2008 has not been kind to the Illini sports teams. Beginning with the football team losing 49-17 in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day, the month of January has been one to forget. Bruce Weber's basketball team have been struggling all season, especially in the month of January. In 9 contests, they have won just 2, including dropping an 83-75 contest to the Purdue Boilermakers last Saturday. What seems even more puzzling is the home record this season. In the past several seasons, the Assembly Hall has been a place where the Illini have been nearly unbeatable. But, 2007-08 finds the Illini just 6-5 at home, including losses to non-conference foes Miami (Ohio) and Tennessee State. The struggles this season may finally be starting to wear on Weber as well, as his tirade against Purdue will attest. Upset at some of the officiating calls, Weber became agitated and had to be restrained by an assistant coach from storming the court. Yes, this behavior probably wasn't in Weber's best judgement, but when you are used to winning and have a season like the Illini are experiencing, these things are bound to occur. Still, it was a fleeting moment to see Bruce fling off the sportcoat, a la his long-time mentor, Gene Keady.
The date has been circled on the calendar for months now, and the wait is almost over. Indiana and Eric Gordon make their only appearance to Champaign this season, (8:00 pm central time, ESPN) and given the past history in this saga, it should be a memorable event. It was Gordon that spurned the Illini during the recruitment process, something Illini Nation has not forgotten. Bruce Weber said in his weekly address to the media that the coaching staff has moved on from the incident, but fans will not be as forgiving. For those that were in attendance last season when Hoosiers coach Kelvin Sampson was introduced, this welcome for Gordon will make that seem like church. The Orange Krush will make Mr. Gordon's visit one to remember for him, and for those of you watching on television on Thursday need to turn the sound up to hear for yourselves the greeting that he will get. My only hope is that they keep it clean.
Jolette Law's women's team has been enduring a tough January of their own, with just 2 wins in 8 games. Unlike the men, though, the women have been in every game, losing 4 games by 3 points or less. They did, however, end the month on a high note when they defeated #19 Ohio State 68-64 on January 31. This was a defining moment for the Illini, according to Law, and they followed this up by beating Michigan on the road for a two game winning streak. The Illini have
won these games without one of their best players, Danyel Crutcher, who has not been traveling with the team due to a coach's decision. Audrey Tabon also was suspended for a game for missing a practice, but with the Illini starting to play better once again, maybe the worst is behind them. The Illini travel to Minneapolis to battle Minnesota on Thursday night, then it is back to the Assembly Hall on Sunday to face Indiana. The game on Sunday is the "Think Pink" game, where fans can gain free admission to watch the game by wearing the pink shirts given out at Illini Basketball Madness. Coach Law is hoping for a huge turnout on Sunday, and with admission free, the price is certainly right.
Ron Zook mentioned after the Rose Bowl that the most important dates to him were the Missouri game and National Letter of Intent signing day. Wednesday was the day that recruits could officially sign with college teams, and Zook once again has taken in a bumper crop of recruits, 29 in all. Some of the key additions include Corey Liuget, Jared Fayson and Graham Pocic. Zook mentioned that this might be his best recruiting class that he has ever been associated with, which makes the future seem even brighter. So what do you think of the 2008 recruiting class for the Illini? I would be interested in hearing your comments.