Illinois Football Daily Bullets

Illinois Basketball Daily Bullets

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

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