Illini Week in Review
The Illini knew that if they won at Minnesota last Thursday, that they would be assured of a spot in this week's Big Ten Tournament. It's never an easy task to win in Minneapolis, and the Illini found themselves playing from behind, as well. The first half was scoreless, but the Gophers struck first in the 54th minute on an unassisted goal by Haley Helverson. That would be the only shot attempted by the Gophers in the second half. Illinois got the equalizer from the Big Ten Forward of the Year (more on that below) Jannelle Flaws about 15 minutes later. Flaws got the ball at the top of the box, took a long touch to create some space, and blasted an amazing strike across her body to beat Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year Tarah Hobbs far post. The Illini would then grab the lead in the 76th minute off a beautiful cross from sophomore Taylore Peterson. She found an unmarked Casey Conine far post, and Conine finished for a 2-1 lead. Things then went from bad to worse for Minnesota off a cross from senior Kassidy Brown. Brown's cross bounced off of two Gophers in the box and went past Hobbs for an own goal. That accounted for the last scoring in a 3-1 Illinois win.
With the win, the Illini moved all the way up to the #5 seed in this week's Big Ten Tournament. Minnesota made it in as the #8 seed, winning a tiebreaker with Ohio State. The Buckeyes entered last week's action ties for 5th in the conference, but a loss to Michigan on Saturday put them on the outside looking in.
Big Ten Week in Review
Illinois 3 Minnesota 1
Team of the Week: Nebraska. The Huskers finished off what has been a storybook conference season by dispatching Indiana on Senior Day. They won the regular season conference championship and claimed the top seed in this week's Big Ten Tournament. Well done!
Team of the Weak: Northwestern. After a strong finish last season, I really expected the Wildcats to take another step forward this season. Instead, they retreated to the bottom of the league standings, going out with a whimper at Wisconsin on Saturday.
Final Big Ten Standings
Big Ten Postseason Honors
The Big Ten released its postseason award winners for the 2013 season yesterday. Here are the big winners:
Coach of the Year: John Walker - Nebraska. Easily the most deserving choice, taking a team picked for the bottom half of the league to its first Big Ten championship.
Forward of the Year: Jannelle Flaws - Illinois. I don't think anyone would have argued with Maya Hayes from Penn State, but Flaws led the conference in goals and points in league games. Flaws' story is remarkable, as well. After missing two of her previous three seasons with knee injuries, she is among the NCAA leaders in goals scored.
Midfielder of the Year: Jordan Jackson - Nebraska. Jackson tallied six goals and five assists in Big Ten games, teaming with Mayme Conroy and Jaycie Jackson up top to make for a dangerous attack in Lincoln.
Defender of the Year: Ari Romero - Nebraska. I would have been inclined to pick a defender from Michigan, which held its conference opponents to just five goals in eleven games, but the Huskers were second in Big ten goals allowed, with ten. Nebraska's defensive unit was certainly the most improved in the Big Ten this season.
Goalkeeper of the Year: Tarah Hobbs - Minnesota. Really tight race here between Hobbs and Michigan's Taylor Bucklin. Both are just freshmen, so Big Ten attackers will have to deal with them for years to come.
Freshman of the Year: Rose Lavelle - Wisconsin. This one surprised me just a bit, not that Lavelle doesn't have great ability. It's just that her production, at least in conference games, wasn't all that noteworthy. She didn't finish in the top ten in goals, assists or points. I thought this award would go to one of the freshman keepers, Hobbs or Bucklin.
You can click the link here to see the complete list of first and second team All-Big Ten honorees, plus the all-Freshman team and sportsmanship award honorees.
To the Polls
Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State once again are the Big Ten teams represented.
NSCAA Great Lakes Region I know the bottom half of these rankings is pretty hard to sort, but Illinois is nowhere to be seen here. All they did was beat Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois State and Minnesota, and they tied Ohio State in Columbus. You'd think they'd be somewhere in the 6-10 range here.
What's on Tap
The postseason is upon us, with the Big Ten Tournament this week in Champaign. In case you didn't already hear, today's quarterfinal games have been moved from the grass field at Illinois Soccer Stadium, to the turf fields at the corner of 1st and Stadium in Champaign. The grass field probably would have been okay for one, or even two, games today in the rain. But with four games on the schedule, it was probably the right decision to use artificial turf today.
Well, it wasn't a banner season for picks, but I finished the regular season strong, going a perfect 6-0 in last week's games. That puts the prediction record at 38-19-3 to close the regular season. We'll see if I can keep that momentum this week. Here we go, with my picks in bold.
#3 Penn State vs #6 Wisconsin. Today's quarterfinals are all very interesting for one big reason. The lower seeded teams all could use another win to feel better about their NCAA Tournament situation (with the possible exception of Minnesota), while the top four seeds should all feel pretty comfortable about being in the field. How much will that impact today's matchups? It's a difficult question to answer. With all that said, I think Penn State can take advantage of what's been a pretty leaky Wisconsin defense at times during the season.
#2 Michigan vs #7 Iowa. After the Wolverines narrowly missed out on the regular season Big Ten title, I don't expect motivation to be a problem for them. I'll take the Wolverines.
#1 Nebraska vs #8 Minnesota. The Huskers took this matchup in the regular season at Minnesota, so I expect them to do the same on a neutral site today.
#4 Indiana vs #5 Illinois. The Illini appear to have ironed out most of their defensive issues over the past two weeks, allowing Michigan State and Minnesota just five shots each. Coupled with their offensive firepower, and playing at home, I like their draw here.
#2 Michigan vs. #3 Penn State. A couple of years ago, it appeared that Wisconsin had the Nittany Lions' number. Now it's Michigan that seems to have figured out how to beat Penn State.
#1 Nebraska vs #5 Illinois. I was looking back at the boxscore from when the Illini played Nebraska in the regular season. This was the Illini's first game without Vanessa DiBernardo, so their roles were still in flux. Illinois outshot the Huskers 19-17 in that game, and earned all seven corner kicks in the match. With DiBernardo back for at least some minutes off the bench, I'll pick the home side to pull the upset.
#2 Michigan vs. #5 Illinois. Last season, the Illini made a run to the conference title game at the #5 seed before they were tripped up by Ohio State. I have their run ending in the same way this season, with Michigan claiming the tournament title.
On the Air
If the Illini advance to Sunday's championship match, we'll carry it at 1pm central time on WDWS. In the meantime, enjoy interviews with Janet Rayfield and Vanessa DiBernardo as you get set for this week's Big Ten Tournement.
Thanks for reading, and listening.