Illinois Football Daily Bullets

Illinois Basketball Daily Bullets

Monday, November 26, 2007

Check out this video of the Green St. celebrations following Illinois' titanic upset of Ohio St.

Ahhh, here's a nice look back at very recent history. Wow, who would have figured that the Illinois upset would trigger a chain reaction in college football......one so big that Ohio St. is still in the hunt for the national title. Yep, if Oklahoma beats Mizzzou, there's a good chance Ohio St. will go to the BCS title game. And that would mean Illinois would likely go to the Rose Bowl. Otherwise, we'll probably play Florida in the Capital One Bowl down in Orlando.

Either way, who would have thunk it?

Monday, November 19, 2007

ESPN's Katz writes flattering article about Illini's Weber

Check out this article on ESPN.com. It is very complementary of Bruce Weber. He deserves some accolades. There's no cleaner coach in America.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Illinois basketball team looking past Hawaii and Arizona St. to Duke!!!!!!

What the heck! This Illinois basketball team is already looking past Hawaii and Az. St., and ahead to the Duke game. That's not good. After seeing the opening game of the season against Northeastern, the team looked very, very rough. There's no rotation, no fluidity. Poor shooting, poor passing, poor offensive motion. Not many bright spots during that game.

If Weber doesn't shake this team up, then they're going to lose to both Hawaii and Arizona St. It could be a long season.....and a REALLY long pre-season.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Illini shock the world, beat Ohio St. 28 - 21

Check out this Chicago Tribune column on how the Illini shocked the world on Saturday with their Titanic capsizing of Ohio St.

It truly was an amazing victory. First victory against a #1 team in 51 years. First time ever on the road to beat a #1. And it was Ohio St.

If Illinois beats Northwestern on Saturday at home, they'll be 9 -3, and that's just amazing. The experts are saying if that's the case, there's a good chance they'll play Florida in a New Year's Day bowlgame. That would be special.

Go Illini!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Herbstreit and Musberger's post-game analysis (Illinois vs. Michigan 2007)

What do you think of Herbstreit and Musberger's analysis? I can't wait till they come back for another Saturday prime time game. I see many more in the future. Despite the loss, I still think the program is on the rise. Big time.

Check out this video...

Watch this video, taken by a fan (from Illinoisloyalty.com), that shows some of the pre-game and the first series of the Illinois-Michigan game. Wow, the stadium was really electric for the game. The two F-16's flying over with their afterburners on was especially cool. It would have been absolute mayhem if they'd pulled it out somehow. Maybe in 2009.......

What they're saying heading in to the Ball St. game

Here's a look around the wires to see what the buzz is heading in to Homecoming this weekend:

The Orange and Blue News provides a great summary every week of Zook's weekly press conference. Here it is.

The Tribune has an article about how Zook is working to improve Special Teams after their disastarous performance against Michigan. Not too much news here, though, except for Zook's statement that he'd like to have Vontae Davis and Arrelious Benn return all kick-offs. But then he made a bunch of excuses as to why that can't happen-- Davis gets tired, and he's worried about Rejus getting injured. Uhhhhh.....I don't get this one.

The Pantagraph has a good article about how Ball St. is no push-over team. They have a potent offense. Their QB has thrown 20 touchdowns and only 3 picks, and his favorite receiver has 55 receptions, 7 for touchdowns. Yikes. This is going to be a real test for our defense, especially our secondary. It's going to be a good game Saturday. In my opinion, the biggest thing we're going to have to watch out for is an emotional let-down after the Michigan game. Zook teams don't have a good history of responding well the week after an emotional game. Time to turn over a new leaf here.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Now this is a truly, truly dirty play......

Glenn Dorsey is a beast! That would have been a shame if his knee had been blown out by that totally dirty and unnecessary chop block. Shame on Auburn for that one. That player should have been ejected from the game, if the official saw that one. There's no place for that in college football.

Zook keeps up recruiting magic; lands one of nation's top senior WR's


Well, Ron Zook says recruiting is just like shaving. You have to wake up and do it every day. He's definitely living up to that motto. Illinois just landed one of the nation's top wide receivers-- Fred Sykes, from Chamberlain High School in Tampa Bay, Fl.


Nice.

The buzz (or lack thereof)....after Michigan


The Illinois-Michigan game was a classic example of a disciplined team beating an un-disciplined team. Illinois had all the effort and emotion that they needed. What they didn't have was the discipline that would have enabled them to channel that emotion into better execution. The result: penalties and a dropped punt reception that led directly to Illinois' defeat. Nevertheless, things are still looking up at Illinois. After a loss like that, it helps to remember where we were last year at this time. So, chin up, Illini fans. The chance for 8 wins is still out there, and that would mean a decent bowl berth. Here's what's on the wires today:

Is there a quarterback controversy at Illinois? Ron Zook says no, but then goes on to explain that Juice will start, but that he'll probably still share time with McGee. And he says that McGee will get more and more time as he gets better and better. Okay, now I'm really confused.


John Supinie of the Peoria Journal Star tries to keep a positive outlook in this article on the Illini's prospects for the remainder of the season. He notes how down Illinois fans were after the Michigan loss, but reminds fans of how far the team has come since the doldrums of the last five seasons.


This Daily Illini editorial very eloquently slams Zook for what it calls his "Quarterback Carousel". It compares the way he switched out Juice and McGee to a restless baseball manager who keeps pulling pitchers off the mound. I must say, I have to agree with this article. Illinois has really got itself into a pickle with this quarterback situation. Juice is the face of the team, and he's been instrumental to the recruiting boon that Zook has been able to pull off the last few seasons. Now, it appears to everyone that McGee should get the call. But what happens to Juice then? Would he transfer? Or change positions? Who knows. But I know one of the reasons Zook is sticking with Juice is that he made certain promises to him in order to get him to come here. At what point will Zook call Juice in to the office and tell him that he has to go with the guy that gives him the best chance to win?


Well, that's about it for the buzz around the Illini this week so far. As you can see, the " noise in the system", as Zook likes to call it, has died off quite a bit. That's what happens when you lose twice in a row! Nevertheless, as I've stated already, it's important to keep perspective. I think the goal for this team should be 8 wins. That means we win out, except for the Ohio state game. Very achievable. We just have to beat Ball St., Minnesota, and Northwestern. Very achievable.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

One last look in the rearview mirror at Iowa

Okay, so it was a pretty darn heartbreaking loss on Saturday. 10 - 6 to a really bad Iowa team. So what does that make Illinois? Well, on Saturday, the Illini were also really bad. Here are the biggest weaknesses I see in this team after that game:

- No Passing Game! Let's face it...when Juice is in at quarterback, our passing game is virtually non-existant. The weird "Veer Option" that they run fooled people during the first 6 games, but Iowa had enough game tape to watch, and were able to shut the Illini offense down. Two options if the Illini want to win more than 7 games this season: Teach Juice to pass (quick) or insert McGee as the starter. The problem is, Juice is the face of the program and was instrumental in re-opening the Public League to recruiting. So it puts Zook in a tight corner with recruiting. But ultimately, you have to win. The best player needs to play.

- Coaching decisions during the game. I don't want to beat a dead horse here. We all know Zook should have declined those penalties on Saturday. Problem is, I'm not sure he thinks he should have. And that's kind of scary, to be honest. I mean, I really think he thinks he made the right call.

That's it for now. I just got a sick feeling thinking about how close we came to winning that sucker..... even though Iowa fully deserved the W.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

In case you missed it....here's the ESPN GAMEDAY segment on Zook from last Saturday

A clip of Jeff Jordan's first basket as an Illini



Check out the above clip. It's about 30 seconds of action from the Illini basketball team's trip to Canada for their pre-season exhibition tour. Why did I post it? It shows Jeff Jordan's first basket as an Illini. I didn't know he was a lefty. He's only 6'1", but he's got hops just like his old man.

Watch Erin Andrews paint an Illini nose!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The MichiganZone defends the Illini in its "Top 25 Re-evaluation"!

Listen up Illini fans! You're not going to BELIEVE this! Our friend Yost, over at the MichiganZone, puts up a very good argument about how the AP and coaches top 25 is pretty much skewed toward teams that get pre-season media hype. The blog post includes some legit props that are handed out to the Fighting Illini. It's a must read for Illini Fans!

Wednesday's Illini Chatter

We thought it'd be fun to take a run through the media maelstrom that has hit Illinois Football and Ron Zook this week. Here goes:

Matt Hayes of the Sporting News examines Illinois' meteoric rise in this article. It's another one of the many incredulous looks at Zook's recruiting magic, which he has now turned in to magic on the field. Yep, of course there's discussion of Zook's tears following the Wisconsin game!

The Sun-Times talks about how Zook has the Illini Football team "flyin'" here in this article.

Are you wondering what Kirk Frerentz thinks of the job Ron Zook is doing at Illinois? If so, then you have to check out this article. Of course, Frerentz acts like he's not surprised that Illinois is suddenly an awesome team.

It looks like Zook's on the field success is going to help his bank account. Illinois is allegedly trying to lock him up through 2012. They're looking to bump his already over $1 million annual salary by a couple hundred thou' a year. Zook, of course, claims he's not sweating the contract stuff at all. He just wants to win, baby.

InsideIllini.com posted a decent article that attempts to analyze why the Illini are "so good" so far. The article is kind of all over the place. It hypes their young talent, especially Martez Wilson. It gives most of the credit for the team's success to good coaching and to the players being tired of being doormats, however. The article claims that the most important game of the season so far was the Syracuse game, and credits that game with being the catalyst for everything that has happened since.

Here's an article from the Daily Illini that says the Illini are in now way going to overlook the "stumbling" Hawkeyes. Let's hope not! Iowa REALLY stinks!

The Detroit Free Press has posted an article titled "The Big Tennys", in which it dishes out mid-season awards. Illinois earned the title of "Biggest Surprise". Surprise!

Mark Tupper (we call him the Tubby Tuppster) writes a hype article about Illinois' bowl projections. Tupp Doggy Dogg can't resist injecting that Rose Bowl hype. Awesome!

If you want Zook's take on Saturday's game at Iowa, here is a condensed version of this week's press conference.

As you can see, the media wires are just FLOODED with Illinois stories. It's about time! Many of them still express cynicism about Zook. Emphasis is on how he's a great recruiter, so good, in fact, that his talent gathering abilities make his "bad coaching" meaningless. I don't buy any of it! I mean, look at Charlie Weis over at Notre Dame. They've had some good recruits come in there over the last three years. And Weis is in his third year just like Zook. Yet Notre Dame is a miserable 1-5! I think it's high time Zook start getting some credit for his coaching as well as his recruiting. Maybe it's that stupid "swinging gate" thing he has the Illini do on extra points. Stop doing that play, Ron, and you'll start getting the credit you deserve!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

FLASH TRAFFIC! FLASH TRAFFIC! FLASH TRAFFIC! THE SPORTING NEWS ANNOINTS ILLINOIS AS BEST TEAM IN BIG TEN!

Wow. I'm actually almost speechless. Read this article folks. The national media now believes that Illinois is the best team in the Big Ten.

Ha Ha! I bet recruiting will really take off now! How long till the drum beats for a national title run?

Go Illini!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Biggest Game in a Loooonnnnngggg Time against Wisconsin


Well, guess what Illini fans. The snowball was rolled off the top of Mount Everest last weekend after the victory against Penn St. at home. That snowball has turned into an avalanche for the Illini football program. The national media is starting to pay attention folks. Check out this story by ESPN.com. If the Illini can somehow beat Wisconsin on Saturday, the avalanche will undoubtedly turn in to one of biblical proportions! Imagine how easy it'll be for Zook to convince recruits to come to Illinois then!


Now, if he would only stop doing that "swinging gate" thing on extra points.......


Go Illini! Beat the Sconnies!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Illini starting to get some national media buzz trickle!

Well, that's what a surprising 3-1 start will do for you! Yep, Illini fans, there are some good signs in the national media. Way down in Alabama, the Birmingham News is reporting some serious buzz on the Illini and Ron Zook! Did you ever think you'd read this quote:

"Watch out for Ron Zook"!!!!!!!!

I can't believe it! It's finally happening!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

OPEN THREAD: ILLINOIS vs. INDIANA

Okay, here it is.....THE BIG TEN! Here's Illinois' chance to really change the recent trend of futility that has been "Illinois Football". I'm still not fully convinced that this team is ready for primetime. So, as a result, I'm predicting a 28-14 defeat for the Illini. Why? I think the Hoosiers will be able to pass at will when it comes to the quick, over the middle, slant route that Illinois seems to have so much trouble defending. Also, Indiana has a turnover ratio of +6 this season......and that could spell doom for the Illini. Trust me, I hope that I'm wrong here. I was wrong about the Syracuse game, to be sure. But this is a whole 'nother league (literally).

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Weber hires Jerrance Howard as assistant coach

Well, the wait is over, and we now know who is going to replace Tracey Webster on Bruce Weber's basketball staff. It's going to be former Illini Jerrance Howard. Man, I have to tell you-- IlliniNation has some big time Debbie Downers! Already, people are lambasting Weber on the message boards and on the radio airwaves, talking about how this was a "bad hire." Give the guy a break! He's only won more basketball games in the last 4 seasons than anyone else in the country!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What they're saying about the Illini heading into the Big Ten

Here's a rundown of what they're saying about the Illini heading into the Big Ten:

1. Mark Tupper (Decatur-Herald & Review) writes a glowing article about the Illini post-Syracuse. He comments on how explosive the offense was, and how Juice seems to be coming in to his own. The one thing he doesn't address-- Juice's inability to find consistency in the passing game.

2. John Supinie of the Peoria Journal-Star writes about how the Illini are officially "trolling for a bowl". He points out that a win Saturday at Indiana would mean the Illini are halfway to bowl eligibility with 3 wins. Since they'll likely be favored later in the season against Ball St., Minnesota, and Northwestern, the possiblity of 6 wins seems well within grasp. That's IF, of course, they can beat the Hoosiers on the road Saturday.

3. John Decker from HoosierNation.com writes an article titles "5 days and counting" that breaks down some numbers going into Saturday's Indiana/Illinois Match-up. He places focus on Juice Williams' 60.5% completion rate so far this year, and also makes mention of the 8 true freshman who have played so far this year for the Illini. To be sure, he also mentions the number 2-- the total number of Big Ten wins the Illini have achieved in the last four years.
He also makes mention of how Illinois is 10th in the Big Ten in turnover differential, at -4. That number is a result of the 5 turnovers they experienced vs. Mizzou. Thus, his conclusion is that Illinois isn't really turning the ball over every game a ton-- but at the same time, they're not forcing turnoves either. Contrast this with Indiana's turnover ratio of +6. Yep, the Hoosiers have forced a total of 5 interceptions and 5 fumble recoveries in the first three games. If that trend continues, it's going to be lights out for the Illini on Saturday.

Well, that's about all that's cookin' within the sports media on Tuesday before the Indiana game. So far, we're not getting much media attention beyond the usual local coverage, and the mandatory Chicago coverage. Look for things to pick up if Illinois beats Indiana. If that happens, the Illini are suddenly a true turn-around story.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

OPEN THREAD: ILLINOIS vs. SYRACUSE

You're chance to post what's on your mind about the Syracuse game.

Why do they bash on Zook so much? Pat Forde of ESPN calls Zook "worst hire" of 2004!!!



Well, Pat Forde published a "slam" article against Ron Zook this week. I can't understand why so many people treat Zook like a punching bag. I think it all goes back to that infamous website that a "Debby Downer" Florida fan started as soon as the Gators hired Zook. I don't know. In my opinion, though, here's the case FOR Zook:

1. The guy can recruit, right up there with the best of them. There's no doubt about this one.

2. He has loaded the Illinois program with coaches much like himself-- they can all recruit just like he can. Mike Locksley deserves a lot of credit for snagging Aurrelious Benn and some of the other offensive stars that are wearing the Orange and Blue.

3. He's attempting to run the program with integrity. That's right-- he wasted no time in kicking Derrick McPhearson and Jody Ellis off the team when they were caught stealing laptops by Champaign Police.

4. He's demanding a high level of performance from his team, in only his third season-- despite still being in the midst of a HUGE re-building process. Yep-- Zook has put his foot down this season, and he's calling out players by name when they don't perform.

Some minor complaints about Zook:

Okay, we didn't really want to go here, but here are two minor complaints about Ron--

1. He runs up and down the sideline like a frenetic maniac throughout the entire football game. Wasn't it Vince Lombardi who talked about "Grace Under Pressure?"

2. He has the team do some sort of crazy "swinging gate" thing every time they kick an extra point. We just don't get this maneuver! I mean, why not just kick the extra point! Let's get the fundamentals down pat, and then, maybe, every once in a while, we can do something resembling a trick play.

All in all, those are minor complaints. I guess Zook is the Rodney Dangerfield of college football coaches. But, that is only to Illini outsiders. To IlliniNation, he's getting closer and closer to a blue-chip coach.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Illini vs. Syracuse -- are the Illini any good?


Well, the Illini pulled off the victory last weekend against Western Illinois. But they weren't exactly convincing, were they? I mean, sure, they won the game. And the defense looked good. But they struggled SO mightily in the passing department, that it left you to wonder-- Will they win 6 games this year and go to a bowl after all?

This weekend's battle against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome is the perfect test for this young Illini team. They're facing another program that has been struggling in recent years. Yep, that's right, on paper the Illini look like they should win this game.

What should you be looking for as you watch the game on ESPNU? Here goes the list:

1. The Illini NOT to suffer from cramps during this dome game, like they did in St. Louis against Mizzou. Zook claims that the Illini staff figured out why the Illini were suffering from those cramps, and claims to have a remedy in place. What exactly was the problem in St. Louis, Ron? If it was "drink more water", we could have told you that one before the season started!


3. Don't look for Aurrelious Benn to pull a Keyshawn Johnson and start hollering for Juice to "Just throw me the @#%$# ball!".....at least not yet. Benn has been getting about 7 or so touches per game in the first two of the season. The Illini coaches would like for him to get 10+. Illini fans? They'd like for him to get about 30!

4. Illinois to sadly, lose in a close one at the Carrier Dome. Don't be fooled by Syracuse's 0-2 record-- they played two really good teams in Iowa and Washington. I'm predicting a 24-10 loss tomorrow......with the Illini once again struggling mightily in the passing game. Honestly.....I really hope I'm wrong here. But this team still has a lot to prove.

Can't wait for the game!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sports Illustrated beats the drum -- "Illinois Basketball In Decline!"

There is a very comprehensive article in SI-online by Luke Winn that paints a devastatingly bleak picture of the Illinois basketball program's future prospects. Whew, it is a really depressing article.

Nevertheless, we here at Illinispace maintain strong faith in Bruce Weber. He will lead Illinois back to basketball glory, there is no doubt about it.

Unfortunately, the Debbie Downers in IlliniNation will probably wave this article like a red flag, whining and crying and wailing.

I can't wait for the season to start, so that we can start talking about results on the court!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Illini SHOULD win big against Western Illinois....that's SHOULD (just ask Michigan about "should"....)


Well, it's a 6 p.m. kick-off tonight at Memorial Stadium against the Leathernecks, and that's probably a good thing, 'cause it's supposed to get well into the '80's today (with humidity). It should start to cool off by game time, though. Besides a hot, humid afternoon of tailgating, what else should we look for today out on the field? Here's ten things to look for during the game today:


1. Juice Williams will start the game, and more than likely, he'll play the whole game, even if it's a blow-out. I'm just guessing here, but I think that the coaches want to get Juice's confidence back up after last week's injury. According to the local media, he had a strong week of practice, and is looking sharp for the game. There's no doubt that Juice wants to put to rest any supposed QB controversy after Eddie McGee's streaky, but strong, showing last week against Mizzou.


2. The Leathernecks to run a TON! They're a big time running team. Expect them to keep a nice balanced attack throughout the game. Also, their coach is a West Point grad (so he's a smart dude I guess), and also a Hayden Fry protege'. So watch out for trick plays!


3. J Leman to get a lot of tackles, maybe even close to the 20 he had last week. Why? See #2 above. He's going to be keying on their backs, and looking to stuff anything coming through the line up the middle.


4. Aurelious Benn to have a big game. Did anyone else notice how visibly HUNGRY and ENERGIZED he looked out on the field last week? This guy is a competitive monster, you can just tell. And even on ESPN2 last week, you can tell he has that contagious WINNER's mentality that can spread like wildfire thru a unit. Illinois' hasn't had any receiver even close to Benn's talent level since Brandon Lloyd wore the orange and blue.


5. Kyle Yelton to stay on the bench (thankfully!). It looks like Santella has the punting job locked up now. Yelton's low line drive last week that Mizzou returned for a touchdown pretty much sealed the deal for Santella. Santella can boom it at times (at least compared to Yelton), but he has a slower wind-up and release. Zook really likes Yelton's fast "get rid of it" quotient. The problem is, the guy's leg is like a wet noodle! Punting is STILL a big problem for the Illini. Keep a close eye on the punting game today. It needs to improve big time.


6. Turnovers. Look for a lot of turnovers in this game. Illinois showed that they could create them on both sides of the ball last week. I'm looking for Illinois to shut the run down tonight, forcing a lot of must pass scenarios on 3rd and long. That means some potential picks, especially if the Illini can get pressure on the quarterback and force him to make bad decisions.


7. Memorial stadium to be rockin'. At least half of it. Remember-- the west stands will be empty due to contruction. But the north end of the field is now enclosed, and that is the end that the students will be sitting in. It'll be interesting how loud that end of the stadium is going to be. The local media has been hyping how Zook thinks the new lay-out, once completed, will make Memorial Stadium rival the Assembly Hall in terms of crowd noise and home field advantage. We'll have to withhold judgment on that one for now.....but it'll be tough to rival the Hall's atmosphere. Anything even close would be awesome, though. The big thing is we need to win some games, so that the fans keep coming to them!


8. The Grange Rock. Zook wants the team to slap the Grange Rock on the way out of the tunnel, in order to honor Illini Football heritage, et al. Not a bad idea. So they moved the Grange Rock adjacent to the tunnel exit/entrance. We'll have to see if the rock gives them any luck!


9. Zook to run up and down the sidelines like an insane man the whole game. Why does he do that? Hasn't he ever heard that saying "Grace Under Pressure?" I can't stand how spastic he looks on the sidelines.....doesn't he know that a spastic leader transmits that spazoid vibe through to all of his men? Calm down Ron! You're doing a good job! You don't have to run around like a crazy man just so everyone knows you're working hard! Okay, okay...I feel better now.


10. A blow-out victory! The News-Gazette is predicting a 42-10 blow-out victory. I'm thinking more like 37-17. Should be fun.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

A tough Zook? Coach calls veterans out for their poor play!

In his first two seasons, Ron Zook just knew that he was coaching a flat out bad football team. After repeated losses, he always stayed positive, and stuck to the theme of "we're going to get better." This was true even last season, when the team showed some minor flashes of "good" midway through the season.

After Saturday's 6 point loss to Mizzou, Zook is no longer accepting a "puppy dogs and ice cream" demeanor in the Illini lockerroom. This is a GREAT sign for Illini fans. #1, this means that Zook thinks the team is actually good this year, and should beat teams like Mizzou. #2, it means he is raising the bar at Illinois. He's not going to accept losses any more. That was one of the irritating things about him during the first two seasons-- he just seemed punch drunk all the time at post-game press conferences, and always stuck to that "we're going to get better" theme that just got old after a while.
Kick' em in the @$% Ron!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Illini nearly pull off upset over Mizzou...but not quite

Well, that was one heck of a college football game today. I'm proud of Illinois' effort. What a huge difference between this game, and last year's early game against Rutgers!

You could see flashes of the explosive potential of Illinois' young talent. We actually forced some turnovers in this game! Eddie McGee wowed everyone with his poise and execution.....despite the fact that he had three turnovers. While he made the plays that cause the loss, he also made the plays that had Illinois in the game up to the last minute.

The most glaring weakness during the game, however, was Mizzou's ability to pass into the seam between Illinois' linebackers and their secondary. Mizzou was able to play pitch and catch for most of the game. Only late in the 4th quarter, when the defense started blitzing and getting pressure on the Missouri quarterback, did they have any success in shutting down their passing game.

All in all, it hurt to lose, but Illinois came out of this game on an upward glidepath.

Final note-- on that last pass by McGee that ended in an interception, it looked like he would have had Arrelious Benn wide open streaking to the endzone if he had just gone through his reads. But, hey, that was his first college game, ever.

Illinois could easily be 2-1 heading into week 4......all in all, the future looks brighter now than it did yesterday.

Friday, August 31, 2007

ESPN bodyslams the Illinois football program!

Check out this article from ESPN! Wow, Pat Forde doesn't pull any punches does he? Illinois is just going to have to start winning, consistently, to erase stories like this from the popular media. We really should be a winning program, though! I can't argue with Pat on that one.

He brings up some really good points in the article-- read it and digest it Illini fans!

May this season be the turning point!

Illini Hoping to pull off HUGE upset in St. Louis against Mizzou

Illini Fans! First game of the year tomorrow! And it's on a huge stage-- the RCA Dome in St. Louis against Mizzou. The St. Louis Post Dispatch is quoting Ron Zook as admitting that it's not an ideal opener for his young, still-developing team. That'll make an upset that much more satisfying Ron!

On paper, Illinois looks like a two-touchdown dog to us. But something tells me you can throw out the "on paper" analysis on this one. The one intangible for Illinois is that they have big play potential now, in the Juice Williams-Aurelious Benn connection. If that connection lights it up tomorrow, Illinois could pull off the huge upset.


We'll have to see. Here are the three keys to the game for Illinois:


1. Defensive secondary play

2. Offensive line play

3. Juice Williams' ability to throw the ball


If they're a "GO" on the above three, there's a chance for Illinois to win the game. I can't wait to watch it!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Sports Illustrated predicts Illini to go bowling in December

Sports Illustrated is predicting that Illinois will finish 6th in the Big Ten with a 7-5 record, and that they will play Kansas State in the Insight Bowl. Sweet. The Insight Bowl, by the way, is played in Tempe, Arizona at SunDevil Stadium on December 31st 2007. That would be an awesome way to spend New Year's Eve wouldn't it? It's really amazing how Zook's recruiting success is snowballing into legitimate media hype by big time outlets like SI.

Let's hope we can beat Missouri, so that it turns from a snowball into an avalanche!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Dee Brown Update

It's always fun to follow and watch Illinois alums in the pros. Dee Brown now has his own website, and it contains a link to his very own blog. So if you're wondering what's up with Dee, all you have to do is check it out.

In his latest post, Dee tells us that he's currently in Chicago, chilling out with friends and family. He's been making a workout video that he's going to release soon, which was filmed in various locations around the Chicago area. As you can see, he's fully embraced the "One Man Fastbreak" nickname.
So where will he be executing these breaks next year? Dee's not 100% sure where he'll be playing next year, but he knows things will work out for him. Also, he plans on coming to Champaign for some games this year. He will always bleed Orange and Blue!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Orlando Sentinel ranks Juice as the 34th best quarterback in the nation

The Orlando media isn't exactly up there with Chicago or New York, but nevertheless.......

The Orlando Sentinel puts Juice Williams at #34 when stacked up against the rest of the nation's QB's. That's definitely a potential pick right there.....cause Juice didn't have the numbers last year to earn a top 40 selection. The article describes him as "great athlete" but with "poor decision-making". I guess that's an accurate description of his freshman season.

Mike Locksley was disappointed with Juice's performance at Camp Rantoul-- but Zook feels like he's ready to have a break-out year. It remains to be seen. There's no doubt that Juice is one of the most gifted athletes to stand behind center at Illinois in the school's history. But athleticism alone doesn't make you a great quarterback. I think the only thing potentially holding Juice back from greatness is his passing touch and accuracy.

It'll be interesting to see how he plays against Missouri-- a very tough opening test.

Revealed: Smith was drinking tequila 4 nights a week last season

Wow. Several news reports today about the whole Jamar Smith debacle revealed that he was drinking tequila 4 nights a week last year. That explains a lot about why he was playing so poorly......no one could figure out why he was mired in such a horrible shooting slump. It's amazing that he could play as well as he did! Your average person wouldn't be able to go to class after a night of tequila shots, let alone play big time college basketball! The picture above is a sobering reminder of what happens when alcohol and driving are combined. Best of luck to Jamar as he rehabs and gets ready for next season-- I definitely still think the kid deserves another chance at Illinois.

Quinton Watkins ineligible?


Well, it appears that Quinton Watkins has some unfinished academic business to tend to from high school before the NCAA will clear him to play. Undoubtedly, this will cause great outcry from all the "Debbie Downers" within IlliniNation. Don't worry, Illini fans, the world's not going to end! The Orange and Blue will be okay. Here's how I see the starting five shaping up as of today:
PG - Chester Frazier
SG - Demetri McCamey
SF - Rodney Alexander
PF - Brian Randle
C - Sean Pruitt
Not entirely sure about Rodney Alexander. Calvin Brock could easily fill that slot if he outplays Alexander during the pre-season. It should be an exciting year. I don't see this as a re-building year-- we have a core group of players (Frazier, Randle, Pruitt) who know the Weber system inside and out. It's early, but I'm predicting a strong showing in the Big Ten, and a trip to the Sweet 16 in March.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

No respect! Chicago media blowhard laughs at Illini football prospects


Mike Nadel, the chicago sports columnist and blowhard, absolutely laughs at the prospect of a winning season for the Illini. He thinks 5-7 would be absolutely amazing! Now, this guy's not the most knowledgeable sportswriter in the world....but is there a chance he's right on this one? SI is predicting a bowl bid.......but the jury's still out. Especially with the Chicago media! We'll know a lot more after the Missouri game, though.

Weber cuts no slack; forces Jamar Smith to Redshirt


The Associated Press is reporting that Illinois is forcing Jamar Smith to redshirt the upcoming season. This should restore Illini Nation's faith in Bruce Weber. Jamar has A LOT he has to deal with in the next year. This will allow him to meet his obligations, get himself into a healthy physical and mental condition, and prove to everyone that he is serious about being a scholarship student-athlete. Jamar-- we don't feel the least bit sorry for you, but we do wish you the best of luck.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

An early preview of Illinois Football

"With the completion of Memorial Stadium more than a year off the Fighting Illini are looking to create a big buzz for 2007. The hype surrounding Ron Zook, Juice Williams, and the rest of the Fighting Illini is huge after this past season and controversial recruiting season. Right now the Zook and his players are looking to improve upon last years 2-10 record which included two heartbreaking losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin. Improving on last season is possible but it won't come easy. 2007 includes home games with Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan. The Illini also have two tough roadies at Iowa and Ohio State. With an excellent incoming recruiting class and talented upperclassmen expect Coach Zook and the Illini to make a splash in the Big Ten in 2007!" --GCM's sporting blog, a member of The Sporting News blog network

Sunday, July 8, 2007

A look back at a great day in Illinois football history....

I remember watching this game. What a great feeling it was to see the Illini break Michigan's heart like that with a last minute pass into the endzone! Here's to more moments like that, starting this season......

Thursday, July 5, 2007

A modern day Wooden?


Bruce Weber. Following in the footsteps of a legend. Just wait. Something special is happening in Champaign. Does anyone share this view?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Duke has Dukegirl. Florida St. has the Cowgirl. Who is Illinigirl?

Should Illinois have an Illinigirl?

In my opinion, having an Illinigirl is a _________________________________?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Florida St. has the cowgirl. Shouldn't Illinois have the Illinigirl?


Are there any candidates out there to be the Illinigirl? Auditions will be at Memorial Stadium this fall. Be there. Does anyone know any candidates? Post about it here.

The 2007-2008 athletic year is coming right up!

Okay, so basketball fizzled out in a slew of scandal, missed free-throws, and a tough tourney loss. As Cubs fans would say, "Wait till next year!" Well, next year is almost here.....the first Illini football practice is the first weekend of August. That's only a month and a half away! Let's bring it on!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Jamar Smith Felony Charges big concern to Illinois Basketball Program

Well, the last week has not been a good one for the Illinois basketball program. More importantly, it has been a terrible time for the young men who make up the team, especially Jamar Smith and Brian Carlwell. What a tragedy. Thankfully, it was not an even worse tragedy. The news report and report from the prosecutor raise more questions than they answer. Without going into specifics, the biggest question of all is this: were other Illini basketball players involved in this incident prior to 911 being called (thankfully) by the two women at 11:40 pm? I'm not sure what the whole "other players were gathered" at the complex meant specifically in the news article. I wonder who the "other person" was that came back down to the car, looked at Carlwell, and then went back inside the complex. That's just inexcusable! And sad.

I can only guess that Jamar Smith was in an alcohol induced blackout state as a result of his apparent binge on beer and tequila. I bet he doesn't remember too much about the night, if he even has a hazy recollection. I mean, he was apparentley 0.174, and this was hours and hours after he had consumed his last drink. Yikes. Yes, he's at fault, but whoever else was partying with them and let him leave to drive a car with a passenger inside it, in the state he was in, can't be considered an innocent bystander either. I'm not talking legally, cause I'm not sure what the legal implications are of that aspect. I'm just talking from a moral perspective. I don't know if other players were partying with them or not. If they were, then that's just a shame. I hope not. But as tempting as it is to do so, I don't want to put a "basketball" spin on this whole thing. Because this is not a basketball tragedy. This is a human tragedy.

I don't blame Bruce Weber for this, but I do think he needs to determine the root cause and attack it from that perspective. Is abuse of alcohol a problem with the team? I don't think we should use the excuse that "every college basketball team uses alcohol, just like every college kid does". We've got to address what is going on at Illinois, and that's it. We shouldn't worry about what other schools are doing or not doing.

Well, maybe getting back on the court Wednesday night against Michigan will begin the slow healing process. I'm not even worried about or thinking ahead to an NCAA tournament birth at this moment in time. I'll think about that later.

Monday, February 12, 2007

6-6 in the Big Ten with 4 games remaining. Will 9-7 be good enough to get the Illini into the Big Dance?

Saturday's game against Indiana was a solid effort by the Illini. Wouldn't that have been spectacular if the team had been able to score just 5 more points in the last 4 minutes of the game? When McBride shot that three pointer after the nice dish from a driving Warren Carter, my hopes rose for a split second. But then I saw that McBride "armed" the shot, probably because he was exhausted after a super effort throughout the game. All in all, though, I was really happy with the performance and the effort. Indiana is 13-0 on their homecourt, and except for the Wisconsin and Illinois games, all of those have been easy wins. So take heart Illini fans!

Now, on to the last 4 games. We're looking at Northwestern and Michigan at home. We SHOULD win both of those games. Weber has Bill Carmody's version of the Princeton offense pretty much figured out. Michigan might be a tough game, because it's do or die for them as well. Plus, they're going to be playing extra hard, knowing that their coach's job is at stake. But Illinois should beat both of these teams, considering the home court advantage.

What about the two road games? Well, we can definitely beat Penn St. at their place. That is no gimmee game, though. Penn St. has been underachieving so far this year. But just as with all teams, they're probably going to be playing their best ball in this last part of the season. Plus, Penn St. seems to play well against our system. Witness last year's shocking upset at the Assembly Hall. So this game is going to be tough, and will likely come down to the bitter end. And Iowa will be even tougher. Both of these games are winnable. I just think they'll both be tough games.

Anyhow, 9-7 might get us in to the tourney. In fact, historically, a 9-7 conference record is a pretty good bet to get in for a Big Ten team. In this weird year, though, where the media is in love with the mid-majors, and really down on the Big Ten, then it might mean only a 10-6 record gets us in. So let's win all 4 of the remaining games just to be sure! Also, there's always the Big Ten tourney as a last hope. Remember what Syracuse did last year in the Big East tourney.

Friday, February 2, 2007

After victory against MSU, can Illini sustain a win streak?

Tuesday's victory against MSU at home was nothing short of a "grind it out" victory. Here's some thoughts on the team following that game, and heading into Saturday's home game against Minnesota:

1. Defense was the key to victory on Tuesday. Kudos to Rich McBride for hounding Drew Neitzel the entire game.

2. Sean Pruitt is playing very consistently in the post these days. He is steadily racking up double-doubles each game. However, he is really stinking at freethrows. Man, how many did he miss during crunch time against Michigan St.? As he becomes Illinois' main offensive threat on the inside, if not as a whole, then he is only going to get fouled more and more. Hack-a-Shaq will become Hack-a-Sean. He MUST get better at shooting those free throws.

3. Jamar Smith is slumping so badly, the Illini almost can't afford to play him any more.

4. Chester Frazier played a solid game. He hit some big time shots in the second half while driving in to the lane with the shot clock running down. It wasn't pretty, but it worked. His defense was solid too, especially considering his turf toe status. If he can get healthy, and learn to always play within himself, he will be a pretty serviceable point guard.


Well, I'm looking forward to the Minnesota game. If Illinois can play well, then a victory will put them at .500 in the Big Ten. A favorable schedule the rest of the way means that the NCAA tourney is still within reach.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Two steps backward at Purdue

Well, it was a rough game today at Purdue in Mackey Arena. The whole game reminded me of the second half at Michigan St. Basically, Purdue exerted and put tremendous ball pressure on our guards for 3/4 the length of the court. Our guards crumbled, and were unable to run the offense at all. That's about all I have to say about this game.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I wonder what was going through Weber's head right here?


I was absolutely wrong in my prediction about tonight's game against Indiana! And I'm glad! While it wasn't pretty, the Illini toughed and grinded out a great victory against Sampson and the Hoosiers. Effort wise, it was a strong performance across the board. The main players of the game, in my opinion, in order of effectiveness, were: Pruitt, McBride, Carter, Frazier, Carlwell, Brock, Meacham, and Smith. Smith continued to struggle, but I understand that Weber is just trying to show confidence in him by playing him a lot of minutes in the hopes that he'll fight through these tough times. Illinois won this game through defense, defense, and more defense. Neither team shot very well for the game, each team making less than 20 shots total for the whole game. Gut check time came with about 5 minutes left in the game. Once again, Illinois held a small, tenuous lead. And once again, they started to falter offensively. Too much dribbling around at the top of the key by Frazier, and suddenly, Indiana had the ball and looked like they might start a seeminly inevitable game closing run, a la the Wisconsin game. This time, however, Illinois had some people step up. The big basket came from McBride, who got the ball and dribbled in to nail a clutch 15 foot pull-up along the baseline. Nice job Rich! It was a free throw battle down the stretch, and even though they missed their fair share, the Illini were able to make enough to salt away the game. So, now we're 3-4 in the Big Ten. There's nine games to go, and each of the nine games are against teams that we can definitely beat. Remember-- we don't have to play Wisconsin or Ohio St. on the road this year. So things are looking up. Maybe my prediction of an 8-8 record was too conservative. How about 10-6? Definitely 9-7 is within reach. I think 10-6 will probably get us in to the tourney. If we finish 9-7 in the Big Ten, then we might need to win at least two games in the Big Ten tourney to ensure an NCAA tournament birth. Here's a few other notes from tonight's game:

1. Looks like Brian Randle will be out for up to ten more days due to his "plantar fasciatis" condition. This is an apparently extremely painful condition that makes it difficult to even walk around slowly.

2. When is Jamar going to snap out of this slump? Weber has decided to go "all in" with Smith. There's a lot of coaches out there who would have benched him by now. I respect Weber's decision to let him play through this slump. If he benches Jamar, the kid may never recover from something like that.

3. Frazier had mixed results as the point guard tonight. He did an okay job handling the ball at times, but he still struggles at passing and distribution. He tends to loiter at the top of the key, getting himself trapped at times and also in shot clock trouble at times. Sometimes, when he does dribble to his left to mix it up, he gains a lane inside, but then he has a tendency to put his head down. Once his head is down, he usually dribbles into a dead end. At the dead end, he usually can pull of a pretty credible dribble-stop-head fake-pump-pass or something like that, and he's able to pass it to Pruitt or Carter down low. Other times, he ends up throwing up a wild shot or getting tied up down there. Either way, I have to remember he's a sophomore, and is ever improving. He sure does play hard, though, doesn't he? He played 35 minutes tonight, and was working so hard on defense that his legs were cramping up in the huddle near the end of the game.

4. McBride can help Frazier run the offense once the team is in the half court. Yes, we need Chester to bring the ball across half court. He does a good job with the dribble. But at times it seems like McBride can create more in the half-court than Chester can. He has better court vision, and had a few good passes down low tonight to the Big Men. He's especially dangerous when he dribble-penetrates and hits those pull-up jumpers. That really opens things up on the inside, cause he's already a threat to hit from 3-point land. Throw in the mid-range penetration, and he's going to be able to get a lot of assists by feeding Pruitt and Carter down low.

5. I'm glad Bruce Weber shook hands with Kelvin Sampson. Quite frankly, I'm over the whole recruiting thing. I could care less who Sampson is getting or got, or how he recruits. Winners don't spend their time obsessing over what the other guy is doing. They spend all their time prepping and executing their own winning plan. Let's let the other guys worry about what we're doing-- on the court.

Things are looking up for the Illini. If we can get healthy this week, then we can really attack these last nine games. We should just take one game at a time and see what happens. Next, we have Purdue away, on Saturday I believe. It'll be tough to get a W in West Lafayette. But a win makes us 4-4 in the Big Ten. I'm looking forward to watching, once again.

Go Illini!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Rough waters ahead for Illini, but there is still hope

Well, Saturday truly was a tough loss for the Illini at the Assembly Hall. It was probably the best game of the season effort wise for the team. Everybody on the team played really hard. The only guy who looked lost out on the court was Jamar Smith. He's just in the slump of all slumps. At this point, I'm concerned about his future within the program. He kind of reminds me of that pitcher for the Cardinals a few years back who was on track to be a superstar, but then suddenly couldn't even throw a strike during the postseason and he had to be sent back down to the minor leagues. Seriously, Jamar is in that bad of a slump. But here's to hoping he'll pull out. I listened to Bruce Weber on the radio this morning, and he really sounded down. I haven't heard him like that before. That tells me he is really concerned about this team. But he hasn't given up on them yet. He talked about how resilient kids are, and that they'll bounce back before fans or the news media will. At the same time, he said that Randle is doubtful for Tuesday's game against Indiana, and that even worse, Pruitt is "day to day" due to a twisted knee. Yep, that's the same knee he hurt at that crucial point in Saturday's game. So, it's going to be tough on Tuesday against Indiana. Weber believes Indiana is playing the best ball of any team in the Big Ten, or so says his scouting report. They are playing some tough, team basketball. And so here is my prediction for Tuesday night:

Illinois is going to lose by 8 points. Taking a wild shot at it, I'm going to go with a 65-57 final score. I believe it'll be a dogfight until the last 8 minutes of the game, when Indiana will pull away. I sure hope I'm wrong, and I have to be honest, I'm such a partisan fan that I almost always pick Illinois to win. But for some reason, I just have a feeling we'll lose Tuesday.

I believe that Tuesday's loss against Indiana will be rock bottom. Illinois will then have to stare into the Abyss, knowing that gaining an at-large birth is all but out of the question. I think that they will face this fact well, however. I think they'll pull together as a team, and that they'll rally around Weber as a coach. They'll finish relatively strong in the Big Ten, at 8-8 overall in the league. I think they'll win their last 3 or 4 in a row going into the Big Ten tourney, though, as Weber will have them peaking at just the right time. Then, in the Big Ten tourney they'll have to run the table to go to the Big Dance. Odds of that happening at that point? I'd say about 1 in 5. But, hey, that's 20%. It'll be an exciting challenge.

Go Illini!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

What the smart money says about Illinois vs. Wisconsin

You know the old saying "Well, the smart money says....." A buddy of mine gives literal credence to that old saying. He can pretty much call games better than most I know, and usually puts his money on the line, to good effect. Here's his text message I just got this morning, after I told him that my heart says an Illinois victory, but my gut says a 15 point loss:

"Understood. The spread is small at 2. Even though they chalked an L vs. MSU, they looked pretty strong and physical on the road. Wisc looking kind of weak lately, just skating by some sub-par teams. My money is on Illini to pull off a shocker in Assembly Hall! Put that in your blog and post it."

And so I just did. For the record.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Illinois plays strong first half in away win against Golden Gophers

They say that good teams do "routine things routinely." Well, the Illini showed glimpses of this in the first half tonight against Minnesota, and were able to pull out the closest thing to a "routine" road win as there is in the Big Ten. The team looked good in the first half. In particular, they looked good early when they were crashing the offensive boards, and actively trying to move the ball around in order to get it to the big men down low. Once this started working, the outside opened up. Meacham and McBride had a fairly good shooting night from out there, which gave the Illini a balanced attack in the first half. Additionally, the transition game worked well for the Illini. Add all that together, and you get a big halftime lead.

Then the second half came, and after a decent start to it, the Illini seemed to go to sleep. Minnesota actually closed the gap to ten at one point, but that was as close as they came. Still, the Illini did not put the Gophers away like they should have. Of course, this is nothing new, as weak second half play has plagued the Illini in the Big Ten so far this season. It's almost like the team has a collective case of Attention Deficit Disorder or something. They do seem to be aware of this problem, as Warren Carter adressed it in the postgame interview. He is well aware that he needs to take a leadership role by forcing himself to step up his intensity so that he can help the team maintain an attacking style of play. For this game, at least, he assumed what has become a rotating leadership role amongst the Illini this season. I thought McBride had snatched that role permanently during the Iowa game, but since that time his play has been steady, but his active and vocal leadership has been lacking on the court. I just don't think it's in his personality. As long as Rich keeps playing a steady game of basketball, I'll be happy, though. If he can step up and be the active team leader, so much the better. For the time being, however, it seems that Warren Carter is going to have to assume that role. He can do it. He's a talented player, and so far has really stepped up the level of his game play this season.

Well, Saturday brings the Wisonsin Badgers and the number 2 team in the nation into town. It should be one heck of a game. The students are back, and the Illini will surely be playing like a team with its figurative back to the wall as it strives to stay in contention for an NCAA tournament birth. Don't look now, but if the Illini can somehow win against Wisconsin and Indiana at home, they'll be 4-3 in the Big Ten, with a rather favorable Home and Away schedule the rest of the way. I really think we're going to need to have a 10-6 Big Ten record to ensure a tourney birth. Definitely anything less than 9-7 would mean the NIT. I really think the team can do it, but they still need to take several big steps during the next two games.

Here's how I see the starting line-up now:

PG- Trent Meacham
SG- Rich McBride
SF- Brian Randle
PF- Warren Carter
C - Sean Pruitt

First off bench: Brock, Frazier, Arnold Deep on bench: Hicks, Jackson, Smith

Monday, January 15, 2007

One step forward, two steps back for the Illini

Well, Sunday at Michigan St. was a tough game to stomach, particularly that second half. I still think the team had a breakthrough against Iowa, and in the first half against Michigan St., it looked like the team was picking up where they left off. Upon closer examination, however, it is clear that Brian Randle and Jamar Smith both struggled for both halves against Michigan St. McBride and Pruitt both seemed to have good games, and Carter played okay too. But when 2/5's of the line-up is hurting you, that's never going to add up to a victory on the road, especially in the Big Ten. Jamar Smith is becoming a major source of concern for the team. He is being relied on heavily for his outside shooting, but he is absolutely in one of the worst slumps I've seen an Illinois player go through in quite a long time. All in all, though, I think Weber is sorting things out as each game passes. He admitted that he made some mistakes against Michigan St. in the second half. I think Weber's biggest struggle this season has been his rotation of the players in and out of the game. Due to injuries, he hasn't solidified a starting line-up and bench rotation to support it. And we're four games into the Big Ten season. That's a big problem. With the rhythm necessity of the Weber motion offense, his teams have to have a solid rotation, and everyone needs to understand their role. And yet, this team still does not have those things solidified. To make matters worse, no one has stepped up to be the leader that this line-up and rotation can first gel and then solidify around. We need for this to happen.

Anyhow, I still hold up hopes for this season to end with an NCAA berth. The next three games will be critical. The Illini, however, need to just take one game at a time from here on out. Let's get a win at Minnesota on Wednesday! Here's how I see the starting line-up now, subject to injuries of course.

PG - Chester Frazier
SG - Rich McBride
SF - Brian Randle
PF - Warren Carter
C - Sean Pruitt

Bench: Brock, Meacham, Arnold, Carlwell
Other: Smith (I don't think he should play until his ankle sprains are totally healed), Jackson (When he plays good in practice, will Weber give him some game minutes?)

Well, keep your spirits up Illini fans.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Illini regain their footing against Iowa at home

As the buzzer sounded at the Assembly Hall, the orange faithful let out one big collective sigh of relief. Victory, 74-70 over the Iowa Hawkeyes. It wasn't the prettiest of games, but the Illini showed some signs of life after a 3 game losing streak since December 29th that seemed much longer than 12 days to fans that have grown accustomed to nothing but W after W the past couple of seasons. After the Saturday loss to the Buckeyes, short-tempered and fickle Illini fans throughout the midwest began beating the "drums of doom". Embodied by naysayers like Chicago sportswriter Mike Nadel, many fans whined and whined and cried endlessly about recruiting and Bruce Weber and recruiting and Thad Matta and recruiting and Bill Self and recruiting and Wha! Wha! Wha! Cry! Cry! Cry! And what did Bruce Weber do? What he has done since he came to Illinois 4 years ago-- he simply coached and coached and coached some more. You really have to respect his ability as a coach. I mean, after the Ohio St. game, he did a brutally honest self-assessment of the team, and he recognized that they just had no confidence at all. So what did he do? He focused on their confidence and attitudes in practice. He talked to them individually, and he didn't just hammer away on them for their mistakes. He reminded them of what they can do well, and he told them to "have fun and just play basketball." Then, he threw the practice agenda out the window yesterday, and they decided to just have a "fun" day at practice. Don't be fooled, there was hard work galore being done by both the coaches and the players Sunday through Tuesday. But he reminded them that when all is said and done, this is just a ballgame in the end, with 5 men on each side. And so the team relaxed. Especially the upperclassmen. Specifically, McBride and Randle. You know, this is how seasons truly unfold. "Gradual, steady improvement" can happen, but most athletic seasons are marked by "break-throughs" and "A-HA!" moments. I truly believe this Iowa game was one of those for the Illini. No, they didn't play perfect. There were lapses on defense, some poor ballhandling at times, and too many three-point shots that clanged off the rim in the fist half. But overall, they seemed like a team out there. And for that, I am encouraged. I really think they only got their footing tonight. The next step is to walk steadily against Michigan St. in East Lansing on Sunday. Then maybe we can talk about jogging or even running in future games. But, to Mike Nadel, and others like him-- y'all represent the "shallow" side of reporting and fandom. That's cool, I understand you can't change your personality. Y'all salivate over the Jerry Tarkanians, Thad Mattas, Bill Selfs, and Billy Donovans of the world for their "other-wordly" recruiting abilities. Meanwhile, great coaches like Bruce Weber take a group of talented, blue-chip (but maybe not McDonald's All-Americans) kids, and they teach them and turn them into a team. And that's what we're seeing unfold here in Champaign. And I know that the naysayers will quickly say "But Iowa is only 9-7, and you're jumping ahead to conclusions." But I say back to them-- I watch every game, and I see this team, from the pre-season agains SIU-Edwardsville to the Big Ten trench games against the Indianas and the Ohio St.'s and the Michigan St.'s. And I tell you this-- these guys care, and they have heart. And they're finding their way. And they stood up tonight, pulled themselves up by their shoelaces. McBride, Randle, WarCat, and Pruitt-- the upperclassmen. That is the key to this season-- I finally see it. And so does the team. Weber-- he's seen it all along.

Well, enough preaching. Here's a few blurbs from the game:

1. McBride woke up from his season long slumber. He had a real break-through tonight. He played hard, he yelled at the guys, he huddled them up on the court. He led the team out there tonight. And his positive attitude translated to his shot. He hit some key threes. And he let them come to him, through the flow of the offense. The best thing about his game, though, was his leadership, and the energy level he brought to the team. He has to sustain this now. Even if he has a bad shooting night, he needs to keep his head up, and keep leading this team.

2. Randle had a break-through as well. He seemed to finally just let go of the injury baggage that has been hindering him. The mental side of injuries is a big part of sports. And his was a particularly sensitive area (the groin/abdomen). Again, you don't "gradually" make a mental recovery from an injury. It takes a breakthrough. Throw your body after a couple loose balls, make a few big dunks. Still fine? Yep. And that's all it takes. Now he has confidence. I think that when he really picked up steam in the second half was when he started getting the ball as he rotated to the top of the key, and he would suddenly make a dribble/slash penetration to the basket, and he would either dunk, shoot, or pass it to Pruitt or WarCat. And when they got it down there (especially Pruitt), they weren't messing around. It was a dunkfest, and that will bring your shooting percentage up REAL fast. Keep it up Brian!

3. Our most effective line-up tonight was:
McBride (PG), Smith (SG), WarCat (PF), Randle (SF), Pruitt (C)

That might be our "go to" line-up until Frazier gets healthy.

Well, that's all for today. Anyways, I know I might sound a little too upbeat, given that we did have some defensive lapses and still need to keep working on our shooting and ball-handling. But this team is going to be fine.

Go Illini!

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Thumped at home by the Buckeyes. Where do the Illini go from here?

Well, it was a tough day at the Assembly Hall. And to think the day had started out so promising. There was a buzz in the air as I walked from the parking lot to the stadium. It felt good to see the legions of orange clad fans moving toward the Hall. Yep, everything was going to be okay. Sure, the Illini were coming off two very poor performances in Cincinnatti and Ann Arbor. But now we were back home, in the friendly confines so to speak. The Illini can beat anybody at home, right? A big win over Ohio St. would get everything right in the world again.

Well, that's not what happened. Instead, the team suffered its worst loss in the Assembly Hall since 1976, when Indiana blew the Illini out during that magical undefeated season they had. Worst defeat in 30 years at home. It was a tough one to watch.

I'm not going to go through a blow by blow dissection of the game. The bottom line is that our shots just didn't fall. We played okay defense, and moved around on offense enough to get some real good open looks at the basket. But they just weren't dropping. But the shots not falling were just a symptom of something else at work with this team. What is that?

To be honest, I'm not sure what is going on with this team. Here's a short list of some ideas that I have about the team's struggles:

1. The biggest problem right now is a lack of confidence on the team. We've had three bad outings in a row, and momentum is building in the wrong direction at this point. We're accelerating into a downward spiral right now.

2. Brian Randle and Jamar Smith are not playing anywhere near the level expected of them entering into this season. Randle has not mentally overcome his injury. He just looks fragile out there, doesn't he? He's kind of playing like he's walking on egg shells, waiting for his injury to rear its ugly head again. And Jamar has lost all confidence in his shot. He's not just missing his shot. He's missing it BADLY.

3. Weber can't seem to find a rotation that will allow the team to gain some stability and rhythm during games. The reason for this goes back to all the injuries that stunted the team's growth as a cohesive unit during the pre-season.

Well, anyways, I'm confident in Weber's ability to get the team back on track. He's going to shake them out of this funk, and we'll be playing well again soon. Thankfully, the next game is a home game, against Iowa. It won't be an easy game, but winning and playing solid basketball against the Hawkeyes would be a good first step towards snapping out of this malaise that has invaded the Illini lockerroom.

Go Illini!

Thursday, January 4, 2007

A letter to Mike Nadel, the Chicago Sports Journalist

Did anyone else read the absolutely ignorant and passively aggressive malicious article that Mike Nadel wrote that was disseminated through the Copley News service? It basically argues that Illinois should have hired Thad Matta instead of Bruce Weber. Here's the link to it if you'd like to read it.

http://www.suburbanchicagonews.com/beaconnews/sports/nadel/197356,2_2_AU04_NADEL_S1.article

I'll tell you what, that article just made me sick to my stomach. Granted, it's an editorial piece, but it's just so unfair to Bruce Weber. Good grief, what's Weber's record so far here at Illinois? A few tough losses and the Chicago media and a bunch of rabid fans already are trying to stir up the mob and are readying the guillotine. And people wonder why some kids don't want to come to Illinois! Well, here's the letter I e-mailed to Mike Nadel in response to his editorial:

Mike,

I just read your column about how Illinois would have been better off hiring Thad Matta than Bruce Weber, and I found it to be a pretty poor piece of editorial journalism. You kind of came off as uninformed, if not ignorant, about the state of Illinois basketball. You focus on one aspect, and that is recruiting ability. You media "experts" place a lot of stock in that, much more so than you do recruiting ability. First of all, the only McDonald's All-American on Illinois' final four team from two years ago was Dee Brown. The best pro, Deron Williams, wasn't even a top 50 player on a lot of people's lists when he came out of high school (The Colony, TX-- just to let you know, cause I doubt you did). So, just to inform you better, Illinois has never really been able to sustain a steady stream of McDonald's All-American level recruits here at Illinois. Illinois HAS been able to get a steady stream of solid "blue chippers", most of them from in-state. Sean Pruitt is a good example of this. He was runner-up to Shaun Livingston for Illinois Mr. Basketball his senior year of high school. Just to let you know, Livingston plays for the LA Clippers now. So get your facts straight, okay? You don't mention some other facts. Here's two to inform you a little better:
1. Bruce Weber coached the team to the Final Four two years ago with Bill Self's players; Bill Self, another so-called great recruiter, coached Kansas to a first round NCAA defeat that same year with Roy Williams players

2. Thad Matta coached Ohio St. to a first round loss in the NCAA tournament last year

So, no, Weber isn't landing 3 and 4 McDonald's All-Americans every year. Name the last Illini Coach that did do this? Maybe you could do some real journalistic work, and investigate other factors that have historically worked against Illinois in trying to lure top 25 nationally ranked recruits to Illinois.

I'll take Weber any day over Thad Matta. The proof in the pudding will be the final records this year in the Big Ten. You watch. Illinois will have a better one than Ohio St. I'll buy tickets to see you sit down and physically eat a paper copy of that lazily researched and sourly negative article when it happens. Until then, get your rear end out of the office, and go do some true journalism. Then maybe it won't be a waste of time to read your articles, which are currently garbage. Until then, don't waste the energy of clacking away on your laptop keyboard any more.

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Well, I hope he reads that e-mail. But I doubt he'll do a better job in the future. My guess is that he makes a living by stirring up rabid fans. You know, the kind of guy that gets a kick out of spreading gossip on the playground, just so he can stand back and watch the fistfights that arise from these spreadings, all with a sly, knowing grin on his face.

Go Illini! Give Bruce Weber a raise, and a contract extension!

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

What did the Xavier game tell us?

Well, it's been 4 days since the huge disappointment in Cincinnatti that was the Xavier game. I had to let that one sink in before I felt like I could comment on it. Let's start with the "good news" first. The good news is that Illinois is 13-3 heading in to the Big Ten season. That's not a bad record at all, at least at first glance. Illinois earned some of those wins (especially against Bradley and Miami (OH)), and showed flashes of having the potential of being a pretty solid team during parts of the pre-season. The bad news is that the Illini really only have one truly "tournament boosting" victory, and that was against Missouri in the Braggin' Rights game. Now for the "bad news". I'm going to limit myself to three "bad news" items, because I'm still feeling kind of down about the Xavier game. Here are the three bad news items:

1. Illinois has revealed itself to be EXTREMELY weak at the guard position. Frazier is a good dribbler and can get the ball up the court, but his shooting, driving, passing, and free throws are streaky at best. McBride has just been non-existent so far this season. He's played decent defense at times, but he's been passive in all other aspects of his game. I wonder about his desire at times, now that he's a senior and the reality that he won't be an NBA player has hit him square in the face. Jamar Smith has revealed himself to be a work in progress. He's no star, and I'm not sure why some in the media have tried to pin that label on him. I have no doubt that he can shoot the lights out in practice. During games, however, he is very streaky from 3-point land. Additionally, his dribbling, defense, and ability to drive to the basket aren't that great. He appears to be a step slow at times, compared to some of his competitors. True, he's still recovering from an injury, but he's supposedly fully recovered and the problems still remain. Meacham has proven himself to be a good utility subsitute; he has no glaring weaknesses, but is not spectacular in any area, either. His playing time has gone down significantly recently, so I don't have much more to say on him for now. Perhaps he deserves more playing time? I'm not going to lump Brock in with the guards, I consider him more of a "wing" player. All in all, though, the guards have been pretty weak against strong competition. They are the primary reason for Illinois' three losses. Solutions? I'm not sure on this one. I think Weber's going to have to make some tough decisions on playing time. Probably Frazier and Meacham deserve the most playing time. Smith and McBride should only see limited minutes subject to Frazier and Meacham's foul status, until they can bring up their level of play. Maybe a little bench time will wake them up.

2. The Illini lack leadership from their veteran personnel. Enough said on this one, Bruce Weber has made this page 1 sports news here in central Illinois.

3. Brian Randle is not the player everyone thought he was going to be. Whether because of injury, mental obstacles, or he was just over-hyped from the get go, Randle is not yet the player that the experts forecasted he would be. He still has all the potential to be that player, but it remains to be seen if he will ever fulfill the high expectations set for him.

Well, there's a sober assessment of the Illini up to this point in the season. Tomorrow night, we play Michigan at Ann Arbor. It's as close to a "must-win" as an away game in the Big Ten can be, but the schedule does not get any easier from here on out. With only one truly "strong" non-conference win, Illinois is really going to have to get off to a strong start in the Big Ten. I don't think a 10-7 conference record is going to cut it this year, at least not at this point. That being said, I'm still real hopeful. I have a feeling Xavier was a big wake-up call for the Illini team as a whole.

Here's who I think should be in the starting line-up heading in to the Big Ten season:

PG- Chester Frazier
SG- Trent Meacham
SF- Brian Randle
PF- Warren Carter
C- Sean Pruitt

Bench: Guards/Wing- Brock, McBride, Smith (in that order)
Big Men- Marcus Arnold, Brian Carlwell, CJ Jackson

Go Illini!