Illini Week in Review
Illinois split at home last week, falling to Michigan and beating Michigan State by identical 2-0 scores. Friday's loss to Michigan was disappointing, to be sure, but encouraging in some ways. The Illini did a nice job of possessing the ball for long stretches in the game, narrowly outshot the Wolverines (17-16), and created some dangerous chances. Ultimately though, Michigan's two first-half goals would be more than enough.
The first came after Illini defender Aliina Weykamp slipped and fell while trying to mark Michigan freshman Madisson Lewis. That gave Lewis a one-one opportunity against keeper Claire Wheatley, and Lewis finished to give Michigan a 1-0 lead. About ten minutes later, senior Holly Hein doubled the Michigan advantage with a beautiful header into the upper 90 off a free kick from Shelina Zadorsky. Neither side was able to dent the net in the second half, as the final remained 2-0 Wolverines.
Sunday was senior day for the Illini, and they played one of their best all-around games of the season against Michigan State. Outshooting the Spartans 17-5 for the game, and 10-1 in the second half, the Illini created chances throughout the game. But, it took until the 80th minute for one of those chances to be converted. Off a flip throw-in from senior Megan Pawloski, fellow senior Allie Osoba won the ball in the box and fired a shot low right side to dent the scoreboard. Then, less than four minutes later, redshirt junior Janelle Flaws claimed the Illinois single season record for goals when she blasted a free kick from 20 yards into the upper 90 right to seal the 2-0 victory for Illinois.
The weekend split combined with other Big Ten results leaves the Illini with a very simple, but not easy, scenario for this week. If the Illini win at Minnesota tomorrow afternoon, they're in the Big Ten tournament no matter what else happens. Illinois is currently in a three-way tie for seventh place with Iowa and Wisconsin, but holds the tiebreaker over those two teams by virtue of head-to-head wins over both. If the Illini lose, they'll need some help from either Purdue or Northwestern, as the Hawkeyes host the Boilermakers and the Badgers entertain the Wildcats. With a win, the Illini would clinch no worse than the #6 seed, leapfrogging the Gophers in the standings, and could finish as high as #5 if Ohio State falls to Michigan.
Big Ten Week in Review
Michigan 2 Illinois 0
Illinois 2 Michigan State 0
Team of the Week: Nebraska. Call them the cardiac kids of 2013. Two more one-goal victories last week for the Huskers means that eight of their nine conference wins have come by a single goal, two of them in double-overtime, including a thrilling 3-2 win over Penn State on Sunday that ended the Nittany Lions' reign atop the Big Ten. Nebraska can clinch the Big Ten regular season title with a win at home vs. Indiana this Friday.
Team of the Weak: Penn State. It wasn't shocking to see Penn State fall against a Nebraska team that had been playing well all season, but the loss to Iowa on Friday night definitely qualifies as a shocker. Certainly, the postseason still looms as a chance for Penn State to get back on track, but this regular season has to be a disappointment for a program accustomed to conference championships and 20-win seasons.
Big Ten Standings
That gives you a pretty good visual of this week's scenarios. Five teams are fighting for four spots in next week's Big Ten Tournament.
To the Polls
Nebraska is on the rise, while Penn State takes a hit.
Soccer America Top 25 Soccer America the only poll to drop Penn State all the way out of its rankings.
Soccer Times Top 25 Almost inexplicably, this poll still has Penn State ahead of Nebraska. Do these coaches actually look at results?
What's on Tap
This Big Ten season has been called "unpredictable," and certainly my predictions continue to be pedestrian at best. My picks went just 7-5 last week, leaving my season record at 32-19-3. One more week to go, with each team just playing one game. Let's finish strong. My picks are in bold.
Illinois at Minnesota. I don't know. I really don't know about this game. Why am I going with Illinois? Well, for the first time since her injury, Vanessa DiBernardo has been actually practicing. If she's in the lineup, or even available off the bench, that could be enough to tip a very even matchup.
Penn State at Michigan State. How do the Nittany Lions respond to being eliminated from the conference title race? Expect the Spartans to play with emotion on Senior Day, but unless Penn State is sleepwalking, they should win.
Indiana at Nebraska. A matchup of the two frontrunners for Big Ten Coach of the Year in this one. No matter what happens in this game, John Walker of Nebraska is my choice with a slight edge over Indiana's Amy Berbary. With a Big Ten title on the line, will the Huskers tighten up? I don't think so.
Purdue at Iowa. Iowa needs a win to stay alive for the Big Ten tournament, plus it's senior day in Iowa City.
Northwestern at Wisconsin. See above, just change the location to Madison.
Ohio State at Michigan. With the Huskers playing the previous day, Michigan will know before kickoff whether they still have a shot at a conference title. Regardless, it's still Ohio State and senior day. The Wolverines are my pick.
On the Air
With the regular season wrapping up this week, our game broadcasts on WDWS are finished, unless the Illini should make the Big Ten Tournament and advance all the way to the finals. Not a likely scenario, but the tournament is in Champaign, so who knows? Anyway, it's been another interesting season covering the Illini and the Big Ten, and I hope you've enjoyed reading as much as I've enjoyed writing. Here are a few more player interviews from this week for your listening pleasure: