Friday, November 19, 2010

Fasten Your Seat Belt...

We're in for a heck of a basketball season!

Bruce Weber and his boys headed to New York for the finals of their pre-season tournament. This year it was the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer tournament in Madison Square Garden. This was the first serious test of the very young season. And although the Illini came away 1-1, they proved that the high expectations are well founded.

Thursday night against Texas, the Illini played fast and furious, despite slow starts to each period. If OT was a bit longer, they probably would have tied or taken the lead again. This was a not a bad loss, though. The Longhorns look pretty good.

Friday night, the Illini executed well with a more patient style of play, and despite failing to ice the game at the free throw line, they came away with a good win.

So, now that we've gotten a bit better look at the 2010-11 Fighting Illini, there's a lot to like. But there's plenty of room for improvement, too. Here are a few suggestions for the boys to work on before the Tar Heels come to town:
But there is so much to like. This team will be fun to watch for many reasons:
It looks to be an exciting season. Go Illini!



Illini 1-2 on BTN

Last Saturday (11/13), the Big Ten Network treated Illini fans to three games. And although the Orange and Blue only won one of those games, it made for a great opportunity to see where our teams were at...

The loss to Minnesota hurt. Badly. The Illini played so well all season. But the defense seems to have disappeared somewhere on the road to Michigan. They weren't able to rebound against Minnesota, and instead of becoming bowl-eligible, the Illini gave the Gophers their first conference win of the season.

The Illini women went into the night in State College at the top of a very tough Big Ten conference. And Penn State was second. The Illini had snapped the Nittany Lions' incredible conference winning streak when those girls visited Champaign earlier this season. The Illini are fun to watch, but they were just a bit off Saturday, and lost in 3 sets. But as I've said before, these girls are worth watching. Check them out if you get the chance.

Bruce Weber welcomed his former assistant and team to Assembly Hall. The Salukis are improving, but the Illini had a chance to shine. There's a lot of talent, energy and generosity on this team. They are going to be fun to watch this season. The Illini won easily, although they had to work a bit harder than they had earlier in the week.

So, with the football season deflating, we've got plenty to look forward to as volleyball heads toward the post-season and basketball heats up.

Go Illini!

(Yes, I realize I should have posted this several days ago.)

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Bring on Basketball Season!

Happy Basketball Season! The 2010-2011 Fighting Illini basketball team started their season ranked #16 in the country.

And they started their first regular-season game with intensity that fits a top-25 team. The Illini took off with hot 3-point shooting from Brandon Paul off the bench, sweet passing, finding the open man, jumping passing lanes and grabbing rebounds. Bruce had his boys clicking, and they led 42-18 at halftime.

The second half was a study in the Illini. They lost a bit of that edge, and the tendency to let up and let life mess with their heads showed up. This is the team that will need every trick Bruce Weber has in his coaching book to do what most Weber teams do and overachieve their potential.

Because this team has a lot of potential. Experienced, gifted veterans plus athletic sophomores with a season under their belt plus top-100 talent-level freshman could equal a special season.

Go Illini!



Shootout at the Big House

So after a couple impressive games, the Illini headed to the Big House to take on the Wolverines.

Paul Petrino and his offense had proved their ability to score, and they reinforced that on Saturday. They scored again and again and again and again... And then again and again and, well, you get the idea. They ran and passed well, and the D.C. package with Eddie McGee at QB.

But in this shootout, the Illini got out-shot.

Uncharacteristically, the Illini defense did an imitation of the 2010 Wolverine defense, and struggled to stop Big Blue. Michigan scored again and again and again and again... And then again and again and again. Including that 2-point conversion in 3OT...

This season, the Illini defense has been key to earning Ron Zook & Co. "Most Improved" in the Big Ten. That wasn't the case this week. Although they had countless opportunities to stop Denard Robinson and then Tate Forcier, they couldn't capitalize. And that almost-interception on the goal line in overtime (which one? They blurred together since they all ended in TDs...) was just one of the perfect opportunities to end the game with the Illini on top.

It was an intense game. Of course, it would have been better if the Illini had won. This one hurt.

This loss wasn't as high-quality as the other losses thus far, but the Illini did continue to show that they are a much better team than they were last year.

However, based on the rest of the schedule, the Illini should be bowl-eligible soon...Go Illini!



Boiled Up

That's what happened to the Boilermakers when then they visited Champaign a couple weeks ago. The Illini put on a show in all aspects of the game.

Special teams started the game with a great play on their first kickoff. They recovered the ball after it unexpectedly hit off a Purdue player. The TD off that turnover set the tone for the rest of the game.

The Illini offense shone both through the air and on the ground. 44 points included 4 TD passes from Nathan Scheelhaase. My favorite was the one to Mikel Leshoure when he stood all by himself in the endzone (we've seen that a few more times since). And the running game kept the Illini rolling downhill Clock management was very nice, with the field goal right before the half.

The D kept Purdue under wraps all game, with a shutout until the 4th quater. They held the Boilermakers to just 205 yards and 9 first downs. Although the offense allowed them plenty of time to rest, they made the most of their time on the field with a forced and recovered fumble, TFLs, etc.

I know it's been a while, but it's nice to remember this game...

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