Posts Tagged ‘Illinois’

Is it too early for NCAA Bracket Busters? Oakland University says no. In fact, the Golden Grizzlies are already begging to be advanced on your tournament bracket.

No need to check your calendar, it’s only December. But the Golden Grizzlies are already making a case for their third invitation to the national tournament, and second as many years.

Last year, Oakland made a quick exit dropping a first-round decision (89-66) to Pittsburgh, but early indications point toward a possible Cinderella story this season.

So far in the 2010-2011 campaign, the Golden Grizzlies have played against four top 25 teams and have had legitimate shots to win three. Tuesday was the fourth in Knoxville taking on the seventh-ranked Tennessee Volunteers.

Walking into an arena with so much history and tradition could have been overwhelming for the Summit League leaders, but they proved the previous three upset attempts weren’t flukes when the Golden Grizzlies defeated the Volunteers 89-82.
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Chester FrazierPORTLAND, Ore. – Perhaps Seth Davis finally got it right. As hard as it might be to admit, he knew what he was talking about when picking Western Kentucky to upset the Fighting Illini in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Maybe Davis saw what so many other people had overlooked the entire season. The absence of senior guard Chester Frazier proved more costly than any three-pointer the Hilltoppers jacked up or any of the long rebounds they secured.

Frazier didn’t exactly put up alarming numbers in his final season with Illinois, but what he did throughout the course of the year was pad his resume for an upcoming coaching gig. He knows he’s not going to play at the professional level, and even if given the opportunity he has so far shrugged off any suggestion he will continue playing.

One of the reasons Frazier cut his infamous locks was to present a more professional image. He didn’t like the negative stereotype that might have followed him otherwise. And with plans to become a coach following graduation, he thought he’d get a jump start on the interview process.

What he might not realize is that he has been interviewing for a coaching job for the four years he has worn orange and blue. His oncourt hustle, charismatic attitude and win at all costs mentality are a perfect fit for a sideline gig. He prides himself on being an extension of coach Bruce Weber, and the Illini frankly aren’t the same without him. Frazier sitting out of Thursday’s game was likely the biggest difference behind an Illinois win and a premature return to Champaign. No one on the current roster could have pestered opposing guards as much on the defensive end of the court and few have shown the aggressive effort he put forth every time he pulled the Illinois jersey over his head.

The Illini proved many of its harshest critics wrong by finishing in second place in the Big Ten and even making the NCAA tournament after a poor and frankly disappointing 2007-2008 season. Illinois might not have fulfilled all of its wishes this year, but it did surprise everyone that said a turnaround wasn’t possible. More importantly, what the trio of seniors (Frazier, Trent Meacham, Calvin Brock) did was put the Illini back on the map and set the stage for the next two seasons. It’s been no secret all year that some of the best players on the squad still have two years of eligibility remaining. And with a Top 10 recruiting class set to hit campus this fall, who knows where they might end up.

One of the biggest criticisms of Weber when he took the job at UI was that he couldn’t recruit. He has since debunked any suggestion that he is not able to get quality players to sign on for a few years. What he has also done is prove he can revive a program after spending a year in the basement of one of the most criticized conferences in the nation.

Weber, Frazier and the Illini have laid the ground work for up and coming classes. Now it is the job of the returning players to learn from the last two seasons and continue bringing success to Illini Nation. It is the least of things they could do for their predecessors.

Kevin CobleEAST LANSING, Mich. – Everyone knew that Bill Carmody’s Northwestern Wildcats were going to be a bit better this season than they have in recent years. But did anyone honestly expect them to beat seventh-ranked Michigan State?

Surprise! It happened.

The 70-63 loss was the first suffered by the Spartans since being thumped for 32 points by North Carolina on December 3, and the first time losing at the Breslin Center in 28 games. The Wildcats haven’t won at Michigan State in 25 years.

Northwestern built and maintained its lead behind steady shooting from the outside late in the game and an impressive game-high 31 points from Kevin Coble. Coble seemed virtually unstoppable at times, sinking nearly everything he put up. The 6-foot-8 forward made 10 of his 16 shot attempts and was a perfect 7-for-7 from the free-throw line until watching one rattle off the rim in the closing seconds of the game.

It was only the second Big Ten Conference win for the much improved Wildcats who became the new best friends of their conference foes to the south.

No. 24 Illinois had just dropped a game to the Spartans on Saturday, a game well within reach for the Illini, for the team’s second conference loss of the season. With Michigan State losing its first, the Illini sit only one game behind the Spartans and are one of four Big Ten teams with only two conference losses (pending the outcome of Wisconsin’s visit Wednesday night at Iowa).

The Big Ten has already turned heads. Annually dubbed by the experts as one of the worst Division I-A conferences in the nation, this year’s top four Big Ten teams (Michigan State, Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue) have a collective record of 61-12 with seven of the losses coming within the conference, and are all ranked in the top 25. The Big Ten is suddenly looking forward to being represented well in March.