Spring has sprung

Spring has sprung
The Blue Team celebrates their 38-7 win in the annual football spring game

Monday, April 14, 2014

     Been a while since I last posted, so here goes.

     Now that the Illinois football spring game is over, the focus can be shifted to the ongoing quarterback battle.  Or can it?

     It is no secret that the main topic of the spring football season has been the battle between the three quarterbacks on the Illinois roster.  All three candidates, Wes Lunt, Reilly O'Toole and Aaron Bailey have impressed head coach Tim Beckman with what each player does well, and Beckman is still not going to name a starter. at least not just yet.  There have been tons of speculation about who will be "the guy", with most throughout Illini Nation assuming that Lunt will be the one annointed when Camp Rantoul begins.

     But now that the spring game is in the rear view mirror, more questions abound regarding who will emerge.  Teams were picked for the game by a group of seniors each comprising of the Blue and the Orange team, and O'Toole made Lunt the first selection on the Blue team.  The Orange team countered with Josh Ferguson with their initial pick.  Everyone expected Lunt to start the game, but instead it was O'Toole that led the Blue team to two first quarter touchdown drives.  Beckman would have preferred each signal caller to alternate drives, but it was Alex Golesh's call, and Beckman was quoted afterwards saying "blame him for that move".  When Lunt did get in the game at the start of the second quarter, the first four plays were running plays, and Lunt's first pass was batted down, while the second one was intercepted.  Not exactly a stellar beginning for someone that has been referred to as the "savior of the program".  Now, those are not my words, but rather comments that I have heard throughout the spring practice sessions from fans and other types supposedly in the know.  It makes perfect sense to laud Lunt in this regard, but O'Toole's performance does open up some possibility that the decision has not been fully made yet.  Add in the scrambling ability of Bailey and the decision begins to get even tougher.  The Blue team totally dominated the Orange in the game 38-7, and some of the questions on defense are still there, much like they were at the close of last season.  This is Beckman's third season with the Illini, and many believe that it could be his last unless the Illini somehow make it to a bowl game.  Beckman has stuck his neck on the line by retaining defensive coordinator Tim Banks, and he believes that Banks is the right person to lead the defense.  The offensive line is still depth starved, something that also needs to change before the 2014 season begins on August 30th when Youngstown State pays a visit to Memorial Stadium.  But for now, Lunt and the rest of the quarterbacks will continue to battle and work out independently, hoping for a decision to be made as who will be the starter.  Just don't look for that announcement to come anytime soon.

     The Fighting Illini baseball team has sprinted off to a decent start to the 2014 season, and much of their success can be attributed to the pitching, which has been nothing short of spectacular this season.  After notching back to back 1-0 victories, the Illini ran into some problems as Michigan paid a visit to Illinois Field this past weekend.  The Illini got by the Wolverines on Friday by a 1-0 score, as Drasen Johnson and Tyler Jay combined on the shutout.  However, on Saturday, the Wolverines brought the hitting sticks, as they beat up on the Illini 17-9.  On Sunday afternoon, the Wolverines took the series with a 4-2 win.  The Illini end the weekend at 18-13 overall and 6-3 in the Big Ten, and will travel to Normal on Tuesday to take on Illinois State before departing for State College, Pennsylvania this weekend for a three game series against the Penn State Nittany Lions.

     Terri Sullivan's Illini softball team is in the midst of a five game losing streak, and are coming off of a three game sweep by Wisconsin over the weekend in Madison.  The Illini lost a pair of games by a 3-2 score, and also were downed 10-3 in the other game against the Badgers.  The Illini are slumbering along, now 18-18 overall and just 2-10 in the Big 10.  The Illini will welcome the Blue Demons of DePaul on Wednesday afternoon to Eichelberger Field for a non-conference game, before heading to West Lafayette, Indiana this weekend to battle the Boilermakers of Purdue.

     Finally, this week marks the official re-branding of the athletic programs by Nike, something that has everyone associated with the program quite excited about.  It has been a long time since the logo and the uniforms were updated, and with Nike being the primary sportswear outfitter for the Illini, as well as many other schools, the time has come for Illinois to get their brand updated.  The event, which is free, will be held on Wednesday evening in the Great Hall of Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on campus.  Some of the athletes from both the mens' and womens' basketball teams, as well as the football team, will be modeling the new digs.  People attending the event did need to get a ticket ahead of time, and it there were any that were unclaimed by I-Fund donors, they were to be offered to the general public on a first-come, first-served basis.  Stay tuned for the new logos.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

On to the postseason

     They call it March Madness for a reason.  The Illini, pretty much written off as a lost season a month ago, have seen their season take an abrupt turn for the better, all thanks in part to better play on defense and a lineup change that wasn't the worst thing to happen either.  Since a 48-39 loss to Ohio State back on February 15th, all Illinois has done is win five out their last six games, including the last five away from State Farm Center.  The only loss in that streak was a blowout loss to Michigan (more on the Wolverines later), 84-53 on Senior Night.  The insertion of Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill to the starting lineup has given the Illini new energy, and the players that they replaced, Jon Ekey and Joseph Bertrand, have been embracing their new roles coming off the bench.  Nunn and Hill, both freshmen, have been a huge lift to a team that will be playing some sort of postseason, the question is which tournament will they in?  Conventional wisdom points to the NIT, but there is still an outside shot (and I mean an NBA level shot) of getting in the field of 68 and the NCAA Tournament.  After Illinois' win at Iowa last Saturday night, they finished the regular season at 18-13 overall and 7-11 in the Big Ten, not great numbers, but much better than the season was looking just one month ago.  In fact, it took a last season shot by Ekey to defeat the Hawkeyes, and with it, loads of confidence heading into the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.  The Illini drew the #9 seed and faced Indiana, the #8 seed in the first game of the tournament on Thursday.

     The Illini and Hoosiers split the 2 games in the regular season, with the Illini winning 83-80 in overtime on New Year's Eve, while losing 56-46 back in January in Bloomington.  The Hoosiers came into the game with the Illini at 17-14 overall and also 7-11 in conference play, and needed a win over the Illini to boost their postseason chances.  Illinois jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead on Indiana, but the Hoosiers clawed back to take several leads on different occasions.  Tracy Abrams, who has had a disappointing second half of the Big Ten season, came up huge for the Illini, scoring a season high 25 points, and just missing his career best by 2 points.  The Illini lived to see another day by defeating the Hoosiers 64-54, and for that, a chance to rematch with Michigan on Friday in the first quarterfinal of the day (11:00 am CT, ESPN).  Rayvonte Rice scored 13 points, while Nunn knocked in 10 for the Illini, who improve to 19-13 with the win.  Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but another win in the tourney may open up the possibility of the Illini being mentioned as one of the teams on the proverbial NCAA "bubble".  Technically speaking, they probably have to get to the championship game on Sunday and even win the tourney outright to have a realistic chance, but is fun nonetheless to speculate, because as a media member, that is what we do.  Indiana,who falls to 17-15 overall with the loss, was led in scoring by Kevin (Yogi) Ferrell, who had 14 points.  Will Sheehey added 13 points, while freshman Troy Williams scored 11 for the Hoosiers, who outrebounded the Illini by a 35-32 margin.  As is the motto for this time of year, survive and advance, and the Illini know that firsthand.

     The season came to a very disappointing end last week in Indianapolis for the Illini women, as they were defeated 81-62 by the Iowa Hawkeyes, putting a cap on their season at 9-21 overall.  This isn't what Coach Matt Bollant envisioned when he took the job, but then again, the talent level wasn't very good when he came to Champaign.  Whatever the case, it is something to build on, as they only lose Amber Moore this year.  Bollant has a good recruiting class coming in next year, and with it, a chance to get up into the top half of the Big Ten.  It was pretty much an uphill struggle this season for the Illini ladies, and the fact that they finished the season with consecutive losses to the Hawkeyes certainly didn't help.  That is what Bollant hopes to build on for next season.

     The spring sports schedule has started at Illinois, and both the men's baseball and women's softball teams have been playing their southern trip games for the better part of a month now.  The baseball team is off to a 6-7 record, but that includes 2 wins over nationally ranked Florida.  The Illini are scheduled to take on Southern Illinois this weekend at the new Itch Jones Stadium, but weather may force the cancellation of those games.  The Illini host Indiana State next Tuesday in a game that the weather could also factor into.  Oh the joys of living and playing in Illinois in March.

     The softball team is off to a surprisingly fast start this season at 12-6, after an 8-0 start.  They haven't played as well lately, but that doesn't mean that they aren't slacking off.  The Illini are set to host the Illini Classic this weekend at Eichelberger Field, a tournament that includes St. Louis, North Dakota State, Omaha and Western Michigan.  There will be four games on both Friday and Saturday, before the Illini open up Big Ten play next weekend against Iowa.

     Finally, a special shout out goes to Illini wrestler Jesse Delgado, who won the Big Ten title at the 125 pound weight class last weekend at the Big Ten Championships in Madison, Wisconsin.  Delgado, by virtue of his title, received the #1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Championships to be held next weekend in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  Besides Delgado, the Illini qualified 7 other wrestlers into the NCAA's,  Those being as follows:  Zane Richards (133), Steven Rodrigues (141), Zac Brunson (157), Jackson Morse (165), Tony Dallago (174), Nikko Reyes (184) and Mario Gonzalez (197).

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Signs Of Encouragement

     Beware folks, because this Fighting Illini men's basketball season just got a bit more interesting.  Left pretty much for dead 3 weeks ago, head coach John Groce decided to shake up his starting lineup, and the results have been astonishing at best.  Freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill were inserted into the lineup 6 games ago, and during that stretch of games, the Illini have gone 4-2, including the last 3 in a row being wins.  A winning streak is the last thing that this team would have expected given the rough road that they have faced in the Big Ten season this year.  But, the defense has stepped up in a huge way, holding their opponents to under 50 points in the last 3 games, something that hasn't happened since 1947.  The latest takedown:  #18 Michigan State on Saturday in East Lansing, a 53-46 win that has once again given life to the Illini's postseason hopes, and has also breathed a bit of optimism into Illini Nation.  Dare to dream?  Why not!  After all, the Illini are playing some of their best basketball in this latest stretch, and the addition of Nunn and Hill to the starting lineup has given the team new life.  Not to discount the players that they replaces, Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey, who are beginning to play a little better and are accepting their new roles as best as they can.  Bertrand was in a funk mid-season, and the steady shooting of Ekey has come back a little bit after going by the wayside earlier.  Illinois (17-12 overall, 6-10 Big Ten) looks like a totally different team as of late, and the thoughts are there that if they win out in the regular season and maybe steal one or two in the Big Ten Tournament, they could still get an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.  But before I get accused of drinking the orange and blue kool-aid, there still is a lot of work to do in order for that scenario to happen.  First of all, they need to win on Senior Night at the State Farm Center on Tuesday night against Michigan (6:00 pm CT, ESPN), then win yet another road game on Saturday at Iowa.  Then, and only then, they can worry about winning enough games in the Big Ten Tournament to boost the resume.  Speaking of the tourney, this year's edition should be one of the more balanced ones yet, and the possibility is definitely there of any team running the table and capturing the automatic bid to the big dance.  Yes, that includes Illinois, who is now perceived as a dangerous team with all of their recent success.  Whatever happens these final 2 weeks, it has given plenty of optimism for the rest of this season, and especially into next year.

     As far as things go on the women's side, the picture is not nearly as rosy, quite the opposite in fact. Matt Bollant's team has limped into the postseason, losing their last 10 games, and not winning since January 23rd, the Illini ladies finished dead last in the Big Ten, and hosted Senior Day on Sunday afternoon at the State Farm Center in Champaign.  A couple of positives can be taken out of the loss to Iowa.  First of all, they only honored one senior, Amber Moore, meaning that the rest of the team will remain intact for next season.  Second, Ivory Crawford scored her 1000th point in the game against the Hawkeyes, which is an impressive feat for anyone.  The Illini lost the game to Iowa 81-56, and finish the regular season with a dismal 9-20 overall record and a mark of just 2-14 in conference play.  For this, the Illini received the 12th seed in the Big Ten Tournament, which begins Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, and will play on Thursday against #5 seed Iowa at approximately 1:30 pm central time.  The Illini should know the Hawkeyes' tendencies well, since they just played them.  It certainly hasn't been easy for Bollant this season, and I am sure that he did not expect this when he took the job and left Wisconsin-Green Bay, where he was virtually unbeatable.  Hopefully Bollanr can catch lightning in a bottle and make a run in the Big Ten Tourney, but given the way things have gone for them this season, that seems very unlikely at this point.

     Spring football is officially here, with practice beginning on Wednesday, and this promises to be a big year for coach Tim Beckman, who begins his third season at the helm of the Illini program.  It is also a make-or-break year for him, since the program needs some success in order for him to continue.  Athletic director Mike Thomas has made it clear that he wants to see the Illini programs compete for Big Ten titles, and he has given Beckman time to formulate his staff in order to get that done.  That makes 2014 a pivotal year for Beckman and his staff, and wins, not to mention a bowl bid, will go a long way in keeping them in Champaign beyond next season.  The Illini will hold 2 practices that will be open to the public, with the spring game being set for Saturday, April 12th at 2:00 pm.  An updated practice schedule can be found by going to www.fightingillini.com and clicking on the football link.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

One Hit Wonders?

     Maybe these freshmen can play after all.

     Faced with a must win situation last Sunday in State College, Pennsylvania, Fighting Illini head coach John Groce decided to shake up his starting lineup, one that he had used the entire season to date.  That lineup included two freshmen, Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill, players that had been consistent as of late, and piqued Groce's attention.  With the Illini on an eight game losing streak and losing momentum fast, Groce felt the time was right for the change.  What followed was pure genius, as Illinois prevailed, defeating the Penn State Nittany Lions 60-55, ending the losing streak and breathing some signs of life back into the program.
Nunn had a career high 19 points, while Hill was the only other Illini player in double figures with 11/  Nunn had been playing better as of late, while Hill has been steady for most of the season.  All 10 players that saw action played double figure minutes, something Groce wants to do more of, provided that the players respond.  "It's up to the players to make that decision", Groce said on Tuesday in a teleconference recapping the win over Penn State.  Groce continued by saying that "I hope they (Hill and Nunn) aren't one-hit wonders.  I've listened to a lot of 80's music over the past few days, and there are a lot of one-hit wonders in there, and I hope that Malcolm and Kendrick can build upon their performance".  Seldom used Austin Colbert put forth a good effort, as did fellow freshman Maverick Morgan in spelling Nnanna Egwu, who only played 2 minutes in the first half due to being in foul trouble.  The Illini (14-10, 3-8), now will head to the other side of the conference border Wednesday evening when they take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers at their new home, Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln (8:00 pm CT, BTN).  Nebraska is currently 12-10 overall and 4-6 in the conference standings, but have only lost once at home this season.  The Cornhuskers are having a resurgence of sorts under second year coach Tim Miles, one of the more colorful coaches in the league.  Nebraska has three transfers that see plenty of action, Terran Petteway, Walter Pitchford and Leslee Smith.  Nebraska has defeated Ohio State and Indiana at home, and their only loss in Lincoln came against Michigan, and that was by a single point.  Bottom line is, this is a much different Nebraska team, one that is capable of beating anybody on any given night.  For the Illini to get a winning streak going, they will need to do more of what they did against Penn State, and the freshmen will once again have to step up and play like veterans.

     Second year women's coach Matt Bollant is having a difficult time stringing wins together, and at times, it can get downright frustrating.  The Illini lost for the 6th time in 7 games 66-61 last Sunday to Minnesota at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, and as a result, dropped them to 2-9 in the conference standings and 9-15 overall, something Bollant is not used to.  While he was at Wisconsin-Green Bay, he won consistently, and it appears that it may take a bit longer to turn the Illinois program around.  The Illini program has been down in recent years, and while Bollant is bringing some talented recruits into the fold, the results are just not there right now.  To make matters worse, Mackenzie Piper announced that she is leaving the program, effective immediately.  The Illini will get another chance to break the losing streak on Thursday night when they travel to Iowa City to battle the Iowa Hawkeyes (8:00 pm CT, BTN).

     With Fighting Illini football on the horizon, they are scheduled to begin practice early next month, including a couple of off-campus appearances.  The Illini will travel to Chicago to conduct a practice at Gately Stadium on Friday, March 14th, while also making a trip to Springfield to practice at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School on Friday, April 4th,  Both practices will begin at 5:30 pm.  The full spring practice schedule can be found by visiting www.fightingillini.com and clicking on the football link.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Crazy Mixed Up Season

     The fears of many are finally being realized.

     The Fighting Illini men's basketball team saw their losing streak reach six games last Sunday afternoon, when they were defeated by the Indiana Hoosiers 56-46 at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana.  Once again, the Illini played capable of winning the game, but couldn't come through in the clutch.  It's time to face the facts that this is not a very good shooting team, no matter how you look at it.  In the loss before to Ohio State (62-55 last Tuesday in Columbus), Illini junior Rayvonte Rice was held without a point for the first time in his college career.  The way the Illini played against the Buckeyes, they could have won the game had Rice been on his game and made some of his shots.  Fast forward to Sunday against the Hoosiers, where Rice regained his lost touch, by scoring 20 points and grabbing 4 rebounds. During this streak, the Illini have failed to capitalize on the things that they were successful in during the non-conference portion of the season.  Or, is it simply that other teams have learned how to defend the Illini, and are using that strategy?  Whatever the case may be, the Illini are in grave danger of finishing last in the Big 10 for the first time in nearly 30 years.  The conference has been anything but predictable this season, with multiple upsets happening all over the league. For instance, on Wednesday night, Penn State went into Columbus and handed Ohio State their fifth loss in six games in overtime.  The lone win for the Buckeyes in that stretch?  Yep, you guessed it, the Illini.  In the late game on Wednesday evening, Northwestern continued its mystery by upsetting Wisconsin at the Kohl Center, a place where many teams don't win very often.

     So, what does all of this mean?  The upcoming Big Ten Tournament should be very balanced, and with the exception of Michigan and Michigan State atop the league standings, the rest of the conference is very comparable to each other.  The Illini need a win more than anything, and they have a couple home games in a row in order to right the ship.  The first chance comes on Saturday evening, when they welcome the Iowa Hawkeyes to the State Farm Center (6:30 pm CT, BTN). The Illini are currently 13-8 overall, and are at the bottom of the Big 10 standings at 2-6.  The Hawkeyes are one of the better teams in the league this season, but as recent history has shown, anybody can beat anyone on any given night.  This could either get more interesting, or spiral down into disaster.

     After a couple recent wins, the Illini women's basketball team has once again begun to struggle, as they are playing teams close, but like their counterparts on the men's side, are having trouble closing games out.  The Illini lost to Purdue last Monday evening at the State Farm Center 80-68, and the Boilermakers obviously have the Illini's number, as they have beaten the Illini regularly for the past several seasons.  On Thursday night, the Illini ran into a hot shooting Ohio State team in Columbus, and were defeated 90-64 to drop their record to 9-12 overall and 2-6 in the Big 10.  Matt Bollant's team will jump back into action this weekend when they welcome Indiana to Champaign on Sunday afternoon (1:00 pm CT, No TV).

     With football national letter of intent signing day just a week away, the talk of football is once again in the air.  The DIA opened up the quarterbacks that are vying for the job that was vacated by the departure of Nathan Scheelhaase, and let each of them speak to the media on Wednesday afternoon.  Senior Reilly O'Toole, sophomore Aaron Bailey, and transfer Wes Lunt are all in competition for the position, and it remains to be seen who is the clear cut favorite.  Odds are with Lunt, since he started as a freshman at Oklahoma State before leaving to transfer to Illinois.  But Bailey and O'Toole each have their strong points as well, so when spring practice begins in a few weeks, all eyes will be on these three signal callers.  Also, in football news, Corey Lewis announced on Thursday that he played the entire 2013 season with a torn ACL, but didn't say anything to anyone about it.  Lewis is a remarkable person, not only on the field for his perseverance, but also off the field, and is very candid about all of his previous injuries.  He is still planning on pursuing an NFL career, and I hope he is successful, because you couldn't wish it more for a person than him.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Rough Waters Ahead

     Something's gotta give in this one.  The Big Ten Conference has always been known for its rough and tumble play, and this season, it is no different.  The Fighting Illini have undergone their share of ups and downs in the conference as well this season, and lately, most of it has been on the down side.  After getting out to a 2-0 start in the Big Ten, the Illini have lost their last 4 games, including surprising losses to Northwestern and Purdue.  The other two losses, to Wisconsin and Michigan State, were expected, and the fears of many in Illini Nation have been realized in that this is not a good shooting team.  To make matters worse, Coach John Groce has been more animated on the sidelines, and even earned a technical foul in the 78-62 loss to the Spartans last Saturday night at the State Farm Center in Champaign.  Groce, who was agitated at one of the officials for not getting some illegal screen calls during the game, had evidently had enough and shed his sportcoat, which resulted in the technical foul.  Groce has since apologized for his actions, and while the energy is good, some of the actions are a little over the top.  The Illini, now 13-6 overall and 2-4 in the Big Ten, will hit the road for the first of two games Thursday night when they travel to Columbus, Ohio to battle the Ohio State Buckeyes at Value City Arena (6:00 pm CT, ESPN).  The Buckeyes, ranked #15 in the country, have fallen on hard times themselves as of late, losing their last 4 games after sprinting out to a 15-0 start.  This is the first 4 game losing streak for the Buckeyes since the 2005 season, so this is essentially foreign territory to them.  The history between Groce and Ohio State coach Thad Matta goes way back to their days at Butler, where Groce was an assistant on Matta's staff.  They also coached together at Xavier, and also at Ohio State.  When this game was viewed on the schedule, nobody had any idea that the winner of this contest would have sole possession of 8th place in the conference, but with the Big Ten being as it is this year, that is what they are playing for.

     Matt Bollant's Illini women's squad broke its own four game losing streak last week at Northwestern, but they still have a long way to go before they are playing at the level the second year coach wants them to play.  The Illini played their first of two straight games in the state of Michigan last Saturday and lost 69-60 to the Wolverines.  The Illini played from behind for the entire game, and cut the lead to 6 late in the contest, but Michigan hit 7 of their final 8 free throws to seal the victory.  The Illini were led by Ivory Crawford, who scored 19 points.  Jacqui Grant added 16, while Amber Moore chipped in 15 for Illinois, who fell to 8-10 overall and 1-4 in the Big Ten with the loss.  The Illini will travel back to Michigan on Thursday night when they take on the Michigan State Spartans in East Lansing (6:00 pm CT, No TV).

     With the spring semester just beginning on campus, it may be a ways off in the distance, but the 2014 Spring Football schedule has been set, with workouts beginning on Tuesday, March 4th.  The Spring game will be on Saturday, April 12th at 2:00 pm.  Hopefully with all of the junior college transfers that Coach Tim Beckman has coming in, plus the fact that all of the youth that saw much action last season hopefully turns the needle up for the football program.  They need some success, and they need it fast.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Rough Sailing

     Welcome to the rough and tumble Big Ten Conference, where you never know what might happen on any given night.

      After a fast 2-0 start out of the gate for John Groce's Fighting Illini, the team has hit a bit of a wall, and earlier than most figured they would.  Wins over Indiana and Penn State at home were followed by losses to #4 Wisconsin and Northwestern on the road.  The Wisconsin outcome was expected, but nobody could fathom the Illini falling to the Wildcats, who were just 7-9 coming into the game.  The Illini had an anemic shooting performance, losing the game 49-43, and stalling any momentum that they may have built up with those first two conference wins.  To add injury to insult, Illini guard and possibly the best player on the team, Rayvonte Rice, has been dealing with a hip adductor strain and is currently listed as day-to-day.  Rice injured himself in the first half, and really wasn't the same afterwards.  The Illini missed 30 out of their first 36 shots, and could only muster 15 first half points.  Forward Jon Ekey, who has been in a slump himself lately, could be referred to as "streaky Ekey", given his erratic shooting.  At his press conference on Tuesday, Groce had a simple solution for Ekey, and that was to "just keep shooting"/  As a matter of fact, he has given that same advice to Nnanna Egwu and others that are struggling from the field.  Tracy Abrams, who has become the vocal leader of the team, was the only player to notch double figures for Illinois in the loss to Northwestern, scoring 13 points.  Rice was limited to just 8 points, and for the Illini to get back on the winning track, they will have to have Rice healthy,  The Illini return to the State Farm Center on Wednesday night to host Purdue (8:00 pm CT, BTN), in what hopes to be a win to break this brief 2 game losing streak.  The Boilermakers come into the game at 11-5 overall, and 1-2 in the Big Ten.  After Purdue visits Champaign, the Illini begin a tough 5 game stretch, beginning with #4 Michigan State paying a visit to the State Farm Center on Saturday night (7:00 pm CT, BTN).

     Illinois women's basketball coach Matt Bollant has found life in the Big Ten rough in his sophomore season as head coach, and even though they have begun the season with an 0-3 conference mark, they have remained competitive.  After losses to #14 Penn State and Nebraska last week at home, the Illini embark on a three game road swing, beginning with a trip to Northwestern to battle the Wildcats (8:30 pm CT, No TV).  This us a game that was supposed to be played last week, but the snowstorm in the midwest postponed the game until this week.  The Illini enter play with Northwestern at 7-9 overall, but 0-3 in the Big Ten.