Pentagram: Road win in Vegas

Coach em up

For the Fighting Illini basketball team, the first real test came late last night against UNLV on the road.  After beating up on some lesser opponents in Champaign, Coach Groce and Company traveled to Las Vegas in preparation for a December stretch that’s looking much tougher.

Illinois went down by 10 at halftime and looked pretty bad the final four minutes of the first half.  We knew the halftime adjustments were coming, though, and Coach Groce indeed had them looking better in the second.  It’s such novel idea to come out of halftime knowing your team will shift and change to exploit identified weaknesses…  We still aren’t used to it.

The Illini out-toughed and out executed UNLV in the second, with good performances by Ray Rice, Nnanna Egwu, and Jaylon Tate.  Final score 61-59, thanks to switching the defenses, running the right set plays in given situations, and hitting some clutch shots towards the end  This is an early season belief-win that will surely help the RPI come March.

Five points in your first road-win pentagram…

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Rough Weekend for I-L-L

chief_logo_upsideFor the Fighting Illini, it started on Friday, when we learned one key recruit who had previously committed to Coach John Groce’s team changed his mind and decided to go with his hometown school.  It continued in Chicago later that day, where a future NBA player and prodigious talent (and potential program changing guy) decided to pad the numbers at Kansas when many (including us) thought he was an Illini lean.  Bill Self and Jerrance Howard haunt us again.  The less said about that the better.  As usual, Robert at A Lion Eye/Illiniboard summed it up best.

Saturday, our first and only family outing to a football game at Memorial Stadium, and the Buckeyes were in town.  Why would we choose that game as our family outing?  Simple, really – extended family from Columbus were in town as well as my sister up from Texas.  The final score of that game 60-35 Ohio State.  And the game was on ESPN, which means they talked about our conference losing streak about 62 more times.

Sunday we learned the Illini hoops game against Bradley was not on TV.  It was on the Big Ten Network’s Digital-only internet feed (a pay service).  Why was this game not on local TV?  People care about watching two downstate schools play?  When the Big Ten Network went live, they assured us these types of things would no longer happen – games would be broadcast on their overflow channels.  Why, Mike Thomas?  And we see another game in December has likewise been relegated to the internet.  Not cool.  To make matters worse, driving back from St. Louis during the first half, and I couldn’t find the game on AM radio after losing the St. Louis station.  What?  No Illini hoops on local radio between Greenville and Divernon on I55?  When did this happen.

Silver linings, though.  Turns out, the Taylorville/Pana FM station was carrying the game once I checked.  Still pretty mad about the TV situation. Continue reading

Hope and Fools

Illinois’ 10 point loss to Washington in Soldier Field this past Saturday provided more cause for optimism to faithful Illini.  Yeah, that’s a loaded statement.  But bear with me:  Before the season started, I would have predicted a multiple touchdown loss, a possible blowout.  And while the Huskies dominated the game and exploited Illinois’ numerous deficiencies, the game was competitive in the 4th quarter.

Special teams – especially the return game – seems much better.  The Illini again won the turnovers battle.  The Cubit offense kept Washington off-guard and hit some big plays.  These glimpses of competence and good football have us looking forward to football on Saturdays despite the recent track record.

If you look at the schedule you see three games in which the Illini will be heavily out-manned as they were against UW – Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Ohio State.  Of those three, the Buckeyes are the one legit power.  But the remaining schedule, when taking into account the first weeks of the season, provide some opportunities.  The Big 10 looks pretty meh again.  The Illinois offense can score.  Our optimism, for the moment, has been rekindled.

Q’s for the Weekend

Beemsville is all sports all the time this weekend.  And like any good self-promoting neo-sports/entertainment provider of content, we’re exploiting the interns to come up with new-ish ways to deliver our content.  They give us…  The weekend’s Top 5 questions:

  1. Can my son’s soccer team build on last weekend’s win and their newfound abilities to the pass the ball on occasion?  If they continue to remember their positions and responsibilities and don’t wilt in the heat, we like our chances.  However, I caught a look at the size of some of the other teams and they look to have a couple of over-age players…
  2. Can my daughter’s soccer team win against better competition?  They host their home tournament here in Springfield but have moved into a higher division.  Last tournament out the girls played very well after their first game and probably should have won a trophy if not for a slow start.
  3. Will Jurgen Klinsmann and the US Soccer Team continue their improbable 12-game winning streak with a World Cup Qualifier win in Costa Rica (tonight, 9:00 CST)?   Jozy Altidore is questionable to play and the right back position, which the Ticos will look to exploit, is a potential problem.  Also, we’ve never gotten a result in Costa Rica during qualifying.  But Landon is in form, and the team has really come together this summer… Continue reading

Illini Pigskin Preview

It’s not easy being an Illini football fan – at least over the last twenty or so years.  Not that they’ve been dismal during that time…  No, it’s the inconsistency.  Really good years where it looked like a corner being turned, followed by epic fails.  Last year was one of those fail years, and this year projects as even bleaker.  As the consummate Illini football blogger put it, this is the least anticipated opening weekend in decades.  No surprise, then, that for the first time since moving back to Central IL, we’ve not bought at least half-a-season ticket or planned to attend multiple games.  (To be fair, the kids are now doing their own sports on Saturdays, which was a major factor in that decision as well).

But we will still watch the team play on TV.  At least until it gets ugly.  And it will.  Witness the schedule:

date Opponent / Event Location Time / Result
08/31/13 vs. Southern Illinois TV MEMORIAL STADIUM 11:00 a.m. CT
09/07/13 vs. Cincinnati TV MEMORIAL STADIUM 11:00 a.m. CT
09/14/13 vs. Washington (Chicago Homecoming) TV Chicago (Soldier Field) 5:00 p.m. CT
09/28/13 vs. Miami (Ohio) (Dad’s Day) TV MEMORIAL STADIUM TBA
10/05/13 at Nebraska * TV Lincoln, Neb. 11:00 a.m. CT
10/19/13 vs. Wisconsin * TV MEMORIAL STADIUM 7:00 p.m. CT
10/26/13 vs. Michigan State (Homecoming) * TV MEMORIAL STADIUM 2:30 p.m. CT
11/02/13 at Penn State * TV University Park, Pa. TBA
11/09/13 at Indiana * TV Bloomington, Ind. TBA
11/16/13 vs. Ohio State * TV MEMORIAL STADIUM TBA
11/23/13 at Purdue * TV West Lafayette, Ind. TBA
11/30/13 vs. Northwestern * TV MEMORIAL STADIUM TBA

If you listen real closely, you can hear former AD Ron Guenther’s Dr. Evil laugh in the background…

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Randomsville Saturday

We have no theme.  We’re random on a Saturday.  It’s comics, soccer, football.  Let’s start with this:

That ending just makes way more sense…  And. of course, the biggest news out of Comicon in San Diego was the Superman-Batman movie announcement.  Odds that Superhero movies have moved on from the general public wheelhouse by then?  I don’t know…  Maybe they should enlist Jeph Loeb to co-script.

I think I need the ‘Because I’m Batman’ t-shirt.

In other news, we did not get tickets to the USA-Mexico World Cup Qualifier at Columbus Crew Stadium in September.  They had to do a lotto for the chance to buy overpriced tickets, and neither me nor my co-worker friend were selected.  Now U.S. Soccer was very gracious and even offered a merch discount on my next purchase…

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clap-clap, Sport!

Yesterday was a big day for sports in Beemsville.  The two teams we the care the most about, the two teams we follow with rabid devotion, both had vital matches yesterday.  When does that happen?  Both won and both won ugly.  When does that happen?

Illinois basketball, 57-49 over Colorado in the 2nd round of the NCAAs.

USA Soccer, 1-0 over Costa Rica in the final round of World Cup Qualifying.  In a freaking blizzard!

This strange confluence of sporting events is sort of like the visit of a comet or a particularly obscure distant relative.  It can only occur every few years, if the Illini are in the tournament on the same day the USA is trying to make the World Cup… Continue reading

Pentagram: #1 De-Creaned

It’s been a rough 2013 for the Fighting Illini.  The promise of Nov-Dec. wins, surprising confidence and offensive execution, and a new uptempo attitude all slipped away as the Big 10 slugfest continued.  Realistically, the NCAA tournament has slipped off the radar.  Or maybe not…

Griff, the winner

One way to get over the hump is to end your home losing streak with a win over Indiana.  Who happens to be #1 this week…  On a last second shot…  After coming way back from behind in the last five minutes.

It just so happened that the Hoosiers were ranked at the top this week – a happy coincidence of scheduling and other teams losing.  They are not #1 (especially now), and certainly not the best team we’ve seen; that would be Michigan.  But we’ll take it.  If someone gets to knock the smirk of Tom Crean’s face, it might as well be Illinois!

Five points in the upset Pentagram…

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Pentagram: First Groce Loss

hard to stop

hard to stop

It was bound to happen at some point: the first loss of the John Groce era.  81-73 to Missouri at the annual Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis.  Illinois’ couldn’t match Missouri’s frontcourt on the boards, couldn’t stop Phil Pressey off the dribble, and the guards couldn’t make shots.  Taking those factors into account, it’s surprising the Illini actually led in the final 10 minutes and were tied with about 2 minutes to play.

As I told my brother afterwards, I’d gladly trade any of the first 12 wins for a win in St. Louis, but for the fourth straight year, it’s the Tiggers who are bragging.  Mizzou is a probably a legit Top 10 team based on their size and athleticism.  And Pressey is probably the best pure penetrating-point in the college game.  So as all the sports writers have said today – no shame in losing to them.  We disagree.  It’s always bad to lose to Missouri in St. Louis.  This game matters more than most.  But the real shame of it is the lack of execution by the Orange and Blue.  And so our Pentagram analysis will focus on the whys and hows of this.

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Chuck-and-Duck

“Go ahead and chuck it, Brandon…”

The new sheriff in town is John Groce.  The Illini are a surprising 8-0, ranked, and looking a lot better than anyone  had predicted.  It’s a new attitude and a much different system of basketball.  You can call that systems the Chuck-and-Duck.

Illinois fans will remember a similar Chuck-and-Duck system employed by the Mizzou Tigers under the always well-coifed Qunnie Snyder years ago, when Missouri was knee-deep in losing to the Orange and Blue for about 10 straight years.  It was then that longtime Beemsville ally Mike G. coined the term, noting how Mizzou’s basic offense was ‘first guy across half-court goes one-on-one and chucks it.  On defense Quin’s Tiggers seemed to duck out the way as often as not.  Good times.

Even with such a small sample size, we can see the John Groce Chuck-and-Duck is obviously superior.  On offense, yes, the Illini are indeed chucking the first available open shot – hopefully a 3-ball.  No hesitation.  You shoot it, force tempo, get more opportunities to shoot some more.  On defense, rather than ducking out of the way, the guys have employed a more aggressive approach to high screens, doubling and pressuring, allowing a third player to duck into passing lanes for deflections and steals.  This team also may duck into an occasional zone defense to confuse and startle (blasphemy! yells, Bruce Weber from somewhere in Kansas).  Finally, we must admit that this team kind of ducks-and-covers when the ball goes in the post to a decent big man, hoping for the best.  Yes – Chuck-and-Duck. Continue reading