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.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Welcome to 2011

2010 didn't end very well on several Illini fronts, however, both the Illini men's basketball and football teams finished the year with victories, on the same day nonetheless. Amid speculation that they would go down to Houston and lay the proverbial egg in front of what was to be a pro-Baylor crowd, the Illini quieted their critics by dismantling the Bears 38-14, as Mikel Leshoure continued his assault on the record books by rushing for 184 yards and 3 touchdowns. Working at a disadvantage because of playing a Texas team in their home state, it didn't seem to bother the Illini all that much. Baylor, who was playing in their first bowl game since 1994, seemed to have the edge with their outstanding quarterback Robert Griffin III. Griffin, who came into the game as the fifth most prolific passer in the country, did pass for 306 yards and a touchdown, but his two early fumbles in the first half gave Illinois all they needed to jump on top and pretty much stay there for the entire game. The Illini assured themselves of a winning season at 7-6 with the victory, and also could very well see extensions come to fruition for Coach Ron Zook and several of his assistants. Herein lies the problem. Does Zook warrant an extension? After all, this was just the Illini's 3rd bowl appearance since the 2001 season, which isn't a very good track record. But, I am sure that there will be a reworking of the contract at some point, and I won't be surprised when it does happen.

After a pair of demoralizing losses before Christmas, Bruce Weber's Fighting Illini men's basketball team have righted the ship, and are out to a perfect 3-0 start in Big Ten play, including a big win over a top 25 team in Wisconsin. After starting out conference play at Iowa on the same night as the football team's bowl win against Baylor, the Illini got much needed wins against the Badgers and Northwestern. In the game against the Wildcats, the Illini couldn't do much wrong at all and finally played the way everyone expected them to play for much of the season. It may have been that Weber gave them a wake-up call after the losses to UIC and Missouri, or simply the fact that the players felt embarrassed and wanted to make a statement. Well, they did against Northwestern, shooting a blistering 70.5% from the field for the game, which was an Illinois record for field goal shooting in a game. The first half alone the Illini only missed 4 shots, enroute to a lead that they would never relinquish. However, the next stretch of games will be a tell-tale sign as to how good this Illinois team is. With games on the road at Penn State (Tuesday, 8:00 pm, Big Ten Network) and then a rematch with Wisconsin next Saturday, followed by home games with Michigan State and Ohio State, the possibility of remaining undefeated in conference play seems a stretch at best. Currently the Illini are 13-3 overall and still perfect in the Big 10 at 3-0. Penn State will be coming in on a high note after upsetting Michigan State at home over the weekend. We shall see how it transpires.

Finally, what in the world is going on with the women's basketball program at Illinois? It seems like the program is going in reverse after their latest setback, an overtime heartbreaker to Northwestern 69-66 on Sunday afternoon at the Assembly Hall. They still are not drawing very big crowds, so not a lot of people are seeing this destruction occur. Jolette Law means well, but with all of the suspensions and eventual transfers from the program, you wonder if she is just Theresa Grentz lite. I seriously think that athletic director Ron Guenther missed the boat badly on this hire, because in order to build this program back up to respectability, you first need to put a team on the floor that is going to put people in the seats. At this rate, they wouldn't fill up one side of Huff Gym with the crowds they have been seeing. Plus, at 6-10 overall and 1-2 in the Big Ten, a trip to a postseason tournament seems very unlikely at this point. Maybe things will improve, but I don't see it happening anytime soon.

No comments: