Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Illini hold on against MSU, 57-50 Win

We held on for the win, defending the home court again. Box Score Tonight's game against Michigan State almost showed the Illini give up a late lead due to a horrible night shooting free throws (16 of 31) and another relatively cold night shooting from the field (40%).

The team's defensive effort was mostly solid, with McBride and Frazier doing a nice job on Neitzel, holding him to only 10 points on the night. Offensively, Pruitt, Frazier and McBride were the players who kept the Illini in the lead. Pruitt is playing inspired basketball down low, even though he looks like Shaq from the line. Randle, Carter and Smith mostly struggled on the offensive end. Carter in particular was disappointing, since he suffered several obvious defensive lapses and did another disappearing act on offense, other than a late drive to the hoop for a reverse layup. Randle and Smith seem bothered by their injuries again, but provided some minutes. Coach Weber used a longer rotation of 9 players tonight which seemed to keep them fresh against Michigan State.

Defensive rebounding was a very weak spot tonight for the Illini, where they took down only 16 boards when MSU missed. This level of defensive rebounding will not win many games the rest of the year.

Steve Lavin feels the Illini will have to win 5 of their last 7 games to make the NCAAs. This would mean defending home court for 3 games, and winning 2 away games, most likely at Northwestern and Penn State. This would provide the Illini with 21 wins going into the Big 10 tournament, and a chance to gain one of the final spots. I wish I felt more confident in this team's ability to play on the road. At least Northwestern has the feel of a neutral court most years, with many Chicago-area Illini fans showing up for that game. Next up, Minnesota on Saturday.

Bill Cole as a Guest Blogger

Illinitalk, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite Illini sports blogs to read, apparently has a connection to Bill Cole, Illini recruit from the class of 2007. You can read his comments here and here.

Monday, January 29, 2007

MidStateHoops.com Presents Chicago George Washington

Watch number 34 in this video, Deandre Liggins, a potential Illini recruit from the class of 2008.

MidStateHoops.com Presents Iman Shumpert

Iman Shumpert is in the class of 2008 and the Illini are following him closely from a recruiting standpoint. Looks like he has a nice offensive game.

MidStateHoops.com Presents Bill Cole v Mike Tisdale

A video of Illini basketball recruits Bill Cole and Mike Tisdale playing against each other.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Fighting Illini Roster 2007-2008 Season

Well, right now I think this season is about over, at least from a NCAA standpoint. I see a lot of people speculating that next year might be better. Probably possible, but more likely 2008-2009 or later seasons are what we await. For purposes of discussion, I will lay out the possible players for the Illini next season, by position:

Point Guard
Meacham (WO)

Shooting Guard
Wise (WO)
Hicks (WO)

Cole (RS)
Holdren (WO)

Tisdale (RS)

I have Cole and Tisdale projected as redshirts due to their weights. I included walk-ons, since Meacham is a significant player this year. By my count, we could still pick up one more player for the 2007 class, unless Weber wants to save a scholarship for Meacham or the 2008 class.

Statistical Breakdown of Purdue Game

Bruce Weber, please find something to put out there in place of your three guard offense. Your guards cannot shoot the basketball (16% from the field). Yet, you gave the guards 65% of the total minutes played. Here is my statistical summary.

Illini Guards
McBride 2-9
Frazier 1-7
Meacham 1-4
Smith 1-7
Brock 0-4
Total 5-31 (16%)

Total Minutes played by guards 130

Meanwhile, the big guys at least were able to shoot 53% from the field. You might as well play some of the big guys more since the guards can't shoot.

Illini Bigs
Pruitt 5-8
Carter 4-9
Arnold 0-0
Carlwell 0-0
Total 9-17 (53%)

Total Minutes played by bigs 70

Purdue 64, Illinois 47

The Illini road woes continued today in losing to Purdue, 64-47. Box Score
Purdue has two really good players, Teague and Landry, and they were so much better than Illinois today it was never close. The Illini were embarrassing in the first half, stuck for the longest time at 4 points, and allowing a huge run by Purdue before recovering late in the half to keep it within 14 points. The Illini never could catch up, and for Illinois fans, it must have been tough to watch--it was for me.

I will try to summarize the problems (and potential solutions) for this Illini team.

1. We are the worst free throw shooting team in the Big 10. My recommendation for Coach Weber is to require every player to shoot 100 foul shots daily until they improve. Maybe they already do this, but the results don't show.

2. Our players are not that talented. Given this problem, I encourage Weber to use every scholarship available, rather than saving scholarhips. I would also consider holding try-outs on campus for players who can shoot (ours can't), and try recruiting some Junior College players, since freshman aren't allowed to play in Weber's system. (We might be worse next year, before we improve.)

3. In the injuries area, there are too many injury problems this year to be explained merely by coincidence or bad luck. Our coaching staff should re-examine its practice routines, since many of the injuries have occurred in practice. The off-season program for the fitness of players needs to be looked at, as well as solutions provided by the trainer and physicians for the numerous foot and ankle problems.

4. We are playing a three guard offense with guards that can't shoot. Frazier and Smith are not shooting, so why play them with McBride? If you don't have guards who can shoot, you need to play big, and get the ball inside for dunks, period.

5. Defensive rebounding is poor in many games. If the players on the court cannot block out and rebound, they need to be benched in favor of players who can.

The worst insult in watching this game was the halftime highlights of a big win by Arkansas, with several great plays made by Patrick Beverley. This is the guy that wanted to play at Illinois, and we still don't know why he was not offered a scholarship by Weber.

Now back home for some games, as we continue to follow this offensively-challenged team.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Maui Invitational (More information) and Purdue

So I have a little more information about the Maui Invitational now. The package from Oahu Travel looks expensive, but it seems like the only way to go. I checked with the U of I and the ticket allotment will be minimal, and mainly for coaches and players. So it looks like I will need to try to buy a package to make sure I can get tickets. I need to decide by Thursday of next week.

With the Purdue game tomorrow, we have another chance for a much-needed road win. I have been characterizing the Illini several times as "offensively challenged." Well, an excellent chart presented by Big Ten Wonk confirms my gut feeling on the Illini. Chart While the Illini play better than average defense, their offensive game is weak. Purdue, on the other hand, is weak on defense and their offense is average. Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State are strong on both ends of the court (sounds right). Northwestern is weak both ways, Minnesota is weakest on offense, and Penn State is weakest on defense. I guess we can look forward to the Penn State game!

The Purdue game is on TV tomorrow at 1:30pm Central time on ESPN+ Regional. I will be watching.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Maui Invitational Packages going on sale

I just received notification that packages for the Maui Invitational go on sale Thursday, February 1st at 9am Hawaii time. The packages include five nights of hotel and tickets for every game (12 total, and cost per adult for double occupancy is $1,630.00 each. In other words, for two adults, you pay $3,260.00 for five nights at the Westin, Hyatt or Sheraton and tickets to the games. Airfare is not included in the price. Packages are being sold by Oahu Travel, Inc.

I am thinking about going to this, but it seems expensive and I would rather put my own package together. Does anyone out there know how easy/difficult it is to obtain the ticket only packages for the Illinois games? I will do some more research and try to post on this topic again before the packages go on sale.

For those interested, the Maui Classic is November 19-21, 2007, and features the Illini and Duke, Ariz. State, LSU, Oklahoma State, Marquette, Princeton and Chaminade.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Illini Beat Sampson's Hoosiers, 51-43

Nice win tonight over the Hoosiers. Box Score The defense was pretty solid, McBride shot the ball well, and Pruitt and Carter played well most of the game. Frazier seems like he is coming along as a point guard, even though there were lapses in the offense at times.

The honors for the Illini have to go to coach Bruce Weber. This is the hardest I have seen him work during the game in his years with the Illini. He was working the players, the referees, pacing the sidelines, entertaining the cameras and fans with wild expressions, overall an upbelievable effort by the coach. Weber looked like he was really exhausted after the game. I think he did everything he could to pull this game out. He might not be a recruiter, but what a solid coach on the basketball floor. And he even shook hands with Kelvin Sampson twice, once before the game and once afterward.

I was surprised that Randle was not playing tonight, apparently a foot injury or maybe his plantar fasciitis not under control yet. If the doctor or trainer work on this, they should be able to help him out since usually inserts and taping work (along with some rest).

From a statistical standpoint, both teams were cold shooting, rebounding even, and the Illini won the game from the free throw line due to getting more foul shots. This was a change from most games this season, with Weber apparently forcing the players to drive to the hoop instead of relying on the 3 point shots.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Update on Deron Williams of Utah Jazz

Deron Williams is having a great year in his second season with the Utah Jazz. There has been some speculation that with his excellent point guard play and the success of the Utah Jazz, he might have a chance to make the All-Star team this year, representing the Western Conference. The fan voting results are now in, and the coaches votes will be used to fill out the rest of the rosters.

Deron's stats thus far:

43 Games Played
16.7 PPG
9.1 APG
3.5 RPG

Utah has a nice record of 28-15 right now with Deron running the offense.

Wisconsin 71, Illinois 64 Final

Box Score

The stats show how critical the missed free throws were in the game for the Illini, who only made 14 of 23 from the line. This has been a problem for them all year.

Also noteworthy is the lack of production from Carter (9 points in 37 minutes) and Randle (8 points in 26 minutes). The bench did not produce much either. This Illini team is just offensively challenged.

My biggest question is what is wrong with Jamar Smith. Mark Tupper confirmed my theory that he needs to see a shrink (link). Sad to hear that, but if his ankles are healed, it must be his head.

If we were panicked before, I guess we really are now. I will try to paint a couple of possible NCAA scenarios for the Illini this season:

1. Existing record is 14-7. We win the home games against Indiana, MSU, Minn., Northwestern and Michigan. We also win away games at Northwestern and Penn State. This would give Illinois a record of 21-10 overall, 9-7 in conference, and probably squeak into the NCAAs. If we lose one more game, it's tough to get in with an 8-8 record in Big 10.

2. We finish poorly the rest of the year, winning half our games. We end up resting our injured players, get healthy for the Big 10 tourney, and win the whole tournament to get to the NCAAs. Not likely, even when I think optimisticly about this team.

We have made the NCAAs most years with the last year out of the tourney being 1998-1999 season under Lon Kruger, so it will be tough to miss it this year.

Missed Opportunity against Badgers

Immediate thoughts about that one before I look at the final box score. That was tough to watch down the stretch, a game we could have won, but our mistakes caught up with us:

1. Too many missed free throws, not sure if this team will ever learn how to shoot free throws.

2. Too many missed defensive rebounds, particularly when Illini played small against a big Wisconsin lineup.

3. We tried so hard to double Tucker, we left Stiemsma open all day and I don't remember him missing once. He could have had a career high, will have to check.

4. Jamar was lost out there, not sure if his problems are physical or mental, but he does the team no good with that type of play.

5. We still do not create shots well from our offensive set, with too many desperation shots with the clock running out.

On the positive side, McBride and Pruitt had great games, and Carter played well in the first half before disappearing in the second half.

Overall, a better effort, but the above mistakes make it difficult to beat a solid team like the Badgers. And the call at the end on the offensive foul (allowing the shot to count for Badgers) was unbelievably bad. Almost seemed like a fix was on.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Feather Controversy, What should the Illini Do?

Illini fans, if you have time to consider this important topic before or after the Wisconsin game, please advise the administration and Ron Guenther what to do. Some potential ideas:

1. Return the moccasins, blanket, peace pipe pouch, breastplate and war bonnet with 90 eagle feathers, as long as the Tribe returns the $3,500 as a donation to the University of Illinois, with interest going back to 1982.

2. Send Ron Guenther to meet with Mel Lone Hill immediately, suggesting a joint marketing deal for Chief merchandise, as long as the tribe provides a letter of support to the NCAA (save the Chief), similar to the Seminoles support provided to Florida State.

3. "The resolution...points out that Chief Illiniwek, intended to honor Illinois-based tribes, does not belong in Oglala clothing in the first place, because that tribe is not from Illinois." To satisfy the complaint, agree that Chief Illiniwek will only appear in games played in South Dakota or against South Dakota-based teams, or with players who transferred from South Dakota-based teams(remember, we have Steve Holdren, who transferred from South Dakota State).

4. Agree that Chief Illiniwek will no longer wear the moccasins, blanket, peace pipe pouch, breatplate and war bonnet with 90 eagle feathers. We pledge to only dress Chief Illiniwek in non-authentic clothing from here on.

5. Illini administration officials agree to immmediately suspend Chief's activities, to end these controversies once and for all.

Wisconsin Game Preview

This is a huge game for the Illini, period. There are no bigger games left this regular season for Illinois, so let's hope Weber has them ready. ESPN will televise the game nationally at 1pm Central time. Dave O'Brien and Rick Majerus will do the game for ESPN. Wisconsin is ranked number 2 in the country, so Assembly Hall should be loud and Orange.

But what's this latest news item? This is worse than more injuries to the starting five players. Can you believe this story--Chief Illiniwek, the Illini mascot might have to perform naked (ok, no feathers at least) at halftime, assuming he returns his feathers to the original rightful owners (full story). But let's not get distracted.........

Wisconsin plays a rotation of 9+ players that get 10 minutes or more per game. The big scorers are Alando Tucker their 6'6" forward, Kammron Taylor, a 6'2" guard, and Brian Butch, a 6'11" center. Other starters are Michael Flowers and Joe Krabbenhoff. Coming off the bench are Landry, Chappell, Bohannon, Stiemsma and others. Basically they have depth and size with three centers who rotate for minutes.

Looking at their 18-1 record, the only weakness I see is they have only had to play four road games thus far, beating Marquette, Georgia, Northwestern and losing to Missouri State. So the visit to the House of Paign should be their toughest road venue thus far in the year. They have some tougher games ahead, as well.

For the Illini, they need to be healthy, and could use some production from guards Frazier and Smith, who played limited minutes against Minnesota this week. Brian Randle is expected to guard Alando Tucker, and McBride or Frazier will likely guard Taylor. Brian Butch can score big, and will likely be guarded by Shaun Pruitt.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Nice to have a W! (against Minnesota)

We kept the winning streak alive, with another solid first half. Saw some of the game via TIVO tonight, but will have to watch the rest later on. From what I watched, Minnesota looked like a weak team, and Warren Carter was having a field day early. Seems like Frazier is still injured and was surprised to see Jamar out most of the game. Need to be healthy for the Wisconsin guys this weekend. Will try to preview that when I get a chance.

The next two games will be critical home games to win if we plan to go to the NCAA tourney. Wisconsin might be our last chance for a signature victory this year, since we don't play Ohio State or Wisconsin again. It would be a shame to miss the NCAAs, that's for sure.

Brian Cook

Illinitalk has a nice update on Brian Cook, who is now playing for the Lakers, scoring, rebounding, etc. I guess I am guilty of not following him recently, but the linked article sounds impressive.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

NCAA Tourney Games for Illinois

I must admit, I have only been to two NCAA tournaments as an Illini basketball fan over the past 29 or so years. My timing has been uncanny, since I have probably been to the best and worst NCAA appearances by the Illini in my lifetime.

My first NCAA tournament involved a trip to Birmingham Alabama back in 1987. Rather than taking vacation days, I planned to skip the first round games and attend the second round games instead. After all, college b-ball expert Dick Vitale assured everyone a first round Illini win over Austin Peay that year. Well, the Illini had checked out of their hotel before I arrived in Birmingham, Dick Vitale ended up standing on his head on TV, and I watched a young coach named Rick Pitino coach Providence to a victory over Austin Peay. The Illini flop is considered one of the biggest first round upsets in recent history.

My second NCAA tournament experience was the 2005 Chicago regional at Allstate Arena. I watched the Illini win the grudge match over Bruce Pearl's Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and two days later saw the unbelievable Illini comeback win over Arizona.

Let's hope Illinois makes the NCAA tournament this year.

Time to Panic Yet? Minnesota up next

OK, the long weekend is over, and the Illini have another chance to redeem themselves with a Wednesday night game at Minnesota. This one seems like a possible road win, based on Minnesota's record of 7-10 this season. Seems hard to believe, but Illinois has won the past straight 15 games against Minnesota, quite a streak going into the game. With a conference record of 1-3, we desperately need a win, especially one on the road. The game will be on ESPN2, with a start time of 6pm Central time.

Minnesota has two main scorers, guard Lawrence McKensie at 15.7 ppg, and 6'9" forward Dan Coleman at 15.4 ppg. Their third best scorer, 6'9" Spencer Tollackson at 12.5 ppg is injured with a broken hand. Like Illinois, Minnesota has been offensively challenged recently, having failed to reach 50 points the last two games. Minnesota's depth/bench seems very limited. Thus far, they have few quality wins recorded, with a home win against Purdue their best to date.

In terms of panic time, it probably makes sense for Illini fans to take a deep breath, since the Illini can still get to the NCAAs. But it will look bleaker if they lose to Minnesota, with home games against Wisconsin and Indiana coming next. The Illini have a record of 13-6, and have 12 remaining games, 6 home and 6 away. Winning all remaining home games and losing all remaining road games leaves them 19-12 going into the conference tournament, probably a bubble team at best. With Ohio State and Wisconsin in the conference, it will be tough to win the tournament.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

2007 Maui Invitational

For Illini basketball fans, it might be a good time to think about next year, with the Illini one of the 8 teams participating in the Maui Invitational. I have never attended the event, but hope to make it this year. It is the week of Thanksgiving, and clicking on the title will bring you to the official site.


November 19, 20 and 21, 2007
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Thanksgiving Week

Participating Teams:

Arizona State
Oklahoma State
Chaminade (host school)

Poor second half for Illini, MSU holds on to win

Well, the Illini could not have come out much colder in the second half, scoring 5 points in about 12 minutes of play! Unbelievable stretch.

The lack of a consistent reliable scorer was obvious during the first 12 minutes of the second half and the last 2 minutes when Illinois had a chance to catch the Spartans. Chester Frazier single-handedly got Illinois close with some great individual steals and moves to the hoop near the end. Unfortunately, Illini lacks a go-to guy down the stretch. Here's a summary of why they struggle on offense:

McBride-has trouble creating a shot
Randle-not willing to go inside, not an outside shooter
Pruitt-has trouble finishing down low
Carter-cranked up some threes, but could not create offense
Smith-stone cold from outside

For Illlinois to be competitive, they need to develop someone who can score when they need a hoop. The good teams have several guys to take this role, this team has nobody who wants the ball to score.

34-23 at Half

Wow, Illini looked great in the first half, this is the team I was expecting to see this year from Illinois. Need to keep going in the second half, but the defense was awesome in the first half, shooting was OK, so let's see what happens.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

MSU Game tomorrow

Well, we can hope to steal a road game sometime this season, but not sure it will happen at MSU. Checked out their schedule thus far, and they beat Texas, lost to Maryland as we did, and lost to Boston College, Iowa and Indiana on the road. Hard to say this game can be won based on MSU's record, but you never know.

Seems like we need to play fewer guards (2 rather than 3), since our guards have struggled in the scoring department and the rebounding has been poor lately. Most scoring has been coming from our big guys, so they need to have another good game. It would help if McBride plays well again and Jamar Smith gets his shooting touch back. Sounds like Frazier will be out and I don't think Meacham is the answer as starting point guard. I would not mind seeing Smith and McBride play both guard positions most of this game.

MSU's main scorer is Drew Neitzel, their 6' Junior point guard who averages 18 points per game these day. Seems like we will need to have someone really play him tough to have a chance, though he is very consistent scoring in double figures. The scoring averages drop off after Neitzel.

Friday, January 12, 2007

James Augustine to NBA Developmental League

Since James Augustine has not had any playing time this year with the Orlando Magic, the coach decided to send him to the NBA Developmental League to get some experience. James will be playing for the Anaheim Arsenal in Anaheim, CA and is expected to be back with his NBA team before the end of the season.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

He's Back!

Brian Randle is back, at least the one we remember from last season. Ah, we can also breath a sigh of relief with the win over Iowa tonight. The game was a little too close at the end, but we hung on to win a fairly close game, 74-70. Box Score

Carter, Randle and Pruitt all shot well for the bigs, and McBride had a good night shooting as well. Meacham played some point guard for Frazier who is out with an injury, and Jamar Smith had another off night shooting the ball.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Update on Patrick Beverley at Arkansas

Sorry Illini Fans, hate to do this but I was checking college basketball scores tonight and noticed that Florida played a tough Arkansas team and prevailed tonight, 79-72. Arkansas is led by a freshman guard named Patrick Beverley from Chicago Marshall. Beverley was the leading scorer last year of all high school players in Illinois and was frequently telling reporters he wanted to attend the University of Illinois, and was waiting for a scholarship offer. I started following his game scores on the web, and found his story fascinating, since he was such a prolific scorer at the high school level. Well, he never was offered a scholarship from Illinois, was recruited by many schools and ends up at Arkansas. Arkansas looks to be a rising team this year, and Beverley is their leading scorer as a freshman. Some quick stats on him thus far at Arkansas:

14.2 Points per game
50.4% field goal percentage
43.5% three point field goal percentage
81.1% free throw percentage
4.6 rebounds per game
3.5 assists per game

I know we had other plans for our scholarships, but at this point in the season with no players at Illinois who can shoot and score, wouldn't it have been nice to take a chance on Patrick Beverley, even without having his transcripts prior to offering a scholarship.

Quinton Watkins Commits for Illini

OK, here is some good news for a change. The Illini landed a top 100 shooting guard from Compton, CA today, Quinton Watkins. Watkins is a 6'3" 175 pound shooting guard from Dominguez High School and is ranked number 83 on the Rivals 150 list, a four star recruit. He had provided USC with a verbal commitment in early 2006 but changed his mind later in the year. He had listed his final school choices as Illinois, Nebraska, New Mexico, San Diego State, Utah, Washington State and Nevada.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Champaign on Ice

Illinois looked worse in the Ohio State game than in the Michigan game and Xavier game, unbelievable. They must have set a team record with their icy 25% field goal shooting for the game. And three point shooting was 3-19, 15.8%! Everyone on the team went cold at the same time. Not sure what Weber said to the team, but they have lost confidence in themselves, and the Big 10 season has just started. They look like they need to hire a sports psychologist to find out what's wrong. Ohio State did not shoot very well either, but manhandled the Illini on the boards, with a rebounding margin of 39-23. The next game is Iowa at Illinois, and the Illini will need to get themselves back on track.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Buckeye Game

Ohio State will likely see a lot of Orange tomorrow at the Assembly Hall in Champaign, IL. Bruce Weber has had his players off limits to the media since the loss at Michigan, and must have something up his sleeve to take on the Buckeyes, who many say is a final four team. My suggestion is to be ready to use several big guys to defend Oden if Pruitt gets in foul trouble. After all, the Illini are blessed with some large bodies with Carlwell at 6'11", Arnold at 6'8" and Jackson at 6'8" available off the bench. Including starter Shaun Pruitt, the Illini have 1015 pounds of Centers on their roster, basically four guys with an average weight of 253 pounds! And a total of 20 fouls to give at that position alone.

Despite the Illini having played two horrible games on the road recently, at Xavier and at Michigan, they rarely lose at home. And a win over the Buckeyes would be a highlight of their year, whether they make the NCAAs or not. Lately, their lackluster play has put the post season in doubt. But as a good friend of mine reminds me, the formula for the Big 10 is to win your home games and win half of your away games, and you end up with a solid year. Well, this is a home game for the Illini, so they should win.

Not a lot of interesting pre-game coverage on the web yet, but not sure why. Maybe the media is so convinced Illinois is not competitive due to their losses this year.

The game will be televised on ESPN tomorrow at 1pm Central.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Roger Powell Released by Utah Jazz

Roger Powell was released today by the Utah Jazz, according to the Deseretnews.com website. There is speculation Utah might be freeing up roster space to acquire a veteran player to help in the playoffs.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Too many cupcakes...............

Illinois looked like a challenged team against Michigan tonight. A team that has a hard time with scoring, playing defense and rebounding their opponents missed shots. They do get some easy offensive rebounds because their "bigs" have a hard time getting the ball in the cylinder--even when they are close. Overall Michigan outrebounded Illinois 33-25.

As I predicted earlier today, Jamar Smith finally broke into the starting lineup for the Illini, and he seems likely to take over the scoring leadership for the team. The three bigs for Illini really struggled in the game offensively, with Randle at 5 points, Pruitt with 6 points and Carter with 14 points. Pruitt in particular had trouble making shots within 6 feet of the hoop when going up against the larger players of Michigan. I think the Illini suffered from playing too many cupcakes earlier in the season, giving them false confidence they can score inside. Illinois shot only 38% from the field for the game.

The Illini actually did make a run and after Randle nailed a three with 3:18 left, Illinois was down by only 5 with just over 2 1/2 minutes left. Michigan brought the ball down and was running out of clock and threw up a badly missed shot. The ball came out and was rebounded by Michigan and thrown back to the rim. Illinois missed another rebound because Chester Frazier tried to block out Ekpe Udoh, a 6' 10" freshman forward. Why was Frazier guarding Udoh? Illinois was in a three guard offense. Needless to say, Udoh put the ball back in the basket, Michigan increased their lead to 7 and never looked back. (Hint to Illinois coaching staff: the 3 guard set works much better: a) against smaller teams, or b) when Luther Head and Deron Williams are 2 of the 3 guards, or c) when Augustine and Powell are the bigs.)

Rich McBride responded to being benched by scoring 3 points in 18 minutes. Those minutes might be better spent on Calvin Brock, who played only 6 minutes.

Oh well, road games are tough in the Big 10. Let's hope we can make life tough for the Ohio State Buckeyes this weekend.

Lineup change needed for Michigan?

It would be nice to see the lineup changed for tonight's game, since our top scoring threat, Jamar Smith is still coming off the bench. Maybe the ankle is still not 100% and coach wants to limit his minutes, but Smith is nearly the top scorer statistically now on the team, slightly behind Warren Carter.

It would also be nice to see more of Calvin Brock, since he has been one of the more steady players this year for Illinois, scoring, rebounding and playing defense.

My lineup would be: Pruitt, Carter, Randle, Smith and Frazier to start. I would bring Brock and McBride off the bench.

I will be watching to see if Illinois plays with 2 guards, 3 guards or 4 guards, since Weber has used all three combinations in recent games. If the "bigs" can avoid foul trouble, I like the 2 guard/3 big lineup the best, since we can match up defensively, score inside and rebound well from this setup. We tend to shoot two many threes when we have 3 guards in the game. With 4 guards, we tend to struggle defensively, since the other teams can post up our guards and we don't rebound well. Michigan tends to play with 2 guards on the floor at one time based on their statistics this season.

Weber is a very sound coach and will do something to get the Illini to play better than in the Xavier game. I expect to see more driving to the basket by the guards and Randle.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Recover from Xavier Game?

OK, this is probably the worst time to start a blog for Illini basketball fans, but it has been a long holiday weekend and I still can't believe how awful the Illini played at Xavier. I have been reading Mark Tupper's blog regularly and doing some posting on that blog, but for some reason it seems to be shut down this weekend. So, time to start my own blog. Please comment away if you are still following Bruce Weber's team.........

At least the Big 10 season is starting this week and we have some challenging games against Michigan (Ann Arbor) and Ohio State (in Champaign). First, I watched Michigan get nailed by UCLA recently (92-55) and will have a hard time understanding it if they blow us away, even though it is always tough to play on the road in the Big 10. Michigan has primarily been playing cupcakes this season (as has Illinois), and has tripped up against the stronger opponents of NC State, UCLA (extremely strong) and Georgetown. I would feel better about the game if I know which Illinois team will show up.

In the Georgetown game, Michigan had trouble scoring, and field goal shooting was 36% for the game, including 12% from three point range. That is really dismal from your home court, but similar to the Illini performance at Xavier.

The Ohio State game is going to be televised on ESPN, and really represents the opportunity of the season for the Illini. You might think I am overly optimistic or crazy, but I do think Illinois has a chance to knock off OSU. First, the home court advantage, but also Greg Oden is still playing through his wrist injury/recovery and is only shooting about 50% from the free throw line, and shooting them left handed. Illinois has plenty of fouls to give Oden (20 by my count) if they use their big guys off the bench. We have Pruitt starting, but can use Arnold, Carlwell and Jackson off the bench in a pinch. It makes more sense to send him to the line than letting Oden score at will. Oden is a huge shot blocker, so we can play our typical game of shooting lots of threes, and if they are falling, we could win.