Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A Tale of Two Teams...

Ron Zook and the Illini football team started the 2009 season with high expectations and several big questions.

Bruce Weber and the Illini basketball team started the 2009-10 season with optimistic expectations and several big questions.

Zook had an experienced team with strong senior leadership.

Weber had a young team with a need for upperclassmen to step into leadership.

Zook's boys came out in St. Louis and took a sucker punch to the gut against Missouri. They staggered and didn't really recover until late in the season. After good games against Michigan and Minnesota, the Illini stumbled again. However, the Illini offense played well in losing efforts against undefeated Cincinatti and Fresno State.

Weber's boys came out in Las Vegas and took a sucker punch to the gut against Utah, after letting a big lead disappear in the final seconds. They staggered, losing to Bradley and looking dazed during a 10- to 12-minute stretch against Clemson. But then the Illini came roaring back with a stong showing in the second half of a game they went on to win in the final minutes.

So many similiarities. Such different results (so far). Why?

Initially, I would have expected the more experienced football team to recover from such a tough loss more quickly. But although the football team had experience winning (see 2007 season), they also had plenty of experience not winning (see recent Illini football history). The Illini basketball team has talented freshman players with plenty of AAU experience, who are just learning to play at the college level. They may not know how devestating those two losses should be. And the team as a whole has more experience exceeding expectations that failing to meet them (see recent Illini basketball history). Coaching is another factor. Zook's teams lack consistency, while Weber's teams consistently perform above their talent level.

The final play of the Fresno State game expressed the Illini football season perfectly. The Illini allowed themselves to get in a tough position, and although they did all they could, they just couldn't win. A 2-point conversion by a lineman on a deflected pass from a QB who was going to the ground...yeah, that's about right.

Let's hope the second half of the Clemson game and the entire Vanderbilt game express the Illini basketball season. If that's the case, Weber's boys should be able to write a much more exciting ending to their season tale.

But whatever happens, go Illini!

Oh -- and let's not forget the Illini volleyball team. Kevin Hambly's girls will face Hawaii in the Sweet Sixteen on Friday.

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