The Fighting Illini enjoyed a week off this past week, and judging from head coach Tim Beckman, it couldn't have come at a better time. The Illini are a bruised and battered bunch, and that doesn't even account for the play on the field the past few weeks. In the Illini's 5 losses on the season, they have been beaten by margins of 31, 28, 28, 17 and 45, and are currently on the heels of a four game losing streak. As a matter of fact, they have lost the last nine Big Ten games that they have played, and the last time they won a conference game, they beat Indiana last year in Bloomington to move to 6-0. You can disregard what I said after the game last year as the final seconds ticked off the clock, because we soon found out that 6-0 didn't look that good when matched with an 0-6 finish to the regular season. That led to the removal of Ron Zook, and so far in 2012, the situation isn't much better, in fact it is worse. Judging from the comments from some of the veteran players, I don't believe that they have bought in to the Beckman system, and are just biding their time until they can vacate and move on to the next phase of their lives, whatever that may be. Beckman has pledged that they are taking things "one day at time", and once certain players get healthy, can hopefully get back to the way that they were before things went south on them. They can get back on that track Saturday when they welcome the team that they last beat in the Big Ten, the Indiana Hoosiers (11:00 am CT, BTN). Indiana, although 2-5 overall and 0-3 in the Big Ten as well, have played well in their five losses, the largest margin being 15 points to Northwestern of all teams. The Hoosiers came within a few plays of knocking off Michigan State 3 weeks ago, then took Ohio State to the limit before finally losing in the closing seconds. This is not your father's Indiana team, as Kevin Wilson has the Hoosiers playing respectfully, and it will take a monumental effort for the Illini to knock them off. Now, when's the last time you heard that?
Illini basketball is here to save the day, and John Groce's 2012-13 squad was on display for the first time on Monday night, when they hosted the Orange and Blue Scrimmage at the Assembly Hall. The format was to play three eight minute quarters, but they ended up playing a fourth, in what Groce called "a conditioning move". Groce seemed very involved on the sidelines, even though he turned the teams over to his assistant coaches, Paris Parham and Jamall Walker. Groce mentioned to the press afterwards that overall he was pleased with the effort, but there is still a lot of work to do. He stressed that he wants to get the message across that "practice matters". Someone that is really becoming a force early is sophomore Nnanna Egwu. Egwu is doing all of the right things so far, and is looking like the best player on the court at this point. Seniors Brandon Paul and D. J. Richardson will join Groce up at Big Ten Basketball Media Day at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare on Thursday, so look for a separate blog entry with all of the tidbits and nuggets from around the conference. The Illini tip off the exhibition portion of the season on Saturday evening when they welcome Lewis University to the Assembly Hall (7:00 PM, CT)
The Fighting Illini women's volleyball team continues to struggle through their tough schedule, and welcoming #4 ranked Nebraska didn't help matters much. The Illini were swept in three games by the Cornhuskers, who were visiting Huff Hall for the first time as a member of the Big Ten. The Illini will hit the road this coming weekend to Wisconsin and Minnesota, and come into those matches with a 10-10 overall record, but just 4-6 in conference play.
The Illini women's soccer team finished up their home schedule by splitting two games, losing 2-1 to Northwestern on Thursday, and then rebounding nicely by defeating Nebraska 4-1 last Sunday for Senior Day. The Illini will wrap up the regular season on Saturday when they travel to Michigan to face the Wolverines. The Illini carry an 8-7-2 overall record into the match in Ann Arbor, and are 5-4-1 in the Big Ten.