Illini WR Mike Dudek: rare bright spot in lost season

Mike Dudek Catch

Champaign, IL- While your statistics professor might give you a decent argument disputing it, Saturday’s loss to Iowa effectively ended the season for the Fighting Illini. Sitting at 4-5, Tim Beckman’s squad needed to win two games to gain bowl eligibility; the team’s primary goal for the 2014 season.

For three quarters, it looked like the Illini might actually notch number five, but the fourth quickly reminded the 50,373 frozen fans (and the thousands of fraternity and sorority members choosing to watch the game at Joe’s and Red Lion instead) that both wins and bowl games in the Tim Beckman era of Illinois Football are not easy to come by.

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Fighting Illini lose to Iowa Hawkeyes; let’s forget we ever watched this

iowa-hawkeyes

Let’s forget we ever watched this one. The Illinois Fighting Illini and Iowa Hawkeyes set the game back a few decades. We’ll wash our eyeballs of a 63-55 contest won by Iowa that was Restoril or Ambien in college basketball form. The Hawks finish 15-2 at home, in a contest where “points in the paint” didn’t seem to apply. I was like one end had Dikembe Mutombo and the other had Manute Bol the way so many bunnies, chip-ins, lay-ins, tip-ins, and lay-ups were missed on both end.

THIS .WAS. UGLY. Unlike Hawkeye cheerleader/pageant winner listed above

The Fighting Illini have probably secured a NCAA bid as of Saturday, by accruing 8 Big Ten wins and 21 overall, especially with their resume. But they looked like a poor NIT team this evening. The Iowa Hawkeyes are squarely on the bubble, trying to become the conference’s eight team in the dance.

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Illini basketball resume looks very NCAA ready with Senior Day victory

assembly-hall

Illini basketball (21-9, 8-8) celebrated the 50th anniversary of Assembly Hall (the REAL Assembly Hall, unlike the one where the Hoosiers play see the video of the renovation plans here) by squeaking by Big Ten doormat Nebraska 72-65 (13-16, 4-12). The senior day victory over the Cornhuskers is exactly 50 years from when the Assembly Hall first opened its doors on March 2, 1963. The Illini bench outscored the Huskers bench 38-0 and the Illini won the rebounding margin 35-26; which offset the Huskers shooting 50% from three.

Scheduling the Huskers for Senior day is like scheduling the Hoosiers in football for homecoming- you want to give the crowd a very high probability of victory. But it almost didn’t happen. Illini basketball seniors Kevin Berardini, Tyler Griffey, Sam McLaurin, Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson were honored in senior day ceremonies before a game that was way too close for comfort.

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9 things really wrong with Illini basketball right now

brandon-paul-illinois

Last night the #23 Illini lost at home to a Northwestern team that has their coach squarely on the hot seat, is reeling from injuries and without their best player in Drew Crawford. The loss was the third in a row by double digits for the Illini, and the three defeats have been even more lopsided than the scores indicate. This shouldn’t be happening to a team that was ranked in the top ten just a few short weeks ago.

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Illini guard D.J. Richardson can’t seem to find his shot

d.j.-richardson

After starting 12-0 the Illinois Fighting Illini are 2-3 in their last 5. And one of those wins was rather ugly. A big reason for their recent struggles is the ramped up level of competition as Big Ten play has begun. But it’s also they fact the team lives and dies by the three, and no one was more so than senior guard D.J. Richardson. Of all his field goal attempts on the season, only 46 have been of the 2-point variety. The three is D.J.’s game so when it’s off, so is he, as are the Illini?

Richardson has always been streaky, he’s had major struggles with his shot at various times during his college basketball career, but this slump could be his worst. Or it seems that way since the Illini are ranked so high and playing in so many high profile games?

Maybe it’s time for Coach John Groce to sub Joseph Bertrand in the lineup for Richardson?

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#11 Illini crush #8 Ohio State, rebound literally and figuratively

john groce

This is what it’s like to rebound: both winning the battle on the glass and coming back from a loss. In their last three games (Mizzou, Auburn and Purdue) the Illini got owned on the backboards and went 1-2. In their Big Ten opener Illinois got upset by a .500 Purdue team. The loss was shocking, but the #11 Illini recovered nicely, CRUSHING the #8 Ohio State Buckeyes 74-55 in their conference home opener. They won the battle of the boards 40-30.

It was their second win over a top ten team this season, and their most lopsided defeat of a top ten ranked Big Ten team since 1954. Although it appears both teams in this one are over-ranked and overrated. Or it’s just that no one will be able to win on the road in the Big Ten this year. Either way, it was Illinois’ best defensive effort of the year by far, and a career game for center Nnanna Egwu.

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#12 Illini struggle too often in beating bad teams

tracy-abrams

The 12th ranked Illinois Fighting Illini have struggled this pre-conference season in blowing out/closing out teams that are supposedly very inferior to them. When you’re a top 15 ranked team, with very solid signature wins over #13 Gonzaga and #18 Butler, you should handle the mid-major and low-major scrubs very easily.

But the Illini don’t do that. They let bad teams hang around. After leading a 5-6 Auburn team by 11 at the United Center, they found themselves up by just one within four minutes to play at the home of the Chicago Bulls. This Auburn team is HORRIBLE. They lost to DePaul, Winthrop at home and Murray St by 20. This never should have been close. But it’s a pattern that’s been continuous all non-conference season.

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Illini seniors D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul lead the way

dj_richardson

The Illinois Fighting Illini suffered their first loss last night to Mizzou, but they’re still 12-1. And nationally ranked. I think any Illinois fan would have taken 12-1 at this point when the season started. This Illini team will go as far as their seniors will take them. And I’m not talking about Tyler Griffey. Four year starter guards D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul are the keys to the Illini maintaining that top ranking and getting a high seed in March. And then doing something with it.

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#10 Illinois Fighting Illini suffer first loss to #17 Missouri

john groce

Before we get to the breakdown of what happened in the Illinois Fighting Illini first loss, (Illinois was one of the last 6 unbeaten teams remaining in the nation) suffered at the hands of the Missouri Tigers 82-73, a few observations and notes on this series and rivalry overall, with updated stats.

-Why is this even called the Braggin’ Rights game? I mean seriously, how many of you Illini people actually have Mizzou people to tell how much they suck? (after Illinois wins of course)

-Why does this arena have a NBA three-point line on the floor? There hasn’t been a NBA team in St. Louis since 1965? (And why were Brandon Paul and company bombing away from that spot so much?

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Illini Brandon Paul wins national player of the week award

brandon_paul

The U.S. Basketball Writers Association has selected Illinois guard Brandon Paul as its Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week for games ending the week of Sunday, Dec. 9. The USBWA’s weekly honor is presented by Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook and will be handed out each Tuesday through Feb. 19 this season.

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’13 Illini hoops recruiting class gets even better

john groce

The Tim Beckman hire is such a disaster that it requires FEMA aid, but so far the entrance of John Groce may be alright. It looks like this guy can really recruit. Monday afternoon Austin Colbert, a four-star center from Gill St. Bernards in New Jersey, announced his commitment to the Illini. He did it through Twitter; which is of course the new AP.

Get ready “cuz this is the Colbert Report.”

Expect a ton of Stephen Colbert jokes over the next four years.

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Illini offer special opening night tribute to John Groce

john groce

Illinois tips off the 2012-13 season on Friday, hosting Colgate at 7 p.m. at the Assembly Hall. In addition to being the season opener, it also marks the debut for new Fighting Illini head coach John Groce.

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