I got to tell you, I'm loving the Big Ten Network now that college basketball season has begun. The fact that most of the exhibition games have been televised in the first week of action, with many more games to be aired throughout the course of the season. Actually, even though these games appear to be meaningless, and for the most part, tuneups for Division I teams for their seasons, try telling that to Ohio State and Michigan State. Both the Buckeyes and the Spartans dropped their opening exhibition games, and these games had the feel of an early round March Madness NCAA Tournament game. Just because these teams are Division II squads, doesn't mean that they are taken lightly. Quite the opposite, in fact, for the upstarts. Take Michigan State, for example. Grand Valley State, their opponent, was ranked third in Division II, and throughout the game, they outplayed the Spartans, and came away with the victory. The same holds true for mighty Findlay College, who beat the Buckeyes on Tuesday night in Columbus. Maybe they were overlooking their opponents? Whatever the case, one thing remains true; these games were seen only on the Big Ten Network. Yeah, I'm back to this again. Cable customers in the Champaign-Urbana area are missing out, but it is not your fault. Which is why so many of you are going the satellite route with either Dish Network or Direct TV. Insight Communications is being acquired by Comcast, and they are not wanting to play ball with the Big Ten. Earlier in the year, I had a chance to sit down with Mark Silverman, the president of the Big Ten Network, and he said that Comcast was still in the early negotiation stages, and that no progress was being made. Dish Network came on right after I dropped them for Direct TV, but what the big issue continues to be is this is a Big Ten town with a major player in the conference within the boundaries, and so many people cannot see the games. For instance, the Illini's game with Kentucky Wesleyan on Tuesday evening was on the network, so the only way to see the game if you have cable was to either get to the Assembly Hall, or go to your favorite watering hole and watch it there. It was a pretty good showing for the Illini, as they dominated their guests 76-39, behind Trent Meacham, who scored 12 points. Bruce Weber certainly has a dilemma on his hands, as he attempts to find out who should redshirt for the upcoming season. Two likely candidates early on, Bill Cole and Mike Davis, have been playing well, so that makes the decision even harder. One person that I personally think should sit out this season is Brian Carlwell. Since his accident in February, he has not seemed like the same person that he was beforehand. Sure, he was seriously injured, but he just doesn't act like himself, and it may call for him to sit out a year and recover even further. Weber stated after the win over Kentucky Wesleyan that he may not redshirt anyone to start off; he may simply not play certain people until others prove that they do not fit the mold of the offense. He has plenty of players this season, and minutes may be hard to come by for everyone to be happy. This should get interesting, as the regular season begins on Sunday afternoon when the Illini host Northeastern at the Assembly Hall.
I'm sure most of you had heard that Michael Jordan was on campus last month to film a spot for the Today Show with Matt Lauer. Well, this spot will air on Friday, November 9 at 8:30 am. So, set your DVRs and watch a legend roam the Ubben Basketball Complex. I have some sweet pictures of MJ's ride that was forwarded to me, and his Ferrari was just proof that he is doing alright. Hopefully this season I will be fortunate to meet him, because after talking with his son Jeff at media day, he is a really nice young man that is excited to be at Illinois. Here's hoping that his father likes what he sees.
Ron Zook's Illini football squad officially secured themselves a bowl berth with their victory over Minnesota last Saturday in Minneapolis. The 44-17 rout was satisfying in more ways than one, mainly because Rashard Mendenhall had another superb rushing performance, gaining 201 yards on the ground. Mendenhall should break the all-time single season rushing record, held by Antonieo Harris this week. Speaking of this week's game, it doesn't get any better than this. The Illini, who are 7-3 overall and 4-2 in Big Ten play, venture to the Horseshoe in Columbus to take on #1 Ohio State. This will be the sternest test of Zook's in this, his turnaround year. The game will kickoff at 2:30 pm central time, and yes, the entire nation will be able to see the game, as it will be televised on ABC. The notoriety of the Illini continues to be spread, as J Leman, Vontae Davis, and Jason Reda are all semi-finalists for awards given out at the close of the college football season. Leman is nominated for the Chuck Bednarik award, given to the top defensive player in the nation, while Davis is in contention for the Jim Thorpe award, which is given to the best defensive back in the country. Reda is up for the Lou Groza Award, which is awarded to the top placekicker. All three awards will be announced on the Home Depot College Football Awards Show, which will be televised on ESPN on December 6.
As the basketball team heads into the regular season and a trip to Hawaii to play in the Maui Classic, while the football team solidifies their bowl placement, alas, I will be watching on television. We are set to welcome our son into this world on Monday, so my nights for a while will be dedicated to nurturing him and introducing him to the world of college sports, of course, most of which will be on the Big Ten Network. Hoops junkies unite!