Thursday, November 29, 2007

Coach Weber's Dog House

After the last game, I became motivated to create a new distinction among the Illini basketball players, Coach Weber's Dog House. I will periodically name a new player who seems to be in Coach Weber's Dog House.

Rodney Alexander played fairly well in the first half of the Maryland game. He was one of the bright spots on the team, particularly his dunk of a missed shot. In the second half, he had some defensive lapses guarding a freshman named Tucker, and sat on the bench the rest of the game while the Illini suffered from a scoring drought. For this benching of a starter, Rodney is the first member of Coach Weber's Dog House this season.

Amazing statistics last night

Here are some statistics that are really amazing from last night's Maryland game:

Illinois Field Goal Shooting%: 33%

Pruitt/Randle/Frazier Field Goal Shooting%: 21.4%

I guess this explains why Meacham has the green light to shoot a three pointer every time he gets the's a better bet than the other guys.

There are a few angry posters over at Mark Tupper's blog.

Eric Gordon should be a lottery pick

Eric Gordon is showing the world he is an outstanding athlete at IU this year, with incredible leaping ability, a silky soft touch from three point range, and even on tough nights scoring 30 points easily.

Eric can be expected to be a lottery pick in the next NBA draft, since his game is already at that level as a freshman in Bloomington, Indiana.

The Illini will look forward to playing him this year, despite the challenge he represents to their team.

But will the NCAA let the Hoosiers play in the postseason this year, likely to be Gordon's only year? We will find out soon enough.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Maryland Recap

A discouraging game for the Illini tonight, featured poor field goal shooting (33%) for the game, poor free throw shooting, defensive lapses and weak rebounding in the second half. Pruitt, Randle and Frazier had horrible games, yet the Illini found themselves down by only 2 points, 62-60 with 1:15 left in the game. Pruitt missed a dunk, was fouled, missed the free throws, and the game got away from them.

In the first half, Brian Randle got into early foul trouble and sat down most of the half. Shaun Pruitt struggled the entire game, and was only able to convert 4 of 16 shots for the game. Pruitt was triple-teamed at times, and rarely thought about passing the ball to teammates. Meanwhile, Frazier was apparently nervous due to being back home in Maryland, going scoreless for the game, with some bad turnovers.

Rodney Alexander, Calvin Brock, Trent Meacham and Demetri McCamey had fairly solid games for the Illni, and Brock was the leading scorer for the game. Rodney Alexander looked good most of the game, but was benched the last 10 minutes of the game, after allowing freshman Cliff Tucker to make 5 consecutive points in a Maryland run.

Coach Weber had an idea that a three guard offense would match up well with Maryland's big front line. Unfortunately, this strategy backfired for the Illini, since they struggled to stop Maryland's taller front line at critical points in the second half, and their rebounding suffered as well.

The Illini did well to compete with Maryland, since their line-up down the stretch featured several players that could not score (Pruitt, Randle and Frazier), leaving Brock and Meacham with scoring responsibility.

My conclusions from this game:
1. It is very hard to win games when you shoot 33% as a team. It's also hard to shoot better than 33% when Pruitt and Randle are playing (both shot 25%). Frazier shot 0% for the game.
2. Illinois players that cannot shoot free throws should be benched, period.
3. Players who need to be on the floor are: McCamey, Brock, Alexander, Davis/Cole and Tisdale.
4. Smart teams will triple-team Pruitt until he learns how to pass. They will also foul Pruitt and Randle until they learn to shoot free throws.
5. It could be a long season for the Illini, similar to last year, when they could not score. I think Coach Weber needs to start playing guys that will be around next year, since his seniors are struggling.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Maryland Preview

I remember the game with Maryland last year at the Assembly Hall, and it was a tough loss for the Illini, to lose their winning streak against non-conference opponents. Greivis Vasquez was incredibly tough for the Terrapins in that game, and it was a key victory for Maryland in their comeback year to return to the NCAA tourney.

This year they have less experience, having lost three seniors from last year, DJ Strawberry, Ekene Ibekwe and Mike Jones. They have two sophomore guards returning, Vasquez and Eric Hayes, a point guard. Vasquez is a guy who drives to the hoop or shoots, and Hayes is a traditional point guard. Their front line includes James Gist, who is a 6-8 forward who is an athletic scorer, and Bambale Osby, a big 6-8 250 pound forward and Landon Milbourne, a 6-7 forward. Coming off the bench are Braxton Dupree, Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker and Dave Neal.

For the Illini, they are likely to go with a deep rotation of players, based on recent comments from Coach Weber. Brian Randle is expected to play, and either Trent Meacham or Calvin Brock will start at shooting guard.

The biggest challenges for the Illini in this game:

1. Dealing with the crowd in the first tough road game of the young season.
2. Avoiding long scoring lapses similar to last season. We need dependable scorers.
3. Finding someone to match up with Vasquez, the 6-5 shooting guard from Venezuela.

While Randle, Brock or Alexander may be up to the task, Maryland normally plays two guards and three forwards, making match-ups tricky for the Illini. Basically if Randle takes Vasquez, we will have a guard on one of their big forwards, not a good match-up. If we go with three guards, we may also suffer on defense. I think Illinois needs to play only two guards against Maryland and avoid bad match-ups. Brock should be able to match up with Vasquez for part of the game, and they can try McCamey as well.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

IU Coach Sampson honored by

The timing of the award is somewhat surprising, but just paid an honor to Coach Kelvin Sampson of the Indiana Hoosiers. Coach Sampson received his award shortly before Thanksgiving according to published reports.

Brandon Paul Scores 28 against Bartlett

Brandon Paul is looking like the top recruit in Illinois for the class of 2009, according to the Illinois Prep Bullseye website. Brandon is athletic, a scorer and lock down defender, and scored 28 points in the Fremd tourney this week against Bartlett.

I'm not sure if the top recruit of the class is widely agreed yet, but this is good news to Coach Bruce Weber, who hurried up to Palatine in time to see this game.

ESPN Crew hard at work

The easy way to get on National TV?

Just look for the red light on the TV camera, then walk behind Jay Bilas, it's almost guaranteed!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thoughts on Maui (Jay Bilas)

I really enjoy Jay Bilas as part of the ESPN broadcasting team, as well as his writings for Here are some of his thoughts on the Illini from the Maui trip, as well as his all tourney teams:


All-Tourney Teams

Back from Maui Invitational

I am back in California, having returned from a really nice Maui Invitational. The Illini had a good trip, with three victories on the Islands, and the loss to Duke.

I had some unique opportunities to see the players and coaches close up on Maui. We stayed at the same hotel as the teams from Duke, Princeton and Chaminade. For all of the negative press about college athletes getting in trouble, I never saw any bad behavior from these players. In fact, they were all extremely polite.

It would have been nice to see more of the Illini players, but as I mentioned earlier, wrong hotel. I did jog over there one day, and had an opportunity to run into Coach Weber with his family heading to the beach. I gave him a break and left him alone, since it is nice he takes time out for his family while on a basketball trip.

Last night on the flight back to San Francisco, we were on the same flight as the Cowboys of Oklahoma State. This was their first leg of three flights to get them back to Stillwater, Oklahoma. The players seem determined to not let the Maui losses set them back on their season, since it's a long season that just got started. Sean Sutton, their head coach, was able to joke with them about their situation of being cramped in coach seats, even though several are 6-8 and taller. He said something about had they won, they would be sitting in the front of the plane eating steak. Since they lost, they would be eating dog food (Alpo) instead, when they got back home. He had a big grin on his face, so he has a nice sense of humor. These players were also very polite and well-behaved on the flight, even though they had a disappointing tourney for them.

The flight crew from United did something I have never seen before. Rather than making the players put their legs in front of them (nearly impossible for some in the 767 coach configuration), they let them put their legs and feet in the aisles most of the flight, and avoided using the aisle as much as possible. It was a red-eye flight, so this was easy for the flight crew.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Illini Take Third Place in Maui with Win over OSU

OSU did not look very good against the Illini, but I watched the Cowboys this week, and they are an athletic team with some possibilities as they mature.

-Trent Meacham had a nice game and was the leading scorer off the bench.
-Frazier is steady and solid this year at PG. Watching him live you appreciate his defense and rebounding more than on TV. His mistakes are limited these days.
-McCamey had a solid game with some assists and good leadership on the floor.
-Brock was the second leading scorer, was all tourney team for Illini, and played well enough to make the starting lineup today.
-Pruitt did a little better, but still needs to get back to his old game from last year.
-Alexander is an awesome athlete, and a great addition to this team.
-Randle has a deep bruise on his leg, so he sat out with ice on his leg.
-Tis, Cole and DAvis looked good in the game.

The Illini defense was really solid in this game, holding OSU to horrible shooting for the game. Like last year, Illinois will win games with their defense this season. Rebounding by the team is very impressive also.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Illini lose to Duke in Maui Semi-final

This was a tough game to watch in person, not sure how it was on TV. I was even more amazed to look at the statistics after the game. BoxScore

Some observations:
-Randle looked good on offense and did a nice job on Singler.
-Alexander looked very athletic, and it hurt when he had to come out, since we had a hard time matching up with Duke's wings, Henderson in particular.
-Pruitt is amazingly struggling to finish short shots inside. Either he is a never going to the NBA, or the refs missed a lot of fouls. How can you make 4 of 12 shots when you play the post?
-Frazier plays tough as point guard and did not really give anything away to Paulus.
-Brock looks like he should start from his offense and defensive production. One more athlete in the lineup helps.
-Meacham had a rough shooting game, he will be better on other nights.
-Tisdale looks like a non-factor in a big game like this, still learning the offense and how to defend. Big potential, hopefully later this year.
-Cole sat on the bench, and we could have used his energy on offense and defense.
-Davis was brought in to guard some big guys from Duke, but did not give us much advantage. Good experience for him, though.
-McCamey is a good ball handler but had a tough night shooting the ball. He will get better as the year progresses.

The question for Weber: how will he get this team to be more effective on offense? Maybe he needs to try some new rotations, since we had a lot of dead time tonight, with a struggle to set up scores.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Illini Fans at Maui Invitational

I think the comments from Brian Randle summarize it best:

"It was like a home game to be honest," Randle said. "I don't think any of use really understood how many fans we had down here. It was unbelievable, a big tribute to our fans."

Must Read Article by Andy Katz of ESPN

Here's a link to a really nice article on Weber and the Illini by Andy Katz of ESPN, where it details the recruiting gains and losses, Weber's character, and Weber's goal of getting back to the Final Four and trying to win a national championship for Illinois "the right way." Great press for recruits.

Illini Roll over ASU in Maui Opener

Wow, what a great opening game out here in Maui for the Illini. We came out so tough at the start, it was incredible intensity on defense and great energy and shooting on offense. Weber went deep into the bench, which really makes sense with three games in three days. I really like Weber's strategy tonight, avoiding foul trouble by going deep.

Box Score

I think this game shows that Illinois is a dangerous team this year, with great depth, tough defense and some offense to go along with everything else. Alexander was a great pick up from the Junior College ranks with his shooting. Randle is back to his potential self, and Frazier and McCamey look good running the offense. Pruitt is tough like last year, but better.

I saw Coach Weber before the game going to the beach. It's nice to see that he takes time to spend with his family on a trip like this to Hawaii. As it turns out, he had his team ready to face ASU.

I sat by a nice OSU fan today for several games. OSU looks very athletic, and could knock off Marquette if they play a full game tomorrow. The Illini had the most fans in attendence of all 8 teams, based on my unofficial observations. We were loud as well, making sure the refs were paying attention to the game.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sunday in Maui at the Invitational

It's Sunday in Maui and we are hanging out at the Hyatt, looking forward to the games starting tomorrow. The Princeton, Duke and Chaminade teams seem to be staying in this hotel, as well as many of their fans. I think the Illini are staying at the Sheraton, so wrong hotel, but at least the swimming pools are nice here.

This morning, there was an event at the Westin with all 8 head coaches teamed up with some local kids for a free throw shooting contest. The winner was Duke's head coach Mike K., who was 3 for 3 (all net!). The Princeton coach was also 3 for 3, and the others mostly struggled. Coach Weber showed why the Illini struggle from the line, with his 1 for 3 performance (33%). The event was all about mixing with the local school kids and some donations for the schools, but Coach K was all business out there at the line. Watch out for them in the tourney this week.

I will post some photos of this event as time permits.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

In Hawaii and ready for the Maui Invitational to begin

Just a few minutes to post here from Wailea. We stayed at the beautiful Four Seasons for a night to see the property, and are now heading to the Hyatt for the week.

Michael Jordan has been spotted in Maui, so he will be at the games this week to watch his son Jeff. In checking out the Maui Invitational program, I noticed Jeff is celebrating his birthday tomorrow, so it's not surprising Dad made the trip!

Lots of Illini grads are here in Wailea that aren't even going to the basketball games, can you believe that?

The Four Seasons is quite a nice hotel, the rooms, beach and dining are fantastic. I wish we were here all week, but it's too long of a drive to the Lahaina Civic Center.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Northeastern Recap

The Illini were shaky throughout the opening game, but were able to put away Northeastern after building a large lead early in the second half. All of the Illini played except Brian Carlwell and Rich Semrau. Box Score

The Illini are picking up where they left off last year, with Shaun Pruitt struggling with completing his layups (contributing to many offensive boards), and very little scoring from Chet Frazier. Brian Randle seems to be healthy again, but still gets into foul trouble. Foul shooting remains poor.

On the offensive end, Rodney Alexander can contribute this year, and seems like he will be a starter. Contributing off the bench were Steve Holdren and Bill Cole. Weber will need to play these offensively-minded players to avoid long stretches of low scoring by the Illini.

After much speculation about redshirting some players, the only player who were held out were Carlwell and Semrau, who will have to work their way into the lineup. These big frontline players might have a better chance to contribute during the Big 10 season, when the play is more physical, and foul trouble is more likely.

Northeastern Game at Halftime

The game is actually available on TalkRadio1190.

First half observations:

-The team continues to be offensively challenged, like last year's team. This year there is some hope for scoring punch, with Alexander starting, Holdren off the bench and Cole off the bench.
-Pruitt mainly shoots from inside, but continues to miss lots of shots, and was only 2 of 10 in the first half, OUCH!
-Randle is healthy, but got in foul trouble early, so he was benched with two fouls.
-Cole, Tisdale and Davis all played, so none of them can be red-shirted.
-Players held out of the first half are Jordan, Carlwell and Semrau.

Starting Line-up for the Illini Today

If the articles quoting Bruce Weber are correct, the starting line-up for the Illini will be:

Shaun Pruitt
Brian Randle
Chet Frazier
Trent Meacham
Rodney Alexander or Bill Cole

This confirms my observations about Bill Cole--he really looks solid in many ways.

Illini Northeastern Preview and TV Coverage

Basketball regular season is finally here, and Weber's dozen or so basketball players have Northeastern in Champaign for their first real game. For those of you who don't follow the Colonial Athletic Conference closely, here's some information on Northeastern:

-Northeastern is picked #8 out of 12 teams in the CAA this season, per Sporting News. While this might seem low, keep in mind the CAA has some excellent basketball programs, including VCU, George Mason, Hofstra, Old Dominion and Drexel.

-Northeastern finished strong last season, winning six of their last eight games, and had a record of 13-19 overall.

-Northeastern has two transfers that are eligible this season, forward Chris Alvarez from Dayton (must have played with Trent Meacham for a season) and center Nkem Ojougboh from Texas-San Antonio. Northeastern has the CAA rookie of the year from last season, Matt Janning, who averaged 11.6 ppg. So the Illini front line might be tested this game.

From the Illini standpoint, it will be interesting to see the rotation of players and how deep in the bench Weber can reach. First, we have lots of guys who can play this year. Second, the early games will hint at who might by red-shirted, if anyone.

Finally, look for indications on the starting line-up, improvement from Shaun Pruitt and Chet Frazier, and the health of Brian Randle. Weber's recent comments make it clear that Cole will be in the rotation, and Meacham will be starting.

Coverage of the game is sketchy at best. I think if you have the right broadband provider (I don't), you can watch it on the web at ESPN360.

Juice on Saturday

Ok, I normally restrict my comments to Illini basketball, but after knocking off the Ohio State Buckeyes yesterday, a few comments on football are in order.

1. Ron Guenther looks brilliant as the Illini AD, because Ron Zook is now one of the hottest coaches in America, not just from a recruiting standpoint, but with the results on the field. His recruiting will only improve from here, and the next two years could be really interesting with the guys coming back.

2. The quarterback debate has officially ended, with Juice Williams having an outstanding game as QB of the Illini. I must admit to liking McGee's passing abilities earlier this season, but Juice showed some nice touch on several TD passes Saturday. And his running game to run out the clock in the fourth quarter was truly impressive.

3. The Illini secondary need to get a game ball for their three interceptions against OSU, which really were key to the win.

The Illini need to beat Northwestern, and they could be looking at a nice bowl game to finish up the year. Nice job, Zooker!

Also, thanks for giving a scholarship to Mr. Jackson, which helps out Coach Weber in his recruiting by opening up another slot.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Redshirts and Bill Cole

Paul Klee has some interesting observations from Weber in his blog. Key comments include Weber is likely to play everyone, but is still considering a redshirt for someone. We will need to watch the games and see who doesn't play.

Bill Cole seems to have worked himself into the rotation of 8 or 9 players, and could even start in place of Alexander. Many people assumed Cole would be a redshirt based on his shoulder injury earlier, but he seems to have impressed Weber with his defense, activity in the motion offense, and general level of play. He does remind me of Lucas Johnson.

Segment on Jeff Jordan at Illinois

In case you missed it, the piece on Jeff Jordan and his Dad was nicely done and fun to watch. Great PR for the Illini basketball program and Bruce Weber. The weak part was Matt Lauer trying to make a headline or theme for the story about how much pressure Jeff Jordan must feel, since the fans expect him to play like his father. Anyone who knows anything about Jeff Jordan knows that he is projected as a guy who won't play much his freshman year, but might develop into a nice player over the next couple of seasons. If he was a carbon copy of his Dad, he would have been a five star recruit with a full ride at any major program. Lauer has very low journalism standards, but the segment was still fun to watch.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Today Show with the Jordans

Note to my Tivo machine:

Remember to record the Today Show this Friday morning around 8:30am Central time, which should be 6:30am Pacific time. I know it's not one of my "favorites", but Katie Couric has left the show, and there will be a segment on Illini basketball, featuring Michael Jordan, Jeff Jordan and Bruce Weber. Could be a nice infomercial for recruiting purposes, like the Duke/American Express commercial.....

To Redshirt or Not to Redshirt

I have a novel idea for Bruce Weber. He should not redshirt anyone this year. The reasons are obvious and easy to understand:

1. If the Illini have injuries like last year, they will still have plenty of guys to practice and play.

2. Rather than worry about Randle and Pruitt fouling out, the Illini can substitute freely and not have anyone get five fouls (other than Carlwell, but that's another story).

3. With Pruitt and Randle leaving next year, Weber needs to get game experience for all of the newer "bigs" including Semrau, Tisdale, Cole, and Davis. Otherwise, we are due for a huge disappointment next year if we have all inexperienced big men.

4. Since the trend is for guys to leave college in 1, 2 or 3 years, why buck the trend by trying to make guys stay for 5 years?

5. Carlwell looks like he will struggle this season, so we need the young guys to be eligible to play.

The main issue I see is having so many players that it is impossible to use them all. Has any team in the NCAA ever used a rotation of 11, 12 or 13 players? Not likely. I understand the rotation issue, but I think Bruce needs to do what is best for the team, by retaining flexibility this year.

Last and Final Exhibition Game

I finally got a chance to watch the final exhibition game against Kentucky Weslyan tonight. Thank goodness the Illni are able to match up against Division II opponents, unlike MSU and OSU recently. A few observations on the likely starters this season:

1. Either Brian Randle is back for a solid senior year, or he needs to transfer to a Division II program. Basically, this is his season.

2. Shaun Pruitt might have improved from last year. I'm still not envisioning him in a NBA uniform (Europe seems more likely to me), but he should have a really solid senior season as well.

3. Meacham looks like one of the better walk-ons this year, and should probably start until someone takes his job at the two guard position.

4. Frazier looks like the starting point guard until McCamey takes the job away, which might not happen this season.

5. I'm not sure who the fifth starter is, but I would put my money on Calvin Brock right now.

I really like some of the new big guys on the Illini roster this year, namely Tisdale, Cole, and Davis. I think Semrau looks big and strong, plays good defense and rebounds, so he could back up Pruitt as necessary. Alexander plays more like a guard, and should be fine once he settles into the motion offense.

I think the Illini will be a tough match-up this year, due to their team defense, rebounding, depth at all positions, experienced starters, and size.

The biggest weakness of the team is pure shooters. Hopeful shooters are Meacham, Alexander, Holdren and Davis in the absence of Jamar Smith, who is sitting out this year. The only shooter on the likely starting five is Meacham.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Quincy Exhibition Game

It was great to watch the first exhibition game against Quincy, since I have not seen much of these younger Illini players, and it means the regular season is almost here. Some thoughts on the players:

Bill Cole has not been discussed much, but he is really active for a big guy, and showed he can shoot from long range, has good passing skills and can block some shots. He needs to add weight, but he actually impresses me with his movement and reminds me of a tall Lucas Johnson. I could see Bill Cole helping the team off the bench this year, even though he might be redshirted. I am optimistic about his future with the Illini.

Mike Davis showed he likes to get airborne, and he likes to dunk the ball. He showed some nice jump shots as well, and complements the others with his energy on the offensive end. I would like to see Davis play this year, even though he does not have a Big 10 body and needs to gain weight. The Illini have a huge upside with Davis.

McCamey is compared to Deron Williams, but he really reminds me of Bruce Douglas of Illini past. He could be the starting point guard by the end of the season rather than Frazier, but I don't see him as a shooting guard.

Rodney Alexander is a guy who definitely plays like a 3, not a 4, and is a nice addition this year. He is very active, quick, athletic, creates offense and can shoot and dunk the ball nicely. He seems ready to play and might be in the starting five this year.

Steven Holdren can shoot the ball, which is refreshing after last season when the Illini had trouble scoring. He plays like a 2 guard, has decent size, and is very active on the court. He could get lots of minutes this year if Weber gets comfortable with his defense.

Trent Meacham looks good and will probably get lots of minutes at shooting guard this year. He is really not a point guard, and should benefit from being at SG, which is a more natural position for him.

Jeff Jordan is young, but could develop into a capable point guard over time. He showed he can elevate, has good quickness and passing, and can hit jumpers when open. I think Jordan has been underrated by most people in terms of his potential. The more he plays, the quicker he will develop.

Tisdale looked OK, but was not as impressive in this exhibition as I expected. Tisdale has been discussed as ready to play this year, but I didn't really see that in this game. I will watch for more out of him in the next exhibition game.

Semrau looks like a center who specializes in defense, based on this exhibition game. He did not really show anything on offense, but seems to focus on the defensive end. He looks tall and big enough to back up Pruitt at center this year, but might not be able to score.

Carlwell looks like the guy most likely to redshirt this year, based strictly on this exhibition game. I know he would need to qualify for a medical redshirt, since he played in Canada, but this should be considered. Carlwell fouled out of the game, and looked bad when he could not finish his shot at the rim against some smaller players. Basically, he plays soft for a big guy, and his game needs much more development.

Randle looked healthy again, but his strength is still dunking, rather than outside shooting. Randle is an excellent defender, but my impression is that Alexander has a better offensive game at the 3.

Pruitt, Frazier and Brock had the night off, which is a smart move after all the injuries last year. Frazier still has his thumb immobilized from his injury.

In terms of guys to redshirt, I'm not convinced Cole and Davis are the right ones, based on this exhibition game. I liked both Cole and Davis, because they add so much on the offensive end of the court. I was least impressed by Carlwell and Semrau, but perhaps they are still held back from a physical standpoint. I would also consider Tisdale as a redshirt, since Semrau has the body to back up Pruitt in the Big 10, as does Carlwell.

This year's team almost looks like a football squad, with an offensive team and defensive team:



It's unfortunate the players need to play both ways in basketball.

Maui Invitational Tickets

The Maui Invitational is almost here, just two more weeks until I head to Hawaii for this great event. It seems closer because I received my tickets today in the mail. Even though they are not cheap at $120 per day for all games, it should be worth it with some high quality teams in the tourney this year.

My understanding is the Duke and Illinois games are sold out, and maybe more games have been sold out by now.