Saturday, January 30, 2010
Take the 1989 season for example. On March 5, 1989, the Illini and Indiana played one of the great games in the history of the rivalry, with Nick Anderson hitting an absurd game-winning thirty-foot shot as time expired. Dick Vitale's head exploded. Even Keith Jackson thought it was "In-cred-i-ble!"
The Illini started this five: Kendall Gill, Stephen Bardo, Nick Anderson, Kenny Battle and Lowell Hamilton. Marcus Liberty was the sixth man.
To face them, Bobby Knight ran out the likes of Jay Edwards, Eric Anderson, Pat Graham, Magnus Pelkowski and Jamal Meeks. That team won the Big Ten title despite being in a league that had two Final Four teams: Illinois and Michigan.
Today we're going to see Hoosiers like Verdell Jones, Christian Wafford, Jeremiah Rivers and Tom Pritchard. The Illini will counter with Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale, Mike Davis and D.J. Richardson. These are all solid players, but it's possible none of them, from either team, will ever play much in the NBA.
Today will be a far cry from March 5, 1989.
Friday, January 29, 2010
The reading of the sponsors is especially choice:
"Today's game is brought to you by ...
"The New Chrysler Corporation ... for 1982 Chrysler has the cars, the quality and the prices America needs ...
"by Schlitz, the master brewer's brew, just one taste and you'll know ... behind every Schlitz is a man who knows his beer ...
"by the U.S. Army ... the Army, a great place to be all you can be ...
"and by Allstate Insurance Company ... you're in good hands with Allstate."
Doubt you'll see Schlitz or Chrysler on a national broadcast these days, but the Army and Allstate are still going strong, and with the same advertising slogans.
War and insurance, getting it dun for decades.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
An NCAA berth, however, is still in doubt.
With ten games remaining, winning 6 or 7 of those games - given the stiff competition the Illini will face - would almost certainly get them in the tourney. Can they do it?
I think they can.
1. Win their next two games against Indiana and at Iowa. Wins against these lowly teams are a must and would put the Illini at 15-8, 7-3 heading into the final brutal stretch of their schedule.
2. Win three of their final four home games. Of the final eight games, the Illini play four at home against Michigan St., Ohio St., Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Illini can lose, at most, one of those games. I, for one, would like that loss to be against someone other than Michigan St. Though the MSU game is not a must win (assuming wins over Indiana and Iowa, that is), a win over the Spartans - who have shown vulnerabilities - would put the Illini back in most experts brackets. The Illini would simply have to hold serve the rest of the season, i.e. win 2 of 3 of their remaining home games, if they can pull the upset of Michigan St. on February 6.
3. Win two of their final four road games. If the Illini do lose on February 6 to the Spartans, besides winning all three of their other home games, they'll also need to win two of their remaining road games, all of which are brutal. At Wisconsin on Feb. 9, at Purdue on Feb. 20, at Michigan on Feb. 23 and at Ohio St. on March 3. That's a lot of ranked teams. Two wins in that stretch - preferably against Purdue and Wisconsin - should set up the Illini with a berth in the tourney, asuming they have taken care of business in Champaign.
Bottom line: the Illini need to win 6 or 7 of their final 10 games to make the tourney.
If their performance last night against Penn St. is any indication, I think they can get it dun.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Laughable if it wasn't so horribly true.
The Illini have dug themselves a major hole now having lost each one of a series of winnable games. Had they not lost to Utah and Bradley, had they not blown a lead to Georgia, had they completed their comeback against Gonzaga, had they held onto second half leads against Northwestern or Purdue, had they managed to win just one or two of those games, the Illini would still be in fair position to make the tourney.
Now it doesn't look so good.
The Illini are going to have some must win games in their future.
That future starts Wednesday at Penn St.
Friday, January 22, 2010
But for some reason when Nate lines up for postseason field goals - especially postseason field goals on his home field at Qualcomm - all that mental toughness turns to squishy mush. Gone is the powerful and accurate right leg that has helped San Diego to so many regular season victories since 2004. In its place is a delicate and erratic pogo stick that pushes kicks left and right or drops them yards short of the goal posts.
It's not pretty.
Here's a rundown of Nate's playoff field goals. Feel free to stop reading here if you can't bear the pain.
January 8, 2005: Jets at Chargers
Nate's rookie year, his first playoff game, his first playoff field goal attempts. In the 4th quarter, Nate nails his first ever field goal attempt to bring the Chargers within a touchdown on their way to a magnificent 10-point comeback. But then, with a chance to win the game in OT, Nate slides a 40-yard field goal attempt wide right. Maybe his most dagger miss because it would have directly led to a playoff victory.
January 14, 2007: Patriots at Chargers
The Chargers most dagger loss in history had to include a Nate miss. The Chargers blew an 8-point 4th quarter lead to the Pats and were down by 3 with a minute to play. Without a timeout (long story) Philip drove the Chargers into position for a Nate 54-yard attempt as the clock wound down. Though on target, Nater's kick fell a few yards short.
January 6, 2008: Titans at Chargers
The Bolts pulled this game out but don't forget that Nate missed a 45-yard attempt in the second quarter. He hit a 20-yarder in the third quarter to break his string of 3 straight playoff misses, but he was at that point 2 for 5 on playoff field goal attempts at the Q.
January 13, 2008: Chargers at Colts
One of the greatest wins in Bolts history. Though Nate hit all his extra point attempts, he also missed his lone field goal attempt: a 48-yarder in the second quarter. Thanks to Philip, Sproles and Billy V, it didn't matter.
January 20, 2008: Chargers at Patriots
The game when you thought Nate's problems might be behind him. The Patriots D kept the Bolts out of the end zone all afternoon, but Nate kept the game close by nailing all 4 of his field goal attempts, from 26, 23, 40 and 24 yards. Yes, most of them were chippys, but a make is a make is a make, as last Sunday's game against the Jets would prove in the absence.
January 3, 2009: Colts at Chargers
Maybe Nate's most clutch kick ever and further evidence (we thought) that his playoff troubles were a thing of the past. Nate banged home a 26-yard field goal to tie the game with :32 seconds on the clock. Minutes later Sprolesy galloped into Chargers lore.
January 11, 2009: Chargers at Steelers
A frustrating loss with a weird third quarter. Nate didn't play a huge role but did knock home his only field goal attempt - a 42-yarder in the second quarter that put the Bolts ahead 10-7. Nate's field goal record away from the Q is a respectable 5 for 6.
January 17, 2010: Jets at Chargers
My first live playoff game will not be a happy memory thanks in part to Nate. His first miss from 37 yards in the first quarter confirmed the uneasy feeling a lot of Chargers fans had all week. His second miss from 57 yards was understandable, though his career long is a 57-yarder and he hit a 53-yarder at the Q just weeks before. His third miss from 40 yards was the final dagger to the gut in a day of gut daggers.
So that is that. The Bolts will likely make the playoffs again next season, in part because Nate will knock home a record high percentage of field goals from September to December.
Here's just hoping January 2011 reverses his trend of dagger Januarys.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Steve Lavin said it best during the game. This was not a "one-hit wonder" performance. Hart was hitting hesitation shots, was creating separation from defenders, was getting to the basket and was dropping long threes. He may not light it up night after night, but in the 18 minutes he played last night he flashed moves that will play even when teams actually have him listed in their scouting reports.
F this guy.
That's all this Purdue team needs. Another good player.
Also, good game by Demetri.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Monday, January 18, 2010
Sunday, January 17, 2010
It happens today at the Q.
Folks, there is no one in the League I'd rather have quarterbacking the Bolts than Philip Rivers.
Let's get it dun, Philip.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Yesterday, Jed Hoyer pulled off his first major deal as the Padres GM, sending Kevin Kouzmanoff and Eric Sogard to the A's for Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham.
I heard the news as I was driving my rented Chevy Impala along N. Harbor Dr. to pick up my wife from the San Diego Airport. In my excitement I nearly drove the car into the harbor.
The dark side of the move is that Kouz is no longer a Padre. Images like the one above won't be happening in any Drinos games next season. Don't feel bad for Kouz though. He gets to stay on the West Coast and play for a team that almost always competes for a division title. No doubt he'll fit in well with the citizens of Oakland. They seem like good people.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Jed Hoyer may still choose to trade Heath - which might make sense if in return he can get a promising young arm - but for now Heath is on board, ready to close out games for the 2010 Drinos.
Having a closer of Heath's skill might not seem necessary to a team that no one expects to compete, but not having Heath makes it even more likely the team will not compete. It's one of those self-fulfilling prophecies the Greek dramatists wrote about so much.
A Heath Bell-Mike Adams-Luke Gregerson-Edward Mujica-Adam Russell-Joe Thatcher-Ryan Webb bullpen could be rather ridiculous. I'm on board.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Repeat. I'm on the ground in San Diego.
Currently at Java Joe's down the street from Petco Park. Things are pretty quiet this Thursday afternoon in the East Village. The weather could not be more perfect.
The calm before the Bolts-Jets storm.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Last night's Illinois - Penn St. game aired at 9 PM EST in New York. I wasn't in the apartment at the time so I set the DVR to record the game. On my cable package, the Big Ten Network is channel 472. That channel airs the games and other BTN programming. Problem is, channels 473-476 are other Big Ten Networks - BTN2 through BTN 5 - that aren't included in my cable package, but are listed in the Guide function. They just show the Time Warner logo and zero programming.
You know where this is going.
I accidentally set the DVR to tape channel 473 last night and recorded 2 hours of the Time Warner logo and none of the Illini game.
So I didn't see McCamey's go-ahead three with just over a minute to play. I didn't see Tisdale's monster block on Talor Battle's running layup in the closing seconds, and I definitely didn't see McCamey's lock down D that forced Battle to take a last gasp fadeaway three at the buzzer.
I didn't see any of that goodness.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
It is Talor Battle. Penn St. junior guard. He even has a blog named after him.
It is perhaps a sad comment on the state of Illini basketball that its most fearsome nemesis right now is a guard from Penn St. It is certainly a sad comment on the state of Illini basketball that they have lost to Penn St. four times in two years. I'd rather lose to an Indiana team with Eric Gordon, or a Kansas team with Sherron Collins, or a Villanova team with Scottie Reynolds, or a Purdue team with E'twaun Moore, or even a Duke team with Jon Scheyer.
But not a Penn St. team with Talor Battle.
Not any Penn St. team for that matter.
An Illini win tonight puts them at 4-0 in the Big Ten. Let's pad that cushion.
Monday, January 11, 2010
That particular game didn't end too well for the Bolts, but the sad outcome was not the fault of one Antonio Gates. He hauled in the tying TD pass from Drew Brees with 16 seconds left in regulation, making the leaping grab you see above. Antonio finished the game with 6 catches for 89 yards, not an epic performance but a solid performance nonetheless.
My guess is Antonio at least equals that performance this Sunday.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Friday, January 8, 2010
In these moments, I wonder to myself how good Jamar could have been had he played his career out with the Illini, and, much much more important to me, I wonder how good the Illinois team could have been had Jamar played each of his four seasons with Weber and the boys. He'd be a senior now, raining threes like it's his job, mentoring Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson, taking some of the pressure off those two freshmen, perhaps even teaching Demetri McCamey how to play 40 minutes in full gear. He'd be beastly.
But more than this season, I think of the difference Jamar could have made during the horrendous '07-'08 season and the aborted '08-'09 season when Chester Frazier went down with a season-ending injury on the even of the tournament, leaving a very solid Illinois team to play without its senior leader. In '07-'08, Jamar would have provided the outside offense and ability to hit free throws that Shaun Pruitt-led team needed most. And last year, had Jamar played, Weber could have used Trent Meacham as a super-sub 6th man, and let Jamar and Chester start at the guard spots along with McCamey. That would have been a dominant group throughout the season, and would have lessened the blow of Chester's injury come tournament time.
All this is brought home now because Jamar was named the Division II national player of the month for December. Over the course of the season, Jamar, playing for the Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles, is averaging 23.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4 assists per game. He's also shooting 50% on threes and 84% from the line. His recognition for December did not even include a 40-point outburst he had last Saturday. In a word, he has been dominant.
Jamar will always be one of my favorites because he is a lights-out three-point shooter who happened to attend my same high school - Richwoods in Peoria, IL. It's sad he couldn't stay at Illinois, but I'm glad to see he is doing well with the vaunted Screaming Eagles of South Indy.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Final score: Gonzaga 85, Illini 83.
I still don't regret going to the game. My Chicago-based advisors picked up some choice tickets in the 200 section at the United Center, seats that afforded us excellent views of the on-court action, as well as easy access to $6 dollar Bud Light drafts. Former Illini great Lucas Johnson sat a few rows ahead of us with a gorgeous blonde, proving once again that if you like gorgeous blondes, you should attend the University of Illinois.