Illinois Football Daily Bullets

Illinois Basketball Daily Bullets

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The best and worst places to watch the game (if you don't have tickets to get into the "House of 'Paign")

I didn't get a chance to watch the game against Idaho St. on Thursday. I had a ticket and everything, but unfortunately, I had to work. To make matters worse, I forgot to set my DVR to record the game. So of course that makes it impossible for me to talk about the game. I heard I didn't miss too much. Apparently, the Illini played kind of flat for most of the game, and were fortunate to put on a run in the second half to pull out the game.

Anyhow, I started thinking about how much fun it is to watch games, and how much it sucks to miss them. And then I started thinking about, aside from the Assembly Hall, where is the best "spot" in town to watch a game, if you don't feel like watching from the couch at home? So, here's my thoughts on the best, and the worst, place to watch a game around town here in Champaign:

The Best:

1. Jillian's: Located on Neil St., and a few blocks south of Kirby, this pool hall/sports bar is the best place to watch sports, period, in Champaign. With a large wall full of "huge screened" televisions, be sure to get there an hour early so that you can ensure seating in the prime viewing area. The bar food is above average. The wait staff is made up of U of I coeds, and they are usually just as much in to the game as the patrons. Two thumbs up on the wait staff, in general. Catch a game of billiards or darts after the game, and bask in the glow of another Illini victory.

Others considered: BW3's (North Prospect), BW3's (Savoy)
Note: Notice how downtown Champaign is conspicuously absent from this short list. When is somebody going to open a decent sports bar there?

The Worst:

1. Billy Barooz: This relatively new restaurant/sport's bar located at the Windsor Crossing in Southwest Champaign is the WORST place to watch a game in all of Champaign. I know this first hand, because I tried to watch the Illini-Rutgers football game there earlier this fall. First of all, we showed up about 15 minutes early for the 11 am kickoff on ESPN, and Billy Barooz wasn't even open yet! Since I was meeting some people, I had to wait around. The staff finally opened the doors at eleven, but they looked at me and a few other fans that were standing there like we were geeks or something. I remember thinking to myself, "yeah, so I'm a sports fan geek, but SO WHAT! I mean, this place should be glad there are people like me, cause I'm their bread and butter on football saturdays." Anyhow, the service went downhill from there. My waitress exuded disgust for my entire table's presence in the bar. She made us feel like we were raining on her normally quiet Saturday morning shift. The food wasn't that great, either, besides being expensive. The only thing Barooz has going for it is the physical space-- it has all the trimmings (big screens, nice bar) to be a great sports bar. But this place has to figure out that sports bars are more than just televisions, chairs, and tables. I wouldn't recommend going here to watch any game, or for any other reason.

Well, that's all for now. Looking forward to watching the Xavier game. Then, it's on to the real season.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

10 thoughts following the Braggin' Rights victory in St. Louis....

1. Bruce Weber's "prepararation coaching" was the central key to victory. The Illini were INCREDIBLY well-prepared for Mizzou's relentless "40 minutes of hell!" pressure. They moved the ball so easily up the court for most of the game that Mizzou may have been wise to let up on the pressure....but of course, that's not their philosophy or style. I do give the Tigers credit for flustering Illinois on the last two in-bounds of the game, and nearly stealing the victory from us.

2. Bruce Weber's personal will to win and energy, combined with a raucous Illini crowd, were the second and third keys to victory. Did you see Bruce on the sidelines during the second half? He was an absolute MANIAC over there! Man, he was coaching so hard that you could almost see veins popping out of his neck. Kudos to the fans, too, of course. You could clearly tell that the Orange Krush spirit was alive and well in the Scott Trade Center.

3. The high energy level and effort of the Illini players was the fourth key to victory. Give the team some credit-- they gave it everything they had last night. Did you see Warren Carter on the sidelines when he couldn't come back in due to his ankle sprain? He was so full of energy and frustration that he looked like he was in tears! I actually think, in his own way, WC is becoming a true team leader, if not THE team leader. That is something else, considering his past history of having nothing if not a "laid back" attitude. Anyways, enough of the keys to victory. Overall, a great game that only added to the already proud tradition of that series. Can't wait till next year. Now, on to the other 7 thoughts...

4. I watched the game on television, with the volume turned down. It was too difficult for me to watch Bardo strain to ensure he appeared impartial. We all know better! I have no doubt he did a good job during the game for ESPN, but I decided to press the mute button on the television, and to turn my surround sound to AM 1400 WDWS to listen to Barnhart and Hester call the game. I usually don't employ this method, because normally the television satellite feed is not action-synched with the WDWS radio feed. Usually, the radio action is about 2 seconds ahead of the television action, so it's annoying to watch. For some reason, last night, the television action was only about a quarter of a second behind the radio action-- this made it okay to employ the "muted television with radio audio" method. Whew! I know that explanation probably seems overly in depth, but it is leading to this very interesting question-- would it be possible to hound WDWS to ALWAYS ensure their radio feed is synched with the television action, so that Illini fans can watch the games while listening to the biased views of the WDWS crew, instead of having to listen to the ESPN crews? I would especially enjoy muting DUKE VITALE, and the rest of the ACC-biased ESPN stable of color analysts. (Once again, Bardo is not meant to be lumped in with them; I'm sure he did a solid job last night) It makes the game SO MUCH BETTER! Barnhart and Hester had ALL KINDS of inside information that made the game very enjoyable to watch and listen to. One example-- Barnhart informed us during the last minute of the game that Weber and the Illini had SPECIFICALLY, and EXTENSIVELY, practiced the scenario of having no timeouts and having to do multiple last minute in-bounds plays. Anyways, it'd be cool if WDWS could do that on a regular basis, and not just occasionally by accident. I think the technology exists to put in a timed delay, right? Oh well, anybody else agree with me?

5. Jamar Smith. I'm thinking that his ankle injury slowed him down more than first believed. He's more than likely all the way PHYSICALLY healed from that injury, but he seems to still be trying to get back his form and conditioning. On a more important note, I think having to sit out those games, and having to sit and watch guys like Calvin Brock and Trent Meacham reach new heights of performance, may have hurt his performance. I think he's putting tremendous pressure on himself to perform at a "superstar" level to prove that he's still top sophomore dog. I'm not saying he's consciously doing this, but he probably just can't help himself-- he's such an intense competitor after all. I still have great confidence in him, but I do think he needs to take a deep breath, exhale, and just play basketball like we all know he can. He should just PLAY!, and not worry about expectations, etc. I think it'll happen. Maybe dropping down in the rotation, as may now happen, will remove the immediate pressure on him and snap him back in to shape.

6. Where was Illini Fan Central for pre-game festivities this year? I wasn't in St. Louis, but I heard that Hooters is no longer at Union Station. Yep, that's just too bad, because for one day a year, Hooters Union Station was always "Delightfully Orange, yet politely Blue"

7. Where was Illini Fan Central for post-game festivities this year? Last year it was at Maggie O'Briens, but I heard that Mizzou took over that place this year. Yeah, I guess I'm just trying to live vicariously through people that were lucky enough to make the trip. Don't worry, I'll be back down there next year.

8. Did anyone notice that the tightness of this game forced Weber to settle on a "rotation" of sorts? I noticed that not as many guys got significant minutes as usual. Still, there was a lot of foul trouble in the first half, especially with Randle. Here's where I see the starting line-up and rotation should be now:

Frazier, McBride, Randle, Carter, Pruitt (solidified); Off Bench: Brock, Meacham, Smith, Arnold, Carlwell, Jackson

9. Why does Illinois always seem to get in foul trouble in big games? I'm trying to just not blame the refs for being "anti-Illini", because it happens so much, that there has to be a reason for it. Theory #1: All Big Ten teams face "foul call bias" in big games, to include the NCAA tournament. This is because the Big Ten has long had a reputation for being a physical, bruising conference. We don't notice it during Big Ten season, because the refs are able to adjust and call an even game. During big inter-conference games, however, the referees have that "physical" idea about the Big Ten ingrained in their brains, and they're determined to call a "close" game to prevent the "brutes" from the Big Ten from beating up on the "finesse" teams that make up the rest of the nation. Coaches like Lute Olsen, who are masters at subliminal media hypnotization of the referee crews, only magnify the Big Ten's reputation. My opinion on Theory #1: I think the whole thing about the Big Ten being "way more physical" is a bunch of bunk, an old wives tale. ACC games are just as physical, and so are Big East games. You know what the implication is, though, right? Yep, that's right-- media elites like Duke Vitale and Seth Duke-is are placing a silent dagger in the back of the whole Big Ten conference. "Physical Conference" is another way of saying "Lower Quality of Basketball Play". Anyhow, I guess the notion is out there about the Big Ten, because it clearly is a factor during non-conference big games. Theory #2: The Illini's bright orange uniforms, when inter-mixed with an opponent's usually dull, off-color jerseys on the court, make the Illini players stand out like neon sore thumbs to the officials. Thus, though the Illini are probably doing less "hand fouls" than their opponents, because the referees' eyes are sub-consciously drawn to the orange-hue surrounding our players' every slight move, they tend to call many more ticky-tack fouls on the Illini. Don't we usually wear the Orange jerseys in big games, too? My opinion on Theory #2: I don't know, but it sounds interesting. Does the Illini Sports Information office keep historical records of what uniform colors the team wears for every game? Maybe we could compare historical foul ratios for games when we're in orange to games when we're in white or blue. Am I going overboard? I guess I am, but then again, maybe there's something to this.....

10. The Illini frontcourt solidified itself as the backbone of the team. Pruitt, Carter, and Randle are gonna be tough to beat. What a difference this is from the pre-season, when everyone was focused on the trio of Randle/McBride/Smith. Yeah, Randle is definitely still in the mix, but now he's in a trio of big men, instead of being considered as a third "guard" or wing man to the guards. Didn't Pruitt have like 19 points and 19 rebounds? Awesome.

Well, that's it for today. Here's to the Illini taking care of business against Idaho St. tomorrow, before taking a well-deserved 4-day holiday break.

Go Illini!

Monday, December 11, 2006

What's the line-up and rotation going to look like? (Record: 9-2)

The early season has been nothing short of a line-up roller coaster for the Illini basketball team. Let's do a quick run-down of the personnel adversity that the team has faced this year:

-Rich McBride suspended for the first four games due to a DUI
-Jamar Smith's high ankle sprain in the first game; it pretty much kept him side-lined until the Bradley game, and even then, he had to sit out the Arizona game due to re-occurring soreness
-Brian Randle's abdominal/groin muscle tear, and subsequent surgery, that has kept him out since game 1; he's only now returning to the line-up, and saw 16 minutes of action against UIC at the United Center
-Chester Frazier's severe foot injury that has hobbled him since the Arizona game
-Sean Pruitt's chipped bone in his hand, which happened in the Arizona game; He's been playing with a huge cast on his hand ever since
-Richard Semrau's chest contusion that turned into a serious infection which had to be removed by surgery; He's out indefinitely, and the phrase "medical redshirt" has been uttered by the local media publications (The News Gazettee, to be specific)

If you count those up, that adds up to no less than SIX significant personnel situations for the Illini. And this is a team that ALREADY lost its top two players from last season, in Dee Brown and James Augustine. So where does that leave the team, as it heads into a week of practice and final exams, prior to the final games of the pre-Big Ten Season?

Well, it seems like the team has finally made it over the injury hump. Aside from Rich Semrau's extended recovery, everyone should be pretty much back and healthy by next Sunday's game against Belmont. That being said, the coaches will have to keep a close eye on Brian Randle, as he is still stretching out from surgery recovery, and will need to be brought along at a reasonable, if not slow, pace. Also, not sure how nagging of an injury that Pruitt's bone chip will be. But at least they'll all be suiting up and playing.

So what is the starting line-up going to look like? Here's what I think it will look like come Big Ten season:

PG- Chester Frazier; Back-up- Trent Meacham; Out in Cold: CJ Jackson
SG- Rich McBride; Back-up- Jamar Smith
SF- Brian Randle; Back-up- Calvin Brock
PF- Warren Carter; Back-up- Marcus Arnold
C - Sean Pruitt; Back-up- Brian Carlwell


Now, keep in mind, all five of those back-ups will probably see significant playing time, especially Meacham, Smith, and Brock. But Weber's going to have to pick a starting five, and his best option right now are the five I listed above-- at least that's my opinion. What does everyone else think? Well, I'd be interested to hear y'all's opinions.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The Illini at 7-2.....what we can expect from here

It's been a rough couple of losses for the Illini. To be sure, injuries have really hit the team hard during this early portion of the season. Just to state up front though-- I'm still extremely upbeat about this season. Click here to read a good summary of Illinois' battle with injuries: http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/sports/stories.nsf/illini/story/F2F087490E4801398625723C0019F0EF?OpenDocument

Okay, enough about injuries. Let's cover the Maryland loss first. Illinois just didn't come out ready to play. The biggest reason for the loss was the team's lack of ability to handle Maryland's intense, in your face, constant ball pressure. I mean, it was literally a struggle for our guys to get the ball in bounds and up the court. And then when we did advance the ball, it's like they were just so happy to be across mid-court that running the offense was an afterthought. The biggest culprits-- our guards. McBride, Frazier, and Meacham just looked stupified out there. I don't even want to talk about Jamar Smith. Despite how well he played against Bradley, it is now clear that he came back WAY too early. His ankle pain has regressed. Weber needs to hold him out of th line-up until he is absolutely 100%. Anyhow, we made a valiant comeback against Maryland during the middle part of the game, and even ended up taking a 5 point lead in the second half. But then, however, our guards once again just crumbled when Maryland re-upped their ball pressure. Overall, I had a feeling coming out of this game that we really missed Randle and a 100% Jamar Smith. McBride didn't play well, but I think the pressure to be the go to guy just gets to him. When he's back to being "third option", he'll relax and start playing well. Plus, he's just getting back into game shape himself. I think we need to give him four or five games to get on track. Anyhow, it was a disappointing game. Kudos to the Assembly Hall crowd, and to the Orange Krush. They both were really loud, and into the game. Anyhow, this game was undoubtedly a growing experience for the Illini. You can tell they're still figuring out their team roles, etc. Enough on this game. If you DO want to read more, check out this article:
http://www.suntimes.com/sports/colleges/152875,CST-SPT-ill29.article

On to the Arizona game, which was played in Phoenix. Even though we lost, there were a lot of encouraging things to take away from this game. First of all, for certain periods (most of the first half), the Illini were running a pretty crisp motion offense. I mean, we were just shredding whatever defense they threw at us. Our defense was tough, too. One problem though-- the refs were calling a VERY tight game AGAINST the Illini. This is something I've noticed whenever we play against big time teams outside of the Big Ten-- the refs always call a bunch of ticky tac fouls against the Illini. You could see it very clearly in the NCAA tournament loss to Washington last season. I really don't think this is some sort of secret vendetta by the "neutral" refs against the Illini. But I do think it is due to a presumption by non-Big Ten refs that the Big Ten is a way-too physical league. And that might be the case. I mean, there's no arguing that the Big Ten is just one heck of a physical conference. You could see it during the ACC-Big Ten challenge game against Maryland. That was a very physical game, but for the most part, the refs just let the teams play ball. To be exact, there were precisely 15 total fouls called against each team during that game. Contrast that to the Arizona game, where the Wildcats spent ALL DAY at the foul line. I mean, the second half just got to the point of being ridiculous. And that's why you saw Weber make a calculated move to get a technical-- he just had to do something to make the disparity in calls a contested issue. Boy, it's definitely frustrating as an Illini fan. I mean, the announcers definitely seem to have a bias against Big Ten teams. They would pretty much remain silent while Arizona hammered away on our Bigs down low, but whenever Illinois got a ticky tack foul, it was "the Illini need to learn to guard by moving their feet". Nevertheless, now that I've vented, I don't believe in "blaming the refs". They are what they are, and they're part of the game. I think the fould disparity is something every Big Ten team has to deal with. It's something Weber needs to factor in to his gameplan, though. Anyhow, getting back to the game, I think our loss pretty much came down to us not running the offense in the second half, and I think the reason we stopped doing that was in large part to the guys getting distracted by all the foul trouble. I mean, we pretty much had to stop playing tough defense for a good portion of the second half. At the very end, we had a small window of opportunity to close the margin, but McBride had that brain cramp and threw it away to Arizona after the defense just made that huge stop. What was there, like a minute thirty left at that point? To top that off, our guards kept jacking threes and missing. Once again, we just didn't run the offense like we needed to. Overall, though, the team showed flashes of excellence, particularly during the first half. Warren Carter especially had a break-out game. He's finally starting to settle down out there, and even seems to be accepting the "senior leader" role that we so badly need someone to grab hold of. All in all, it was a valiant effort. But boy, against top talent like Arizona, you definitely see how badly it hurts our team to be missing Smith and Randle. Wouldn't it have been nice to see Randle sticking it to Budinger out there on the court? Well, come Big Ten season, we should have all of our horses back. With those guys, I still think we'll be challenging for the Big Ten title once again. Here's a good article on this game:
http://wildcat.arizona.edu/media/storage/paper997/news/2006/12/04/Sports/Cats-Turn.The.Tables.On.Illinois-2520085.shtml?norewrite200612060249&sourcedomain=wildcat.arizona.edu

Next Big Game: The Braggin Rights Game in St. Louis, against Missouri

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Illini Basketball -- 7-0! (thru the Chicago tournament)

I have to admit, I'm pleasantly surprised at Illinois' strong start this basketball season. When I last wrote, they were still finding their way through pre-season, and though there were a lot of positive signs, no one could be sure about how'd they play the first couple weeks of the season. Man, they're off to a great start! And this is in spite of key injuries and McBride's suspension. Honestly, a lot of credit has to go to Bruce Weber and his coaching staff-- he is once again doing a sensational job teaching and coaching this team. TEAM. That's really the key word to describe the Illini this year. There's not really a superstar on the team. There are some pretty good athletes, who are also fierce competitors. These guys are just used to winning, and don't really know how to lose. 7 and 0. Admittedly, the first five games were against weak teams, but then again, much of the top 25 has been feasting on the weak sister programs in I-A. Games six and seven really showed me something about this team, though. By winning against a solid Miami (OH) team, and against a very good Bradley squad, the Illini are doing just what they need to do to posture themselves for a spot, and maybe even a stronger seed than expected, in the NCAA tournament. Here's how I see the team so far this year:

Chester Frazier -- Good: He's really playing some solid basketball, overall. He has shown that he can quarterback the team and play steady at the point. His defense has been sensational. He's come through in the clutch several times-- the biggest being with that late game lay-up drive against Miami (OH) to win the game. Bad: He's a streaky shooter from the outside. When he's hot, he's hot, but when he's cold-- well, let's just say ....CLLAAAANNNGGGG! And that includes the free throw line. He does seem to shoot better when he's under pressure, though, especially in late game situations. He was 6/6 from the charity stripe against Bradley, and he hit a couple of second half three pointers that pretty much were nothing but net. The other thing with Chester is that he tends to get rattled by quick, ballhawk defenders. Yeah, he just needs to catch his breath sometimes, and maybe turn back the speed dial a little bit. Overall, though, we're lucky to have this guy. If he keeps improving at the same rate over the next 2 and a half years, he might have an NBA contract in his future.

Jamar Smith-- Positive: After a couple of rough pre-season games, he looked great during game 1. Of course, he had that high ankle sprain in the second half, and missed games 2 thru 6. But he came back and pretty much led Illinois to victory in game 7 over Bradley. He is really hitting some big shots from 3 point land. Also, he was very vocal during the game while on the court, and showed that he's ready to step up as the team leader-- despite only being a true sophomore. More to follow on Jamar-- the sky seems to be the limit for him this season. Will the Maryland game be his nationally televised coming out party?

Brian Randle-- Bruce Weber was unwise to play him in Game 1. He re-injured the groin pull, so badly that he needed surgery to fix it. He's probably not going to be back and 100% till January. Let's wish him a speedy recovery. Get well Brian, cause the team needs you for that March road to Atlanta.

Sean Pruitt -- He's been playing solid at the center position for the Illini. Nothing spectacular through the first six games, but generally solid defense and rebounding, and reliable scoring when they get him the ball in the low post. In game 7 though, he really stepped his game up. Apparently, he wasn't happy with the team's low energy level in game 6 against Miami (OH), and he took it upon his shoulders to play with sustained intensity in the Bradley game. (This was according to Doug Altenberger, who did the color commentary for the game) And step it up he did! He played like a man possessed at times down in the paint. Even more awesome, he was super aggressive in going to the hoop-- with two power two-handed dunks to prove it. Pruitt just keeps getting better and better, and he seems to be maturing as a leader as well. Negatives: He definitely needs to work on his free throws. It's brick city when he goes to the line. His shots from the foul line have about as much touch as do Shaq's. He just needs to keep working on that part of his game, because he's going to go to the stripe a lot if he keeps making strong moves to the hoop.

Warren Carter-- Warren is playing some solid ball, there's no doubt about that. It's just that even when he's playing great, it just seems like he's doing things at "lacksadaisical speed" sometimes. You hear fans time and time again say things like "he's just not living up to his potential." Well, he's not going to be all-Big Ten or anything, but I think he's playing good ball right now. He has shown a good mid range game, and even some low post moves at times. Also, even though he's not the most fleet footed guy on the team, he's guarding this year. Yep, that's right, he's playing pretty good defense. I was definitely impressed that he volunteered to guard Peavy in the closing seconds against Miami (OH), telling Bruce Weber in the huddle that he thought he was long enough to shut him down on that last desperate possession by the Red Hawks. And he did just that, disrupting Miami's set play and preserving the win for the Illini. His rebounding has been solid-- I think he had 16 rebounds in one of the earlier games. Overall, if Warren can keep his head in the game, and play with intensity, he is going to help the Illini win many more games this season. He does need to watch his shot-- please, no more wild three pointers Warren! And keep working on your free throws.

Trent Meacham-- He has been great so far for the Illini. Heck, he tied the Illinois single game record by hitting 7 threes in one of the early games. He plays a steady point guard when Frazier is in foul trouble or just needs a break from those duties to catch his breath and regain his composure. He is almost automatic from the free throw line. Sometimes he's a little slow on defense, but has shown he's getting better and better at that. Overall, we're lucky he transferred, cause we'd be in big trouble without him. He's going to be a solid role player for the Illini this year.

Rich McBride-- Good to have him back. I'm willing to forgive, and give second chances. McBride has been back for three games, and has proved to be a steadying influence on the team. He hasn't found his three point shot yet, and hasn't hit a mid-range drive-in jumper yet either. But that will come as he plays himself back in to game shape. What he has provided is a calming influence on the team, and also some outstanding perimeter defense. Rich has been through all the wars over the last three years, and nothing is going to phase him. He should have a real solid senior season.

Calvin Brock-- Wow! He has really played awesome so far this season. He's developed a good mid-range jumper, and has the ability and size to really rise up and shoot that over his defenders. He's also, surprisingly, been hitting from 3-point land with regularity as well. Bruce Weber said that he spent a lot of time shooting with the "weighted" skill ball over the summer, which forced him to shoot with proper form. He seems to have grooved a pretty good shot. He's even been strong on assists and rebounding. He had several critical offensive rebound/putbacks against Bradley. He's really matured, both mentally and game skill wise. He is still weak from the free throw line, and sometimes he misses his assignments on defense. But, overall, he's becoming a factor in the rotation, and I think he's going to be a fixture on the court for the foreseeable future. Still has tons of potential and upside.

Brian Carlwell-- He's just big, wide, and tall. Plus, he's athletic, and looks pretty coordinated out there. He's a true competitor, and gives it 100% when he's on the floor. It remains to be seen how many minutes he's going to get this season, but he'll definitely be a force to be reckoned with next year and beyond.

Richard Semrau-- He seems to get a case of the freshman jitters when he's out there on the court. He kind of reminds me of Pruitt when he was a freshman, and he looks a little lost out there. I think some guys just have to get used to playing in big arenas and in front of big crowds. Remains to be seen, but I'm thinking he probably should have redshirted this year. He has a lot of upside, though.

CJ Jackson -- He's gotten very little playing time. Still an unknown quantity. I'm really rooting for him to do well, cause he's big and athletic, and he'd be another horse down low for us. We'll have to wait and see on him.

Well, that about does it. I'm really looking forward to the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Maryland, at home! That's going to be a great game. I think Illinois will win the game, due to our strong defense and our home court advantage. Gary Williams is a great coach though, and he'll have his team ready to play. They looked good in the Coaches vs. Cancer classic, when they beat Tom Izzo's MSU team in the title game at Madison Square Garden. The Orange Krush is going to have to be in top form for this one!

Go Illini!

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Illini Basketball--some thoughts after first exhibition game

I had the good fortune of attending the first exhibition game of the season for Illini basketball last night at Assembly Hall. It was great to be back in the environment of the 'Hall, that is the first thing I want to say. The Orange Krush was already in full effect, going crazy as always. If you don't know who the Krush are, then check out this hip little ode that was created in their honor (just click on the link): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjJp_17UPOw

That just represents some of the insanity and fun they bring to the 'House of Paign. Well, back to what happened on the court. Overall, the Illini put forth a lot of effort last night, but they appeared to be a little mechanical in running Weber's motion offense. The defense was pretty much lock-down, and looked pretty good. Rebounding-- not a real strong point. Lewis pretty much battled us to even on the boards. Chester Frazier was pretty steady at the point guard slot, but he was only 1 for 6 on free throws. Otherwise he would have been a real stand-out performer. Carlwell looked pretty good on a couple of post up plays in the paint. That guy looks likes he's 7 feet tall, if he's only 6'11". I don't think he'll be redshirting this year. Semrau looked a little timid out there, we'll have to wait and see on the redshirt verdict for him. C J Jackson was pretty much invisible. What's his status? I was hoping he'd be a solid role player this year. Warren Carter looked a bit lacksadaisical out there. He seems to have a ton of talent, I wonder why he's not a star? Meacham and Smith looked a bit out of synch on the floor, but neither looked awful. Still, it was a big margin of victory. However, the team needs to smooth it out a bit, and keep the intensity at the same level, before we start into a busy pre-big ten schedule. It'd be nice to get off to a strong start, before we enter that brutal big ten season.

Overall, though, I'm positive about the team. You can tell Weber has been working them to death on defense, at the expense of offense. He said exactly that in his postgame interview. Overall, he sounded really upbeat about the team. The sign of a great coach-- when dealing with a young team, always maintain a positive attitude.

Anyhow, I thought I'd conclude this message with a look back on one of the greatest games in Illinois basketball history. UI-Arizona, '05 NCAA's. Click and enjoy. And know that we'll be back there again one day. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmrvVQFGFlY

Friday, October 20, 2006

A fan's perspective on Bruce Weber as recruiter

It's that time of year again, Illini fans. Yes, the college basketball season is right around the corner. Yesssssss! Outstanding. I'm really looking forward to this season, which will be the fourth of Bruce Weber's tenure. So far, he has done a better coaching job with each successive season. He's really settling in as a Big Ten head coach. His motion offense, combined with an extended man to man defense that makes the other team fight for every shot, is a true basketball "system". There are those that criticize Weber for his well-documented recruiting misses (Wright, Scheyer, Collins, Rose, Gordon). These high profile "misses" blot out the players that do end up coming to Illinois, however. Of course Weber tries to recruit the 5-star guys, but he also searches out the high school ranks to find players that will fit into the basketball "system" that is fast becoming a model for others to emulate.

Weber looks for certain things in his recruits. Big Men: He wants tall, long, athletic forwards, who can run the court and have the potential to play both a post up game, and a game facing the basket. What he really wants are guys that can hit the mid range jumper. Semrau is the prototype of this kind of player. Carlwell, Jackson, and Pruitt all possess some of these elements. All of them are athletic and can run the floor. Guards: Weber strives to recruit a stable of guards that are big, physical, and can handle the ball. The ideal guard will be able to shoot the lights out from three point land, and also drive to the hoop and pull up to consistenty hit the mid-range jumper. In a sense, he looks for combo guards. Yeah, he's always looking for a good point guard, but even the point guard needs to be able to shoot and play physical defense. Jamar Smith fits the bill for the prototype here-- especially if his defense and ball-handling come up a notch. The other guards (Brock, Meacham, Frazier) have many of the right qualities, too, and fit into his system parameters.

So all the naysayers out there, don't fret-- Weber knows what he's doing, and he's putting the pieces of the puzzle together in a very methodical way. The incoming recruiting class (Tisdale, Cole, McCamey) is not 5-star, but they will all be four year players. Don't forget, Deron Williams wasn't even a top 50 recruit coming out of The Colony, TX. Look at him now. So just remember Illini Fans-- Weber is a system and fundamentals guy. He's quietly getting players that fit into his system quite nicely.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Indiana's very own "Entourage" and what it means to college basketball

Well, it's been a few days now, and that has given me time to think about what basketball fans (especially Illini fans) shall forever refer to as "The Eric Gordon Mess." I'm not upset about him going to Indiana. Nope. That's his right as a free American, and I'm happy he's able to go where he wishes. The process that led him to change his decision is the topic of discussion here. I don't know much about Indiana's coach, Kelvin Sampson. But you have to ask yourself: what kind of person would smash apart the integrity of a legendary basketball program, in his maniacal pursuit of a single player? Yes, Sampson has shattered the integrity of the Indiana basketball program. Hold on a second! I'm not saying this because of the reason you might think. This might surprise you, but I actually think Sampson had every right to recruit the kid-- the situation at Indiana had changed, after all (with Mike Davis' departure). So Sampson was justified in trying to lure Gordon to Indiana. It's how he did it that is disturbing. No less than two-- that's right, TWO!!! -- individuals were hired on to the staff of the Indiana basketball program by Sampson this summer that had direct links to Eric Gordon. Sampson hired an assistant coach who played college ball with Gordon's dad. Okay, by itself, maybe just a coincidence. But then, Sampson hired Gordon's AAU coach to be his video coordinator! Now, there's absolutely nothing illegal about doing either of these hires. But to me, it's a move that plainly lacks integrity. It's telling a high school kid this: "Come to Indiana, and I'll let you bring your entourage with you, oh great one." Shouldn't he be saying this: "Come to Indiana, because we have a great program, a great system, great fans, and you'll get a world class education to boot." But that's not what Sampson did. Instead, he sold out the program's integrity, and bowed and scraped and hired until the kid relented and came to Indiana. It's sad, really. I always admired the Indiana program for standing out from the crowd, staying above the sleazy side of recruiting. Now, though he did nothing illegal, Sampson has chopped the legs of integrity out from under a legendary program. Sad, so sad. Well, this is the last I'll speak of this episode, thankfully. Let's move to the on-court struggles!