Miss a Week...
...and you miss a lot. Illinois tries to rebound from an 0-2 weekend with their final home games of the 2012 season.
Illini Week in Review
It's a week that the Illinois soccer team would like to forget. Friday at Minnesota, the Illini never got in sync against a Gopher squad whose record coming into the game (7-6-1, 2-3-1 Big Ten) was very deceiving. Minnesota had played first place Penn State down to the wire, and lost two other Big Ten games by one goal (Michigan, at Ohio State). As has been the case most of the season, Taylor Uhl paced the Minnesota attack, adding two more goals on Friday night. After an Uhl goal in the first half made it 1-0, the Illini had a pair of opportunities to tie the score, but were able to convert neither of them. Vanessa DiBernardo hit the crossbar with a shot in the 30th minute, and the Illini had a few scoring opportunities in the opening minutes of the second half, including three corner kicks. Minnesota would score twice more for a 3-0 final.
The Illini came out much stronger on Sunday against Wisconsin, controlling possession through much of the game. They would get on the board first late in the opening half. DiBernardo took the ball up the left side and crossed it into the box. A Badger defender attempted to head it away, but the ball landed at the feet of senior Marissa Holden, who put it away to notch her second goal of the season. The score would remain 1-0 until late in the second half. In the 81st minute, a pass back from Taylore Peterson to Christina Farrell went under Farrell's foot where Wisconsin's Lindsey Holmes would collect it in the box and score to tie the game 1-1. After a scoreless first overtime period, the Badgers would end it early in the second OT. Their leading scorer, Cara Walls, received a cross, turned and fired the game-winner in the 101st minute.
The two losses leave Illinois very much on the NCAA Tournament bubble with a 7-6-1 overall record and 4-3-1 in the Big Ten. They played the weekend without a pair of starters in freshman Nicole Breece at forward and senior Shayla Mutz on the back line. As a result, the Illini played in a 3-5-2 formation over the weekend. Breece is expected to return tonight against Northwestern, with Mutz a bit more uncertain. Despite playing a double-overtime game on Sunday, only three players came off the bench for Illinois. Only one of them (Holden) played more than 12 minutes.
Big Ten Week in Review
Michigan 2 Michigan State 1 OT
Indiana 3 Purdue 0
Minnesota 3 Illinois 0
Ohio State 4 Iowa 1
Penn State 4 Nebraska 0
Wisconsin 2 Northwestern 1
Indiana 2 Michigan State 1
Michigan 2 Purdue 0
Minnesota 1 Northwestern 0
Ohio State 4 Nebraska 0
Penn State 2 Iowa 1
Wisconsin 2 Illinois 1 OT
Team of the Week: Indiana. It's been a while since the Hoosiers had a week this good. They started with a convincing win against their in-state rival Purdue, and capped it with a road win in East Lansing against a solid Michigan State team. Those two wins get IU back above .500 overall and give them a real shot at qualifying for the Big Ten tournament with their final three regular season games coming at home.
Team of the Weak: Nebraska. A few teams could have occupied this spot (Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State, Purdue), but the Huskers conceded eight goals in two games at home without scoring a single tally themselves. And this came off perhaps their best win of the Big Ten season at Wisconsin the previous week.
Big Ten standings
Penn State 8-0-0 1.000 24 14-2-0 .875
Michigan 7-0-1 .938 22 13-2-1 .844
Ohio State 5-2-1 .688 16 10-4-1 .700
Minnesota 4-3-1 .562 13 9-6-1 .594
Illinois 4-3-1 .562 13 7-6-2 .533
Wisconsin 3-4-1 .438 10 10-5-1 .656
Iowa 2-3-3 .438 9 11-3-3 .735
Indiana 3-5-0 .375 9 8-7-1 .531
Nebraska 3-5-0 .375 9 6-9-1 .406
Michigan State 2-5-1 .312 7 8-6-2 .562
Purdue 2-5-1 .312 7 7-7-2 .500
Northwestern 0-8-0 .000 0 4-10-2 .312
Apologies for the formatting. It's acting up this week.
To the Polls
Offered without comment this week:
What's on Tap
Didn't pick any games last week, but my picks from two weeks ago went 5-1-1 in an abbreviated slate of games. That leaves my season record at 20-4-5. My picks for this weekend's games are in bold.
Northwestern at Illinois. The Illini need a pair of wins at home this weekend to right the ship. Northwestern will give them a battle, as they always do, but the Illini get at least one starter back tonight, maybe two. I'll pick them at home.
Michigan at Ohio State. Could be the best game of the weekend. The Buckeyes found their offense in a big way last weekend, putting up four goals against both Iowa and Nebraska. Michigan is unbeaten in conference play and has only yielded two goals in Big Ten games. The most likely outcome could be a tie, but I never pick those. When in doubt, go with the home team.
Nebraska at Iowa. The Hawkeyes really need a win here after getting swept at home last weekend. They're still on the NCAA tournament bubble with an RPI in the 40's, but they can't afford a loss here.
Minnesota at Indiana. This game got a lot more interesting after Indiana's 2-0 weekend last week. But the Gophers also went 2-0 last week, and I think they're still the better team.
Wisconsin at Purdue. This is a tricky one. Purdue was pretty banged up last week without two of their leading playmakers, Jordan Frick and Hadley Stuart. The Badgers got up off the mat with a pair of home wins. I'm assuming the Boilers get at least one of those two players back for this one, and they're always tough to beat at home.
Michigan State at Penn State. Sparty is struggling, and a trip to State College won't help the cause.
Nebraska at Illinois. Depends on which Nebraska team shows up...the one that beat Wisconsin, or the one that gave up four goals at home to Ohio State. I'm guessing it's closer to the latter.
Wisconsin at Indiana. I think the Hoosiers can get this one at home, as Wisconsin has yet to pick up a Big Ten game away from Madison.
Northwestern at Iowa. The Wildcats aren't getting blown out, but they're struggling to get anything going on offense. I'll go with the Hawkeyes at home.
Michigan State at Ohio State. The toughest road trip in the Big Ten isn't what Michigan State needs to get back on track this weekend.
Michigan at Penn State. No one in the Big Ten has been able to slow down this offense. The Wolverines might have the league's best defense, but I don't think that's enough, especially in State College.
Minnesota at Purdue. The Friday/Sunday weekends are always tough, especially when you're on the road. Minnesota isn't particularly deep, but I think they'll fight through it against a Purdue team that still isn't 100 percent healthy.
On the Air
Our final regular season soccer broadcast is the Illinois-Northwestern game tonight on WDWS-AM in Champaign. Tim Ditman is with me on the broadcast at 7pm on 1400-AM and at wdws.com.
Thanks for reading.