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, January 26, 2012

Now What?

Over the next couple of weeks, we will see just what kind of a basketball team Bruce Weber has this year. The Illini are currently on a two game losing streak, and enduring a tough task on Saturday when they travel to Minneapolis, Minnesota to battle the Golden Gophers of Minnesota at Williams Arena, commonly known as "The Barn" (7:00 pm CT, BTN). After the Illini lost at Penn State back last Thursday, the Illini came back home to face the Wisconsin Badgers, who have had an up and down season of their own in Big Ten Conference play this year. The Illini could have earned some redemption with a win over the Badgers, but instead, fell for the first time at the Assembly Hall, losing 67-63 to Bo Ryan's boys. We all know that there is some talent on this Illini team, but a lot of it is buried on the bench, not getting a chance to show what they can do. It has been a pattern of Weber's to stick with a certain lineup and ignore other players that could do as adequate of a job, and this year is no exception. Another habit of Weber's is to not mix up different defenses during a game. You see a lot of the successful teams adjust to what the other team is doing during the course of a game, but not Weber. He pretty much sticks with what he thinks works, regardless if it acutally does or not. Freshmen like Myke Henry, Mike Shaw, and Nnanna Egwu have had trouble getting into games since the Big Ten season started, even though Weber vowed early in the season that he would employ a rotation of 10 or even 11 guys. Egwu, who still moves up and down the court very well for a big man, has spelled center Meyers Leonard at times, but has not been on the floor very much with Leonard, instead settling for a relief role. Now, this type of behavior is what can lead players to transfer, as may have been the case with Crandall Head, who left the team at the end of the fall semester.
Shaw, who looked good in the non-conference season, has been buried on the bench as of late, and in the case of Henry, has proven that he is not afraid to take shots once in a while. Even Weber himself has said that he wants to get Henry and Egwu more minutes on the floor. Well, I have a solution for this: THEN PLAY THEM! It is understandable that Tyler Griffey, who lost his starting spot that he held earlier in the season, has been relegated to bench duty, because Griffey has lost confidence. After all, Griffey was one of the best players during the Illini's trip to Italy earlier in the summer, but Joseph Bertrand has since earned a lot more playing time, as has freshman Tracy Abrams, who is coming into his own as a player. The recent events haven't stopped the catcalls and chatter for Weber's job, as was evidenced at the 'Hall on Sunday when the Illini fell to the Badgers. But, after all, the Illini are 15-5 overall and 4-3 in the league, mired among several other teams in the middle of the pack in a very competitive Big Ten race. After the game at Minnesota, the schedule gets a whole lot tougher over the next couple of weeks, as Michigan State and Northwestern come to Champaign, followed by road trips to Indiana and Michigan. Over the course of the next month, teams will continue to beat themselves up, which, in turn, will change the standings even more than they are now. So, it's anybody's guess who will be the top 4 seeds when the Big Ten Tournament begins in March at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. It's just too early to tell right now.
Different week, same result for the Fighting Illini women's basketball team, as once again they were in a ballgame, but ultimately fell, losing 96-84 to Ohio State on Sunday in Columbus. Jolette Law, who continues to press on despite all of the unfortunate luck that has befallen her team, tries to keep her team motivated, but that is a very hard sell. Karisma Penn led the Illini with 23 points, and the 84 points was a team high for the season. However, the Illini fell to 6-14 overall and still remain winless in the conference at 0-7. The Illini will get a chance to get that elusive first Big Ten win of the season on Thursday evening when they travel to East Lansing to battle the Michigan State Spartans at the Breslin Center (5:00 pm CT, BTN). Something has got to give to get this program back on the track, and it is becoming more obvious that Law is not the answer to this puzzling question.

New Illini football coach Tim Beckman will unveil his first recruiting class with a public event to take place on Wednesday, February 1 at 4:30 pm. The new coaching staff will welcome fans to the Assembly Hall, and the unveiling will take place at 5:30 as the new class is announced on the video scoreboard. The event is free and open to the public, and parking for the event is free as well.

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