Nathan Scheelhaase named Juice’s successor at Illinois QB

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Illinois football coach Ron Zook today announced that Nathan Scheelhaase will enter the 2010 season as the Fighting Illini’s starting quarterback. One of the biggest questions entering the 2010 season was “who will replace Juice Williams?” Old #7 had a very disappointing senior season, but he still departed UI the school’s all-time leader in total offense.

By Paul M. Banks

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Chicago Invitational Blog Day 2

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By Paul M. Banks

Another day at the Chicago Invitational Challenge, and another day that St. Louis Head Coach Rick Majerus camps out along the baseline, and gives me and the other reporters next to me a front row view of his behind. But hey, he wears all black both days, and as we know black is slimming. It’s great to be back watching college basketball, and not out at the shopping malls. I would rather be ANYWHERE than at a shopping mall on these two days. I honestly judge be people’s intelligence and decision-making abilities on whether or not they fight the “door-buster” crowds on these days. brackins2

Worse are the crappy local tv news stations that videotape this and run THE EXACT SAME story EVERY year. I’d quit if they gave me that assignment. I bring this up because I think this may why College Basketball tournaments draw so poorly during this week. Pretty much every tourney you see on tv, the arenas are always 3/4 empty. The Las Vegas Invitational is even held in a high school gym usually.

The 8,000 seat UIC pavilion is no different, as only 3,000 people came to the game last night. I like this little venue a lot though. It’s right there accessible from the EL, and it’s actually in Chicago, unlike the venue that hosted the “CHICAGO INVITATIONAL” during the first three years of its existence. That would be the beautiful and state of the art Sears Centre (also seats about 8,000) located WAY OUT in Hoffman Estates; or pretty much the edge of the suburbs. What makes it seem even farther though is the highways leading too it are ALWAYS the most congested in all of Chicago. Given that it runs right past Woodfield Mall, I’m sure it’s even worse today. So why was this tournament moved from the Sears Centre to UIC Pavilion? Ticket sales? No, it was because when they made the decision, the authorities thought the Sears Centre would be out of money and closed by this time. They were pretty close to shutting down. Of course, what the Sears Centre needs to go is get some actual tenants that people might actually consider wanting to buy a ticket to see.

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Currently they have the Chicago Shamrox (indoor lacrosse), Chicago Storm (some sort of indoor soccer league) and the Chicago Hounds I think, which is roller derby or something maybe. Anybody ever heard of any one of these teams? The only reason I’ve ever heard of the Chicago (although when you play your games 1.5 hours outside Chicago, are you really allowed to use that name?) Shamrox, is because a girl from my high school graduating class is a dancer for them. Hence the obligatory dance team pics. The “Hot Rox” they’re called.

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Notre Dame is about to beat St. Louis in the Third place game right about now…..actually there’s 1:11 left. with the Golden Domers up on the Billikens 60-48. So I guess that means SLU finishes fourth. Also, there’s a few other mid-major teams in this tournament, Kennesaw  State beat Mississippi Valley St. in the fifth place game, and the battle to finish 7th took place between Liberty and Tennessee St. but I’ll have to go find out the result on that one. If you really want me to I will. I know you’re dying to find out.

ND wins 64-52. Harangody finishes with 18 points, 9 rebounds. He entered the tourney averaging 27.2 Ben Hansbrough had 14. Willie Reed of SLU finished with 20 pts

Highlights of postgame pressers:

SLU Head Coach Rick Majerus:

“We struggle to score, and part of it is unfamiliarity with each other, part of it is some of these teams are more veteran, more physical, part of it is we go backward on misses.” well, you get the point. They scored 52 points today, after just 54 yesterday.

I’ll be back with quotes from Luke Harangody and ND Head Coach Mike Brey. For right now, the title game is in progress.

NU trails Iowa St. 10-8, with their only points coming from John Shurna, two 3s and a “and 1”.

Luka Mirkovic scores inside and score is now Iowa St. 12, Northwestern 11 with 11:51 to go in the half. ISU has a starter named Lucca Staiger, who hails from Blaustein, Germany. This game will probably set the record for a basketball game featuring starters named Luka, or Lucca.

Iowa St. also has a guy named Jamie Vanderbeeken. Sounds alarmingly close to James Vanderbeek, the actor everyone knows as better as Dawson from “Dawson’s Creek” or Jon Moxon from “Varsity Blues”. Sorry for bringing up Dawson’s Creek, I know you’ll inevitably have that annoying theme song by Paula Cole in your head now. I know I do.

With 7:16 left in half NU leads 24-22. This tournament is an example of why a conference having it’s own network is so advantageous. The only games being broadcasted from this tourney are those involving Northwestern. Even though they’re not the best team here (probably Iowa St. but we’ll know for sure in about 1.5 hours) and not the highest profile program either (that would be Notre Dame), their games take precedence because the generous Lord bestowed upon us the gift of BTN.

ISU comes out of the gates firing on all cylinders and extends their lead 43-37 with 16 min to go. Craig Brackins has a NBA body no doubt. There were a few NBA scouts here yesterday, I saw dudes from the Miami Heat and Golden St. Warriors here, and Bulls GM Gar Forman was in attendance too. I could see both Brackins and Harangody being total “John Paxson” picks. Think about his history, then draw the paralells. Both fit in perfectly.

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very close game. ISU leads 51-48. Thats a good complement for NU as Majerus said he thinks Iowa St. has a chance to challenge Kansas for the conference title. ISU has a LOT of good athletes and they are a very underrated team. They also have Carlos Boozer’s brother Charles. But he hardly plays more than five minutes a game. And he’s a junior already, so don’t expect him to be in “the league” someday soon.

61-55 NU with 3:32 left. Can lightning strike twice? Is NU going to win the Chi Invitational, when no one gave them a chance in back-to-back games? Would this start up the tourney talk again?

63-61 Cats with 1:16 left. If Juice had knocked down that last shot following an offensive rebound, it might have clinched the game. Instead the crafty German Lucca Steiger went down and hit a big 3 to cut it to a basket.

65-62 NU leading with 8.2 left. Looks like they’re going to be sitting much prettier than Illinois after today. who would have thunk that? Illinois is down four to Bradley, freaking Bradley with 9 seconds left. WHAT? Oh, and after this weekend’s games, so much for the Big Ten being the best conference in AMerica.

My Illini lose…but here, NU is about to claim the invitational trophy and champsionship

The Illini may be Alright this Year

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By Paul M. Banks

This past weekend, the University of Illinois Fighting Illini got some measure of redemption from their week one DISASTER in St. Louis. The Illini responded from their 37-9 thrashing at the hands of Missouri to rout FCS opponent Illinois St. 45-17 in Champaign. Granted it was against a lower tier team predicted to finish near the bottom of their vastly inferior conference, but the Illini did without the services of arguably their three if not best, most important, players: QB Juice Williams, WR Arrelious Benn, and LB Martez Wilson. Williams, a Chicago native who’s been tutored by another Chicago product and star quarterback, Donovan McNabb contributed just one series before getting hurt. His injury is not supposed to be extremely serious and his return is key, for the Illini to have a legitimate leader.

Williams spoke about what he learned from working with McNabb. “Keep your head…a majority of quarterbacks know that when things start going on around them, people start talking, things start to tank. It’s just the quarterback mentality to let everything go and just stay focused and go from there, once you start paying attention to everything negative going on around you, you kind of lose sight of what you’re trying to do, so I just block everything out and just go,” Williams stated.

His top-flight receiver in a highly heralded corps is Arrelious “Rejus” Benn, a projected top ten pick in the NFL Draft. But his stock is falling because Rejus has been a total non-factor so far. The Illini receivers have been extremely hyped, and if Benn isn’t 100% healthy then other players like Jeff Cumberland, Jarred Fayson, and Tight End Michael Hoohoomanawananuii (have fun with trying to pronounce that) will need to step up big time. illinois

Illini Head Coach Ron Zook also needs to realize who his starting tailback is. It should be Daniel Dufrene, with Jason Ford as a capable back-up, not the other way around. They’ve battled some injuries as well this young season, so they fit right in with the rest of the team.

On the other side of the ball, it comes down to another well-recruited Chicago product, Martez Wilson, who moves over to Middle Linebacker, and needs to be the “quarterback” of the defense.

“The last two, actually the last three years, our Mike linebacker has led the Big Ten in tackles,” Zook said. “I don’t want to put the pressure on him that he’s not doing a good job if he doesn’t lead the Big Ten in tackles, but he’s a guy that a lot of things revolve around him, with our calls and so forth, and it’s going to be important that he has the kind of year that we think he can.” Wilson was also hurt and missed the last game. But Illinois won in impressive fashion, despite all the key missing pieces, which is a good sign. It’s also a good thing they have this week off- to get ready and healthy for mighty Ohio St. on September 26th.

Big Ten QB Power Rankings

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By Paul M. Banks

The Big Ten has a historical reputation for being a “black and blue” type conference like the old NFC Central in the NFL. Woody Hayes and his “3 yards and a cloud of dust” comes to mind. But today, it’s all about the spread-option, and having a quarterback who can run the ball almost as well, or better than he can throw it. The Big Ten’s best are the guys who can beat with you with their legs in addition to beating you with their arm.

1. Ohio State- Terrelle Pryor.
He’s the Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, and will only get better. The only question remaining is, why wasn’t he one of the three players selected by THEEEEEE Ohio State University to attend Media Day in Chicago? Instead OSU brought one mediocre player, one guy that might not start, and another who’s scout team level in talent.

2. Illinois- Juice Williams and Penn State- Darryl Clark
It really is a toss-up between these two mobile QBs. Both have led their team to the Rose Bowl, both got smoked in that Rose Bowl, and both have developed towards the back-end of their collegiate career. Juice is a better runner and will put up bigger numbers this fall, but Clark is a better decision maker and commits less mistakes.

4. Minnesota- Adam Weber
Like the first three, he’s mobile and he’s got a gun. But does WR supreme Eric Decker make him look better than he really is? Guess we will find out next year when Decks is gone.

5. Northwestern Mike Kafkajuice-williams-arrelious-benn-440
He’s known as “the guy who broke that QB rushing record” to most, as he really hasn’t done much else outside of… the record shattering 217 yards he scrambled for in a season-defining win at Minnesota last fall. But he has potential, and now with C.J. Bacher’s departure, he has a chance to be the man and carry this team.

6. Iowa- Ricky Stanzi
Has high potential to rise above this spot; playing with the luxury of his stellar defense and the great blocking in front of him will help him get there.

7. Michigan State- Kirk Cousins/Keith Nichol
Cousins looked ok when he got some playing time in the Citrus Bowl last year (if the credit card company that bought the rights to that game wants publicity, they can give me a cut, until then it’s the Citrus Bowl to me!). Nichol is yet another qb transfer who bails on his program when he finds himself lower on the depth chart. But when you realize that he had to contend with Sam Bradford at Oklahoma, can you blame him? They’ll name their starter in a couple days.

8. Indiana- Ben Chappell
He’s got a good arm, but he’s no Antwaan Randle El. He’s not even in the same class as Kellen Lewis.

9. Purdue- Joey Elliot
He’s the like the Chester Frazier of Big Ten football- already focused on coaching once his college career ends. Last year, the Joe Tiller era ended. This year ends the era of Purdue QBs putting up good passing numbers and having draft potential.

10. Michigan ???
Familiar with the term “hot mess”? I don’t really know where to begin, expect by asking them to start over with whoever is the highest rated youngster at the position in their program.

11. Wisconsin ???
The Badgers deserve this spot simply because of what happened today with Bret Bielema’s “depth chart” release, an extreme let-down that said nothing. Junior Scott Tolzien and redshirt freshman Curt Phillips were listed as co-starters ahead of senior Dustin Sherer, who started the final seven games in 2008. They won’t bother telling us who’s winning the position battle. But we can figure out that Sherer is JUST AWFUL.

Illini WRs Secret Weapon Michael Hoohoomanwanuii

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The University of Illinois Wide Receiving Corps will be among the best in College Football this year. In this four part series, Paul M. Banks interviews and profiles each of the top four Illini pass catching threats.

Part 3: Michael Hoohoomanwanuii

Part 4: Arrelious “Rejus” Benn

Michael Hoomanawanui, Illinois

Height: 6-5. Weight: 274.

Projected 40 Time: 4.73.

Projected Round (2010): 6-7.

Info courtesy of Walter Fooball.com

Tight End Michael Hoomanawanui (Yes, I actually know how to pronounce his name, it’s “ho-ho-mah-now-uh-new-e) or “Ho-Ho” as most people around the Illinois program call him, makes everyday Christmas Day for Illini QBs with his pass catching and route running abilities.

“I’ve really been working on becoming a complete tight end with blocking and receiving. Last year I put it all together and people got to see that, so hopefully I can just build on that and do whatever I can to help the team win,” Ho-Ho said during my exclusive conversation with him Illini Media Day. Last week Michael was named to the Mackey Award Watch List, an honor to be bestowed upon the nation’s top Tight End. He also spoke about the tremendous talent Illinois has at the wide receiver position, possibly the nation’s best.

“In the summer, we had some pretty tough workouts, we pulled together and pulled the team along, coach has just let us let it be our team with all the experience we have…I personally think they’re one of the best in the country, but right now all it is, is potential and Coach has been talking about how we got to turn potential into performance, they’ve been doing great in camp so far, so we’ll see how it translates into performance,” Ho-ho said. If he does go to the next level, who exactly might be his role model? La Lafayette Illinois Football

“Tony Gonzalez, Gates, Olsen, there’s a lot of great guys out there, so I try to take something from each of their games and I’ll be alright,”


Illinois Wide Receivers- Jeff Cumberland

The University of Illinois Wide Receiving Corps will be among the best in College Football this year. In this four part series, Paul M. Banks interviews and profiles each of the top four Illini pass catching threats.

In Jeff Cumberland, the Illini passing game has a big, make that a very big target. “Because of my size, a lot of people other than my teammates don’t know how strong or fast I actually am. But in addition to being physically big, I’m smart I watch film, I know the game, I know the coverages,” Cumberland told me at Illini Media Day.

“You wouldn’t think someone who’s 240, 250 plus could run as fast as me so teams that don’t know when they see me on film and think I’m not that fast, but I’m getting my separation. They might think ‘he can’t run by you, may be he’ll run inside,” the 6’5” senior with approximate 4.6 speed replied when I asked him about his size possibly making him deceptively fast.

During our exclusive conversation I also asked him what larger receivers in the NFL he models his game on. “I would say Brandon Marshall, he’s big strong, has agility, I really look up to him, Andre Johnson too.” cumberland2

Cumberland came into the University of Illinois as a very highly tight end. The recruiting services loved him as he was named PrepStar All-American, the nation’s No. 66 overall recruit by ESPN.com, and a four-star by Rivals.com and Scout.com. He was slow to develop as a tight end his freshman and sophomore years, but when he was moved to receiver in middle of 2007, his career began to blossom as he was extremely productive during the last four games or so.

Cumberland talked about the transition. “There was also a mismatch. When I was at tight end, there were a lot of linebackers covering me, who I can run right past them. I feel the same way playing receiver outside, I’m just as fast as DBs if not faster, and physical.” Last year he was fairly productive, but 2009 looks to be a breakout year for him. Provided there are enough balls to go around in the Illini’s extremely talented receiving corps.

“Something that we all are trying to do is use the chances we get as much as we can. We each have to take as much advantage of the playing time we get because there’s a lot of guys who can step up and perform if you aren’t,” Cumberland stated. Of course, all this depth could be a blessing or a curse- and it depends on how the coaching staff and Illini quarterback Juice Williams manage the situation. Cumberland spoke about the positive potential:

“Rather than one person to get 70 balls and the next person to get 30 balls, you spread the balls out, when you got so many weapons…there’s going to be less double teams and triple teams when they have to worry about everybody that’s out on the field; instead of just one person.”

Wildcats Approach School Record for Wins.

By Paul M. Banks

f you saw the highlights of Northwestern’s shocking upset at #20 Purdue on the Big Ten Network last night, you might have seen the line reading “17 wins by Northwestern ties school record.” That’s incorrect. Their next victory, which could come Sunday at Ohio St., would be their 18th. That would tie the school record set by the 1982-83 squad led by Jim Stack. Yes, the Jim Stack.

His group beat Notre Dame in the NIT first round before losing to DePaul in the 2nd round. Lots of local representation in the 1983 National Invitational tournament. NU’s 1931 Big Ten championship team has the best record in school history (16-1), and if you vividly recall that- congratulations on living a long and healthy life!

Getting back to today, the Cats have won three in a row, partially thanks to Big Ten player of the week, sophomore point guard Michael “Juice” Thompson. “I feel myself and the rest of my teammates are playing their best basketball right now. People say it’s good to be playing your best basketball going into March and tournament time,” Thompson said.

Despite what some pundits are saying a win in Columbus will NOT equal the program’s first NCAA tournament berth. Not with an 81st ranked RPI, 61st strength of schedule and below .500 conference record. In order to avoid saying a Cublike “just wait till next year,” about March Madness, they’ll need to run the Big Ten Conference Tournament table in Indianapolis. If they had effectively closed the deal in at least two of the four games in which they blew double-digit second half leads…they’d likely have a ticket to the Big Dance.

However, the school which hosted the first NCAA tournament yet never played in one (with apologies to Alanis Morrissette, “Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?”) will obtain a postseason berth of some sort. Northwestern Wildcats does include the letters N-I-T. After last year’s horrid 8-22, 1-17 in conference debacle, any postseason berth is greatly appreciated in Evanston. “I may be their biggest fan. I love what Northwestern does and I’ve always had great respect for the way Bill’s {Carmody} teams execute to precision,” Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter said after his Hawkeyes lost to the Cats last Saturday.