So, tell me who is surprised that John Groce's Fighting Illini men's basketball team is 12-1 through their first 13 games? When the schedule came out and judging by what we knew of this team going into the season, there was little hope that the Illini would storm out of the gate with this level of success with the likes of Gonzaga, Missouri, and the Maui Invitational on the docket. But, with the exception of the loss to Missouri last week in St. Louis, the Illini are defying odds and showing the country that they are for real. Before the Missouri game, people wondered if the Illini were still worthy of the Top 10 ranking that they were carrying around with them, and even though they were defeated by the Tigers, they showed great resolve and made the game close throughout the contest. This leaves one game remaining in the non-conference schedule, the annual United Center tilt with Auburn on Saturday (1:15 pm CT, BTN). On paper, this points to yet another win, but the UC floor has not been kind to the Illini the last couple of times out, including the very ugly loss to UIC a couple years back. Once the game with Auburn is done, it will be time for the Big Ten season to begin, and this will be one of the deepest leagues in recent memory, as Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State all join the Illini in the top 15 in the nation. Better enjoy the ride while it is smooth, guys.
The Fighting Illini women's basketball team has been holding their own so far this season under new coach Matt Bollant, but nobody said it would be easy for them to have sustained success, even though Bollant came in with a strong pedigree of coaching. The Illini dropped a tough game last Friday night at the Assembly Hall 69-68 to Illinois State, a game that they seemingly had in control until the bottom fell out. Karisma Penn had another monster game for the Illini, as she scored 22 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, and had 6 blocks in the defeat. Alexis Smith had a chance to win the game for Illinois, but her three-pointer bounced off the rim as time expired, giving the Redbirds the hard-fought victory. The Illini have a another tough game ahead of them, as #6 Georgia invades the Assembly Hall on Friday night (7:00 pm, CT, No TV). The Bulldogs come into the game with the Illini a perfect 12-0 on the season.
Had a chance to take in some of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament and see a couple future Illini players in Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate. For a small town, there is sure some big time basketball being played in Pontiac over the course of 3 days to end the year. The headliner of the tournament is Simeon High School, who have the two Illini recruits Nunn and Tate, plus perhaps the crown jewel of the 2013 season in Jabari Parker, who last week announced that he would be attending Duke University to play basketball. Illinois was never really a factor for Parker, although rumor has it if Bruce Weber would have stayed at Illinois, the situation may have been different. Parker narrowed his final choices down to 5, and the Illini were nowhere on that list. Nunn and Tate, on the other hand, will renew the tradition of wearing the #25 in honor of Ben Wilson, a Simeon player that was gunned down during his senior season back in 1984. It appears that Nunn will wear the #25 jersey. Another top prospect in the nation also played in the tournament, Cliff Alexander of Chicago Curie. Alexander, one of the top 4 prospects in the class of 2014, has received offers from virtually every top tier program in the nation, including Illinois. However, he seems to be leaning toward Michigan State, although he has not made a commitment one way or the other for the time being.