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