So, where does this leave the football program? As was previously mentioned, attendance is falling as quickly as the Illini's bowl placement. If there is one coach on the current staff that is capable of leading the team through this transition, Koenning is definitely the one for the job. You could argue that Petrino is the better fit, but just look at the offense over the past few weeks and all of a sudden he doesn't look so attractive in leading the team. Earlier in the season when speculation began that Zook might not be retained as coach, many people were wanting Petrino to be the successor, based solely on his name and reputation at Arkansas under older brother Bobby. That scenario doesn't look nearly as good now, and whether or not Koenning remains on the staff when the new coach is hired is anyone's guess right now. After all, he has head coaching experience at Wyoming and with so many jobs currently opening within the past week, would like to find somewhere to possibly coach again as well. Is is assumed that the Illini will be invited to a bowl game, but that is still uncertain where that destination will be. Stay tuned.
Much better news on the men's basketball front, with Bruce Weber's squad capturing the Cancun Challenge title with a 63-59 over in-state rival Illinois State. The Illini followed up that title with an easy win over Chicago State 90-43 on Sunday afternoon at the Assembly Hall. The lopsided win gave Weber a chance to play some of his younger players for considerable minutes, and one freshman in particular, Myke Henry, took full advantage of it. Henry scored 14 points to lead the Illini after coming off of an ankle injury at the start of the season. Such a performance is refreshing to see for this group of players, mainly because they are so young. On Tuesday night, the Illini traveled to Maryland for their first true road game of the season in the Big 10/ACC Challenge. The Illini prevailed in that game 71-62, behind a strong game by senior transfer Sam Maniscalco, who had 24 points. Maniscalco was clutch down the stretch, as he connected for 5 of 8 shots from beyond the arc, as well as made all 7 of his free throws. Brandon Paul also had a good game for a change, scoring 17 points to help lead the Illini to the victory. For the first time since the 2008-09 season, the Illini have started the season 7-0, but have a challenging stretch of games coming up before the start of the new year. The first real test comes this Saturday when Gonzaga pays a visit to the Assembly Hall (2:15 pm CT, ESPN2).
News isn't as encouraging on the women's basketball front, as Jolette Law's squad has endured a rough stretch of games to start their season. The Illini are just 2-5 so far, and dropped both games at the San Juan Shootout in Puerto Rico, falling to Green Bay 82-62 and Arizona State in a close one, 51-50. The Illini knew this would be a tough hill to climb since Law lost one of her better players to an ACL tear before the season began. With Centrese McGee out, players like Karisma Penn and Adrienne GodBold will need to step up. The women will participate in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge on Thursday when they travel to Clemson, South Carolina to take on the Clemson Tigers at 6:00 pm. The Illini will not return to the Assembly Hall until December 28th. Not that it matters anyway, given the lack of fan support that they get.
Kevin Hambly's Illini spikers were given the opportunity to host first and second round matches in the NCAA volleyball tournament. The Illini will face Central Michigan on Friday night, and the winner of that match will then take on the winner of the other match, which is Marquette and Western Kentucky. The Illini are the overall #3 seed in the tournament, and will feed into the Gainesville, Florida regional, which will be played next weekend on the University of Florida campus. Looking ahead, as I tend to do far too often, the Illini could match up with #2 Nebraska in one of the final four matches, should they get that far.