Last week the Fighting Illini men's basketball team achieved a milestone that only 12 other programs have matched. The Illini notched win #1600, putting them in some elite company. Granted, the program has been around a long time, but you have to figure that all of those 20 win seasons during the Lou Henson era, coupled with the recent success of the program under the Lon Kruger, Bill $elf, and now Bruce Weber regimes, that number couldn't have been far off. The magic number came against the Michigan Wolverines, and was also at home in front of the fans, which, measured by the unexpected success of the 2008-09 season thus far, are finally seeing near capacity crowds again. This milestone is a big deal in many facets, namely the company that they now keep as a member of this exclusive club. The other 12 teams, in order of overall wins, are as follows: Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, Duke, Syracuse, Temple, St. John's, UCLA, Pennsylvania, Notre Dame, Indiana and Utah. All good programs, and every one successful at once point over the last 20 years or so. Now back to this year's team. With the win over Michigan, the Illini hit the road to East Lansing hoping to sweep the Michigan teams for the week and finally crack the top 25 rankings for the first time in nearly 3 years. The trip to Spartan country was not successful, although the Illini led for nearly the entire game except the end, where it counts most. Michigan State, perenially the cream of the crop in the Big Ten Conference, has another stellar squad that looks like the team to beat in the league right now. It seems that when Tom Izzo is in a rebuilding year, it's almost like he reloads and they are good within a year. I have the utmost respect for Coach Izzo, and outside of Weber, is my favorite coach in the entire league. So, after the Illini went down to defeat 63-57 at the hands of the
Spartans on Saturday, the thought was that the Illini would be on the outside looking in once again when the new polls came out on Monday. However, to the amazement of many, including this blogger, the Illini cracked both polls, coming in at #25 in the AP poll and #24 in the USA Today/ESPN poll. This can be viewed in both good and bad terms, with the good being that finally the Illini are getting the respect that they deserve. This could also be bad in that now they have a target on their back and they cannot hide anymore. The Illini will get a chance to test their first ranking since the 2005-06 season on Tuesday evening when the welcome the Ohio State Buckeyes to the Assembly Hall (6:00 pm central time, ESPN). Fans attending the game on Tuesday will be part of a unique setting, as since that day is the inaguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America, each person will be given an American flag to wave that will be quite a scene for the national television audience. Here's hoping that the Illini are up to the challenge and they don't let that ranking go to their heads. There is still an awfully lot of basketball to be played.
The Illini women's basketball team is enduring a nightmare of a season, one that Coach Jolette Law did not envision. With only 9 scholarship players on the roster, that is playing a major role in the disappointment. The women are just 4-15 on the season, and winless in 8 Big Ten games. It's not that they aren't getting good play from the people that they should be, it's just that they are not getting enough of it. Jenna Smith and Lacey Simpson each notched double-doubles in a 61-43 loss to Wisconsin on Sunday evening in Madison, and Smith continues to play like an MVP candidate. It remains to be seen what the Illini would be without her. Coach Law takes her team into conference leader Ohio State on Thursday night with the hopes of any good news to turn this season around.
Finally this week, now that the changing of the guard has happened for University of Illini women's volleyball, a new coach has emerged, but he is not new to the program. Kevin Hambly, who has been an assistant under outgoing coach Don Hardin for a few years, steps into the top job with both feet in forward motion. Hambly is attending tournaments in the Chicagoland area and continues to have his eyes focused on bringing in new talent to a program that is on the upswing and figures not to lose much of anything with the coaching change. Hambly is also a very personable individual and seems capable of getting the job done.