Tuesday, January 23, 2007
I still feel the chill in the air between Sampson and Weber around the whole Gordon recruiting deal. Then there is the whole matter of geographic proximity, not to be confused with oragraphic lift. Boys and girls, this was another border war, plain and simple. We hate them. They hate us. It just doesn't get any clearer than that. To put it in perspective, it's sort of like the UW / UO rivalry each year between PAC-10 rivals ( x 10).
As for the game. Only 94 points were scored. It was 23-23 at the break. Like I said before; this was a BIG-10 conference game. Every shot was contested. I saw more hand checks and body contact than they had at the State of the Union tonight. There were no easy baskets. The shot-clock even worked itself up into a good lather tonight.
We held the bad guys (Indiana) scoreless for over 17 minutes between the end of the first half and the start of the second. Wow. Very impressive. How does that famous quote go again, "You might win if you score a lot of points. You won't lose if you hold your opponent scoreless. Defense, my friends, defense wins championships." It's been an up and down season (mostly down) in Champaign this winter, but the one constant in every game but one (Ohio State blowout loss) has been our defense. Relentless. Vicious. Fierce. Fearful. Naaaaasty (see the final score again)! Indiana can score. They entered the hall winning five of six (14-4 overall). The Hoosiers have been playing great ball of late (road win this weekend at UCONN). Make no mistake about this, tonight's win couldn't have come at a better time. OK, maybe a month ago - but who's counting?
This was our first win of the season over a ranked team. Wow; let me say that again. This was our first win of the season over a ranked team (#23 Hoosiers). It took us five attempts. This won't go down as another great Illinois basketball season unless we do some serious damange down the stretch to qualify for the BIG DANCE and excel in March. We've already lost three home games this year (first time since '98-'99). Actually, if you look at the 7 losses on the year, there's just the one really bad home loss to Ohio State (and is that such a bad thing anyway?). We lost the other six games by an average margin of ~ 7.5 ppg (all of which we led, some big, at one point or another). Ugh!
So what does this all mean? I don't know. I do know we're now 15-7 (3-4 in conference) with nine to play (4 at home). That's a lot better than 14-8 with four home losses and starting out 2-2-5 in the BIG-10. We've had to battle through several major challenges ranging from injury to alcohol abuse. Don't get me wrong, we're still far from healthy. I fully recognize that this year's squad is still a work in progress. Maybe, just maybe, things will start to come together down the stretch of conference play. We're starting to run out of opportunities to dazzle the selection committee. I do know this: we won't be going anywhere without continued excellent play from Pruitt and McBride. They have been carrying this team over the past few contests. We need to ride these two ponies hard down the conference stretch to have any chance at an NCAA tourney bid.
That made tonight's win even that much more impressive as Brian Randle sat on the sidelines for the entire game in warm-ups. Up next, Purdue in West Lafayette, IN. That won't be easy. Then we get SPARTY again at the Hall. We could win the next nine games. Or, we could lose the next nine games. Conventional wisdom says that we need 20 wins before the BIG-10 tourney in order to bounce off the bubble. Right now, we're still on the outside looking in at the BIG DANCE. We won't be if we win our next three or four games. We just can't go on another losing stretch right now. That margin of error evaporated earlier in the season. Assuming that we get 4 home wins (not the safest bet these days), then all we would need is one more at Purdue, or Northwestern, or Indiana, or Penn State, or at Iowa. 20 or bust!
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Today's loss drops us to 2-4 in the BIG TEN this year (14-7 overall). Over the past 7 years, we're now 102-7 inside the HALL with three of those losses coming in the last two months. We had so many chances to put pull away and put this one away; but didn't. One of our achilles heels came back to bite us big time - foul shooting (just 14-23 from the charity stripe, worst in conference). And the misses were compounded by the fact that most of them were big momentum changers.
On the down side, Jamar Smith continues to struggle with angle injuries (to both of them). One of the most prolific outside scorers in the land, he's been saddled with pain in his legs for most of the year. It's hard to get off a good shot without the lower body supporting the release.
On the plus side, Pruitt (19 points) and McBride (15 points) both had great games down low and outside, respectively. Rich showed me that he still has a little heart and soul left in his step as a senior. He's still one of the best bombers in the land from the outside, although has struggled this year with some poor shot selection. Pruitt was huge down low against a very physical Wisconsin squad. Bo Ryan's guys play great defense, especially in the half court. They bang and pound for 40 minutes every night. And of course, the ORANGE KRUSH were amazing yet again in providing the home-court support to a team which is lacking in talent (especially scoring leadership). We get Indiana at home next.
I said a few months ago when I just didn't have a handle on this year's team that we could go 24-7 or 18-13 during the regular season. With only 10 games remaining (5 and 5) in conference play before the BIG - 10 tourney, I'm thinking the former prediction is less likely to materialize. 18-13 is looking more likely at this point. But who knows? There is a chance we run the table assuming we find ourselves and get extremely hot. Road games at Purdue, Indiana, Iowa, and NW won't be easy wins. However, assuming my EOY prediction is correct, we won't be going dancing this year w/o a deep run in the BIG-10 conference tourney. Again, not likely to happen. Hello NIT.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Or are we? You know where you are. This is a biased blog for all things ILLINOIS - no matter what. I see things from blue & orange tinted spectacles. And rightly so. I was proud to see us protect another BIG lead down the stretch. We often get them, but rarely protect them. Seriously, instead of 14-6 we should be 17-3 and in the top-15 with additional wins over Maryland, Arizona, and Michigan State. Those three games really haunt me right now. Ugh! The BIG DANCE is all about BIG WINS - who'd you beat and where'd you beat them? Right now we only have the one quality win (Missouri). Tonight's road win in Minneapolis was nice, but hardly constitutes a 'good win' for the selection committee.
Carter had another good game (which he seems to do every now and then) with 17 points and 11 rebounds (2x 2x). We seem to 'own' Minnesota in basketball, winning our 16th in a row dating back to '98/'99. It was also good to see some life from Randall and Meachem (both had 12 points). And looky there, Mr. Rich McBride might just be realizing that this is his last year on the hardwood, hitting 12 of his last 26 three-point attempts. We'll need his leadership and scoring for the rest of conference play to make any hay in the conference. I hope we don't turn into one of those desperate tourney teams who thinks they can 'play their way into' the BIG DANCE with a desperate conference - tourney run. No time like the present to take charge of your own destiny. Lets build upon this one boys and bring it home on Saturday against Wisconsin. We are capable. We are talented (enough). But, do we want it?
Sunday, January 14, 2007
We did show some life at home on Wednesday against Iowa. We were up early in that one only to trail at the break before mounting a steady comeback in the 2nd half to hold on for a 'must-have' win in BIG-10 play. That would have been devastating had we lost our 4th in a row (3rd in conference). But, it didn't happen. Breakout games by Randle (16 points) and McBride (five 3's) were really the difference. I've been waiting all season for a healthy ILLNOIS squad to showcase its athleticism. The truth is we're a balanced squad - scoring from downtown and down low. Of course, any Weber-coached team will play tenacious defense. This year's team is no different. We press and check as well as anyone in the half-court 'D'.
Going into today's road game against the SPARTANS, we sported a two-game winning streak inside the Breslin Center. Head to head, Illinois led the series with SPARTY 52-48, including seven of the last ten. SPARTY had gotten the better of us at home (30-18 overall). The first half of today's game was all good guys (up 11 at the break). We won the turnover, rebounding, steal, and assist battles convincingly. More importantly, I saw mostly good decisions being made - demonstrating some solid basketball acumen. Our defense was tenacious, and we leveraged the down-low play with Pruitt, Carter, and Carlwell. On the outside, Rich McBride led the charge (nine points) en route to 3 for 8 from behind the arc. We actually had some chemistry for a rare time all year.
Then there was the 2nd half. It was as if we went into the break and swtiched jerseys with SPARTY. Ugh! What a difference a halftime can make. We had more turnovers (six) than points (five) during the opening eight minutes of the second stanza (eventually 8 turnovers during 16 posessions). Billy Packer had it right (I like him a lot as an analyst compared to Vitale and others). Panic mode seemed to set in unnecessarily. We had the ball and an 11 point lead and chose to let it evaporate away with poor shot selection and sloppy defense. Too many guys were just standing around on both ends of the court, flat-footed play. It was obvious to me that we were affected by the home crowd and decided to press in response. Our matchups were poor and our shot selections even worse. SPARTY took us out of our gameplan. After that, it was all down hill from there - sparked by a 15-0 Michigan-State run.
Chalk this loss up as another one that didn't have to be (like the Maryland and Arizona losses earlier in the year). At least Chester had a great game back after missing the IOWA contest (or this one could have been much worse). When are we going to learn that there are forty minutes to regulation? When are we going to learn there are no such things as style points in the college game? When are we going to learn that free throws matter; and make some (11th in the BIG-TEN)? There's a big difference in being 14-5 versus 13-6 (which we now are). This was our 3rd 'give-away' loss of the season - so far. With Minnesota next (on the road) and Wisconsin on Saturday (at home), it wont' get any easier in conference play. Right now we're on the outside of the BIG DANCE looking in. What a turn of events from two years ago when we battled UNC for the National Title. Of course, that team had 5 pros on it: Powell, Head, Williams, Brown, and Augustine. And, I ask again, 'who's our next pro?'. The real question I have for my squad right now; does any of this matter now? What are we playing for? Next year is a long long way away.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
What's that? No, you're not mistaken. You've come to the right place. It's 2007, the year of the IPHONE from Apple (not Apple Computer anymore). As an Illinois Alum, I just figured I'd do my best to console my fellow comrades from Columbus in their moments of mourning. After all, this is the game they came to see - like Cesar in the Coleseum giving his approval for the final kill. No way was Florida going to deprive them of their 2nd title in 4 years. And, these very same BUCKEYES beat TEXAS (in Austin) who just happened to win it all last year in Pasadena under the lights of the ROSE BOWL. There just couldn't be any other acceptable outcome. Or could there?
By now, you've probably read the ariticles and seen the news stories on how the GATORS just simply put the 'beat-down' on the BUCKEYES to win their 2nd National Title in 100 years. I won't go into too much detail on how that was done - you watched the same 'game' I did, right? Florida was the better team THAT NIGHT. Sure, they were faster, stronger, hungrier, more efficient, and yes even better prepared than Tressel's squad to take care of business in the biggest game most of these players will ever play. I can't believe I just said all that crap. Florida, better prepared than Ohio State? Urban Meyer more crafty than Jim Tressel - who prides himself in making the right decision on each and every down? Florida (from the SEC) just exposed the BUCKEYES for who they really are (and the BIG-10 for what it really is).
The 2006/7 BUCKEYES were a great team, just not a championship - quality team. Troy Smith was a great college quarterback. Unfortunately, he'll go down in CFB history with the likes of Gino Toretta, Vinny Testaverde, Jason White, and Eric Crouch instead of Reggie Bush. Come on, were they really tested this year by that schedule (BIG BLUE at home in Columbus)? Heck, they didn't even play the best team in the conference (Wisconsin). Illinois gave them their toughtest game of the year (arguably - I know). Both Michigan and Ohio State lost their respecitive bowl attempts by a combined differential of more than 40 points to Florida and USC. The BIG - 10 went just 2-5 in bowl games this season with really NO impressive wins (sorry Penn State and Wisconsin).
Tressel usually masters these games. But last night was his worst loss as a BUCKEYE head coach in giving up 41 points. This was the worst BUCKEYE loss in over 12 years. Troy Smith was sacked more times (5) than he had competions (4). Ugh - that's ugly. I could go on and on. Coyote ugly comes to mind. What a nightmare if you're from Ohio and pulling for the BUCKS. Digest these final numbers:
- 21-8 (first-down advantage for Florida).
- 370 - 82 (total yards in favor of the Gators).
- 3rd-down conversions @ 1-9 (Ohio State).
- Time of possession: 40-20, advantage Urban's Army.
- The final line for Smith: 4-14, 35 yards, 1 INT.
A few final thoughts on the 2k6/7 season. What a great year. Here's Fiutak's list of the best and the worst bowl games this season. The bowl challenge went in favor of the BIG EAST this year (yes, that's right). They won all 5 of their bowl games. The MWC came in 2nd place with a 75% winning percentage (3-1 overall). The SEC went 6-3, not bad. The PAC-10 batted 500 (3-3 after a tough start). How about the BIG-12 (3-5) and the BIG -10 (2-5)? Ouch - not good. Independents went 0-2 (including the Notre Dame massacre by LSU).
The FINAL AP POLL of the year came out right after the game: Florida, Ohio State, LSU, USC, and Boise State. Well, based on what I saw this year I'd have to go with: Florida, USC, LSU, Ohio State, and Boise State. I just don't think that the BUCKEYES are even the 2nd best team in the land anymore after what happened last night. Who wins on a neutral field right now, LSU or Ohio State? Obviously, the Gators have to be #1. But, I would put Pete Carrol over Les Miles anyday. And how about Boise State? We really need a playoff. Wouldn't a Florida / Boise State game be great right about now for dessert?
I just wonder what tweaks they'll make to the system for next year? Stay - tuned. And check - back often during the off-season. Media day is right around the corner (July for most conferences). Next year's TITLE GAME is the SUGAR BOWL in New Orleans. The BLOG goes high-tech in 2k7 with a new look and maybe even some podcasting.
For now, Kudos to the GATORS for becoming the first University to ever hold both men's football and basketball titles at the same time. Very cool. Only six schools can even say they've won both titles, the closest being 8 years apart between sports. In case you're wondering, the others are Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Syracuse, and Ohio State.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
Ronler Bowl Mania Champ - Mr. Kreskin?
The only questions which remain are where and when to take the Amazing Kreskin to lunch to celebrate his glorious performance. Stay - tuned for more details. I'm not sure what Mr. Lee was thinking as he made his picks this year, but it appears as if his decisive picks involved the following games:
- USC over Michigan (3 points) - great pick. In retrospect, all I can say to myself is what the hell was I thinking in taking BIG BLUE in the ROSE BOWL with Lloyd Carr up against Pete Carrol.
- Wisconsin over Arkansas (9 points) - wow, very impressive pick. There had to be some luck here. Nonetheless - awesome pick in taking the BIG - 10 in a bowl game, especially agains the SEC on New Year's Day. Gutty.
- Miami over Nevada (10 points) - out West in Boise. Holy cow (to quote Harry Caray)! Many took Miami but few put as many points on the CANES in the cold PNW as Mr. Kreskin. Knowledge on display ladies and gentlemen.
- FSU over UCLA (8 points) - are you kidding me? Who else took FSU anyway? Not many. Chet really likes the Florida teams, accept when they face Ohio State. Great pick.
Looking back on another amazing bowl season of CFB, here are some final observations before the TITLE GAME in Glendale tomorrow night:
1) It's never over until it's over. Yogi Bera had several quotes on this. But seriously, how many games taught us this lesson over and over again over the past 20 days? Probably 8-10, at least.
2) 32 Bowl Games are NOT too many! Yes, that's right. The fact that most DIV 1-A schools have extended seasons is GOOD for CFB. And good for me.
3) However, that being said, it's time for a playoff. Who's the best team in the land right now? Boise State, LSU, Ohio State, Florida, USC - we'll never really know for sure now will we? I would argue that those CAJUN TIGERS from LSU are probably most worthy of the national title. Who played a tougher schedule with 'better' losses? But, it's almost too close to call. We need a playoff. See a previous post back in December on how I propose to fix the BCS once and for all.
Saturday, January 06, 2007
Now for the good news. There is none. Honestly, it doesn't get much uglier than this. Today's loss to Ohio State might have been our worst loss in years. I can't remember a time when we played so poorly on offense. We have a lot of issues to address right now to save the rest of the season. We're at a crossroads. We can find a way to move forward or let things continue to unravel into utter despair. You know it gets bad when Nessler and Lavin have to dig real deep to explain what a CornJerker is. Ugh - I don't know how much longer I can take this.
Right now, all I see from my ILLINI squad is confusion on offense, a lack of scoring confidence, and no signs of team chemistry. To say we're out of sync is an understatement. We're wasting some fairly decent defensive efforts too. Randle and McBride have been two complete senior busts this year with injuries and suspensions. We have no senior leadership on the court and that is part of the problem. In addition to the confusion and chemistry issues, we seem to be too slow down low in the post on offense. Many times we're late on making crisp defensive rotations. Dee / James - where are you? We miss you badly. Please find a way to come back? I know - it won't happen. Seriously, who is our next pro?
Ouch, only 22 points in the first half on 23% shooting. I think we only shot 25% for the game. It was ugly, embarrassing, and not worthy of the tradition and heritage at my alma mater. We have some serious problems in Champagin these days. Both major men's programs appear to be in shambles. At least the Zooker is making some progress on the recruiting trail - something Weber has been struggling with of late. Where do we go from here? How do we build confidence? What does this mean for us in the BIG-10? Are we going to quit on the season? Up next, Iowa at home.
Monday, January 01, 2007
Maybe not, but if you missed it, you just missed everything great about CFB. I'm done apologizing to all of those NFL guys out there (social deviants). This is the best team game on the planet. Period! Pick sixes, 4th and longs, two-point conversions, hook and ladders, option rollouts, and even the famous statue of liberty for victory. Wow. What a game in Glendale. Here's hoping the BCS TITLE game is 1/2 as interesting. Too bad USC lost to UCLA last month. A Trojan / Buckeye matchup is sounding better and better with each passing moment.
Are you ready for a playoff yet? The time has come. For the 5th time in BCS history a team with an undefeated record will be denied the opportunity to play for the national title. What a shame, especially this year with Boise State. It is only the 2nd time that a non BCS conference team won a BCS game (UTAH under Meyer = 1st). What a perfect night for Boise State. Right after the game, Ian Johnson proposed to his girlfriend at mid-field, helmet in one hand and ring in the other. She said yes.
My Pre Pre Pre Season TOP CFB10
1) USC - any doubt? Ohio State beats Michigan by 3. USC beats Michigan by 14. Hmmm.
2) Michigan. They'll bounce-back nicely after this loss. And, are fully loaded with seniors.
3) Texas. I sense a trend here. Colt McCoy will have another big year in Austin.
4) Florida. The gators may lose the title game next week. They'll be SEC east favorites in 2k7.
5) West Virginia. Rich is back. So are most of the big-time playmakers on offense.
6) LSU. These Tigers are for real. Especially with Russell at QB for his last year. Maybe.
7) Tennessee. Ainge will be a senior next year. Will that make a difference?
8) CAL. Offense remains basically unchanged (w/o Lynch). Defense a slight concern.
9) Arkansas. More maturity at the QB position.
10) Mid-Major / BCS Buster of Choice.
What An Interesting Bowl Season - So Far...
Now, back to the 2k6/7 BOWL SEASON for a bit. I mean, what the hell? It's been an interesting run so far to say the least as we head into the major action on New Year's Day. Yes, it's only 5:24AM on the LEFT COAST as I pen this blog entry. What can I say - I'm motivated for success this year; call it a resolution if you like. The early bird gets the worm, or so I'm told. And I'm getting a little hungry. The other ones I have are to get a little more organized and to invest my limited resources a little more wisely. And, I want to lose 5 pounds before the SUPER BOWL. You'll want to check back in a month to see how I'm doing against all three goals.
OK, on to the real content of this article. Like every bowl season, this one has had its ups and downs to date - with more surely to follow in the last remaining days of amped-up holiday action. Isn't this just a grand little game? And after catching at least 5 minutes of every game to date (except for those college bowls on the NFL Channel?), let me start-off with the early disappointments to date before I ramp into some of the highlights of this year's collegiate feast of football.
THE BUMMERS (Disappointmenting losses so far) -
- First on this list has to be Oregon for not even showing up against BYU in VEGAS.
- Then there was the UCLA collapse in Frisco against an underachieving FSU squad.
- And what about my RICE OWLS in the first New Orleans BOWL of the season, losing convincingly to the men from TROY (not SC BTW)?
- Ugh, the heartache gets worse for me with New Mexico. Oh, those wiley LOBOS. How do you lose a BOWL game played on your home field anyway? Simple, when you don't even deserve to be invited and your coach quits for greener pastures (TULANE).
- Sure, BAMA let me down against the POKES in probably one of the most exciting games to date (Independence BOWL). But, they weren't favored to win it either.
- And, what about those TIGERS from CLEMSON (losing to KY in the Music City BOWL)? Clearly, the ones from LSU are much more deserving of virtually the same fight song. These TIGERS are another underachieving team from the ACC (theme here - stay tuned).
- Oh, don't let me forget the biggest choke job of the season to date, VA TECH (ACC). I know some may disagree here in siding with Minnesota who gave up a 31-point lead to Texas Tech. But, the HOKIES were supposed to have the #1 rated 'D' in the land going up against the lowly Georgia Bulldawgs. An 18 - point lead with 6 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter should have been enough to cement the Chick-Fil-A BOWL. Apparently, Beamers Boys didn't eat enough Chikin' during the pregame meal.
- As usual, the ACC is killing me again in BOWL SEASON, not just during the regular deal. Combined - CLEMSON, FSU, and VA TECH have cost me 59 to just the 35 gained with Maryland, Miami, and BC. And, still two more ACC games left on the schedule. Yikes! I despise this conference whole heartedly.
EARLY HIGHLIGHTS (Got me my points anyway) -
- KUDOS to Texas Tech for not giving up against Minnesota in the Insight Bowl a few nights ago. Yes, you go down in history now as having the largest bowl comeback every after making up a 31-point deficit to the Golden Gophers. Ouch Glenn, this one has to hurt going into next season.
- Ditto for Oregon State in their comback against Missouri. Gutsy call by Riley to go for 2 and the win in regulation. Not sure Bernard made the conversion, but all that matters is the inconclusive decision of the men in stripes who untangled the pile up at the goal line. Note to Missouri and the rest of the nation, don't kick to Sammy!
- Sentimental victories by Miami (over Nevada) and BC (over NAVY) were also heartwarming to this soul. Not only did both bring me hard-earned MANIA points, but it's good to see two teams from the ACC win a few ball games. Seriously, glad Coker got the win on his way out of Coral Gables through Boise. It looked chilly on the smurf-turf last night.