Sunday, February 21, 2010

That's More Like It

Despite the loss, the Illini played much, much better at Purdue Saturday, especially compared to their performance against Ohio State before their week off.

Yes, the Illini left themselves plenty of room for improvement. Poor rebounding allowing the Boilermakers way too many second chance points. Inability to get to the free throw line skewed these stats heavily in Purdue's favor, as well. And turnovers hurt, too.

But, the Illini were playing one of the top teams in the country on the road, and they made a fantastic game of it. And don't forget that Matt Painter's team dominated the Illini during the second half of their game played in Champaign. This was a much tougher game for Purdue.

And because of that, there was plenty to like about the way Bruce Weber's boys played.
After the game, Coach Weber expressed his pride in the game his team played. It would have been a huge win, but Purdue, at full strength, is the class of the Conference. And perhaps the country.

As the Illini head into the home stretch of the conference season, they have a tough schedule. But if they play like they did this weekend, they can come into the conference tournament in strong shape.

Go Illini!

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010


It happens. Usually after putting it all out there. And that's what happened for the Illini on Sunday. After inspiring games against Michigan State and at Wisconsin, the Illini crashed hard against Ohio State.

The Buckeyes seemingly couldn't miss, even though the Illini did a respectable job of containing Evan Turner in the first half. At the same time, the Illini couldn't find the basket. They had plenty of looks (and plenty of bad shots), and nothing seemed to fall.

And so, the Illini lost in spectacular fashion. Maybe it was too early on a Sunday for them to be awake. Maybe the extra day to the game got them out of rhythm. Maybe Ohio State is the team to beat, now that Turner is healthy.

On a personal note, I enjoyed the Assembly Hall atmosphere despite the loss. Hadn't been there for a game for a very long time. And, as one of my Illini cousins said, "I'd rather be an Illini fan, even with a loss, than an Ohio State -- I mean an Iowa -- fan."

This will be a long week for Bruce's boys as they review this ugly loss and prepare for the tough final stretch of conference play. Let's get back on track, boys! Go Illini!



Tuesday, February 09, 2010

View from the Top

Dear Coach Matt Painter and the Purdue Boilermakers,

Thank you for your impressive performance in East Lansing tonight. Your road win let a quality Michigan State team feel what it's like to skid -- something the rest of the Big Ten teams are familiar with.

You also played a critical role in allowing the Illini to enjoy a few days tied for the lead in the Big Ten. Yes, the Illini had an easier schedule for the first half of the conference season, but as they head into a very tough stretch of games, which includes you, it's encouraging to see them at the top of the standings.

So for this, for tonight, thank you.
Alma Mater, on behalf of Illini Nation

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Making History

The Kohl Center is not a friendly place to play. In fact, unranked opponents almost always leave with a L. Only NDSU won there a couple years ago. And for Big Ten teams, heading to the Kohl Center unranked was a guaranteed L.

So the Illini victory, 63-56, really did make history. Go Illini!

Honestly, the game was played mostly at the Badgers' pace, slow, methodical and not that exciting. Bo Ryan and his team got off to a great start, and led by as many as 11 in the first half. The Illini struggled to score in the opening minutes. In fact, Mike Tisdale was the only player who could consistently find the bottom of the net for a while.

Here are a few things the Illini learned tonight:
The whole game felt a bit lethargic, and the Grateful Red weren't as intense as they could have been. I'm not quite sure how the Illini managed to chip away and catch the Badgers. Although the Illini outrebounded Wisconsin, they had more turnovers and allowed 11 3-pointers.

But they did. The Illini made history. Did the impossible. Bo Ryan doesn't have many losses at home, but the Illini are responsible for 3 of them.

[Side note: I find it fascinating that Penn State can nail the Illini, but that the Illini can get to Wisconsin.]

Next up...another tough game against the Buckeyes at home. Go Illini!

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Monday, February 08, 2010

In the Spotlight

The Illini took center stage in the college basketball world Saturday, hosting ESPN's College GameDay and holding on to beat the Spartans at home, 78-73. They handled the spotlight well.

The energy in Assembly Hall was fantastic, and the Illini fed on it. There were stretches of crisp passes for open shots. Demetri McCamey had a fantastic game -- a double-double with 22 points and 11 assists -- but he wasn't alone. Mike Davis added 16 points off the bench, along with 2 blocks. The last block was critical, setting up his dunk that put an Illini exclamation point on the game.

Mike Tisdale was a success in that he didn't disappear. Although he only had 6 points, he grabbed 8 rebounds. Freshmen D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul had strong games, too. Richardson scored 14 and Paul had 8 points and 6 rebounds off the bench.

It would have been nice to make more free throws and grab a few more rebounds. The Spartans got plenty of second chances off 11 offensive rebounds. But the Illini took advantage of the crowd energy, the prime time slot and absence of Kalin Lucas.

No question that Tom Izzo missed Lucas. His team racked up 18 turnovers, even though they soundly out-rebounded the Illini. The Spartans are still the team to beat in the Big Ten, and will likely go far in March, but it was so nice to beat them.

At the end of the game, when the Krush celebrated on the floor, Dickie V chided them for rushing the floor. For Dick and other critics of this tendency, I would say remember the context. I don't blame the students for rushing the floor, and I think it was appropriate for a few reasons.
So go ahead, Krush. Have your fun. You were recognized for your passion and philanthropy. You did well on GameDay. The "NIT" chant for UNC was my personal favorite. And you made Assembly Hall a House of Paign for Michigan State. Congratulations.

Next up, Wisconsin on the road...Go Illini!

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Still Playing

Super Bowl Sunday is almost here, so there aren't many NFL players still playing. This year, just 2 Illini will be on the field in Miami, but both are worth watching.

Running back Pierre Thomas is a great story. The former Illini went undrafted in 2007, but was signed by the New Orleans Saints. During his time in the Big Easy, Thomas has established himself as a key part of the Saints offense. He's had some outstanding games this season, especially in the playoffs.

On the other side of the field, corner back Kelvin Hayden has been with the Indianapolis Colts for 5 seasons. A starter when healthy, Hayden already has a Super Bowl interception. He caught a 4th quarter pass from Rex Grossman and returned it for a TD to close out the game against the Bears. In fact, he's tied for 4th in post-season interceptions for the Colts.

Congrats to both Illini. Have fun on Sunday!

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A New Class

Signing day for college football is not likely to be a banner day for the Illini. Zook's incoming class is ranked 8th in the Big Ten. Not quite what we saw a few years ago, and that's not exactly promising for the future of the program.

But there are a few bright spots, including QB Chandler Whitmer, an in-state prospect ranked in the top 20 at his position. And center Alex Hill recently chose Illinois over Duke.

As for leadership, one new member of the team, a JuCo transfer, could be a great leader. Trulon Henry, Regis Benn's big brother, has a fascinating story. With his tough past and his commitment to his future, he could be a great character asset to this team.

It will be interesting to see what this coming season will bring for the Illini, coming off a very disappointing season. But for now, we can still hope for the best.

For those signing on as Illini tomorrow -- welcome! Go Illini!



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