Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.

Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.
The rebuild of the Illinois football program continues as they drop a tough 34-31 loss in overtime to Purdue.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Crazy Mixed Up Season

     The fears of many are finally being realized.

     The Fighting Illini men's basketball team saw their losing streak reach six games last Sunday afternoon, when they were defeated by the Indiana Hoosiers 56-46 at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana.  Once again, the Illini played capable of winning the game, but couldn't come through in the clutch.  It's time to face the facts that this is not a very good shooting team, no matter how you look at it.  In the loss before to Ohio State (62-55 last Tuesday in Columbus), Illini junior Rayvonte Rice was held without a point for the first time in his college career.  The way the Illini played against the Buckeyes, they could have won the game had Rice been on his game and made some of his shots.  Fast forward to Sunday against the Hoosiers, where Rice regained his lost touch, by scoring 20 points and grabbing 4 rebounds. During this streak, the Illini have failed to capitalize on the things that they were successful in during the non-conference portion of the season.  Or, is it simply that other teams have learned how to defend the Illini, and are using that strategy?  Whatever the case may be, the Illini are in grave danger of finishing last in the Big 10 for the first time in nearly 30 years.  The conference has been anything but predictable this season, with multiple upsets happening all over the league. For instance, on Wednesday night, Penn State went into Columbus and handed Ohio State their fifth loss in six games in overtime.  The lone win for the Buckeyes in that stretch?  Yep, you guessed it, the Illini.  In the late game on Wednesday evening, Northwestern continued its mystery by upsetting Wisconsin at the Kohl Center, a place where many teams don't win very often.

     So, what does all of this mean?  The upcoming Big Ten Tournament should be very balanced, and with the exception of Michigan and Michigan State atop the league standings, the rest of the conference is very comparable to each other.  The Illini need a win more than anything, and they have a couple home games in a row in order to right the ship.  The first chance comes on Saturday evening, when they welcome the Iowa Hawkeyes to the State Farm Center (6:30 pm CT, BTN). The Illini are currently 13-8 overall, and are at the bottom of the Big 10 standings at 2-6.  The Hawkeyes are one of the better teams in the league this season, but as recent history has shown, anybody can beat anyone on any given night.  This could either get more interesting, or spiral down into disaster.

     After a couple recent wins, the Illini women's basketball team has once again begun to struggle, as they are playing teams close, but like their counterparts on the men's side, are having trouble closing games out.  The Illini lost to Purdue last Monday evening at the State Farm Center 80-68, and the Boilermakers obviously have the Illini's number, as they have beaten the Illini regularly for the past several seasons.  On Thursday night, the Illini ran into a hot shooting Ohio State team in Columbus, and were defeated 90-64 to drop their record to 9-12 overall and 2-6 in the Big 10.  Matt Bollant's team will jump back into action this weekend when they welcome Indiana to Champaign on Sunday afternoon (1:00 pm CT, No TV).

     With football national letter of intent signing day just a week away, the talk of football is once again in the air.  The DIA opened up the quarterbacks that are vying for the job that was vacated by the departure of Nathan Scheelhaase, and let each of them speak to the media on Wednesday afternoon.  Senior Reilly O'Toole, sophomore Aaron Bailey, and transfer Wes Lunt are all in competition for the position, and it remains to be seen who is the clear cut favorite.  Odds are with Lunt, since he started as a freshman at Oklahoma State before leaving to transfer to Illinois.  But Bailey and O'Toole each have their strong points as well, so when spring practice begins in a few weeks, all eyes will be on these three signal callers.  Also, in football news, Corey Lewis announced on Thursday that he played the entire 2013 season with a torn ACL, but didn't say anything to anyone about it.  Lewis is a remarkable person, not only on the field for his perseverance, but also off the field, and is very candid about all of his previous injuries.  He is still planning on pursuing an NFL career, and I hope he is successful, because you couldn't wish it more for a person than him.

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