Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Sports NewsCalendar | G.T.'s 'Ten for Tuesday' | Mayfield's Mutterings -- Current: It's Time for Illinois Basketball

G.T.'s 'Ten for Tuesday'

By Greg Taylor

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[December 04, 2007]  What a week of sports for fans in central Illinois! Even though the temptation is going the wrong direction, central Illinois has the smell of Roses. From junior high sports all the way to the professional level, several teams or individuals caught our eye this week. So here you go -- the Dec. 4 edition of "Ten for Tuesday":

1. Illinois completed their run for the Roses -- For the first time in 24 years, Illinois is heading to the Rose Bowl. One of 10 teams allowed to participate in a prestigious BCS game, Illinois will face possibly the hottest team in the country -- USC -- on Jan. 1 at 3:30 p.m. The game, of course, is played in beautiful Pasadena, Calif., and marks one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of college football. Illinois won just eight games combined the past four seasons, but in 2007 went 9-3 and now gets to play in what many like to call "the granddaddy of them all" -- the Rose Bowl.

2. Illinois basketball looked really bad and really good last week -- Facing a very beatable Maryland team on the road Wednesday as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Illinois played their worst game of the year by far and lost by eight. Seniors Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle didn't show up, and junior Chet Frazier -- playing near his hometown of Baltimore -- struggled all night long. Then, on Saturday against a decent Weber State team, Illinois rolled out to a 38-point lead midway through the second half. Champaign native Trent Meacham was on fire, scoring a career-high 26 points, including 20 before the break. If Illinois can bring the Saturday effort and leave the Wednesday version on the sidelines, they have a chance to be pretty good in 2007-08.

3. Lincoln High School basketball got back on the winning track -- The Railers started the season with a 1-4 mark in their annual Thanksgiving tournament but bounced back on the road Friday night at Taylorville. Lincoln received a strong effort from several players and won their first conference game of the year. Don't forget, the Railers have dominated the Central State Eight the past decade, and reports of their demise could easily have been exaggerated. Look for Lincoln to make a run at yet another conference title as Neil Alexander continues to seal his legacy as one of the great coaches in the history of Illinois high school hoops.

4. Mount Pulaski hosted the seventh-grade Class 2A girls basketball state tournament -- Major props and kudos to coach Jamie Anderson, Principal Gene Newton and the entire bevy of volunteers who helped MP host the state tourney. Even with Mother Nature wreaking havoc, the staff at Mount Pulaski was up to the challenge, and I was blessed to see some of the best junior high girls hoops up close and in person. The third-place game will be at 6 p.m. on Thursday, followed by the state championship game at 7:30. And good luck to Clinton Junior High, who will host the eighth-grade Class 4A tourney this Saturday.

5. The Chicago Bears snatched defeat from the jaws of victory -- For much of Sunday's game against the New York Giants, it looked as if the Bears might win for the second straight week and get back to .500 for the first time since Week 2. With 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the Bears led 16-7 and seemed to be in control. But the Giants got busy when it mattered most, and the Bears lost a heartbreaker 21-16. The Bears are now 5-7 on the year and look to be spending January on the golf course or on the beach instead of in the playoffs. That is a pretty tough pill to swallow for a team that thought they were the class of the NFC and had a great chance to return to the Super Bowl.

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6. Ron Zook has to be the National Coach of the Year -- I know, I know, many will scream for Mark Mangino, the coach of Kansas, who did a great job. Others will say what about a guy like Bill Lynch, who took over Indiana during the toughest of times and led the Hoosiers to a bowl game for the first time since 1993. But come on -- how can you not vote for the Zookster? A seven-win improvement over 2006 doesn't happen in major college football. Beating Penn State and Wisconsin in successive weeks typically doesn't happen. Winning a game at Ohio State while they are ranked No. 1 in the nation doesn't happen. And the best part of all? Many, if not most, of the impact players on this team are underclassmen, and Illinois could actually be better next year. Give Zook the award, OK?

7. Missouri's fall from No. 1 in the land to the Cotton Bowl doesn't seem right -- How can a team go from the best in all of the land, and just 24 hours later, after a loss, they can't even secure one of 10 BCS slots? How can a Kansas team that played no one this year and lost to Missouri just one week ago get a BCS slot, and Missouri is told sorry -- you don't get a bid? I must confess, if you would have told me three weeks ago that Illinois was BCS-bound, but Missouri was not, I would have thought you were crazy. I can't believe I'm actually typing this phrase, but I actually feel sorry for the Tiggers (I know -- they are really the Tigers).

8. Cubs lose Matsui to Houston -- The Cubs made a strong play for second baseman Kaz Matsui of the Colorado Rockies and thought they were in good shape. The speedster from Japan told them no thanks, however, and signed with rival Houston instead. The move would have allowed the Cubs to improve their speed at the top of the order, and this forces G.M. Jim Hendry to head back to the drawing board. In other Cub news, it appears Kerry Wood will become the team's closer, while Ryan Dempster seems destined for a spot in the starting rotation.

9. The Cardinals sign Caesar Izturis -- The former Dodger and Cub agreed to terms with St. Louis in a move that might signal the end of David Eckstein's reign at shortstop in the city by the Mississippi. Izturis is as good as it gets with the glove but doesn't bring the offense or the leadership that Eckstein contributed game in and game out. Who knows, maybe Eckstein makes his way to Wrigley Field to play for the Cubs now that the Matsui chase has ended with his signing?

10. Finally, we end this week with the tragic story of Washington safety Sean Taylor, who was shot and killed by four individuals attempting to burglarize his Miami-area home. Taylor was a superstar in college and known as one of the hardest hitters in the NFL but seemed to constantly find trouble both on and off the field. I'm almost apologetic to admit it, but when I heard the lead-in of "an NFL player is shot in his home," Taylor is one of three players who came to mind. And while this incident is considered to be a random act of violence, it makes me wonder if life decisions finally caught up with Taylor. This should be a strong reminder to all athletes of all ages to not just be strong athletically on the court or field, but to also be a good citizen away from the athletic arena as well. Behavior matters -- whoever you are and whatever sport you play -- and that's a message we can't hear enough in today's age of individualism. And if I sound like I'm preaching, that's probably because I am. But don't worry -- we're not taking up an offering (unless you want to contribute to my Rose Bowl fund J).

Have a great week, everyone!



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