USC vexes the Illini again, but Illinois salvages a split for the weekend.
Illini Week in Review
To quote that great philosopher Yogi Berra, it was "deja vu all over again" for the Illinois soccer team on Friday night. They faced the USC Trojan squad that knocked them out of the NCAA Tournament by a 3-1 score, and fell by that same count in 2011. Once again, USC's frantic pace and relentless pressure took its toll, as the Illini controlled possession in long stretches, but failed to connect on that final pass in the box on several occasions. For the game, Illinois outshot USC 24-13, but put only seven of those shots on goal. They also had difficulties gaining the endline and had only two corner kick opportunities.
Illinois came into Sunday's game against new Pac 12 member Colorado trying to bounce back from a loss for the first time in 2011, and early on it appeared that the Illini might be in trouble. The Buffaloes got an impressive goal from Kate Russell on a free kick from 20 yards out and led 1-0 at the half. After senior Marissa Mykines evened the score at 1-1 early in the second half, Colorado went back on top 2-1 after the Illini were called for a hand ball in the box, and Amy Barczuk put away the penalty kick. Then, Vanessa DiBernardo took over the game. First she converted on a pass in the box from junior Niki Read to tie the score at 2-2. Less than three minutes later, she recovered a loose ball in the box and put away for the game-winning goal. DiBernardo is second in the Big Ten with her eight goals so far this year.
Illinois is now 5-1 this season, and will face a pair of west coast opponents this weekend...in Louisiana. More details on those matchups below in the "What's on Tap" section.
Big Ten Week in Review
USC 3 Illinois 1
Illinois 3 Colorado 2
Team of the Week: Wisconsin. The Badgers had a nice weekend in the state of Ohio, defeating perennially solid Dayton on Friday, before coming from behind in a 2-1 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday. After what should be a cakewalk against Northern Illinois, Wisconsin will face two of the better mid major programs in the country in Milwaukee and Central Michigan. UW knows there's nothing mid major about Milwaukee's All-American Sarah Hagen.
Team of the Weak: Northwestern. The Wildcats desperately needed a win on Thursday at an okay, but not great, St. Mary's team and didn't get it. Few doubted the outcome on Sunday's game at Stanford, but I didn't expect NU's solid defense to give up a half dozen goals. The 0-5 Wildcats have in-state games at Illinois State and at home against Loyola before starting Big Ten play.
Big Ten Power Rankings (last week's rank in parenthesis)
1. Penn State (2). The Nittany Lions are doing their best to prove that their season-opening 4-0 loss at Stanford was nothing more than one bad day. Since then they've gone 5-0 and outscored their opponents 18-1.
2. Wisconsin (3). Wisconsin has also gone undefeated since a season opening loss to a national powerhouse (defending champ Notre Dame), and the Badgers are now 4-1 this season. Friday's 3-1 win at Dayton was a good one.
3. Illinois (1). The Illini still have some issues to sort out on defense, as they gave up five goals in two matches over the weekend. But sophomore Vanessa DiBernardo is making a strong case for All-American honors with eight goals in just six games this season.
4. Ohio State (4). The win at West Virginia is a good one, but it's unclear exactly how good, as the Mountaineers are now 3-3 and lack a quality win on their own resume. The loss at home to North Carolina was not a surprise, but the Buckeyes hoped to keep it closer than 3-0.
5. Michigan State (6). Two more wins for MSU last weekend, but they still lack a quality win. Take away the game against Milwaukee (a 3-2 loss), and MSU's other four opponents are just 3-16 on the season. Sparty is hoping its Big Ten schedule is enough to earn some RPI points, because the non-conference schedule lacks bite.
6. Michigan (7). The Wolverines aren't moving up because they had an especially good week. They did go 1-1 on a west coast swing, but weren't all that impressive in a 1-0 win over UC Riverside. Then they suffered a 3-0 loss at Pepperdine, which does appear to be a greatly improved side from last year.
7. Minnesota (5). Minnesota is likely better than its 2-4 record indicates. All four losses are to quality opponents. But, at some point you've got to start winning close games against quality foes. The good news is that they finish their non-conference slate with two games they should win, and their strength of schedule should help during NCAA selection time.
8. Purdue (8). The Boilermakers were inches away from a 2-0 weekend, as Hadley Stuart hit the post twice in the second half before USC won in overtime. Cal Sate Northridge and either Dayton or Kansas await Rob Klatte's squad this weekend in West Lafayette.
9. Nebraska (9). We know the Cornhuskers can score goals, especially against lesser opposition. That was proven once again in a 6-0 win over Arkansas and an 8-1 thumping of winless Northern Arizona.
10. Iowa (11). Two more patsies, and two more wins for the Hawkeyes. It sounds harsh, but this is exactly what has happened the last two seasons: win non-conference games against lesser opponents, then struggle in Big Ten play.
11. Indiana (12). A nice win over Western Michigan, followed by an expected loss at Notre Dame. IU does have some nice offensive weapons that can hurt you.
12. Northwestern (11). Games against Illinois State and Loyola are their last chance for wins before the start of Big Ten play.
To the Polls
Just links this week...as time is short:
What's on Tap
Illinois heads down to LSU to face their final two non-conference opponents of the season, and no, LSU is not one of them. They'll take on Pepperdine on Friday, before facing Oregon on Sunday. The Waves come into Friday's contest with a 4-0-1 record, and they're not playing the weak sisters of the poor either. They've already defeated two NCAA Tournament teams from a season ago (California, Michigan) and tied a third (UCLA). Meanwhile, Oregon appears to be trying to rack up as many non-conference wins as possible before entering play in the always brutal Pac 12. They did tie a solid Santa Clara team 0-0 in their most recent game, but all four of their wins are against teams without winning records.
As for the picks last week, they went pretty well. I went 20-2 in predicting games involving Big Ten teams, which puts my record for the season at 38-5 so far in 2011. I'll try to continue the positive trend this weekend. My winners are in bold.
Wisconsin at Northern Illinois. Should be no problem for Alev Kelter and company.
Illinois vs. Pepperdine. I'm reversing my beginning-of-season prediction here, and it's not because of anything Illinois has done wrong. The Waves have shown they're for real, and they play a similar style of physical and direct soccer that USC used to give the Illini problems.
Xavier at Indiana. The Hoosiers need to be careful here. Xavier held Ohio State to one goal, and could steal one if IU isn't on their game.
Iowa State at Iowa. I think the Cyclones may be the better team this season, but Ron Rainey has never lost to ISU.
Western Michigan at Michigan. Look for the Wolverines to bounce back here against WMU.
Bowling Green at Michigan State. It must be MAC week in the state of Michigan. There are some solid teams in the MAC, but BGSU isn't one of them.
Minnesota at Illinois State. After a very tough start to their non-conference schedule, the Gophers need a win here.
Nebraska at Virginia Tech. The Hokies are a big step up from the competition that the Huskers saw last weekend in Lincoln.
Penn State vs. Central Florida. A tossup game. I'll go with the Nittany Lions, who are playing very well at the moment.
Cal State Northridge at Purdue. The Boilermakers played much better last weekend at home. Their homestand continues this week, and they should be able to handle Northridge.
Illinois vs. Oregon. Janet Rayfield's squad will get the split in bayou country. The Ducks don't have the weapons to match the Illini right now.
Marquette at Indiana. The Golden Eagles will be too much for IU, even in Bloomington.
South Dakota at Iowa. The Hawkeyes may end the non-conference season undefeated if they get past Iowa State.
Central Michigan at Michigan. CMU has made back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, knocking Purdue out of the tourney two years ago. They won't be intimidated.
UC Santa Barbara at Michigan State. This will be MSU's best non-conference win, if they can put away the Gauchos.
Minnesota at DePaul. The Blue Demons are 0-3 against Big Ten opposition so far. Make it 0-4.
Nebraska vs. Wake Forest (at Blacksburg, VA). Maybe the Huskers will surprise me, but I don't think their offense will have the same firepower in ACC country.
Northwestern at Illinois State. I think the Wildcats break their winless drought in Normal.
Ohio at Ohio State. As long as the Buckeyes don't have a big letdown after their game against #1 North Carolina, they should be fine.
Penn State at Virginia. The Cavaliers haven't played the strongest non-conference schedule so far. If this game were Friday, I might go with PSU. But UVA will have a game against a solid Washington State side to help prepare.
Kansas/Dayton at Purdue. Either of these teams will make for a good matchup with Purdue on Sunday. After their performance last weekend, I'm leaning toward Purdue here.
Wisconsin at Milwaukee. Struggled with this one. The Badgers have held the Panthers and Sarah Hagen without a goal each of the last two years (1-0-1). Their defense will make life difficult for Sarah Hagen. Will they be able to score themselves?
There they are. Some tough ones to pick this week. Where did I mess up? Comment here or e-mail me at the address below. Thanks for reading.