The increasingly long Illinois football season got a bit longer last Saturday, as the Illini once again did everything they could to beat themselves, and pretty much accomplished the feat in impressive fashion, losing 31-17 to the Indiana Hoosiers in front of a half-filled Memorial Stadium for Homecoming. From a standpoint of statistics, all signs would have pointed to an Illini win, and a temporary relief from the train wreck that has become Illinois football. The Illini have committed senseless turnovers all season, and they never seem to come at the right times of the game, only when they seem to hurt them the most. Also, the penalties continue to mount, and they, too, are being committed when they need them the least. But what can be done about this? I would hope that the players realize that they are making these mistakes, and a couple bounces here and there may have swung one of the games in the other direction. With the exception of the Wisconsin game, the Illini have not really been in any of the recent losses, and even in that game, the Illini totally fell apart in the fourth quarter. According to coach Tim Beckman, "you just can't continue to give them chances, especially deep in your own territory. As a result of all this, Tommie Davis has been removed from returning punts, since he cannot seem to catch one and bring it upfield. Those types of senseless mistakes are a huge reason the Illini are 2-6 overall and still looking for their first Big Ten win. It doesn't get any easier for Illinois, as they head east to Columbus, Ohio to battle the Ohio State Buckeyes this Saturday (2:30 pm, CT, ESPN.) The Buckeyes are 9-0 overall and 5-0 in the Leaders Division of the Big Ten, and although they are not eligible to go to a bowl game this year, they are still a pretty darn good team. Led by quarterback Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes have been rolling over teams with their high-powered offense. Ohio State is coached by Urban Meyer, who needs no introduction when it comes to winning championships. Meyer has had success wherever he has been, beginning at Miami of Ohio, and then going to Utah and Florida, where he won two national championships. Meyer's path has crossed several times with Beckman's, as they have been coaching partners in a couple of different spots. Will the student outduel the teacher this weekend? Don't bet on it.
Things are beginning much better for new Illini basketball coach John Groce, as they held their first of two exhibition games last Saturday night by defeating Lewis University 79-47 at the Assembly Hall. Maybe it was the fact that it is still technically football season, or that there was a lot of other activities going on, but the game wasn't very well attended. Senior D. J. Richardson led three Illini in double figures with 12 points, while Myke Henry and transfer Sam McLaurin each scored 11 points. While it still is very early to gauge how this season will go with the new coaching staff in place, it already seems as if the current players have bought in to what Groce is trying to do, which is a breath of fresh air, especially the way the football season has gone. The Illini will have their final pre-season tuneup on Sunday afternoon when West Chester pays a visit to Champaign (3:00 pm, No TV).
Perhaps the most exciting of the three Mike Thomas coaching hires have also started their season, and they as well won an exhibition game, defeating Marian University of Indianapolis 89-37 on Tuesday evening at the Assembly Hall. Coach Matt Bollant brings an exciting brand of basketball with him to Champaign from Wisconsin-Green Bay, and it already is beginning to show with the initial win of his Illini career. Karisma Penn led the way for the Illini with a double-double, scoring 24 points and grabbing 16 rebounds, while Alexis Smith and Amber Moore added 19 and 12 points, respectively. The Illini will continue exhibition play this coming Tuesday night when they welcome Concordia University to the Assembly Hall for a 7:00 pm tip. Hopefully the fans will begin to realize that Bollant is determined to change the culture of Illinois women's basketball and start showing up in much larger numbers than they are normally used to.
The story for women's volleyball is not as rosy right now, as the Illini are still struggling through the Big Ten season, trying to muster up enough wins to somehow qualify for the NCAA Tournament, something that was not thought to be an issue once the season began. Sure, the schedule was tough, but there have been matches that the Illini have lost that simply should not have been done. The Illini losing streak has reached 4 straight matches, the latest coming on Halloween night when they went down in 5 games to #22 Purdue at Huff Hall. The Illini currently sit at 10-13 overall and 4-9 in the Big Ten, and will welcome the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday evening (7:00 pm CT, BTN). With time running out on the season, every match counts now in order for the Illini to be one of the teams considered once the field for the NCAAs is announced.
The Fighting Illini women's soccer team has entered post-season mode, and so far so good. The Illini won their first match in the Big Ten Tournament in Bloomington, Indiana on Wednesday by defeating Minnesota on penalty kicks to advance to the semifinals of the tournament. They next took on top-seeded Penn State on Friday morning and took the Nittany Lions down as well 1-0 to advance to the championship game on Sunday morning against the winner of the Ohio State-Michigan game. The Illini have shown a lot of resilience during the tournament, and just like last season when they took down Penn State in the championship game of the tournament, they are playing well when it counts. The Illini enter the championship game with an overall mark of 9-7-3.