Tag Archives: Illinois
Now that the Super Bowl has come and gone, its time to turn our eyes to the beautiful game of college basketball. I’m doing my part to get familiar with this season of college hoops by writing a series of blog posts. I started yesterday with my piece on a few under the radar stars.
My second installment is on some teams that started off the conference season slowly, but are poised to finish strong. I’ll also touch on some teams who might fade in the second half of conference play.
On The Upswing?:
Indiana (18-6, 6-6)
vs North Carolina Central
vs Michigan State
First off, congrats to Tom Crean, who won his first Big Ten road game against a team other than Penn State this weekend by defeating in-state rival Purdue. It only took three and half years.
Kidding aside, Indiana has a pretty favorable schedule down the stretch. They’re done with Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin, and five of their final seven games are at home, where they have knocked off two top five teams (Kentucky and Ohio State) this season.
The Hoosiers did lose to Minnesota at home earlier this season, so their trip up to the Twin Cities will not be a cake walk. The Hoosiers are 2-5 in Big Ten road games this season, so their game against the Hawkeyes in Iowa City won’t be a gimme either. As a Badger fan who happened to be at the Kohl Center this past New Year’s Eve, I can tell you that the Hawkeyes do have some talent.
Indiana should be able to win at least five of their seven remaining games, and they have a decent chance of winning six.
Alabama (15-7, 4-4)
vs Mississippi State
After just missing out on the NCAA Tournament last season, Alabama came into this season ranked and poised for a break-out year. However, the Crimson Tide got off a slow start in conference, dropping four of their first six SEC games.
Bama has won their last two conference games to get back to .500 in SEC play, and their schedule the rest of the way is very manageable. Ken Pomeroy has the Tide (24th in his rankings) favored to win in each of their remaining eight games. They’re done with Kentucky and Vanderbilt, and only play Florida and Mississippi State at home. Their toughest road tests will be at Arkansas and Ole Miss.
Michigan (17-7, 7-4)
vs Ohio State
at Penn State
Michigan dropped four of their first five Big Ten road games, with their only win coming against Purdue (who also dropped home games to Wisconsin and Indiana). While the Wolverines still have four Big Ten road games left on their schedule, they’re all definitely winnable. Illinois will be the toughest road test, as the Illini have beaten Ohio State and Michigan State in Champaign this season. However, the Illini are a mess right now, and I’m not sure they’ll figure things out anytime soon (More on that later on). I think the Wolverines should win at least three of their final four Big Ten road games.
Michigan is undefeated at home this season, but their toughest test will come in two weeks when the rival Buckeyes come to Ann Arbor. Michigan played Ohio State tough in Columbus, and I think they’ll pull off the upset at the Crisler Center. Michigan has a good chance of entering the Big Ten Tournament having won six of their final seven games.
Pittsburgh (15-9, 4-7)
at South Florida
at Seton Hall
vs West Virginia
vs South Florida
vs St. John’s
If there’s one thing we should have learned over the last decade, it’s that you should never count out a team coached by Bo Ryan or Jamie Dixon.
After suffering through an eight game losing streak, Pitt has started to recover and may now have a chance of making the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers are on a four game win streak (including wins over Georgetown and West Virginia), and their remaining schedule is not too rough.
They’re done with Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame and Cincinnati. I could see the Panthers entering their game in Louisville on an eight game winning streak, and it’s not unreasonable to think Pitt could end the regular season by winning 11 of their final 12 games. If they do, the Panthers should be dancing once again in March.
Teams That Could Fade Down The Stretch:
Wisconsin (18-6, 7-4)
at Michigan State
vs Penn State
at Ohio State
The Badgers recovered nicely from their 1-3 start in Big Ten play by winning six straight games. If they had beaten Ohio State this weekend, they would have moved into first place in the Big Ten. Alas, they lost to the Buckeyes at the Kohl Center for the first time in the Bo Ryan era.
Things won’t get any easier for the Badgers. Four of their next five games are on the road, including tough trips to Michigan State and Ohio State. The road games against Minnesota and Iowa will not be easy either. Tubby Smith has done pretty well against the Badgers, and Iowa beat Wisconsin in Madison earlier this season.
The Badgers have already lost four times at the Kohl Center this season, so the home games against Illinois and Minnesota (two possible bubble teams) will not be gimmes.
The Badgers could easily go 2-5 or 3-4 down the stretch. But, Bo Ryan is still the head coach of Wisconsin, so he’ll probably work his magic to avoid that.
Florida (19-4, 7-1)
After losing to Tennessee in their conference opener, the Gators have racked up seven straight SEC wins. However, their seven game win streak is pretty hollow. Five of those seven wins have come in Gainesville, and just three have come against teams ranked in the top 100 of the KenPom ratings.
Florida will be tested in the coming weeks. The Gators will travel to Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas and Vanderbilt. They also host Kentucky on the final weekend of the regular season. Five of their final eight games will be on the road. The Gators are 2-4 on the road this season, including losses to two sub-100 teams, Rutgers and Tennessee.
Illinois (16-7, 5-5)
at Ohio State
Once again, Illinois has turned a promising season into a mess. The Illini moved into first place in the Big Ten after they upset Ohio State at home on Jan. 10. Since then, Bruce Weber’s crew has lost four of five games, including losses to Penn State on the road and Northwestern at home.
The Illini will play four of their next five and five of their final eight games on the road. Illinois has currently defeated just one Big Ten team (Northwestern) on the road. Illinois still has to play four nationally ranked teams on the road (Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin).
One has to believe Weber is coaching for his job right now. If Illinois misses the tournament, Weber will be squarely on the hot seat. Yes, Weber led Illinois to the National Championship game. But it was seven years ago, and it was with Bill Self’s players.
Weber has not shown an ability to recruit elite talent (in a state full of it), and he also has not shown the ability to develop talent. Many of his players (Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, Shaun Pruitt included) have regressed over their time in Champaign.
When Weber took over the program, Illinois was one of the top teams in the country year after year. Now, the Illini are muddled in mediocrity.
Minnesota (17-7, 5-6)
vs Ohio State
vs Michigan State
First, the good news: Five of Minnesota’s final seven games will be at home. The bad news: Four of those five games will be played against nationally ranked teams (Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan), and Trever Mbakwe is still out for the year due to injury.
If the Gophers are to make the NCAA Tournament, they’ll probably need to beat Nebraska at home, Northwestern on the road and win two of their four tough home games (most likely against Wisconsin and Michigan). If they do that, they’ll finish the regular season 21-10 overall and 9-9 in conference. They might be able to sneak in at 20-11 and 8-10.
Montini Star WR Jordan Westerkamp
St. Francis (4-1, 1-1) at Montini (3-2, 2-1), 7:30 Friday night in Lombard
HOW THEY GOT HERE
St. Francis –
Week One: 21-14 win vs Riverside-Brookfield
Week Two: 22-21 win at Vernon Hills
Week Three: 24-6 loss at Marian Central
Week Four: 56-12 win vs Wheaton Academy
Week Five: 58-19 win vs Guerin
Week One: 26-21 win vs Palatine
Week Two: 41-24 loss at Loyola
Week Three: 13-6 win vs Marmion
Week Four: 21-20 loss at Marian Central
Week Five: 55-14 win vs Aurora Christian
St. Francis and Montini meet this week in a re-match of last year’s first round playoff game that saw Montini hold on for victory on a late goal-line stand. Both squads are fresh off blowout victories last week, and in the case of the Spartans, the last two weeks.
Montini, the two-time defending 5A State Champions, came out of the gate slow, starting just 2-2. The offense, which has been without starting QB John Rhode so far, had trouble getting off the ground until last week when they put up 55 points on Aurora Christian. With Rhode expected back this week, the Broncos hope to build off last week’s offensive explosion. It will be interesting to see how much the Broncos use their “JoeCat” offense with Rhode back behind center. Montini has had a lot of success the last couple weeks when they have put WR Joe Borsellino at QB. Borsellino had 152 yards of total offense and scored four touchdowns (he scored them three different ways: he ran for two, threw for one and caught another) last week against Aurora Christian. The “JoeCat” offense also sparked the late 4th quarter touchdown drive that gave the Broncos the lead over Marmion in week three. With his starting QB back in the lineup, Nebraska-bound WR Jordan Westerkamp should be even more dangerous this week. Westerkamp recently set the state record for most touchdown receptions in a career.
St. Francis has used a bruising, clock-eating offense on their way to a 4-1 start this season. RB Jack Petrando leads the way for a group of runners that tallied 408 rushing yards last week against Guerin. Petrando makes an impact on offense and defense. In the Spartans’ 56-12 victory over Wheaton Academy in week four, Petrando rushed for 124 yards and 4 touchdowns on offense while also returning an interception 69 yards for a touchdown on defense. The Spartans will try to control the game Friday night with their running game. The more clock their offense is able to eat up, the less time Westerkamp and the dangerous Montini offense will have on the field. Marmion executed this strategy against Montini in week three. The Cadets held the ball for the majority of the game, but they were unable to cash in on their long drives with touchdowns and lost 13-6. I believe St. Francis will have the same success at controlling the game with their running game, and unlike Marmion, the Spartans will end at least a couple of their drives with touchdowns.
PREDICTION: St. Francis 28 Montini 24
Illinois basketball continued its march towards the NCAA tournament bubble on Saturday, falling to Michigan State 61-57 for the team’s seventh loss in their last 11 games.
After beginning the season ranked No. 16 in the country, the Illini now sit unranked with a record of 17-10 overall, and 7-7 in Big Ten play. Things will not get any easier for the Illini in the near future, as they travel to Columbus on Tuesday to play No. 3 Ohio State.
The Illini experienced a similar downfall last season, losing six of their final eight games as the team failed to make the NCAA tournament.
As Illinois fans continue to grow tired of the lackluster results, coach Bruce Weber’s job appears to be completely safe.
In a state of Illinois Athletics address on Wednesday, Athletic Director Ron Guenther spoke glowingly of Weber.
“I feel very confident that Bruce can get this thing figured out. He’s a wonderful coach and a great human being,” said Guenther.
Guenther’s words should come as no surprise. This is the same A.D. that has stuck with head football coach Ron Zook despite the program’s free fall after reaching the Rose Bowl in 2007.
While Guenther has made it clear that Weber’s job is safe, the Illinois A.D. should be seriously considering whether parting ways with Weber would be best for the Illinois basketball program.
Weber, who came to Champaign before the 2003-2004 season, led the Illini to success early in his tenure. The Illini won eight NCAA tournament games over Weber’s first three years, including a trip to the national title game in 2005.
However, Weber and the Illini have not won a tournament game since 2006.
“There’s no reason why we can’t compete at the highest level here,” said Guenther at his Wednesday news conference.
Guenther is right, so why has Weber failed to keep Illinois among college basketball’s elite teams?
A lot of the program’s struggles stem from Weber’s poor recruiting in his first years as Illini coach. Weber’s early results came coaching players he did not recruit into the program. Bill Self recruited the core of the 2004 and 2005 teams – Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Luther Head, Roger Powell and James Augustine.
Weber failed to cash in on the massive media attention the Illini received in 2005 as they started the season 29-0 and made the national title game.
From 2005 until 2007, Illinois high school stars Julian Wright, Sherron Collins, Jon Scheyer, Derrick Rose and Evan Turner all left the state to play their college ball. To make matters worse, Collins and Wright joined Self at Kansas.
Of the five players that made up Weber’s 2005 and 2006 recruiting classes, four ended up transferring from the program before their junior years.
To Weber’s credit, his recruiting has improved. According to Scout.com, the Illini’s 2010 recruiting class featured the state’s top three prospects, including Meyers Leonard, Weber’s first five-star commitment.
However, the state of Illinois’ two five-star recruits of the 2011 recruiting class, Anthony Davis and Wayne Blackshear, both spurred the Illini, committing to Kentucky and Louisville respectively.
Weber has not only faced difficulties in recruiting, he has also had trouble developing the talents of his players.
One of the main reasons the Illini were ranked highly entering the 2011 season was the perceived strength of their senior class, headlined by guard Demetri McCamey, forward Mike Davis and center Mike Tisdale.
However, all three of the Illini senior stars have been removed from the starting lineup at some point this season for poor play or poor leadership.
It also seems Weber has had trouble keeping control over his program. In an interview with Chicago’s ESPN 1000 two weeks ago, Weber said outside forces have negatively affected McCamey.
“It’s disappointing, some of it is Demetri, obviously,” Weber said. “But the outside influences, just kill kids, I’m just telling you. I feel bad. He was playing so well, and all of a sudden, the runners, the agents, the third-party people, they’re all telling him he’s an all-American and this and that.”
The future looks bright for the Illini. They have a young, talented core in Leonard, Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Jereme Richmond waiting to take over control of the team once McCamey, Davis and Tisdale exhaust their eligibility.
It’s time for Guenther to seriously ponder whether the future of Illinois basketball would look even brighter with someone other than Bruce Weber as head coach.
I wrote this story in Feb. 2011 for my Sports Jounalism class with Len Shapiro.