Mercifully, the football season ended for the Fighting Illini last Saturday, as they were defeated 37-34 by the Northwestern Wildcats at a very empty Memorial Stadium in Champaign. The Illini, under second year coach Tim Beckman, finished the season at 4-8 overall, but just 1-7 in Big Ten play. Granted, the season wasn't viewed as a success by many standards, but the offense did improve markedly under new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. As a result, quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase flourished in his final season, leading a unit that put up a good amount of points. The defense, on the other hand, was another story entirely. One of the worst units in the country in terms of allowed offensive yards, coordinator Tim Banks just couldn't get things turned around on his side of the ball. The news came out earlier in the week that Beckman will return for his third season next year, and further information was relayed that hints there won't be any changes to the coaching staff in the off-season. On the surface, this may anger many Illini fans that Banks is possibly being retained, but athletic director Mike Thomas is giving Beckman another year to make further progress, and he may very well believe that Banks is the right man for the job. If things don't work out for some reason after next season, they all very well could be shown the door after the 2014 season, especially if the Illini don't return to a bowl game.
Basketball is in full swing on both the men's and women's side, and thus far, the seasons are going on schedule given the circumstances of each team. John Groce's men's team is off to a 7-1 start, having dropped their first contest of the season on Tuesday night 67-64 to Georgia Tech in the Big 10/ACC Challenge in Atlanta, Georgia. The Illini led late in the game 60-48, when they went into hibernation mode, and ultimately, let the game slip through their fingers. Afterward, Groce called his team's execution "pathetic", which leads to the fact that he wasn't none too happy about the outcome. This is a young team, and a lot of the players haven't had the luxury of playing together as a group, so a letdown like this was bound to occur before too long. The Illini don't have much time to dwell on this loss, as it's right back to Atlanta on Sunday afternoon to take on Auburn at Philips Arena (2:00 pm CT, FSN).
Coach Matt Bollant's women's squad have struggled out of the gate this season, losing 2 out of 3 games in Cancun over Thanksgiving weekend, and then losing 93-69 to Georgia Tech on Wednesday night at the same arena that the men lost the night before. In the loss to the Yellow Jackets, Jacqui Grant recorded another double-double, scoring 14 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in defeat. The Illini are currently 5-4 on the season, and jump right back into action this weekend, when they travel to Colorado to battle the Buffaloes on Saturday evening (6:00 pm CT).
When the Illinois volleyball schedule was released at the beginning of the season, it appeared to be one of the most difficult in the entire country, and given the Illini's final regular season record (16-14 overall, 12-8 Big 10), it paid off in the end. As a result, the Illini did enough to not only make the NCAA Tournament, but was also chosen to host the first and second rounds of the tourney, and according to coach Kevin Hambly, it is an honor that is well deserved. The Illini will take on Morehead State on Friday evening at around 7:00 pm, following the first game between Louisville and Marquette. All of these matches will take place at Huff Hall, and the winners will play again on Saturday evening for a chance to move down the street to State Farm Center next weekend for the NCAA Regional. So, for those of you that are keeping score, the Fighting Illini have a chance to play all the way up to the Final Four on their own campus, which could be very rewarding. Just as the basketball team had a similar route close to home back in 2005 when they played in Indianapolis, Chicago, and ultimately, St. Louis for the Final Four, that could be beneficial in the long run. Unlike the basketball run, though, the volleyball Final Four is in Seattle, so I guess it's not as perfect of a comparison.
After a strong postseason run, the Illini soccer team finally saw their season come to an end, as they were defeated by Boston College 4-1 in the NCAA Tournament at Lincoln, Nebraska. The Illini finish the season 11-9-3 overall, and can attribute a lot of that success to redshirt junior Jannelle Flaws and senior Vanessa DiBernardo.
High school basketball returns to the State Farm Center this coming weekend, when Centennial High School hosts the Country Financial Centennial Shootout on Saturday. Six games are on tap, including Illini signee Michael Finke, who will play the final game of the evening against Chicago Bogan. A full list of the teams can be found at the following website: www.centennialshootout,com