Illinois notes: Bulletin board material, Scheelhaase to start

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Illinois notes: Bulletin board material, Scheelhaase to start

CHAMPAIGN There are 22 Illinois football players who have played their first minutes for the team this year and none of them are named Ryan Nowicki. But the offensive lineman was a hot issue at Mondays press conference, however.

Nowicki's recruitment from Penn State after the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal has hardly registered for Illinois so far this season, but it has clearly riled up the Nittany Lions faithful.

Illinois head coach Tim Beckman was asked multiple times by reporters covering Penn State whether he regretted the recruitment or if he would have done things differently in hindsight. He remained committed to his actions, which were allowed by the NCAA.

We were contacted by a young man prior to anything happening and we pursued him, he said. This game was developed for opportunityI regret that this ended up being this much and is still talked about, but it did give a young man an opportunity to make a decision on what he wanted to do.

Nowickis decision to join the Illini, though, has become a hot-button issue around State College and some reporters indicated it would be a motivating factor for Penn State ahead of their game in Champaign on Saturday. Beckman was not interested in using the issue to fire up his team and dismissed it as a big motivator against the Nittany Lions.

This is our first opportunity to play in the Big 10. Our ultimate goal is play in the Big 10 Championship, he said. Im not big into bulletin board stuff, never have been, its about preparing the players and getting them excited to play.

The players, likewise, downplayed the role of bulletin board material as a motivator for their opponent.

Bulletin board can amp you up during the week, but at the end of the day, its about executing," Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said. "Its about getting on the field and after the first hit, the first series, I doubt theyll be talking crap about what was going on in July. Theyll be concerned about whats going on on the field and so will we."

Other players available to the media said much the same. Illini tight end Jon Davis said he had never heard of Ryan Nowicki before the recruitment and that his transfer to Illinois was a nonfactor.

Wide receiver Ryan Lankford said he keeps all things not related to the game at arms length to keep his mind right for Saturdays.

Im not interested in the politics of the game, its not my thing," Lankford said. "Im not trying to downplay Penn State, but this is just another game."

Scheelhaase will start on Saturday

Nathan Scheelhaase is our starting quarterback, Beckman said on Monday, mixing no words.

After pulling the junior before the end of the first quarter against Louisiana Tech, the quarterback position at Illinois seemed to be up in the air. But Beckman put to rest on Monday the notion that Scheelhaase could have lost his job because of a couple bad plays in his first game back from injury, stating absolutely that the two-time bowl winner would be behind center as long as he remained healthy.

The decision to remove Scheelhaase in the La. Tech game was made by Beckman solely for the safety of his quarterback, he said.

If you watched that game, the first hit Nathan took was a big hit. He got high-lowed from both sides and I was a bit concerned, as a coach and as a guy, I hope, is like a father. I want to make sure everybody is 100 percent, he said. We havent gotten on the field to practice, so I havent seen him yet this week. But since Scheelhaase first got injured there is no question hes improved.

Scheelhaase said that he felt good on Saturday, like he had established a rhythm and was moving well. He also said that he understood the coachs decision, and while it was hard to watch from the sidelines, he was willing to do what he needed to for the team to be its best.

The junior quarterback also said he feels like he is back where he needs to be, in terms of physical fitness and has regained the mobility he might have lacked last week.

Theres been a dramatic difference in my ankles health every weekend, honestly. Yesterday, when we had our lift and run, its felt as good as its felt," said. "I was making all of my times with ease on our run, which was good to see, because I havent really had that burst of speed that early in the week."

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

No matter the metric or the occasion, the only thing definitive about the Bulls over the last two seasons has been their mystifying dominance over the Cleveland Cavaliers in head-to-head matchups.

That, and their fascinating streak of consecutive wins while playing at home on TNT, a streak that could end at 19 games Thursday night when the two teams with varying objectives clash at the United Center.

The Cavaliers are searching to find themselves, along with a light switch that will perhaps alert them to a lost defense over the past several weeks that has been worst in the league since the All-Star break.

The Bulls are searching for consistency, but since it's probably a little too late in the season for that, they'll settle for a playoff spot with eight games left.

They'll take two straight wins for the first time in a month, if they can get it.

They'll extend a goofy streak, if that’s what things will come down to.

"The big thing is obviously you have to execute very well against this Cleveland team," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "You have to go out there with great urgency, great energy. I anticipate them coming in and playing with a ton of energy tomorrow. We're going to have to match that. We're going to have to come out and play physical basketball."

Having a big break between games this late in the season is a rarity, as the Bulls have been off since Sunday evening, but it's just another weird detail in this weird Bulls experience.

An experience that the mild-mannered Hoiberg has to experience from his couch some nights, such as watching the Miami Heat furiously steal a game in Detroit at the buzzer with a Hasaan Whiteside tip-in to extend a lead over his team to a game, followed by another win Wednesday to put more distance between the two teams.

"I did, actually," said Hoiberg with a smirk when asked if he's scoreboard watching and paying attention to the teams ahead of the Bulls in the playoff race.

After being prompted to give his raw emotions when Whiteside's tip-in occurred, he slipped right back to Robo-Hoiberg — although one can imagine how animated he must've been while looking to catch a break from a previous contender for the eighth spot in the Pistons.

"It is what it is," Hoiberg said. "You have to go out and worry about yourselves at this time of year. It was a great finish for Miami, obviously, the way that game ended. But there's nothing you can do about that. You've got to worry about yourselves and hopefully go out and execute."

Going 6-1 against the Cavaliers in his two seasons as Bulls coach is probably the biggest feather in his cap, including three wins in all three meetings this go round.

The rhyme or reason doesn't seem explainable, but Nikola Mirotic seemed to give a few keys to the Bulls' success over LeBron James' Cavaliers: Sharing the ball, controlling the glass and getting back on defense.

"Against big teams, we play much better," Mirotic said. "I don't know why is the reason for that. We need to find a way to play against everybody like that. It's on us. We just have to prove it."

Usually, those tenets seem to work against most teams, not just the supremely talented champions who've just lost a grip on first place in the conference.

But their inconsistencies have left the Bulls here with a handful of games left before the April 12th finale.

A win over Cleveland could mean everything, or nothing at all, or something in between.

"Sure, we understand," Mirotic said. "We've been in a very similar situation last year. We didn’t make the playoffs so this year we want to try to make that push. I think we have a good schedule for the last. Very important game tomorrow, huge one. I think we have played very well against Cleveland until now. We have a chance. We need to get out there and play with energy." 

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