Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tyler Griffey to Illinois!

According to the News-Gazette, Tyler Griffey has decided to attend the University of Illinois and join the outstanding class of 2009. This is outstanding news for Bruce Weber and the Illini, and should make the 2009 recruiting class one of the top 10 in the country. Tyler Griffey is a 6-8, highly rated and talented forward from the St. Louis area who has been high priority for the Illini for over a year. Griffey had scholarship offers from a long list of major programs, so this is a huge win for Weber and company.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Michigan State Recap

The Illini lost to Michigan State tonight, 51-41. Box Score

Another tough loss for the Illini tonight. Pretty amazing that our big shooters are Chester Frazier, Calvin Brock and Mike Tisdale. I think on the offensive end of the floor we have either hit a new low, or showed the world that MSU has the best defense in the country this year. Most likely we hit a new low.

On the topic of free throw shooting, we must have hit a new low, shooting 7 of 19 free throws tonight, 36.9% to be exact. At least this was better than our 30% field goal shooting, and 18% shooting from three point range. Where's Jamar Smith and Alex Legion when you need them? (Hopefully back in Champaign drinking a Pepsi or somthing like that....)

We learned tonight that Coach Weber actually did enlist a shrink (aka Sports Psychologist) earlier this year to work with our guys. Guess that didn't work, but I think a number of bloggers had recommended it. It was obvious to me that when the Illini go to the line in the second half, they are missing one thing--confidence.

We did have a nice effort on defense tonight, and that should win some games for us the rest of the year. Maybe we can get back to .500 this year as a goal for the season. And if someone can figure out how to score baskets, maybe we can do even better, and make a run in the Big 10 tourney.

About MSU, they are fundamentally sound, tough defense, great rebounding, and great free throw shooting. Their shooting from outside was really lacking tonight, but hopefully some of that was the Illini defense. They also had quite a few turnovers, 18 for the game. Michigan State could easily be the team that wins the Big 10 this year. But unlike prior years, I won't pick this Izzo-coached team to go to the final four. They just don't seem to have the explosiveness on offense to go that far in the tourney.

Brett Dawson's update on Alex Legion

Brett Dawson provides some good quotes from Alex Legion and Bruce Weber in this piece in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Apparently, Alex Legion knows he cannot afford to transfer again, and Bruce Weber helped ensure this by not rushing his decision on where to transfer. Legion points out how his shooting skills will fit well in Weber's motion offense.

Indiana Rumors

It's getting late here on the West Coast, but thought I would comment on some very unsubstantiated rumors about the Indiana basketball program. Loren Tate, longtime Illini media guy has written a piece predicting bad things for Coach Sampson and the AD who continues to support him. Loren Tate's recent record of predictions has not been good (he predicted the Illini had all but landed Liggins from the class of 2008) and I'm not sure if he has any reliable sources within the NCAA.

The second rumor is that Eric Gordon either broke or sprained his wrist yesterday, and could be out for several weeks, but back by the NCAA tourney. This rumor has not been verified by the Indiana University officials as of tonight.

If any readers have any additional information to post, please confirm or deny these rumors.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Illini Recruiting Update

There are lots of facts and rumors out there currently on the Illini recruiting several bigs, even though scholarships are becoming slim. The latest news surrounds Jack Cooley, who apparently just picked up an offer from the Illini, per Jack Cooley, class of 2009, plays for Glenbrook South, and is 6-8 and 210 pounds. Cooley is rated as one of the top 5 players in Illinois for the class of 2009. Cooley plays on the Rising Stars in the off season with Jereme Richmond.

Earlier, the Illini have offered a scholarship to Tyler Griffey, who is highly ranked and seems to be in no rush to select his college for the fall of 2009. Griffey is from the St. Louis area, and has a nice website. Tyler Griffey has been profiled previously on this blog, and his fans are regular readers on the web. Many Illini fans seem to favor Griffey over Cooley, since Griffey has been ranked higher nationally and has a more developed game. Griffey has no shortage of offers in hand from major programs.

Finally, Kyle Rowley is a 7-0 center from Trinidad who plays for Lake Forest Academy and has weighed in as high as 280 pounds. He is gaining lots of attention and offers from major basketball schools. The Illini are one of many schools taking a look at him.

Where will another "big" play in Weber's three guard system, given the Illini cast of big men including Tisdale, Cole, Davis, Semrau, Simpson and Carlwell? According to some people close to the Illini basketball program, one additional scholarship is expected to become available over the next few months. Most likely, this would be a transfer of a player on scholarship already.

Michigan State Game

Tomorrow is the Illini matching up with Michigan State at the Breslin Center, another tough venue in the Big 10 Conference. Michigan State is a solid team this year, likely the best team in the conference, although Wisconsin and Indiana may be close. I have not had a chance to see MSU play this year, but they have many of the same players as last year, with one year more experience. Coach Izzo always has his guys ready, with the exception of the game against Iowa earlier this year. We can only hope for something similar, but it's not likely to happen at their home court.

Andy Katz did a nice summary of the Spartans on ESPN, focusing on the declining point production from senior guard Drew Neitzel. Katz points out the reason for lower scoring by Neitzel. Michigan State enters this weekend with a 17-2 record (5-1 Big Ten) and has plenty of balance; Morgan (16.8 ppg), Neitzel (13.8), Lucas (9.5) and Goran Suton (8.8) are all having productive seasons. The Illini will have their hands full slowing down the Spartans at home.

I enjoyed reading KJ's comments over at Spartans Weblog, who is a follower of the tempo-free stats that I used to enjoy using last year courtesy of Big Ten Wonk. KJ is apparently calculating these stats for MSU basketball this year, and from reading his preview of the Illinois-MSU game, he has this year's Illini squad completely figured out (very few shooters).

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Case for Rodney Alexander

First, I must confess that Rodney Alexander is my favorite Illini player this year, and it's not even close. And the last two games against Ohio State and Northwestern confirmed my thoughts about needing to find more minutes for Rodney.

Let's just look at some statistics on this year. Rodney Alexander averages 5.6 points per game, and plays an average of 14.1 minutes per game, so his scoring efficiency is .397 points per minute played. Now, if Rodney was able to play 33 minutes per game, like a "utility" player named Frazier, he would be averaging 13.1 points per game and be the team's leading scorer.

We can do the same math on rebounding. Rodney averages .234 rebounds per minute played, so if he played 33 minutes per game, he would average 7.7 rebounds per game. That would place him in a tie with Shaun Pruitt for team rebounding statistics.

To be fair, the knock on Rodney Alexander is his defense, which apparently is not as good as the other starting players. But my point is that his scoring and rebounding make him extremely valuable to have on the floor. Alexander is the most athletic guy the Illini have on their roster this year (although some would say Brock or Randle). Plus, his three alley oop dunks against Northwestern made me remember the Flying Illini of 1989, and that's a much more pleasant thought than this year's team.

Illini Win over Northwestern generates positive comments

It was nice to see the Illini with a victory for a change, even though it was against Northwestern. Some nice information from the Chicago Tribune:

Excellent Shooting
The Illini, whose lead peaked at 34 points twice, shot 54.2 percent, not an overwhelming figure but good for a team that has struggled with its shooting. It was Illinois' best shooting percentage since hitting 57.4 percent in a blowout win over Arizona State at the Maui Invitational.

Most Valuable Team Doctor
"Brian Randle showed some senior leadership," Weber said. "Our team doctor should get the game ball. [A coughing Randle] loaded up with anything in his cabinet but focused on what he could do and that was to stop Coble."

Rodney Can Jump
Illini junior forward Rodney Alexander, whose 21-point effort in Tuesday's loss at Ohio State earned him a starting job, had eight points in 13 minutes, six coming on acrobatic dunks off lobs. He had six points in a 12-0 first-half run that gave Illinois a 24-5 lead and control of the game.

Jeff Jordan Article on Yahoo

Jeff Jordan is featured in a Yahoo Sports article, and explains that he was planning to go to Illinois for the academics, then decided to play basketball too.

Weber decided to change him to a point guard (due to his size) and expects him to contribute as a junior point guard.

Overall, great exposure for Jeff Jordan and the Illini basketball program.

"Best 10-11 Team in the Country"

According to Bruce Weber, the Illini are the best 10-11 team in the country, and personally I agree. Weber was quoted in Herb Gould's article in the Sun-Times after beating Northwestern soundly on Sunday.

Nice to know the coach is optimistic about the team and understands they have a chance to win the Big 10 tourney.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sun-Times Article about Crandall Head

Crandall Head's stock is rising this season, and this article talks about his role in a win against Rich East, as he scored 18 points and hit some key free throws down the stretch. Maybe the Illini free throw shooting will be great by 2010!

Some recruiting people are saying Crandall Head could be in the top 10 nationally for the class of 2010, very impressive Crandall.

Sunday Night game against Northwestern

It is very unusual to play college basketball on Sunday night, and this article explains the background for tonight's game. Apparently, this is an attempt by the Big 10 to follow what the ACC does in its scheduling, and attract more viewers, particularly recruits.

While Northwestern has not won a conference game yet, this one is dangerous, particularly when you consider how poorly the Illini have played a home recently. To make matters worse, Northwestern is one of the better three point shooting teams in the Big 10 conference.

Weber will decide today whether or not to play Shaun Pruitt, their center and leading scorer.

Illini Recruiting

The Illini are using networking by Jerrance Howard along with connections with Deron Williams and Worldwide Wes in their recent success, according to this article in the PJStar.

This article points out how active Jerrance Howard has been in closing some of the recent recruits, even though much of the work had been done by Weber and the other assistant coaches.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Illini interested in College Basketball Invitational Tourney

Here's a depressing March Madness story. The Illini are apparently interested in playing in a new tourney this March, assuming they are not invited to the NCAA or NIT. It's called the College Basketball Invitational Tourney, and most likely includes 16 teams with losing records that want to play basketball in March. I'm not sure if this tourney is to give the young guys more experience or a motivating factor for the players to get back above a .500 record, so they have a shot at the NIT.

Here's the official website for the CBI.

ESPN's take on the CBI tourney.

Bruce Weber is Recruiting the Kids

Including the Junior High kids, according to this article. It's a nice strategy if it works, and Jereme Richmond looks like an example of this strategy working for Bruce Weber. The good news is Weber expects to wait until they reach high school to make scholarship offers.

Pruitt may be leaving the Dog House Sunday

According to Mark Tupper, Shaun might leave the Coach Weber's Dog House this weekend, and play against the Northwestern Wildcats Sunday. Apparently, Shaun's attitude during practice has been improving, but it sounds like it is ultimately up to the players to vote prior to the game (very democratic process).

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ohio State Game brings Rodney Out, Shaun In

What am I talking about? The Weber Dog House, of course. Rodney Alexander, having spent most of the season (post Maui Invitational) in Bruce Weber's Dog House, finally emerges with a fine showing at Ohio State, scoring 20 points in 24 minutes. With this kind of night, he makes Illini fans wonder what he has been doing on the bench most of the year. Meanwhile, Shaun Pruitt does not even dress for the game, as he is thrown into the Dog House by Weber after an apparent altercation with Weber after the Purdue game. What in the world did Pruitt say to get to wear street clothes to the game? Not much comment from the coach, who is probably experiencing his toughest season ever as a head coach.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Shaun Pruitt doesn't like the Assembly Hall

Once again, Shaun Pruitt is again telling media people (Terry Bannon of Tribune) he does not like playing in the Assembly Hall. Could the boos from earlier this year still be bothering this fragile Illini team?

"A lot of us personally like road games maybe sometimes as much as home games," senior center Shaun Pruitt said. "We just have to bring our own energy. If we do what we did at Indiana, we'll have some success. We'll have to play very hard. Purdue just beat Iowa, something Michigan State [couldn't do]."

Weber Melts Down at Purdue

Apparently, Bruce Weber had a minor melt down in the locker room after the Illini blew a large lead in the second half yesterday against Purdue. Tribune Article link

It was a really strange game in many ways:

-Matt Painter, Purdue's coach, plays several underclassmen on a young Purdue squad, who outplayed the upperclassmen from Illinois in the second half.

-Illinois shot 49% for Field Goals, 47% for 3 Point Shots and 48% for Free throws.

-The first half was all Illinois, the second half was all Purdue.

-The Illini defense allowed 47 points in the second half, their worst showing all year.

I'm not sure what Coach Weber will do with the Illini for the rest of the season. They can't seem to play a complete game or shoot free throws under pressure. This game featured 21 turnovers by the Illini, most of them in the second half when Purdue played a pressure defense. At this point, it looks like time to play the freshmen and get ready for next year.

Calvin Brock talks trash at Purdue

After watching the Illini get manhandled in the second half at Purdue yesterday, I had no idea the inspiration for the Boilermakers was an Illini player talking trash going into the locker rooms. According to the Indy Star article, the player was Calvin Brock or Trent Meacham. My guess is it was Calvin, after noticing his trash talk at IU with Eric Gordon on Youtube.

Since our record is a losing one, maybe we should focus on playing a complete 40 minute game rather than talking trash.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Michigan Game

The Illini got back on a winning streak tonight, which was great to see. I guessed a score of 75-59 a few days ago, posted it on Illinois Loyalty, and ended up really close to the actual score of 75-57. Lucky guess.

Brian Randle had a new shorter haircut tonight, and it made him into a new player, as he scored a new career high 19 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double. Pruitt also had 19 points, and played very well against the Wolverines. Brock was solid, and McCamey did a nice job running the offense with 6 assists, some of them really slick passes. Frazier took on a utility role tonight, and looked pretty solid in the game.

Congrats to Coach Weber for getting the team turned around and hope this can be the start of a winning streak.

Daily Illini and Kevin Spitz Free Throw Contest

I stumbled across an article in the Daily Illini by writer Kevin Spitz and thought I would share the story with Illini fans. I would definitely enter this contest if I lived closer to campus. Kevin is taking emails for people who can shoot 10 free throws better than the Illini, and will select one contestent each week. If you can shoot better than the Illini weekly team average, you win $10 from Kevin (college kids can't afford much unless their newspaper supports the contest). This contest is bound to produce a few winners now and then.

I had a similar contest last year with a co-worker who did not think I could beat him in free throws. I claimed I would hit 70% of my free throws, so we headed over to our local gym. I ended up winning the contest but missing my target percentage after shooting 100 free throws each. The final score was 68 to 58, and a rematch will be scheduled sometime this year, and I am determined to shoot over 10% next time.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

McCamey to replace Frazier as Starter

According to an article in the Herald Review, Bruce Weber is finally coming around on how he uses Chester Frazier. Frazier will become a "utility player" and McCamey will become the starter at point guard. McCamey needs to work on his conditioning to play more minutes, and Frazier can help out in various roles as needed. We knew Weber was a great coach, and now he is in agreement with Illini fans. With this move by Weber, I am predicting a solid game tonight against Michigan and a "W".

Monday, January 14, 2008

Deron Williams leads Utah over Bucks

Deron Williams had another great game tonight, scoring 33 points and 10 assists to lead the Jazz over the Milwaukee Bucks. Williams was knocked down with some hard fouls by the Bucks, but came back and helped Utah put them away. Great game, Deron. Box Score

Would the Illini give up on Bruce Weber?

The Illini are having a tough year thus far, and their record has now dropped to 8-9. Some members of the media have recognized Bruce Weber's recruiting success that will be realized in the 2009 and 2010 classes. Other members of the media are calling for or predicting Weber's dismissal due to the team's record this year. Writers like Herb Gould and Greg Couch of the Sun-Times need to get a clue: Weber is not getting fired. So why do they bring this up? To sell newspapers, period.

Actually, in Herb Gould's piece, he does balance his thoughts with quotes from the Illinois AD, Ron Guenther, who assures everyone that Weber is signed through 2012, and will receive an extension within 18 months. When you are smart enough to look at the recruits lined up for 2009 and 2010 already, you would be crazy to let Bruce Weber get away.

Mike Nadel writes a rant about Illinois fans and Bruce Weber and seems to support Bruce, despite a small group of "disloyal" fans.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Indiana Game and Recap

The Illini played really well today at Bloomington and showed they are good enough to beat the 11th ranked Hoosiers on their own floor, but some shots at the end didn't fall. IU won the game, 62-58. Box Score

This was perhaps the Illini's best game this year, other than Maui wins over ASU and Oklahoma State. The Illini were without Frazier (rib injury), and Alexander played little due to a shoulder injury. Demetri McCamey did a nice job at point guard, even though his shots were not falling, and showed he can run the Illini offense, particularly with Trent Meacham on the floor with him. Calvin Brock did a great job on Eric Gordon, holding him to 17 points for the game. Brian Randle played one of his better games, with some scoring, 10 boards, and taking Gordon for part of the second half. Shaun Pruitt had a solid game, and was held back by some rough defense on the part of Indiana.

I was really happy with how well Weber prepared the team to face Indiana. He had a great defensive scheme to slow Gordon down, and double-teaming to slow down DJ White. Weber used Davis, Tisdale and Holdren off the bench for some added scoring today, and probably should have continued this strategy in the second half when the Illini suffered an extended scoring drought.

The Chester Frazier controversy will continue, since the Illini looked better on offense without him, and their defense didn't seem to suffer much. Frazier should be available again for this week's game against Michigan.

The Illini should have a better chance to beat the Hoosiers when the second game comes up in Champaign. The home cooking from the referees always seems to help the home team.

Also, Illini fans that are really depressed about how this season has gone can be optimistic that this team could surprise everyone and take the Big 10 tourney by simply learning to shoot free throws around 70%. Also, if they had a way to break the scoring droughts with a go-to scorer, that would help immensely. Maybe someone like Mike Davis, Rodney Alexander or Demetri McCamey will become that leader. But to see them play Indiana this close at Bloomington, shows there could be a surprise at the conference tournament this year.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Frazier may sit for IU Game

According to this article, Frazier may sit out of the IU game Sunday due to injury. Weber's decisions on who to play are interesting, to say the least. First, he decides to start McCamey at Wisconsin, because his assistant coaches would not show up if he didn't start. Now, he claims the team doctor is ordering Frazier to sit out of the game, right after playing most of the Wisconsin game injured. My guess is that Frazier will play in Bloomington, because Weber can't stand having him on the bench. Could this ploy by Weber (blaming the doctor for not starting Chet) be related to Weber avoiding the fans from thinking their complaints about Chet have been heard? Fans booed Chet loudly at recent home games after some poor performancs.

Illini loss at Wisconsin

As expected, the Illini lost at Wisconsin this week, and the final was fairly close at 70-60. Box Score

The Illini stayed in the game with nice offensive production from Calvin Brock and Trent Meacham, who each scored 14 points. The reasons for the loss:

1. Shaun Pruitt lost his battle with Brian Butch at the center position. Butch scored 16 points to Pruitt's 9 points, and also outrebounded Shaun, 7-5.

2. Trevon Hughes, the point guard for Wisconsin, went off for 22 points, slightly off his career high, scoring easily against McCamey and Frazier. Frazier played 30 minutes despite his rib injury and scored 2 points. It's hard to overcome a 20 point deficit at the point guard position each night unless you have a great front line, and the Illini don't.

3. Senior Brian Randle had one of his worst games ever. He fouled out with 4 points and 4 rebounds, playing 21 minutes.

It was actually amazing the game was close when you consider the combined point production of Illinois' big three leaders (Pruitt, Randle and Frazier) was a measly 15 points. Basically, the Illini decided to play a game of 2 against 5 in the Kohl Center, and did well to stay close. Part of the reason for the close game was the Illini rebounding edge of 33-24.

From what I read from Illinois fans, they were pleased with the game because the Illini looked better on the court, and were competitive rather than getting blown out. The sad part of the game is when the ESPN TV crew points out that Shaun Pruitt feels sorry for team members who are booed by the home crowd. The team and coach seem like they are happy to be away from Champaign, which historically was a huge advantage for the Illini.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Crandall Head finally commits at Penn State Game

By the way, as expected for months, Crandall Head did commit after the Penn State game. That was an unusual game for the Illini, with such a huge disparity in rebounding. I plan to do some analysis of the productivity of Weber's three guard offense this year for a future post. And in this article by Mark Tupper, it claims Weber was forced by his assistant coaches to start McCamey at Wisconsin tomorrow. Maybe they can confront him about Chester Frazier soon.........

Tyler Griffey was at the Penn State game watching the Illini get killed on the boards.

What should Weber Do?

Here's a great article from the Daily Herald that explains the situation very well. Weber is very stubborn and is not used to playing freshmen, and the article suggests he play the freshmen to get ready for the next couple of seasons. Good insight into Weber's way of thinking.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Crandall Head to Announce on Sunday

Crandall Head is expected to make his formal announcement about plans to attend the University of Illinois on Sunday, after the Penn State game, according to several reports. This verbal commit has been rumored for months, and could put the Illini Class of 2010 in the top 10 for the nation, according to a Sun-Times article.

As tough a things look this season, 2009 and 2010 look awfully good, so hang in there Illini basketball fans.

OSU Game

I'm not going to say much about the OSU game, because there isn't much nice to say. I think Weber learned more in this game about Chester Frazier than in any other games this season. Chester played 38 minutes against OSU, and Jamar Butler had a huge night scoring, he really took the Illini out of the game starting the second half. I think Butler's 32 points were a career high for him, so if a lesser defender than Frazier took him, he would have easily scored 50 points or more! (Right on, Coach Weber.)

Oh, and a positive for the game was the free throw shooting by the Illini, which was better than most games.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Ohio State at Illinois on ESPN

The Illini start the Big 10 season tomorrow, with a game against OSU. This is a much better chance to beat OSU than the past couple of seasons, even though they will be tough this time as well. Butler is a talented guard, and the Buckeyes freshman center, Kosta Koufos, is a top scorer already in the conference. Word is out that Randle is questionable for the game, and that Alexander, Brock and Davis are likely to get increased minutes instead. Ohio State plays a zone defense and has had good luck with it thus far. The weakness of Ohio State in their losses has been troubles on the offensive end in the second half (sound familiar Illini fans?).

For the Illini, we need some energy for the entire game, and need someone besides Meacham to step up the scoring and shooting. I would like to see Mike Davis or Rodney Alexander take over and be one of the leading scorers for the game. Wisconsin actually had one of their freshman forwards (Jon Leuer) score a career high 25 points tonight in their win, so it can happen.

Gametime is 5pm Pacific, 7pm Central.

The Rose Bowl

We did lose again in the Rose Bowl, similar to 1984 against UCLA, but we probably looked more competitive this time. I think Illinois was fairly conservative about letting Juice throw downfield in the first half, thus two field goal attempts. The second half showed that Illinois could move the ball, but the turnovers really killed us. USC seemed to know exactly when to tackle the ball and pop it out for the turnover. Oh well, it was a beautiful day out here in California. We were able to play basketball outside (in shorts!) before the Rose Bowl started, and had a great time despite the loss. My next door neighbor, who is a huge USC fan, was pleased with the outcome.

I think next season Illinois can be really dangerous in a major bowl game.