Pentagram: USA March Matches

US Soccer tasted what it might be like to try to qualify for the World Cup out of South America this past week.  Some pundits and fans repeatedly suggest that we should combine North and South America for qualifying.  Here’s the thing – it would really, really hard.  The 1-1 tie with Argentina on Saturday flattered the US, and then last night, despite controlling possession and creating more scoring chances, the good guys fell to Paraguay 1-0.  Now imagine trying to play these teams on their home soil.

Still, these friendlies were more about team preparation, evaluating certain players and combinations, and getting ready for this summer’s Gold Cup.  In that respect they were at least moderately successful.  Coach Bob Bradley was able to confirm a few things (hopefully):  the three defensive midfielder combo doesn’t work, some veterans like Oguchi Onyewu and Jon Spector still aren’t sharp enough or fast enough to be automatic slections, and some of the new guys are pretty good (Juan Agudelo, Tim Ream, Tim Chandler, Eric Lichaj).

In Argentina, we could all enjoy the Lionel Messi show.  The way that little guy can dance through defenders, keeping his head up, and how physical and honest he is for such a small player are really something.  Now that Argentina have altered their gameplan to cater to Messi, looking more like Barcelona, makes you wonder just what Maradonna was thinking in how he set the team up on his watch.  Paraguay, on the other hand, hunkered and bunkered, hoping to stop the bleeding, with a gameplan of stealing a goal on a breakdown or  a set-piece.  Their plan worked perfectly when they scored a fairly soft goal off a corner kick.  I thought I was watching El Salvador or something the way Paraguay played behind the ball after that…  But this is just what Team America will see in the Gold Cup and early rounds of World Cup Qualifying.

Five points in your new red shirt Pentagram… Continue reading

Pearl Gets His

Bruce Pearl is out as head coach at Tennessee, and he leaves the Vols on shaky footing, waiting for the NCAA hammer to fall.  Seasoned Illini fans everywhere shared a grim smile this week, a brief moment of satisfaction.  Someone once said, schadenfreude is the best freude…  But so long as Pearl receives compensation from his coaching stint (which you can bet he will until sanctions are announced and the Vols can show cause), so long as there’s a chance he’ll get another shot in coaching, we won’t feel justice has been done.

Part of the problem is how major media outlets like ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and the Wall Street Journal have continued to portray Pearl as some kind of honorable whistle-blower when they mention the episode 22 years ago involving Illinois.  This is what you might call revisionist history.  It’s enough to make your stomach hurt.

If you want to know some of the actual details of this episode, download this recent podcast from WDWS in Champaign.  Longtime host and former Illini color man, Jim Turpin, does a long interview and explanation with Steve Beckett, who helped represent Deon and Illinois against the NCAA.  It’s about 20 minutes and it’s worth a listen. Continue reading

Pentagram: Illini Tourney Games

Their pre-season publicity poster had the theme, Ready for the Dance, but like many in Illinois, we figured this inconsistent team would go one-and-out at the hands of ex-Coach #1.  Instead the Fighting Illini looked as good as they have in months while dismantling Lon Kruger’s UNLV squad.  Then, facing ex-Coach #2 in Bill Self, the team had the chance to make history and knock off a #1 seed.  Had we been playing Pitt or Duke I’d have liked our chances, but the Jayhawks’ power in the post and physical ‘D’ proved too much.

Adding to the drama:  news of Jereme Richmond’s stealth-suspension or whatever you call it.  Not having one of your most talented players – even if he’s coming off the bench – is obviously bad.  We’ve heard some rumors but will not add to them here.  Suffice to say, we hope Jereme gets it together.  He needs to realize basketball is a team sport, and part of being on the team is realizing everything you do has consequences for both the individual and the team.  Weber has consistently given players who get into trouble second chances, and that seems to be the case here (otherwise JR would not have even traveled with the team).  We will all just have to wait and see what comes of this.

Whether you were disappointed in this season overall (and I certainly was – my pre-season expectations were to compete at the top of the Big 10 and make the Sweet 16 with a chance to move on), you had to like the execution on Thursday and the effort on Sunday.  But let’s just consider one more lost opportunity in the mix of recent results.

Had Illinois hung on to beat Michigan in the Big 10 tourney (or pulled out one or two of their many other late-game collapses), it very well could have been the Orange and Blue as the #8 seed in the West Regional instead of Michigan.  That means it would have been the Illini taking on the Tennessee Volunteers in the first round.  That would have given us the chance to put Bruce Pearl to the sword instead of Michigan. Think about that for a minute.  How sweet would that have been.   Hell, I’d rather have the opportunity to steamroll the dejected cheating Vols than to move up to a higher seed and an easier draw.

Regarding the actual games, Five points in your final Illini Hoops Pentagram for the season… Continue reading

Tourney picks this year

Having proven to be a pretty poor tournament picker over the years, I’ve gone ahead and done my bracket anyway*.  My goal is to beat the President.  He has less time than me to watch out-of-conference games, but he also has a staff of minions to provide him with research.   Who will win this epic half-assed clash?

I suffer from the same malady every March:  I overrate the Big 10, stubbornly refuse to pick teams or coaches I dislike, and usually screw up the upset picks.  This year I’m still overrating the Big 10, but hey- it’s what I watch.  I’m probably underrating the Big East, but their ESPN-fueled publicity machine rubs me the wrong way, and having watched some of their dire, hack-filled contests, I’m not sure about how good many of them actually are.

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Sanctions in order for Vols, Bucks

As we prepare for March Madness, one pending item and a new development in college sports still merit some attention.  Last week Jim Tressel, head football coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, admitted prior knowledge of a couple of players receiving benefits in exchange for memorabilia from a local tattoo parlor.  This, you may recall, involved five of the Buckeyes’ best players (including star QB Terrelle Pryor), which led to five-game suspensions of those five.  Now that suspension did not include the  Sugar Bowl victory over Arkansas on Jan. 1 (we can’t disappoint all those loyal fans who made travel plans, can we?), but will include such high powered opponents as Akron and Toledo.  Coincidentally, these same two opponents are who Tressel himself will miss as OSU announced self-imposed penalties for this affair.

But back to that little detail about the prior knowledge:  Yeah, Tressel knew about it.  He knew about two of the players and did nothing for seven months, which meant allowing those two players to compete all season.  He knew he had a duty to self-report, and not doing constituted a major NCAA violation.  He has claimed concerns over the safety of the two players, and we must take him at his word, but he was likely more concerned about the ramifications for a football program poised for another run at the mythical national championship and BCS glory.  But when Yahoo! Sports broke the story last week, Tressel and company had no choice but to come clean.

The situation is eerily similar to what went down with the Tennessee Volunteers basketball team and their coach, alleged human Bruce Pearl.  In that case, Pearl didn’t come clean with the NCAA until late in the game – in fact he lied to cover up his own violations.  The Vols and the SEC suspended Pearl for eight games, docked his pay $1.5 million over the remainder of his contract (about $300,000 a year), and restricted him to on-campus recruiting only for the year.  In comparison, OSU has fined Tressel $250,000 next year (he makes about $3.9 million) and suspended him two games.

Two cases of programs enacting pre-NCAA punishment in an attempt to lessen the sanctions.  But the sanctions must still come.

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(Piling) On Wisconsin

Do we win the prize for the 5,000th On Wisconsin blog post title?  Just wondering…  Probably, where you stand on the continuing saga of the Wisconsin collective bargaining fight depends on your political upbringing.  One side favors Governor Scott Walker, the other favors the unions.  One side identifies with the need to address out-of-control debt-spending ratios, the other with the need to fiercely protect the rights of workers.

Here in Beemsville, we’ve decided to frame  this all as a downstate Illinois resident and observer (incidentally, this means we’re used to getting the shaft).  Of course many have noted the high irony of the Wisconsin and Indiana lawmakers fleeing to the Land of Lincoln to avoid their respective votes (but boy are they going to be pissed when they find out they now have to pay a portion of our new and improved IL State Income Tax…)  Illinois is the state Scott Walker and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels see in their nightmares, the example they want to avoid.  The missing state legislators might want o review some of the numbers while they’re hanging around in Rockford and Champaign:

  • Current estimated Illinois budget deficit – $13 billion (2nd only to California)*
  • $8.7 billion – amount of money Governor Pat Quinn proposed borrowing to address current unpaid bills
  • Increased from spending, FY 2011-2012 budgets – 1.7 billion (you might think with all that debt and the income tax increase, someone might actually propose cutting spending, but then you’d be wrong)
  • $7 billion – estimated amount of annual pension obligations by IL State Government in the next four years**
  • $77.8 billion – estimated liability of all state pension funds***

Now those are some pretty hefty figures.  We’re talking Greece-style debt, Republic of Ireland-type debt.  And that last figure, dealing with the obligated unfunded pension, is something Illinois hasn’t really addressed in over a decade (yeah, yeah, Blago in charge, etc., etc.).  The state is currently trying to sell $3.5 billion in bonds to raise money for the current pension payments – the macro equivalent of making the minimum payment on a credit card.

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Happy Birthday, LD!

We had a family birthday earlier this week in Beemsville, and today is also Landon Donovan’s birthday.  LD is the greatest player to lace ’em up for Team America, the best player in MLS, and we’ve truly enjoyed watching him over the years.  At 29, he’s the Captain, leading all-time scorer with 45 goals, and he still has another World Cup Cycle (at least) before he’s through.  Like any athlete he’s had some ups and downs, but leads the Red, White, and Blue with class and skill.

And so, in the best youtubery tradition, we bring you all 45 Donovan goals.  Happy Birthday, LD!

Enjoy…