The major news in respects to the Fighting Illini is probably the Men's Tennis team looking to defend its outdoor National Championship, becoming back to back champions. The Illini already completed the feat of winning back to back Indoor National Championships, so if they win the Outdoor National Championship, that would be four straight tennis National Championships for Craig Tiley and his team, an amazing feat for any school, but when you add to it that Illinois is a cold weather school, it makes it that much more impressive.
Around college basketball the big news, depending on who you are talking to is either (1) players skipping college or leaving early to enter the NBA Draft or (2) the NCAA's announcement of their allegations of rules violations against the University of Missouri basketball team.
THE NBA DRAFT
Despite the checking of their draft status by Dee Brown, Deron Williams, and an unknown third player (most likely Roger Powell), Illinois Head Coach Bruce Weber was never truly worried about any player leaving for the NBA this year. In fact, none of the players that submitted paperwork inquiring to NBA scouts about where they would sit in the draft even considered leaving early. Illinois returns every on the court contributor from last year's team, and will be looked at as the favorite in the Big Ten and should be looked at as a Top Five team in the nation heading into next season.
The early entrance to the NBA Draft that will have the most effect on the Fighting Illini is the decision by Wisconsin's Devin Harris to test the draft waters. According to Chad Ford of ESPN.com, Harris is a lock to be a lottery pick, and no early entrant to the draft has ever pulled their name out of the draft were they projected to be a lottery pick. That information is going to be bad news for Bo Ryan and the Wisconsin Badgers, who were expected to compete nationally with Harris on the roster. Now, the pressure will be on Ryan and the Badgers just like it was on Tom Crean and Marquette this season as they tried to with stand the departure of Dwayne Wade. In Ryan's favor, Wisconsin will be adding red shirt freshman and McDonald All American Brian Butch and Penn State transfer Brandon Watkins to the Badger roster for next season in addition to having Alando Tucker returning from an injury that kept him sidelined for most of last season.
One other team that was hit hard by players entering the draft was Duke. The tears you see streaming down the cheeks of Dick Vitale are real, but the tears of the rest of the nation are of the crocodile variety. Freshman Luol Deng and recruit Shaun Livingston declared for the draft, leaving Duke with a point guard position manned exclusively by Sean Dockery. When it comes to the NBA Draft, Deng is not expected to fall past the third spot in the draft, with Livingston not expected to fall past the fourth spot of the Charlotte Bobcats, who have reportedly fallen in love with the high school sensation from Peoria. With these two departures, Duke went from probably being the consensus Number One team in the nation heading into next season to a top fifteen to twenty team. The rest of the ACC, especially Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and Wake Forest, will be looking to next year as their opportunity to get some shots in at the Blue Devils.
If you can find me one person that is shocked about what rules the NCAA accused Missouri of breaking, I would be flabbergasted. Through their investigation into the University of Missouri Basketball program the NCAA found that "the University of Missouri basketball program committed multiple rules violations." The NCAA has specifically accused Missouri of violating the following rules between 1999 and 2003: "an assertion that an assistant coach [Tony Harvey] gave an athlete $250, a breach of ethical conduct by a member of the athletic department staff in trying to conceal rule-breaking; providing meals and transportation for current athletes and recruits; out-of-season league play by team members; impermissible contacts with recruits; and impermissible meals for Amateur Athletic Union coaches" according to an AP article printed on ESPN.com Tuesday morning.
The NCAA did not find enough evidence in the most serious allegation that had been levied in various rumor circles and message boards, that Ricky Clemons received improper academic help to get into Missouri. This charge "could not be substantiated," but I wonder if anyone in the NCAA had listened to any interview Ricky has given. Ricky completed what I believe was 20 credit hours during the summer between his sophomore year at the junior college and his junior year at Missouri. I am sure there was no funny business going on there, but the APB out for Jan Gangelhoff is still on the police wires.
Before the NCAA announces the punishment that will be levied on Missouri, Mizzou has a chance to challenge the allegations. Missouri is sure to challenge the allegations, but they have already fired the first shot in lessening their punishment: Lane Odom has resigned from the staff and will be the first person fall on a grenade for Quin Snyder. The next coach to go will be Tony Harvey, who is alleged to have given Clemons $250, but Harvey is sticking by his story that he did not give Clemons the $250. I have no doubts Harvey did not give Ricky $250, I am sure he gave him much more.
Expect the NCAA to do what the NCAA has done to pretty much every program in the last ten years when rules violations of this magnitude occur: slap them on the wrist. I have come to expect no different from the NCAA, so the only thing that will shock me is if Missouri truly gets hit hard with any sort of sanctions.
- The Western Conference Playoff games start too late. The best games in the playoffs have been in the Western Conference, because the best teams are out west. Any four of the teams left in the West are better than whoever will be the Eastern Conference's representative. The series between Minnesota and Sacramento has been a great series to watch, it is just too bad I fell asleep before the over time on Monday night because I missed a great ending to a basketball game. I just wonder how many fans in Minneapolis were able to stay awake for a game that ended well after midnight in the central time zone.
I know the reason is to get both games complete television coverage, but these playoffs games are ending after Monday Night Football traditionally ends, and they are the games the NBA needs to showcase to bring fans back to the league.
- When will a new assistant coach be hired? I know this hire is extremely important to Bruce Weber and Illinois, but the impatient side to me can't help but wonder when the hire will be made. I have read newspaper articles stating Tony Wysinger has interviewed with Weber for the job, but he is the only name left that fans even know. The one solace I can take from this is that I don't know who assistant coaches are until they are hired by Illinois or unless they are former players sitting on an opposing bench (see: Martin, Cuonzo and Manning, Danny). I had never heard of Tim Jankovich, Jay Price, Billy Gillispie, Norm Roberts, Robert McCollum, Derek Thomas, and Chris Lowery before they were hired at Illinois, and they were and are great coaches.
I know I am just going to sit back and patiently wait for the announcement of the new coach. Bruce Weber is working under a timeframe that is acceptable to him, but my only request is that the new assistant is hired and is ready to go by the time the summer recruiting period begins.
- TheInsiders.com's Chris Pool has been posting on the Football Board that Illinois has not extended, or plans to not extend offers to a few top prospects in the State of Illinois. Now, I am not sure whether or not this worries me. For one, I could not tell the difference between two football prospects if they were standing right in front of me, but I can tell the difference in football players once they are on the field. The major weakness of the Fighting Illini teams under Ron Turner has been speed and strength. The Illini have pretty much since Ron Turner took over been slower and weaker than their opposition.
I seem to remember the early part of the Ron Turner era as a time in which he looked to lock down the top prospects in the state of Illinois and the surrounding areas like St. Louis before spreading his wings to find other prospects. The problem with that methodology to me is that it seems like the speed players come from the south in SEC territory. If this move by Turner means he is making a significant decision to recruit talent that is both stronger and faster than we have in the past even if it means leaving the "home base" of Illinois, I am for it.
Heck, right now we do not even know if Ron Turner will be the head coach at Illinois after next season, so this whole argument may be a moot point.
- Syracuse is no longer known as the Orangemen and Orange women, they are now just the Orange. Surprisingly, this decision occurred before Nancy Cantor officially became their chancellor, and they now join Stanford as the only two teams in college to be just known as a color.
Syracuse's press release made mention to them now being the only school in college athletics to be solely orange, thus increasing their brand equity. There were a few funny things about this including them not recognizing the orange of Texas (burnt), Tennessee, Clemson, and even Illinois. The other interesting thing was their mention of their other school color, dark navy blue. So not only are they not the only school with the brand of orange, orange is not their only color. I am sure scholars of their caliber will love working with the wonderful Nancy Cantor in the future.