - ever appearance in the Title Game Vs. UNC.
- 13-5 in the post-season overall.
- 29-6 all - time at the United Center (Since 1996); including today's win over UIC.
This guy can coach. And this year might be his toughest challenge in Champaign w/o that true senior leadership provided in the past by Brown, Head, Powell, and others. This-year's squad is much younger and therefore more inexperienced. The injuries to key players don't help either (Smith, Randle, Pruitt, McBride). Still, we're at 9-2 to start the campaign this year. Both of our losses were to quality programs (Maryland and Arizona). That being said, we should be 11-0 at this point heading into the BELMONT game.
Today's game was another victory, although somewhat of a disappointing ending. Again, we let the lead slip away down the stretch and had to play hard-ball for the victory (71-66 over UIC). The keys to victory today included clutch 3-point shooting from McBride and Meachem down the stretch. Good to see Brian Randle (9 points / 9 rebounds) back on the court after missing 9 games with a groin injury. My team is starting to get healthy and look better.
Don't get me wrong, there' still a lot of work to do before BIG-10 play opens in January. We still get Missour and XAVIER before going to Ann Arbor on January 3rd to face a good Michigan squad. That will be a tough way to start the 2007 campaign for sure.
It's hard to say how far this squad can go this year. I've previously thought 24-6 isn't out of the question IF we get and stay healthy the rest of the way. Of course, 18-12 is also a possibility. Our conference schedule is favorable this year with only two combined games (instead of 4) against Ohio State and Wisconsin - both at the HALL. I'm looking forward to that January 6th showdown in Champaing with those BUCKEYES and Oden.
Monday, December 04, 2006
Turning back to the BCS for a moment, Florida is the right choice THIS YEAR. Sorry to all of the MAZE and BLUE fans in Ann Arbor and across the nation, but win your conference first before lobbying for a place in the championship game. Otherwise, subjective arguments and hypothetical 'what if' scenarios are all you have to back-up your claim. Your title hopes were taken out of your hands when you lost to Ohio State in Columbus (on the field). Florida did it by playing the most difficult schedule in the nation this year. Oh, and the GATORS won the SEC last time I checked. And, in so doing, they are more worthy to lose to the BUCKEYES in Glendale. I could go on about the greatness of the SEC, SOS, 12 wins by Florida, who beat whom / where, no rematches, etc....I won't. For the 2nd year in a row, the BCS has given us the 'right' TITLE-game matchup.
Actually, the real BCS 'losers' this year are Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Oklahoma received the short-end of the shaft multiple times this year starting in Eugene back in September. They somehow found a way to shore-up their defense and continued to win. Then, they lost the best back in the nation and continued to keep the victory machine rolling with back-ups. The SOONERS only real loss of the season was to a very game TEXAS squad at the RED-RIVER SHOOTOUT. We should be having an expanded BCS discussion right now about who's more worthy to lose to Ohio State: Michigan, Florida, or Oklahoma? At least the SOONERS won their conference last time I checked. But hey, both Michigan and Oklahoma should shut up, display their 'talents' on the field, and be grateful they're not WISCONSIN.
Speaking of the BADGERS, it's like Deja Vu all over again (BERA). Remember Nebraska in 2001 when they went to the ROSE BOWL over Oregon only to get spanked ultimately by MIAMI and Larry Coker's squad? The HUSKERS weren't worthy back then, and the IRISH aren't worthy of a BCS bid now. 80% of the ESPN SPORTSNATION agrees. Come on, we all know this is about just one thing: cha-ching ($$$). I don't blame the SUGAR BOWL for wanting Notre Dame over WISCONSIN. It's probably true that TV ratings and advertising dollars will be slightly (assumption here) higher than with a BADGER/TIGER matchup. But in terms of at-large selections, nothing could be further from fair process. The BADGERS went 11-1 on the year to finish AHEAD of Notre DAME in the final BCS ranking. They beat the likes of Minnesota, Purdue, Penn State, and Iowa (all bowl teams this year). It wasn't their fault the BIG-10 was 'down' this year. What was the best Notre Dame win? Georgia Tech, Penn State, Purdue, or UCLA.
The BCS needs to abolish the 'rule' about no more than 2 teams from any given conference can play in the BCS the same year. What a bunch of *&(&*@#! And, they need to add a clause about winning your conference first before being eligible for the TITLE GAME. I was thinking about going as far as proposing 'no at-large teams' in the BIG GAME. But, that's probably too exclusive to non-BCS conferences (Notre Dame, Boise State, etc...). Remember, the difference between the BCS and other bowl games is HUGE! It's about national recognition, money, recruiting, satisfying alumni, and much much more. The time for a play-off has come. See an earlier BLOG entry below on how I fixed the BCS last year (and what that would mean for this year's games). But for now, enjoy 32 games of mediocrity (Fiutak ranks them all 1-32).
At least the Heisman race should go as predicted (Troy Smith). With over 2500 passing yards, 30 TD's verus 5 INT's, and a 67% completion percentage there is no doubt. Oh, and I did I mention he led the BUCKEYES to Glendale? At least there's no controversy here.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
There is no problem. College basketball doesn't get it. Neither do any of the other play-off systems in the land including the NFL, MLBA, NHL, and every other division in college atheletics. No, the BCS system as we know it (where computers and Terry Bradshaw rule the world) is the best championship system on earth. How could you go against the latest Core-2 Duo processors and a Micorsoft operating system? I put my complete faith in the digital world of 1's and 0's. Why don't you? I love the BCS - nothing could be better.
Thank you UCLA. You just had to go and beat the Trojans and throw the entire college football world into a total state of chaos. Actually, you could argue all day long how the Trojans just didn't capitalize on opportunities, but results are results. UCLA was the better team today on the field in terms of wanting it more than the men from Troy. Nobody was really able to shutdown that high-powered USC offense all year like this. I'm sure a major part of the story in Pasadena yesterday was USC looking ahead to a Glendale matchup with the BUCKEYES. Every major media outlet including ESPN had already give the 'W' to the trojans in the best cross-town clash in the country. This simply wasn't supposed to happen. But, each week is a new beginning in the world of CFB. Anything can happen. If you expect to win, you have to play each game and execute each play to the fullest. How else do you explain the BRUINS upsetting the TROJANS in the ROSE BOWL today? They hadn't beaten the TROJANS in 7 years. Carrol had never lost a game to UCLA, much less to Coach Dorrell.
And let's just face it already. The BCS is broken. We're in year 8 of this disaster. Let's call a lemon a lemon, fix it, and move on. What we have here is a total collapse of logic and fairness at the highest level of competition. If you want controversy year after year, then this is your baby. Keep the bathwater too; I'm not buyin'. It just doesn't work. Forget the N+1 too. We need a playoff. That's it. See my prior blog entry. I fix it all once and for all.
But before I go any further, congratulations to Billy Lane who won $50K in the Dr. Pepper Challenge tonight on the frozen tundra in Kansas City at the BIG-12 Championship. That should have been the Fighting Illini '71 out there pitching the pigskin for $1M. He didn't even come close on the money ball from 20 yards, missing badly to the right. But hey, Billy actually did fairly well. Later, he admitted that his wife will determine how the money would be spent. Another difference between me and Billy, for sure. Who else is sick of these Championship games besides me? I can't drink anymore Dr. Pepper without getting nautious.
And how about those officials form the PAC-10 who called the ILLINOIS / ARIZONA game today? Every time my team broke a sweat they were getting whistled for a personal foul. They blew the whistle against my ILLINI 16 more times today than they did against Arizona. Yeah, right. That's fair. Bite me. I know I'm a little bitter after losing in Phoenix today to Arizona (84-72). It was actually a close game in the 2nd - half after we blew a 16-point first-half lead. This was a lousy game for my ILLNI and the officials who called the game. But, I can't be too disappointed in the outcome. I figured we had no chance to win today. Our two best players were OOP recovering from injuries. We won't be at full strength until mid December when Randle returns to the lineup. Come back soon Brian. We need your points desperately. Nonetheless, I'm proud of my ILLINI b-ball squad. We grew up big-time today on a national stage. Actually, despite the two losses, this has been a great week for my young ILLINI team. We're getting better with each and every possession. I've enjoyed watching my team mature this week. I've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. We're on the right trajectory. Coach Weber has us moving forward as our team learns to play from behind and with the lead. This week will go a long way towards our development as we look to challenge for the BIG-10 title yet again. We will rise from these ashes.
And KUDOS to WAKE FOREST after beating GT 9-6 in a baseball game at the ACC Championship. No TD's all day. How exciting was that to watch? I'm glad I didn't. Seriously, great win for WAKE FOREST today. It was their first ACC title in ~ 40 years. They will go to the Orange Bowl next year to take on those Cardinals from Louisville. The CARDS beat the HUSKIES today and benefited from a RUTGERS loss in Morgantown (3OT).
So what about the BCS? Isn't it great? It makes my play-off proposal look like a joke. How arrogant must I be to think that there is a better way. All I can say is give me a title game in the desert between Ohio State and Florida, yes those mean and nasty Gators have earned it. Michigan already had its shot at the BUCKS; and they lost. No way should a team play in the national- title game when it doesn't win its conference title. Plus, when you look at the strength of schedules, nobody has played a more difficult one than Florida. They are clearly the 2nd-best team in the nation tonight after the USC loss. At 12-1 (after beating Arkansas tonight in the SEC championship), they deserve a whack at Ohio State. Their only loss this year was on the road to Auburn. No harm there in my opinion. Check this out, the GATORS have beaten Tennessee, Florida State, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, LSU, Kentucky, and Arkansas in the same year. They've earned the right to lose to Ohio State in Glendale.
So, here are your likely BCS games:
Orange: Wake Forest Vs. Louisville
Rose: USC Vs. Michigan
Fiesta : Boise State Vs. Oklahoma
Sugar: Notre Dame Vs. LSU
Title Game: Florda Vs. Ohio State
So it comes down to the computers, the Harris pole, and the Coaches' poll. Give me Florida / Ohio State or give me death. My best three arguments for the GATORS over the WOLVERINES are:
1) Florida had the toughest schedule in the land (12-1 result). Last time I checked, 12 > 11.
2) Florida won its conference title (more than Michigan can say @ 11-1).
3) Carr and company already had their chance. They lost to Ohio State. No rematches, please.
4) I hate Michigan. What do you expect.
Friday, December 01, 2006
So here we go as I re-hash my plan for fixing the BCS in the 21st century. And why not? If every other sport and division can have a playoff system so too can DIV 1-A of CFB. My Christmas wish this year? That this be the last year in the current screwed-up format. Atheletic directors, presidents, and commissioners all need to sit down at a common table with ESPN and fix this thing, ASAP. Without further a - do, here is how my proposal (posted over a year ago on the BLOG) would play out in 2k6/7. Feast your eyes on this system and the best games in the land which ultimately would give us the best school in CFB each year. You can have your cake and eat it too. We would have a playoff and the BOWL games. What more could anyone ask for?
Refresh: in my proposal the TOP 12 BCS - ranked teams at the end of the regular season (when USC beats UCLA again) qualify for the BCS playoff. The top 4 teams receive a 'bye' in the first round which would give us 4 great games between teams 5-12. So as of today (12/1), Ohio State, USC, Michigan, and Florida would enjoy a week off during round #1.
ROUND #1 Games:
Oklahoma Vs. LSU in a regional playoff game (#12 versus #5)
Auburn Vs. Louisville in regional playoff game #2 (#11 versus #6)
Notre Dame Vs. Wisconsin in regional playoff game #3 (#10 verus #7)
Arkansas Vs. Boise State in regional playoff game #4 (#9 versus #8)
In each of these first-four games, the higher seed would be the 'home' team with geographic preference being a consideration on placement. There would be 4 regions that would 'host' the first-round games: EAST, SOUTH, MIDWEST, and WEST. Venues might include the Meadowlands (EAST), Georgia dome (SOUTH), Metrodome (MIDWEST), and the new stadium in Glendale, AZ (WEST). In this example, I would send game #1 to Atlanta, game #2 to New Jersey, game #3 to Minnesota, and game #4 to Arizona. You get the idea.
ROUND #2 Games (Traditional New-Year's Bowl Games):
Point of order, I would re-rank the top-8 teams after the first round using BCS logic (or an improved version of it). So a 'bye' team may not end - up being in the top-4, for example. This year, I'm assuming that LSU, Louisville, Wisconsin, and Arkansas all win their first-round games. Not totally unreasonable in my opinion. That being the case, the TOP - 8 BCS teams might read something like: Ohio State, USC, Michigan, LSU, Wisonsin, Louisville, Florida, and Arkansas. These teams would play on January 1st 2k7 in the 4 MAJOR BOWL GAMES:
Fiesta Bowl: Florida Vs. USC
Orange Bowl: Wisconsin Vs. LSU
Sugar Bowl: Louisville Vs. Michigan
Rose Bowl: Arkansas Vs. Ohio State
What a slate of New-Year's games. Talk about advertising possibilities.
ROUND #3 Games -National Semis
Point of order. Assuming USC, LSU, Michigan, and Ohio State win their BOWL games. The National semifinals would look like:
LSU Vs. Ohio State
Michigan Vs. USC
The games can actually be played on the same day in the same venue (San Antonio, Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis, Seattle, Phoenix, etc...). How cool would it be to have a 3pm and 8 pm (eastern timezone) slate for these of games? And on to the National Finals.
ROUND #4 Game - The Title Game
Ohio State Vs. USC - you pick the winner. It would all come to and end by the middle of January. Tell me this wouldn't be better than the current system of chaos. Finally, the BOWL GAMES would have meaning again beyond their occurrence. And, since they'd all be played on the same day (as they were intended by a higher power) the universe would once again be restored to order. Finally, for good measure, there would be a pathway to the title for 'deserving' teams like Boise State who went 12-0 this year. Even with that 'great' record, they have NO CHANCE in the current system at this contry's national title (would you like guacamole with that salsa and chips?). What a travesty! But, in the proposed system, get to 16 wins and glory for all time is yours. Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Tell me what you think. Until then, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!