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.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Bubble Talk

Stop me if you have heard this story before. Top 25 team with a lot of potential doesn't play up to that potential, instead playing to the level of their opponent. The result: not a top 25 team anymore. Sound familiar? Welcome to Illinois basketball, mediocrity at it's finest! In the span of just over 2 months, Bruce Weber's Fighting Illini have begun a freefall of epic proportions, losing games that they have no business dropping, while at the same time, playing their way out of the rankings and squarely onto the proverbial NCAA Tournnament bubble. Folks, this conversation should not even be taking place with the talent that this team has on it. Led by a veteran group of seniors, the Illini were expected to rebound from an NIT appearance one year ago and return to the big tournament, the one that means more than any of the other ones combined. Well, that just hasn't happened, and if things don't change in a hurry, it won't be occurring this season either. Weber has taken a lot of heat recently, and with good reason. This team is capable of playing much better than their 15-8 record would indicate, and that senior leadership is just not there. Veterans Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale are playing like they are freshmen, and Demetri McCamey's NBA stock has dropped sharply in the past couple of weeks. A friend of mine recently posted on his Facebook profile that McCamey should begin to learn Turkish, because that is probably where he will end up. Yes, it is a sad state of affairs, and despite all that has transpired with this team over the past month, the end may not be in sight. Since Jereme Richmond took a brief leave of absence from the team for reasons that still have not been disclosed, it seems as if Weber is losing this team day by day. He continues to stay with his seniors, and young guns like Tyler Griffey, Joseph Bertrand, and Crandall Head have not sniffed the floor in several games. Illini Nation is in a state of emergency, and the talk shows and internet message boards have been less than cordial as of late. Not to say that I blame these people, but unless the Illini have a catastrophic collapse of epic proportions, Weber isn't going anywhere. He has another recruiting class that is highly ranked coming in next season, and his seat is beginning to get warm in terms of getting the job done. Now, the current group of seniors weren't that highly ranked in regards of recruiting standards, so it is not shocking that they are not excelling like most thought they would. Davis was headed to prep school before Weber scooped him up, Tisdale came out of Riverton, a small school near Springfield, and Bill Cole was a marginal player from the Peoria area. McCamey wasn't even the best player on his high school team, that honor being given to Evan Turner, who went to Ohio State and is now in the NBA. So, where does that leave the Illini, as February is upon us? Illinois has had trouble winning close games on the road, and in order for them to feel safe come Selection Sunday, that trend needs to reverse itself soon. They will get a chance to steal a game away from home this Thursday, when they travel to Minneapolis to battle the Golden Gophers (8:00 pm, ESPN). With Ohio State appearing to run away and hide in the Big Ten race, every game down the stretch is important. Here's hoping the players figure that out as well.

Who would have thought that at this point of the season, football would be more of a positive story than basketball at Illinois. Coming off a Texas Bowl victory, Ron Zook and the coaching staff completed signing day by inking 27 players, some of them potential diamonds in the rough. Zook felt that they addressed some needs, getting 15 linemen, 11 skill players, and a punter. A couple players that stand out in the class are lineman Willie Beavers (Southfield, Michigan) and running back Donovonn Young (Katy, Texas), as well as quarterback Reilly O'Toole (Wheaton, Illinois). With Nathan Scheelhaase firmly entrenched as the starter heading into spring practice, it is a positive to have a guy like O'Toole come on board. Whether or not he takes a redshirt will be anybody's guess at this point, but with 8 home games on the schedule for 2011, the potential for another winning season is very much a possibility.

Which brings us to women's basketball, and some serious controversy that arose last week when the Iowa Hawkeyes visited the Assembly Hall. Jolette Law, the coach of the Illini, played her collegiate ball at Iowa, and showed up wearing black and gold, which happen to be the colors of the Hawkeyes. Whether or not it was a coincidence, or a shout-out to her former team remains to be seen, but it was still tacky nonetheless. The play on the court has also been disappointing, as the Illini have lost their last 7 games and enter the week with a dismal 7-17 record. The Illini will host Indiana on Thursday, February 10th (7:00 pm) with a chance to break a rather long losing streak in the process. Let's just hope Law doesn't decide to break out the cream and crimson for this one.