Illini Soccer - Crunch Time
Illini Week in Review
First, the good. Redshirt junior Janelle Flaws put on a finishing clinic Thursday night at Northwestern. She scored three goals on six shots, and Illinois came away with a 3-1 win in Evanston, a place that has given them trouble over the years. That was Flaws' second hat trick of the season and gave her 18 goals on the season, a total that ties the Illinois single-season record set by Emily Brown in 1999, and is tied for the top spot in NCAA Division I this season.
Now, the bad. Illinois is still yet to win a game in University Park, PA. The Nittany Lions struck early and often in a 5-0 whitewashing of the Illini on Senior Day. Flaws also left the game early with an injury, after she knocked heads with a Penn State player on a 50/50 ball and suffered a cut above her eye early in the first half. She got stitches and returned to the game briefly in the second half, and coach Janet Rayfield said that Flaws exhibited no concussion symptoms. Vanessa DiBernardo missed her sixth straight game with a sprained knee, and the Nittany Lions took advantage of her absence by controlling possession through most of the game.
The split leaves the Illini with an 8-6-2 overall record, and a 3-4-1 mark in the Big Ten, which is good for a seventh place tie with Iowa. The top eight teams in the league qualify for the Big Ten Tournament, which will be at Illinois from November 6-10.
Big Ten Week in Review
Illinois 3 Northwestern 1
Team of the Week: Nebraska. Pretty simple, really. If you win matches at Wisconsin and Minnesota to stay in first place, you'll get this designation. The Huskers aren't blowing many teams out, as only one of their Big Ten wins is by more than one goal, but they keep on winning. Nebraska finishes with home games against Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa.
Team of the Weak: Purdue. The Boilermakers were above .500 in the conference a couple of weeks ago after three consecutive 1-0 wins. Since then, Purdue has been outscored 11-1 in losses to Nebraska, Michigan State and Michigan.
Big Ten Standings
To the Polls
Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska have separated themselves from the pack in the conference, and are the teams getting love in the national polls:
NSCAA Great Lakes: Almost impossible to separate the teams past Nebraska.
What's on Tap
I finally had a good week of picks last week, as my selections went 9-2-1. That bumps up the overall prediction record to 25-14-3. That's only a 63% success rate, so I could use another good week right here. My picks to win are in bold.
Indiana at Purdue. The Boilermakers are really struggling, while Indiana has been plugging along in the middle of the conference. With a rivalry game like this one, I wouldn't be shocked to see Purdue pull out a result, but have to go with the team that's playing better right now.
Minnesota at Wisconsin. See above. Here's another big rivalry game, but in this case the team that's playing better overall is at home. The Gophers' MO in big wins this season has been to get an early goal and hold on. I'm not sure they can pull that off in Mad-town.
Michigan at Illinois. The Wolverines have yet to allow more than one goal in any Big Ten game, and have pitched three shutouts. With an Illini defense that has yet to shut anyone out in conference play, and with Vanessa DiBernardo doubtful, I have to go with Michigan.
Michigan State at Northwestern. The Spartans have struggled to score on the road, while Northwestern has fought the good fight at home. I suspect the Wildcats will pull this one out in the battle for 11th place.
Ohio State at Nebraska. As you might expect with a young team, Ohio State has struggled away from home this season, going 0-2-1 in conference road games so far. The Huskers are brimming with confidence right now, so they're the pick.
Penn State at Iowa. The Nittany Lions offense appears to have solved any issues it was having in back-to-back shutout losses, putting up nine goals in a pair of wins last week. The Hawkeyes really could use a marquee win to boost their NCAA prospects, but hard to see them getting it here.
Michigan State at Illinois. A must-win for the Illini to reach the Big Ten Tournament that they're hosting in two weeks. It's also senior day, so expect emotions to run high.
Michigan at Northwestern. The Michigan defense should be able to lock down the Wildcats in this one. I think they'll find a goal somewhere, whether from Ezurike or another source.
Ohio State at Iowa. I think you'll be hard pressed to find a more even Big Ten matchup this season. Iowa's Big Ten wins: Michigan State, Northwestern and Indiana. OSU's Big Ten wins: Michigan State, Northwestern and Indiana. I'll give the edge to the Hawkeyes on their senior day.
Penn State at Nebraska. Fill in the blank. This is the biggest women's soccer game in Lincoln since ___________. It's by far the biggest game for the Huskers since they joined the Big Ten, and it's probably their biggest game in a decade. The Nittany Lions are used to these high stakes matchups, and they have to have it to stay in the Big Ten title race, so they're my pick.
Wisconsin at Indiana. The Hoosiers have come a long way this season under first-year coach Amy Berbary. A win here would go a long way toward helping the Hoosiers' NCAA tournament case. It's senior day in Bloomington, as well.
Minnesota at Purdue. Minnesota has scored one goal in a conference road game so far this season. Lucky for them, Purdue has been very generous in that department lately.
On the Air
I had a chance to talk with both Vanessa DiBernardo and Janet Rayfield this week. Vanessa opened up a bit about the frustration of being on the sidelines for the past month, and Janet discussed a wide range of topics from last weekend's games to Vanessa and Janelle Flaws' health, to the Illini's postseason prospects.
Tim Ditman and I will call tomorrow night's game vs. Michigan. A win would give the Illini's RPI a much-needed boost, but with the Wolverines playing perhaps the best soccer in the conference right now, it may be a tall order. Our coverage will start at 6:50pm tomorrow night on WDWS-AM.
Thanks for reading.