Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.

Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.
The rebuild of the Illinois football program continues as they drop a tough 34-31 loss in overtime to Purdue.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Coming down to the wire

If you are a sports fan like myself, then you have to love this time of year, as sports seasons begin to overlap. It seems that there is something going on every single day, which keeps people like me constantly on the go, making it happen and reporting it to everyone out in cyberspace. So, here goes for this week.

By now, you know that the Illini and Michigan hooked up on the football field last Saturday, and a track meet of epic proportions ensued, with the Wolverines ending up on top 67-65 in 3 overtimes. Yes, it more resembled a basketball score, but it was, in fact, football. I knew that the Michigan defense wasn't very good, and that their offense could put up points in bunches, but I did not expect to see triple digits in points, and over 1200 yards in total offense. The Illini defense, who has been very good for the most part this season, took the afternoon off, as they let Denard Robinson, and then, Tate Forcier, have their way with the secondary. Wolverine wideout Roy Roundtree caught 9 passes for an astonishing 246 yards and scored twice, including a 75 yard pass from Robinson on the game's first play. That should have been the first indicator that this was going to be a shootout. Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase keeps getting better and better each week, and his numbers in this game weren't bad at all. Scheelhaase completed 14 of 25 passes for 211 yards and 3 scores, two of them going to Mikel Leshoure. On the day, Leshoure had 5 touchdowns total, to go with 123 yards rushing and 52 yards receiving. Scheelhaase once again was honored as the freshman of the week in the Big Ten, his fifth so honor this season. Leshoure also was named the offensive player of the week in the conference for his efforts in the loss to the Wolverines. Believe it or not, this team is getting better, and still remain on the cusp of bowl eligibility, which they can take care of this Saturday when 1-9 Minnesota visits Memorial Stadium (11:00 am, Big Ten Network). This will be Senior Day for a host of Illini, including occasional quarterback Eddie McGee, who will be among the players taking the field at Memorial Stadium for the final time. Once bowl eligibility is achieved, then they can concentrate on the final two games of the season and improving the bowl that they will more than likely be going to.

Illini basketball is in full swing, and now that the exhibition games are over, it is time for them to count in the regular season standings. This is the earliest start in the history of the Illinois program, and they are currently in the middle of the 2K Sports Classic benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer. Coach Bruce Weber is a strong advocate of the battle against cancer, so it is fitting that the Illini were asked to play in this year's classic. The Illini opened up at home against UC-Irvine on Monday night, and used a strong first half to defeat the Anteaters 79-65. Brandon Paul led the way for the Illini with 18 points, while Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale scored 13 and 12 points, respectively. This was the first game in the 2K Sports Classic, and on Wednesday night, the Illini played the second game against Toledo, which ended up being a slaughter. Toledo was pretty much gutted in the off-season, and a new coach and several new players spelled disaster from the get-go. The Illini jumped on the Rockets early and often, and built up a 25-5 lead before Toledo knew what hit them. Behind 13 points by McCamey, the Illini were able to rest their starters and get some other players some much needed minutes. That is, all but Crandall Head, who did not play because according to Weber, "he didn't take care of his business". We have come to know over the past few seasons that this means either he didn't attend a class or some other disciplinary measures. It was a landslide from the start, and it ended 84-45 in favor of the Illini. The Illini showed flashes of the talent that they have, but the road just gets tougher from this point forward. A game that Weber did not want to play will take place on Saturday night, when Southern Illinois comes to the Assembly Hall (7:00 pm, Big Ten Network). According to Weber, the game was agreed upon by assistants from both schools at last year's Final Four. Chris Lowery, who coaches the Salukis, was a former player of Weber's and a former assistant at Illinois under Weber. So, you can see why he doesn't get a thrill from playing this game. From there, the Illini will head to the Big Apple for the conclusion of the Coaches vs. Cancer event when they take on the Texas Longhorns next Thursday. This will be the first true test of what this team has, and we should get a good idea of how good they really are after these two games at Madison Square Garden.

Wednesday was National Letter of Intent signing day, and in what is becoming a trend with Weber lately, has been getting some good, quality recruits to come to Illinois. This year is no exception, as 4 four-star athletes signed on the dotted line to play for Weber. What is more remarkable about this is that they are all from the Chicago area, and with the last 2 classes beginning to make an impact, the idea of stacking classes gives fans in Illini Nation reason to have hope. Tracy Abrams, a guard from Chicago Mt. Carmel, headlines the class, followed by Nnanna Egwu from St. Ignatius Prep. 6'6 wing Mychael Henry hails from Orr High School, and was a later bloomer that attracted Weber's attention last season, and the last recruit to make it official was Michael Shaw, who is from DeLasalle Institute. All of these players should add to the current squad quite nicely, and will attempt to fill the void when the Illini lose McCamey, Tisdale, Davis and Bill Cole next season. Does the question still rage that Bruce Weber cannot recruit? I'll let you be the judge of that one.

Illini women's coach Jolette Law also signed a good recruiting class, headlined by Ivory Crawford of Proviso East High School. Two more players from the state of Illinois will play next season for Law, those being Kierra Morris of Morgan Park Academy and Taylor Tuck of Bolingbrook HS. Law also snagged two players from the state of New York in Nia Oden (Christ the King HS, Brooklyn) and Alexis Smith (St. John the Baptist HS, West Islip). This class, combined with what is currently at Illinois, should give them some added depth. As has been the case over the past several years with the women's program, there are some issues with one of the players. Adrienne GodBold has been suspended 6 games for a violation of team rules, while Kersten Magrum will miss some time as well due to an injury. Those absences didn't seem to stop the Illini in their lone exhibition win, a 100-37 triumph over Division II foe Kentucky Wesleyan on Tuesday night at the Assembly Hall. Karisma Penn led 7 Illini players in double figures with 18 points, and recorded a double-double with 11 rebounds. Junior Lana Rukavina also had a double-double, scoring 17 points and carroming 10 boards. The Illini open the regular season on Friday evening when they host the Illinois State Redbirds at the Assembly Hall.

Finally, Illini women's volleyball is still very much in the driver's seat for the Big Ten title, and this weekend's matches at Ohio State and Penn State could go a long way in making that claim a reality. Coach Kevin Hambly also signed some good recruits for next season, inking four new players. They are as follows: Jocelynn Birks (Lyons Township HS), outside hitter Morgan Criswell (Decatur LSA), 6'6 blocker/right side hitter Liz McMahon (West Liberty Twp, Lakota West HS in Ohio), and Ali Stark (Mt. Vernon, Iowa). These four recruits, in addition to what Hambly already has, should keep the Illini in contention for the forseeable future.

See, not too much going on, is there? That's it for this week.

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