The Fighting Illini will try to extend their three-game winning streak.
Illini Week in Review
Last week was a one-match weekend for Illinois, as they traveled to East Lansing to square off against All-American Laura Heyboer and the Michigan State Spartans. Despite controlling the run of play through most of the match, and outshooting MSU 21-7 in regulation, the Illini weren't able to find the back of the net, in part because of the outstanding play of Jill Flietstra in goal for the Spartans. Flietstra made ten saves in goal, including a couple of diving stops. Finally, early in the second overtime, the Illini were able to get the golden goal. Sophomore midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo timed a long pass perfectly to the speedy Marissa Mykines, who was able to get behind the MSU back line. The senior controlled the pass inside the box, then fired a laser shot to the left side of the net past a diving Flietstra for the game-winner. You can watch the game-winner here, along with some other highlights. Just ignore some of the mistakes on names...
The defense was also a big factor in the 1-0 victory over Michigan State. Goalkeeper Steph Panozzo made three saves, including a beautiful foot save to stop an attempt from Olivia Stander. Senior center back Jenna Carosio was rewarded for her defensive efforts by being named Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Week.
With the Illini victory and some losses by teams ahead of them in the conference standings, Illinois moves all the way up into a tie for third in the Big Ten. They'll have a chance to move up even farther this weekend, as second place Wisconsin comes to town on Sunday, after a game against Minnesota on Friday night.
Big Ten Week in Review
Illinois 1 Michigan State 0 2OT
Team of the Week: Northwestern. Give the Wildcats credit for continuing to fight through what has been a miserable season for them so far. They kept a clean sheet on the road, and took advantage of a Michigan mistake for the lone goal of the match.
Team of the Weak: Michigan. On the flip side, if you're Michigan, you can't lose this game at home. The Wolverines' NCAA Tournament resume was already looking a bit flimsy. Now they've got a lot of work to do the rest of the way.
Updated Big Ten Standings
Big Ten Power Rankings
1. Penn State (1). I'll be surprised if the Nittany Lions fall off of this perch for the rest of the season. In fact, I'll be surprised if they lose another game during the regular season. They appear to be firing on all cylinders right now, and no other Big Ten team is as good when they're doing that.
2. Wisconsin (4). At this stage of the season, the power rankings will start to closer reflect the league standings. The Badgers rebounded nicely from their disappointing home weekend to win at Nebraska. Sunday's game in Champaign should be a good one.
3. Illinois (7). Other than Wisconsin, every other Big Ten team in front of the Illini lost last weekend. And none of them was a particularly good loss. Meanwhile, the Illini were once again holding Michigan State scoreless, as they've done in every game against Sparty since 2002.
4. Ohio State (2). I figured Purdue would jump up and get someone in West Lafayette this season. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, they were the victims. OSU is still struggling at times on offense, and their usually stout defense faltered against the Boilermakers.
5. Minnesota (8). With wins over Michigan and Iowa, plus a tie at Wisconsin, the Gophers appear to be putting things together in league play. They used a pair of second half goals to pick up a big win in Iowa City. If they can finish above .500 overall (they're 5-7-2 now), their schedule could be tough enough to get them an at-large NCAA bid.
6. Michigan (3). I probably got a bit too excited about the Wolverines last week, moving them all the way up to #3 in the rankings. They take a drop this week after a home loss to Northwestern. Should they be ahead of Michigan State? We'll find out today.
7. Michigan State (6). For a team that has talented forwards in Laura Heyboer and Olivia Stander, it seems that MSU can be stopped. Both Iowa and Illinois shut them out, and Nebraska (a team that struggles to defend), held them to a single goal.
8. Iowa (5). A home loss to Minnesota hurts the Hawkeyes' chances at an at-large NCAA bid. Their non-conference schedule won't help, so the Hawkeyes need to start getting some wins. It will be tough this weekend with the daunting Ohio State/Penn State road trip.
9. Purdue (11). A home win against Ohio State will bump them past Indiana and Nebraska for now, but I see these three teams as fairly interchangeable.
10. Indiana (10). They would have liked a better result at home against Penn State, but the Nittany Lions are awfully tough right now. Bumping them ahead of the Huskers this week based on head-to-head results, as most other things look fairly equal.
11. Nebraska (9). Another week, another home loss for Nebraska. This time the opposition was a bit tougher in Wisconsin, but you can kiss an NCAA bid goodbye unless they can squeak into the Big Ten tournament field and make a run.
12. Northwestern (12). A great win for the Wildcats at Michigan, but I have to keep them here for the time being. Another win could lift them out of the basement, as Minnesota and Wisconsin visit this weekend.
To the Polls
The Top Drawer Soccer Tournament 64 Rankings still have seven Big Ten teams listed. From looking at the latest RPI rankings (which I'll post below), there's no way the Big Ten would get seven teams if the season ended today. More likely, it would get four. Anyway, Top Drawer has the same seven teams listed as last week, with Penn State leading the way at #15, while Iowa and Michigan State are among the last at-large teams listed at #46 and #48 respectively.
This week's NSCAA Top 25 also has Penn State as the #15 team in the country. The Nittany Lions are the only Big Ten team in this week's poll, with Illinois and Wisconsin receiving votes.
Meanwhile, the NSCAA Great Lakes regional rankings still have the Panthers of Milwaukee in the top spot. They're followed by Big Ten teams Penn State (#2), Illinois(#3), Iowa (#5), Wisconsin (#6), Ohio State (#7), Michigan State(#8) and Michigan (#10).
Soccer America's Top 25 this week also features Penn State as the only Big Ten representative, as the Nittany Lions move up one spot to #17 this week.
Finally, the Soccer Times Top 25 Coaches Poll has Penn State ranked #19 this week, up one spot from a week ago. Wisconsin is the only other Big Ten team receiving votes.
As mentioned above, the Big Ten isn't faring all that well in the RPI numbers so far. It is one of the main components in the NCAA Tournament Selection process, and you usually need to be in the top 50 to have a realistic chance at an at-large bid. Here are the Big Ten teams' rankings as of today:
16. Penn State, 32. Wisconsin, 37. Illinois, 38. Ohio State, 57. Michigan State, 61. Iowa, 62. Minnesota, 81. Michigan, 93. Nebraska, 132. Indiana, 143. Purdue, 190. Northwestern.
You can find updated RPI rankings at this outstanding website: http://www.nc-soccer.com/wsoccer/2011/index_arpi
Just click on the columns at the top to sort the data. As you can see, the top four teams are in pretty good shape right now in terms of RPI, but everyone else has a lot of work to do.
What's on Tap
Sub par. Mediocre. Disappointing. Three words that describe last week's predictions. I went just 3-3 last week, to put my season totals at 72-27-7. This week gives me more games to predict, for better or worse, so let's get right to it. My picks are in bold.
Michigan at Michigan State. The last two games in this series have ended in scoreless ties. I wouldn't be shocked at a third, but something tells me Laura Heyboer will find a way to score in this one.
Indiana at Purdue. You never know in a rivalry game like this, but I'll give Purdue the edge at home.
Iowa at Ohio State. Both teams are coming off of losses over the weekend. I don't think the Buckeyes will give up two goals, like they did on Sunday at Purdue.
Minnesota at Illinois. I expect goals to be hard to come by in this one as well. The Gophers always play hard, but I give the Illini a slight edge at home.
Wisconsin at Northwestern. Can the Wildcats put together their first winning streak of the season. Against Wisconsin, my sources say no.
Nebraska at Penn State. It wouldn't shock me if Morgan Marlborough found the back of the net at some point, but I don't think she can score enough to keep up with a potent PSU attack.
Wisconsin at Illinois. Last year, these teams played to a 0-0 tie in Madison. I wouldn't be shocked at the same result this season. I actually think the Illini defense is key here. They have to keep the Badgers off the scoreboard on set pieces.
Minnesota at Northwestern. The Gophers will stay at .500 in the conference with a win in Evanston.
Iowa at Penn State. I don't see anyone in the Big Ten winning in State College this season. No offense to the Hawkeyes.
Nebraska at Ohio State. If the OSU offense can't get anything going, this could be a dangerous game with Morgan Marlborough on the other side. But at home, I'll go with the Buckeyes.
Michigan State at Indiana. IU has a couple of dangerous players in Velazquez and Nouanesengsy, but Heyboer and Stander are more dangerous. I'll give the edge to MSU.
Michigan at Purdue. This one could go either way, but I think Purdue will struggle to keep Ezurike off the scoreboard. Advantage Wolverines.
On the Air
We'll have both Illinois games this weekend live on WDWS-AM in Champaign. Friday's game against Minnesota starts at 7pm, and Bryce Jakobs will join me on the broadcast. Then on Sunday, we'll have a later-than-usual 3pm start against Wisconsin, as Tim Ditman will be my broadcast partner.
Thanks for reading.