Welcome to the rough and tumble Big Ten Conference, where you never know what might happen on any given night.
After a fast 2-0 start out of the gate for John Groce's Fighting Illini, the team has hit a bit of a wall, and earlier than most figured they would. Wins over Indiana and Penn State at home were followed by losses to #4 Wisconsin and Northwestern on the road. The Wisconsin outcome was expected, but nobody could fathom the Illini falling to the Wildcats, who were just 7-9 coming into the game. The Illini had an anemic shooting performance, losing the game 49-43, and stalling any momentum that they may have built up with those first two conference wins. To add injury to insult, Illini guard and possibly the best player on the team, Rayvonte Rice, has been dealing with a hip adductor strain and is currently listed as day-to-day. Rice injured himself in the first half, and really wasn't the same afterwards. The Illini missed 30 out of their first 36 shots, and could only muster 15 first half points. Forward Jon Ekey, who has been in a slump himself lately, could be referred to as "streaky Ekey", given his erratic shooting. At his press conference on Tuesday, Groce had a simple solution for Ekey, and that was to "just keep shooting"/ As a matter of fact, he has given that same advice to Nnanna Egwu and others that are struggling from the field. Tracy Abrams, who has become the vocal leader of the team, was the only player to notch double figures for Illinois in the loss to Northwestern, scoring 13 points. Rice was limited to just 8 points, and for the Illini to get back on the winning track, they will have to have Rice healthy, The Illini return to the State Farm Center on Wednesday night to host Purdue (8:00 pm CT, BTN), in what hopes to be a win to break this brief 2 game losing streak. The Boilermakers come into the game at 11-5 overall, and 1-2 in the Big Ten. After Purdue visits Champaign, the Illini begin a tough 5 game stretch, beginning with #4 Michigan State paying a visit to the State Farm Center on Saturday night (7:00 pm CT, BTN).
Illinois women's basketball coach Matt Bollant has found life in the Big Ten rough in his sophomore season as head coach, and even though they have begun the season with an 0-3 conference mark, they have remained competitive. After losses to #14 Penn State and Nebraska last week at home, the Illini embark on a three game road swing, beginning with a trip to Northwestern to battle the Wildcats (8:30 pm CT, No TV). This us a game that was supposed to be played last week, but the snowstorm in the midwest postponed the game until this week. The Illini enter play with Northwestern at 7-9 overall, but 0-3 in the Big Ten.