Will Illini go winless in Big Ten? Picture ain't pretty after loss to Indiana

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USA TODAY

Will Illini go winless in Big Ten? Picture ain't pretty after loss to Indiana

Is Illinois going to win a Big Ten game this season?

The best remaining chance to avoid a winless conference slate came and went Saturday, the Fighting Illini losers against the visiting Indiana Hoosiers by a 24-14 score in Champaign.

Lovie Smith won just two league games last season, his first as the Illinois head football coach. And with two ranked teams the only foes left on this year’s schedule, it looks like he’ll be moving backward in Year 2.

The Illini were without the services of young quarterback Cam Thomas on Saturday, meaning Jeff George Jr. was pressed into full-time quarterbacking duties. He threw a pair of late interceptions in addition to two second-half touchdown passes. But Illinois was without a point at halftime, down two touchdowns after punting on all seven of its first-half possessions.

The Illini got within three points early in the fourth quarter, but after Indiana scored a touchdown to go up by 10 with six minutes remaining, Illinois turned the ball over there straight times, George fumbling and then throwing his two picks in a mad dash to make up that late deficit.

Illinois failed to gain 300 yards of offense and had a paltry 33 rushing yards.

And so now Smith’s team faces the very real possibility of an 0-9 conference record with Ohio State and Northwestern all that’s left on the schedule. The Buckeyes were smoked at Iowa last weekend but pulverized Michigan State on Saturday by a 48-3 score, making Urban Meyer’s squad a terrifying matchup once more. Meanwhile, the Wildcats entered the College Football Playoff rankings earlier this week and entered Saturday’s game against Purdue with three straight overtime victories.

Illinois has dropped eight straight games after starting the season with back-to-back non-conference wins over Ball State and Western Kentucky. The Illini head into the final two games of the season with a 2-8 overall record and an 0-7 mark in Big Ten play.

Illini turn it over three times, give up touchdown to offensive lineman in loss to Wisconsin

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USA TODAY

Illini turn it over three times, give up touchdown to offensive lineman in loss to Wisconsin

Wisconsin is one of the best teams in the country. Illinois, to put it mildly, is not.

So Saturday's relatively easy win for the Badgers down in Champaign was not surprising in the least, the Illini doing very little on offense in a 24-10 defeat.

While Wisconsin had little trouble picking up its eighth win in as many games to stay undefeated on the season, it didn't pile up the style points it could've used ahead of next week's first batch of College Football Playoff rankings.

The Badgers did, though, come away with one highlight-reel play, tossing a touchdown pass to offensive lineman Michael Deiter in the game's final minutes.

Illinois, meanwhile, couldn't do much of anything on offense, once more constantly swapping quarterbacks, with Jeff George Jr. and freshman Cam Thomas both seeing plenty of action. Neither had much success, however, and they combined to go 9-for-31 passing the ball with a pair of interceptions.

The Illini did sneak a touchdown in with 49 seconds to play. The outcome was well determined by that point, but Kendrick Foster did get in for a score to make the final tally slightly more respectable. Still, the Illini finished with just 286 yards of total offense.

Illinois' defense was actually pretty good against one of the best teams in the land. Helping was the fact that star running back Jonathan Taylor departed the game with an injury. But the Illini held the Badgers to 303 total yards.

With the loss, the Illini dropped to 2-6 on the season and 0-5 in Big Ten play. They travel to play Purdue next weekend.

How Iowa State landed Simeon's Talen Horton-Tucker to finish a huge Chicagoland recruiting haul

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How Iowa State landed Simeon's Talen Horton-Tucker to finish a huge Chicagoland recruiting haul

Iowa State capped off a tremendous year recruiting the Chicagoland area on Thursday night as Simeon senior wing Talen Horton-Tucker committed to the Cyclones during a press conference in the Simeon auditorium.

The 6-foot-5 Horton-Tucker is the third player from the area to commit to Iowa State in the senior class, joining Corliss big man George Conditt and Hinsdale South wing forward Zion Griffin. Horton-Tucker selected the Cyclones over his other finalists of Illinois and Xavier. The senior took official visits to all three schools during the recruiting process.

The Chicagoland trio is an impressive coup for head coach Steve Prohm on the recruiting trail as Iowa State has recruited the state better than any other program in the country this fall.

Jumping on all three recruits with earlier scholarship offers than most other high-major programs, Prohm and the Iowa State staff deserve a tremendous amount of credit for formulating a plan to recruit three of the state's four best talents and get them to leave the Land of Lincoln. Iowa State assistant coach Daniyal Robinson also deserves credit as the Illinois native has a lot of recruiting ties in the state that also helped form lasting connections.

For a versatile wing like Horton-Tucker, he saw how Prohm and the Cyclones used another versatile wing in Deonte Burton last season as a comparison for how Iowa State might use him over the next few years. Much like Horton-Tucker, the 6-foot-4 Burton was undersized playing as a small-ball four, but he was able to break down opposing defenses by taking bigger players off the dribble and extending the floor with shooting range that he developed over time at Iowa State.

"I feel like they can use me the same way Deonte Burton was used. Actually, I feel like I can do more," Horton-Tucker said. "That's one of the great things that Coach Prohm is good at. I can't wait to see what he'll use me as."

Horton-Tucker also felt comfortable knowing that other Chicago players were coming with him and that Chicago-area players had succeeded playing for Prohm in the past. Taking his official visit to Ames on the same weekend as Conditt and Griffin earlier this fall, the already-committed duo spent the weekend working Horton-Tucker to get him to join them at Iowa State. The trio even decided to partake in a Fab Five-style photo shoot with Prohm during the visit. Horton-Tucker left the Iowa State official visit comfortable knowing that he'd fit in if he decided to go there. 

"I was comfortable with every school on my list," Horton-Tucker said. "I cut it to three for a reason. Those were the schools I felt most comfortable with."

The recent success of former Niles North and Iowa State star Abdel Nader with another clear selling point. Growing up on Chicago's North Side in the Uptown neighborhood, Horton-Tucker has formed a relationship with Nader and spoke to him during the recruiting process. With Nader now on the Boston Celtics after a successful run at Iowa State, Horton-Tucker had an easier time visualizing his own success there.

"I talked to him myself, I'm actually cool with him. Being with him a lot, it was nice. Being around him, learning," Horton-Tucker said of Nader. "He's in the NBA now so it helps me prepare myself to try and reach that goal to get to the NBA."

Iowa State made the major splash by landing Horton-Tucker's verbal commitment on Thursday, but much of the buzz in the auditorium leading up to the announcement centered on the in-state school that missed out.

Illinois made a late push with an official visit from Horton-Tucker last weekend and the Illini were a perceived favorite for his commitment as recently as earlier this week. Things dramatically changed in the final days leading up to Thursday's commitmen as multiple sources confirmed to NBC Sports Chicago that a rift emerged between the camps of Horton-Tucker and Morgan Park senior guard Ayo Dosunmu, who pledged to the Illini last week. 

Much of the rift centers on Dosunmu and Horton-Tucker playing together for the Mac Irvin Fire in the Nike EYBL this spring. After playing together for three sessions and starting with a promising 3-2 record, the Fire lost seven consecutive games and Horton-Tucker left the Fire before the EYBL's final spring session over Memorial Day weekend in Los Angeles. 

Horton-Tucker then spent his July live evaluation period playing with Meanstreets and Team Rose as the move away from the Fire rubbed some the wrong way. Nick Irvin, the head coach of Morgan Park, is apart of the Mac Irvin Fire program that is run by his brother Mike. Once it became apparent that Dosunmu and Horton-Tucker might play together in college at Illinois, the former issues became a talking point that bubbled onto Twitter.

Dosunmu and Horton-Tucker spoke to one another on Wednesday as Horton-Tucker was finalizing his college decision. When asked about an alleged rift with Dosunmu, Horton-Tucker downplayed any kind of perceived beef that lies between the two Public League stars as the drama may be more between the adults involved.

"I’ve played with [Ayo] since I was 13, I didn’t have a problem with it,” Horton-Tucker said when asked about the situation. “We could have done something at Illinois, I just chose a different spot.”

Regardless of what actually happened with Horton-Tucker and Illinois, he plans on signing with Iowa State during the early signing period as the Cyclones should be thrilled to get another versatile piece.

Helping Simeon to a city title and second-place finish in Class 4A last season, Horton-Tucker is one of the area’s most unique players. An impact defender with a long wingspan who can guard multiple positions, Horton-Tucker is also skilled with the ball in his hands. Horton-Tucker spent the summer working to improve his perimeter jumper as he's hoping it will be a more reliable weapon during his senior season.

Getting emotional after making his public decision on Thursday, Horton-Tucker took a moment to bury his head in his hands as he quickly composed himself to finish his special moment. Now that recruiting is out of the way, Horton-Tucker is hoping to end his final season with a state championship.

"I figured like, 'I did it, man.' I kind of feel like I made my family proud. In my family we don't have the basketball pedigree that everybody has; a father that played," Horton-Tucker said. "My father, he passed away. I just feel like I did it for everybody here that didn't make it or whoever was in my life at that point in time."