This will be a two-part SOC. Some thoughts on the basketball game tonight, and then a lot of words on how I’m scared to death of the Purdue game tomorrow.
First, basketball. This was definitely Ekey Week. 19 points against Bradley on Sunday, with five threes and a put-back dunk, and then 19 points tonight with five threes and a put-back dunk. Without Ekey on Sunday, we still beat Bradley easily. Without Ekey tonight… this game would have been interesting.
It’s an interesting thing, this whole “transfer in for one season” thing. Sam Maniscalco two years ago. Sam McLaurin last year. Jon Ekey this year. Ahmad Starks next year. Add in Rayvonte Rice this season and Aaron Cosby + Darius Paul next season, and after years and years of having zero transfers, now they’re all immediate impact players.
Not that I’m complaining. With only Joseph Bertrand, Nnanna Egwu, and Tracy Abrams returning from last season, this year was going to be a really, really young team. Plugging in Ekey and Rice most likely averted disaster. Seriously, if you think of the top-3 storylines for the first five games, I’d go with the following:
1) Rayvonte Rice is probably this team’s go-to player.
2) Jon Ekey is the perfect stretch four for this offense.
3) Jaylon Tate is easily the best of the freshmen.
Please notice I didn’t mention Egwu, Abrams, or Bertrand. And that’s probably not a good thing. If this team is going to go anywhere, those three guys are going to have to make big jumps forward. Kind of like Ekey and Rice have done.
One more basketball thing before football: I was pleasantly surprised by Austin Colbert tonight. He only had two points and three rebounds, but he continues to look a little further along than I thought he would. Seems to understand defensive positioning and high screens. And he had the second-most minutes off the bench behind Tate. I really didn’t expect Austin Colbert to have more minutes than Malcolm Hill in any game this year. Yes, once Big Ten season arrives, he’s probably going to struggle to keep up with the Mitch McGary’s of the world, but I wanted to note that I moved Colbert into the “pleasant surprise” category this evening.
OK, on to football.
Here’s where I’m at: kind of sick to my stomach. I feel like so much spins on tomorrow. I want to go back and quote something I wrote after the Miami, Ohio game (my “Can We Find Three Wins” post where I evaluated our chances of getting to 6-6). It will help explain why I’m so sick to my stomach.
Here I was looking for Big Ten wins the day before the Nebraska game:
Indiana and Purdue are the most obvious, but I’m pretty sure Indiana beats Penn State tomorrow, so maybe I should be looking at Purdue and Penn State. But again, every game I’m looking at is a road game, and Illinois last played well on the road in the Big Ten in 1951.
Man what I wouldn’t give to have next year’s schedule this year. Home games with Purdue, Minnesota, Iowa, and Penn State. Even with this young team, I’d mark down three wins and go looking for a fourth on the road. But with this schedule, everything is backwards. Easier games are on the road, where we probably won’t play well, and hard games are at home, where we might put up a fight but won’t be able to overcome.
OK, back to the list. I’m no oddsmaker, but here’s a guess on those lines:
at Nebraska – Nebraska -10
Wisconsin – Wisconsin -9
Michigan State – MSU -5
at Penn State – Penn State -6
at Indiana – Indiana -4
Ohio State – Ohio State -16
at Purdue – Purdue +3
Northwestern – NUrds -7
No, I can’t find three wins. I really really really want to find three wins. But I just don’t see them. I want to look at yesterday’s NERDstats and think “yes, our efficiency numbers are off the charts – we’re for real”, but when I apply all of the information – things I saw in the spring, things I saw in Rantoul, what we’ve seen so far on the field, what this team might do when the pressure of that Big Ten losing streak hits – I just can’t find three Big Ten wins. 2-6 with one upset (home against Northwestern? at Penn State?) is the best I can do.
Given that starting point, I think this best explains why I’m not as FIREBECKMAN-y as some of you. Before the Big Ten season, while we were 3-1 with a win over Cincy (who is 8-2 now, by the way), I took an honest look at this schedule and said “2-6 with one upset (home against Northwestern? at Penn State?) is the best I can do.” We lost that Penn State game in overtime, so now we’d have to win that Northwestern game to get there, assuming we can beat Purdue.
Assuming we can beat Purdue. So much spins on tomorrow. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about all day: Win tomorrow, and we might win 7 of our next 10. Tomorrow could be the turning point. Here’s the next 10 games.
at Purdue (0-6 in B1G)
Northwestern (0-6 in B1G)
Win tomorrow, and I see no reason we can’t win the next six home games. We bring back more lettermen next year than any year of the last 10, and we add Wes Lunt, and we face that schedule. At the very least, we should be 6-4 in these 10 games. Everything should start to turn tomorrow.
Which is why I feel like we’ll lose. In re-reading that post before the Big Ten season, I saw my thoughts about this Purdue game in early October:
I don’t see a single certain victory on the schedule. Purdue would be, but it’s at Purdue. And late in the season. They’ll likely go 0-8 in the conference, and their only chance to go 1-7 is to beat us at home on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. They’ll be up for that game, their true freshman QB will have multiple starts under his belt, so I can easily see something like last year. Purdue was our one shot to go 1-7… and we lost 20-17. I just have a feeling that game will be close.
Yep, that hasn’t changed. They’re still hurtling towards 0-8, and it’s Senior Day for them, and they’ve kind of rolled over since their Michigan State game, but this is their one chance to play like they played against Notre Dame (yes, this Purdue team nearly beat Notre Dame the night we played Washington).
So I can’t shake this feeling that we’ll lose. Looking at the forecast (below freezing and 20-30 mph winds) reinforces that. If we can’t throw, we can’t do much on offense. And I’m not sure we can throw tomorrow.
I might as well get it over with. This is our chance to start the turn. To flip this rebuild into progress mode. To start to look at maybe a six game home winning streak with weak opponents (finally) coming to Champaign. But I just can’t shake the feeling that we won’t get there. And this is an SOC post, so I go with my gut.
Purdue 21, Illinois 17