I will repeat once again, it will be tough to win on the road in the Big 10 this season. If you don't believe that, just ask Ohio State and Michigan State, two of the teams that always seem to find themselves in the thick of the conference race each season. After a somewhat unexpected loss to open the Big Ten season at Purdue, the Fighting Illini returned home on Saturday afternoon to face an Ohio State program that was ranked in the top 10. Once the dust settled, the Illini came away with a 74-55 upset win in a game that they led from start from finish. The Illini dominated the game, and at one point led by 25 points before the Buckeyes made a small push towards the end of the contest. This is not the most talented Ohio State team that Thad Matta has had in Columbus, and the Illini exposed quite a few weaknesses in their lineup. It is evident that the Buckeyes are missing guys like William Buford and Jared Sullinger, who were very strong last season. Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas ended up with 24 points, but had to take 21 shots in order to reach that total. A very bright spot for the Illini was the play of sophomore center Nnanna Egwu, who scored a career high 16 points. Egwu was taking shots that he normally would pass up, and the results were very encouraging. After the loss at Purdue, there was talk of the Illini possibly getting out to an 0-4 start in the Big Ten, but the win over Ohio State has renewed optimism of a better start than that. But, keep in mind, that it will be tough to win on the road in league play this year, and with so many teams in the top 20 this season, any win is considered a quality one. The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Illini this week, as they welcome the #8 Minnesota Golden Gophers on Wednesday night (8:00 pm CT, BTN). The Gophers present severe matchup problems for the Illini, more so than Ohio State did. Led by big man Trevor Mbakwe and sharpshooting guard Austin Hollins, Minnesota is out to a 14-1 start, including a 2-0 mark in the Big Ten. However, both conference wins came at home, so the Gophers have not experienced the road in the conference yet. The Illini, who come into the game with Minnesota ranked #12 this week, are 14-2 overall and 1-1 in Big Ten play. Better buckle up, because this should be quite a ride!
Don't look now, but Matt Bollant is trying everything he can to make the Fighting Illini women's basketball relevant sooner rather than later. The latest example of this was a 79-74 win over #24 Ohio State on Sunday afternoon at Value City Arena in Columbus, breaking the Buckeyes' 31 game home court winning streak. Karisma Penn once again was the story for the Illini, scoring 34 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Penn, who reaped Big Ten player of the week honors for the second straight time, is taking care of things on the court, and the Illini, who are 8-6 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten, received four votes in this week's Associated Press poll, the first time they have been relevant in any poll since 2009 (they were last ranked in 2000). The Illini head to Evanston to battle the Northwestern Wildcats (8-7, 0-2) on Thursday evening (7:00 pm CT, No TV). The Illini's annual "Pack The Hall" promotion will be Sunday afternoon when they host Michigan State at the Assembly Hall (3:00 pm CT). If you are able to, get out and see this team play, because I have a feeling that Bollant will have this team playing at a competitive level sooner rather than later. That is refreshing news.
Some football news came down last week, when offensive coordinator Chris Beatty was let go by Tim Beckman after only 1 year on the job. The Illini finished near the bottom in several statistical categories, leading to the change. Apparently, Bill Cubit, who was fired at Western Michigan last month, will be taking over the OC duties, although no formal announcement can be made until early next week. This will undoubtedly change some roles on the offensive staff, as Billy Gonzales moves to coach the receivers. There could be additional changes coming as well, as the weeks lead up to spring practice. Stay tuned.