Is it basketball season yet?

“Is it basketball season yet?”

Five simple words uttered in a crowded bar – that’s how I found a fellow Illini fan huddled amongst the Buckeye masses. The day was September 27, 2014, and I was at a coworker’s surprise birthday party. Had I been told the host venue was an Ohio State bar, I might have contracted something horrible and “been sick” the entire night. Instead, there I was, stuck watching Ohio State’s throttling of Cincinnati while figuratively awaiting Ameer Abdullah’s swift justice. When it became apparent that Abdullah would run through the Illini defense opposed only by gravity and wind shear, I heard a familiar rally cry from behind me: “Is it basketball season yet?”.

“Ha, that’s what we say” I thought to myself. And only after deducing that no Ohio State fan in history has ever asked that question, I turned to find an Illini brother in arms.

After commiserating with my new Illini friend over expensive cheap beers we parted ways, but man I wish I would run into him again because it’s still football season, and it’s basketball season. It’s great!

For years it’s felt like the struggling Illini could only have one or the other – a good basketball team and a football team providing entertainment in late November. Why did Wisconsin and Ohio State have all the luck, when was it going to be our turn? Well, it still isn’t, not to the same degree, but this is pretty cool: Illinois basketball is undefeated and ranked No. 24 heading into tonight’s matchup with No. 15 Miami, and the football team defied the odds and fan expectations by rolling off consecutive victories over Penn State and Northwestern to secure bowl eligibility and Tim Beckman’s job. Cool.

We Have Football

If Tim Beckman comes to recruit in New York/New Jersey (which he really should), I will personally let him serve me a plate of crow. I called him dead in the water weeks ago because I didn’t think he was capable of steadying the ship amongst adversity. My biggest beef with Beckman has been his inability to spark enthusiasm and focus from his players. For a few years the Illini sideline has been a funeral procession, and it’s infuriated me.

When the fans and media started calling for Beckman to be fired, I was sure that the team would see a light at the end of the tunnel and go into the fetal position to see Becks go. Instead Beckman managed to rally the team, and the squad exploded out of the locker room accepting the vision that a bowl game was still in reach. The defense was flying around making plays and causing turnovers, and the offense, led by career backup Reilly O’Toole, was clutch against Penn State and actually good against Northwestern. And by golly, it worked! For a couple weeks Beckman had mostly right answers when asked about his job security, and he may have finally won the locker room over.

I agree that he’s directed himself into a fourth year, and we’ll see what he can do with his guys. I’m not ready to declare Beckman the long term solution, and from the looks of the extension neither is Mike Thomas, but in the meantime how can you not root for these kids and have fun with what they’ve been able to accomplish?

We Have Basketball

Even though Illini fans love to say “Is it basketball season yet?”, hoops really hasn’t been the light at the end of the tunnel since Dee Brown and James Augustine led the way. The team has had its ups and downs, but the scales are pretty heavily tilted towards the latter. Is this the year Illini fans have seen coming? Hoping and praying that in their lifetimes they’ll hold a ranking and not sweat out Selection Sunday? We’ve seen good starts before from the Illini, but this team feels different. Dating back to Brown and Augustine, even undefeated Novembers came with a caveat; we knew the team’s obvious flaws, and we painfully had to admit that football anguish would not receive a lasting respite, and we were headed towards another sub-.500 Big Ten record and chewed nails mid-March.

As of this morning, I’m confident Illinois isn’t banging with Kentucky and won’t challenge Wisconsin for the league title, but I think we’ve turned the corner and will be playing for seeding. There are weaknesses that prevent me from booking a flight in early April, but those are just weaknesses, not holes or glaring deficiencies.

Beckman’s immediate future should hinge on homecoming effort

Mike Thomas is doing his best Bond Villain impression. Instead of cutting ties with Tim Beckman quickly like the yank of a Band-Aid, he’s got Beckman tied to a conveyor belt heading towards a buzz saw. I can’t imagine a scenario where Beckman wiggles off and escapes the unemployment line, but I can understand Thomas evaluating whether firing a coach mid-season is in the best interests of Illinois Football moving forward. This week in particular, homecoming against Minnesota (6-1), should provide Thomas with all the evidence he needs for either decision. Continue Reading →

Expert prediction: Northwestern 31, Illinois 14

Photo Nov 21, 9 52 26 AMEach week, the Illini-Nation.com editor will use the air tight, very scientific methodology of drinking heavily and playing NCAA 14 on PS3 on the most difficult setting (Heisman) to predict the outcome of Illinois’ upcoming game. Let’s be honest, the final game of the season couldn’t come soon enough.

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The booze: Jim Beam Choice. Not bad, not great. But, it’ll getcha drunk.

Highlights

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Turnovers. A lot of them. Three lost fumbles and a pick. It became the Kain Colter show. Toss in the fact that I also couldn’t tackle Venric Mark and it was a long day.

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I did have a 64-yard touchdown pass, but the photo uploaded upside down and I’m too lazy to change it. The Donovonn Young touchdown run (above) after Josh Ferguson got hurt was my other score.

It went from bad to worse after the score was 17-14. Whatever. Season’s over. Thank God.

Final thoughts

Jesus, who cares? Illini will lose. Or they’ll win. It doesn’t matter.

Parting Shots: Illinois vs Purdue

I just sat there and started laughing. I didn’t know what else to do. Here I was, lying on my living room sofa watching 3-7 Illinois play 1-9 Purdue in a snowy and deserted Ross-Ade Stadium, and the Boilermakers had just faked a field goal, ran sideways for no gain, and failed to convert on 4th down. Believe me, it was Sportscenter Not Top 10 material. But then again the whole game was. It was just about as ugly a game between two terrible teams as you could’ve dreamt up. A combined five turnovers, a combined nine third down conversions, and an average punt/kickoff return of -7 yards.   Continue Reading →

Expert prediction: Purdue 24, Illinois 21

Photo Nov 21, 8 34 11 AMEach week, the Illini-Nation.com editor will use the air tight, very scientific methodology of drinking heavily and playing NCAA 14 on PS3 on the most difficult setting (Heisman) to predict the outcome of Illinois’ upcoming game. The last real chance for the Illini to snap their B1G losing streak was not to be thanks to the defense’s inability to get a crucial stop in the fourth quarter.

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The booze: I drank a bunch of Bulleit bourbon and was shitcanned during this game. That’s probably why I couldn’t play defense at the end.

Highlights

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I’ll cut to the chase. This game went back and forth in the first half and it was 14-14 at halftime. I had a number of nice offensive plays. My first score was capped off after a 17-play drive that used most of the second quarter.

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I had a really nice day with Josh Ferguson, but Purdue seemed to always have an answer. Again, I’m blaming the booze.

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The Boilermakers took a 24-14 lead late in the game. With 1:18 left, I returned the kickoff for a touchdown with V’Angelo Bentley. It was awesome. The onside kick failed (of course) and Purdue ran out the clock.

Final thoughts

I actually think Illinois will win this game Saturday. Purdue is dreadful. We’re talking far worse than the Illini. However, Illinois better not think it can just stroll in and be handed the win. It’s Senior Day in West Lafayette, Ind., and those kids are going to be fired up. I don’t want to go against our prediction model (it’s been pretty good this year, to be honest), but I’m still going to say 30-20, Illinois. Then again, who really cares?

Parting Shots: Illinois vs. Ohio State

Kansas is out to get us. It’s a conspiracy theory, trust me. It all started Friday afternoon (or did it start when Bill Self left for KU?) when Cliff Alexander pulled the “hat trick” and left Illinois fans heartbroken after what had already been a tough, tough Friday. I didn’t think it could get much worse, to be honest. Then the Jayhawks, which had already stabbed Illinois with a sharp knife, decided to twist it a little deeper. Their 27-game conference losing streak was snapped on Saturday when they upset West Virginia. And that meant only one thing: Illinois now holds the nation’s longest conference losing streak after suffering its 20th straight Big Ten defeat at the hands of No. 3 Ohio State. But the extreme optimist in me says that not everything that occurred this weekend is a sign of things to come. The football team never quit, it didn’t lay down against one of the best teams in the nation. Dave Pasch of ESPN said it best when the game was over: “This Illini squad did not go away today, that was an impressive showing on their part.” And that’s reason to hope. Hope that one of these Saturdays, the streak will come to an end.   Continue Reading →

Sports INsider: Ohio State covers

Each week we check in with our resident gambling guru, Biff Tannen, to give us advice on where to put our hard-earned cash for the Illini game.

Recap:

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Biff’s Take:

Sorry for the no show last week, but like I said COD: Ghosts wasn’t going to play itself. But as you can see above, I tried out a new strategy and it worked pretty well. I’m going to take my own advice again this week.

I’m not going to waste my time even going over this matchup. The Illini play Ohio State and they are going to get beaten handily. The question is by how much. The Vegas line has OSU as a 32.5 favorite. Like I said, I’m taking my own advice and putting down $350 on Ohio State and the points. Illinois has no answers for this team, and Urban Meyer is enough of a prick to run the score up. Call your damn bookie because it’s a lock, butthead.