Which Road for Illinois Soccer?
Will the Illini finish ala 2008 or 2009?
Illini Week in Review
Thursday's game against Northwestern was the low point of the 2012 season. The Illini were coming off an 0-2 weekend on the road, and returned home to face a Wildcat squad that was winless in the conference. Illinois got a first half PK from Vanessa DiBernardo to take a 1-0 lead into halftime. But the Illini could never get the second goal that likely would have salted the game away. Northwestern kept fighting on a cold, rainy night and finally got the equalizer with less than ten minutes to go in regulation. The game appeared headed for extra time until the Illini were called for a handball inside the 18-yard box with just four seconds left. Kate Allen put home the penalty kick to give Northwestern a 2-1 win for their first Big Ten victory.
You wondered how the Illini would respond after that tough blow for their senior day game against a struggling Nebraska squad. Senior Shayla Mutz returned to action after missing some time with injury, and celebrated senior day with a pair of first-half goals. After taking a 2-1 lead into the locker room, Illinois took advantage of Nebraska's, um, interesting, deployment of their keeper way off her line. Both senior Niki Read and junior Vanessa DiBernardo scored from long range around keeper Emma Stevens in the second half, as the Illini posted a season high in goals in their 4-1 victory.
With the 1-1 weekend, the Illini's NCAA Tournament hopes are very much up-in-the-air, as they are 8-7-2 overall and 5-4-1 in the Big Ten. Sunday's win did clinch a spot for Illinois in next week's Big Ten tournament. They'll need at least one more win to even be eligible for the NCAA Tournament with an overall record of .500 or better, and realistically, they probably need two more wins to feel confident in earning a bid. Unofficially, the Illini's RPI is at 56 as of this morning, according to nc-soccer.com. That's likely on the wrong side of the bubble.
As for the title of this week's blog...in 2008, the Illini finished poorly in the regular season and dropped the opening game of the Big Ten tourney to Michigan State on penalty kicks, yet managed to get an at-large NCAA tournament bid because of a strong RPI and advance to the Sweet 16. In 2009, a home loss to a then-struggling Michigan team followed by a loss at Northwestern to close out the regular season left Ilinois with a losing record and left them at home watching the NCAA's. There was no Big Ten tournament that season.
Big Ten Week in Review
Nebraska 2 Iowa 1
Northwestern 2 Illinois 1
Ohio State 3 Michigan 1
Indiana 2 Minnesota 0
Penn State 5 Michigan State 1
Wisconsin 4 Purdue 2
Illinois 4 Nebraska 1
Michigan 1 Penn State 1
Minnesota 5 Purdue 1
Northwestern 1 Iowa 0
Ohio State 3 Michigan State 1
Wisconsin 2 Indiana 1
Team of the Week: Northwestern. Ohio State also deserved consideration for an impressive pair of wins, as did Penn State for wrapping up a 15th consecutive league title, but I'm going with the Wildcats. A team that started play last week 0-8 in the conference could have folded up their tent for the season, but the Wildcats scrapped their way to a pair of wins over teams that had plenty to play for themselves. Well done.
Team of the Weak: Iowa. The Hawkeyes entered last week with a good chance to clinch a Big Ten Tournament bid, but after going 0-2 against Nebraska and Northwestern, have put themselves in a must-win situation this weekend against Wisconsin. As for an NCAA bid, that's likely gone unless they somehow win the Big Ten tournament, a tall task for a squad that is 0-4-3 since a win over Purdue way back on 9/23.
Big Ten Standings:
1. Penn State 9-0-1 28pts
2. Michigan 7-1-2 23pts
3. Ohio State 7-2-1 22pts
4. Illinois 5-4-1 16pts
4. Minnesota 5-4-1 16pts
4. Wisconsin 5-4-1 16pts
7. Indiana 4-6-0 12pts
7. Nebraska 4-6-0 12pts
9. Iowa 2-5-3 9pts
10. Michigan State 2-7-1 7pts
10. Purdue 2-7-1 7pts
12. Northwestern 2-8-0 6pts
To the Polls:
Our Game Magazine Top 25 - Not updated
What's on Tap:
Not a good week of picks last week, as I barely cracked the .500 mark at 6-5-1. That leaves my season total at 26-9-6. A smaller slate of games again this week to wrap up the regular season. Here we go:
Ohio State at Indiana. The Hoosiers are playing much better in the second half of the season, and need this win to qualify for the Big Ten tournament. But, Ohio State is currently playing the best soccer in the league this side of Penn State, so I'll go with the Buckeyes.
Minnesota at Nebraska. Minnesota found their offense in a big way at Purdue on Sunday. The Huskers have been generous in allowing goals as well.
Illinois at Michigan. Was the four-goal performance against Nebraska a breakout or a blip for the Illini? We'll see, but the Wolverines won't be playing their keeper 30 yards off her line.
Northwestern at Michigan State. Two teams going in opposite directions. The 'Cats went 2-0 last weekend, while Sparty has lost five straight.
Penn State at Purdue. The Nittany Lions feel like they should have won that game on Sunday against Michigan. Purdue is banged up and allowing too many goals right now.
Wisconsin at Iowa. After a 1-4-1 Big Ten start, the Badgers have reeled off four straight wins to earn a spot in the Big Ten tourney. A win at Iowa puts them in great shape for an NCAA at-large bid.
On the Air
If the Illini would reach the Big Ten Tournament championship game, we would carry that game on WDWS. Otherwise, our broadcasts are done for 2012. Hope you enjoyed them.
Thanks for reading.