The Fighting Illini are down to their final regular season game of the season, and to say that it is not a big game would be a serious understatement. In the past month or better, the Illini have resembled a team on a roller coaster ride (up, down, up, down). They have not been able to string back to back victories together in that time frame, but have been playing better basketball for the most part. Tuesday's loss at Purdue was encouraging, mainly for the level of intensity that the Illini exhibited, leading at one point by as much as 13 points. At that point, Coach Bruce Weber decided to sit Demetri McCamey after the senior picked up his second foul. Well, it could have been construed as a bad move, because the Boilermakers went on a 12-0 run during that stretch and closed the gap and eventually took a lead that they would never relinquish. The Illini will welcome the Indiana Hoosiers to the Assembly Hall in Champaign on Saturday (11:00 am, Big Ten Network), and enter play at 18-12 overall and 8-9 in the Big Ten. With the top 3 seeds virtually set for the upcoming Big Ten Tournament next weekend in Indianapolis, the logjam for spots 4-7 are still undetermined at this time. A best case scenario would pit the Illini against Michigan State in the #4-#5 game on Friday afternoon, but there are still a few games to be played, and there are tiebreakers that could come into play.
Saturday is also Senior Day, and this group of seniors that will be playing their final game in front of the Illini faithful have had their ups and downs this season. This group has not been the most talented bunch to wear the orange and blue, but they have shown flashes of brilliance as well during that time. In talking with the seniors on Thursday at Weber's weekly media teleconference, they all seem to have one common goal in mind, and that is to beat Indiana on Saturday. They know the significance of what a win would do, but they don't want to look too far ahead either. Mike Davis said that it is human nature to look down the road, but first thing's first, and the task at hand right now are the Hoosiers. Mike Tisdale, who fulfilled a dream in playing at Illinois, has come a long way since his days at small school Riverton, but never really gained the necessary weight to fit his 7 foot frame. Tisdale has looked lost at times this year, and hasn't used his size to the best of his ability. McCamey, who played in the shadow of high school teammate Evan Turner, and earlier this season was playing like he was a candidate for a high round pick in the NBA draft. However, McCamey hit a wall mid-season, and as a result, his stock dropped faster than an elevator out of control. He still has potential, and will have to show what he is made of if he wants a chance to play at the next level. The final senior is Bill Cole, and he is a player that is hard to describe. Virtually unused his first couple of seasons, Cole was pressed into a starting role in 2oo9-10, and performed admirably. Cole used that as a springboard and has started quite a few games this season as well. Coming from Richwoods High School in Peoria, Cole may not have been the best knife in Weber's recruiting drawer, but he fits the mold of the perfect Weber recruit: a marginal player that Weber gets the most out of. I think that this senior class had too much hype coming into the season, and when this year didn't go as the Illini expected it would, of course fingers were pointed and assumptions were made. Here's hoping that they can go out with a bang and not a whimper on Saturday.
To say that the Illini women's season has been a disappointment would not be far from the truth. Jolette Law's team finished dead last in the Big Ten, the first time that an Illini team had done so, even through the dreadful Kathy Lindsey era. The Illini finished the regular season at a horrendous 7-22 overall and just 2-14 in the league, including losing their last 12 regular season conference games. This didn't bode well for Law's team heading into the opening round of the Big Ten Tourney at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis against #6 seed Wisconsin. But, as has been the case for Law's tenure at Illinois, they once again pulled the upset, bouncing the Badgers 63-56 and living to see another day. Granted, some of the losses down the stretch were downright heartbreaking, but losses are still losses, and they piled up this season. The Illini will face the Michigan Wolverines in the quarterfinals on Friday afternoon (approx. 1:00 pm central time, Big Ten Network), and the only way that the Illini can see postseason play is to win out and capture the tourney title. A nice thought, but very unlikely to happen.
Enjoy the games, and rejoice basketball fans, March is here!