Illinois Football Daily Bullets
Illinois Basketball Daily Bullets
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
I wonder what was going through Weber's head right here?
I was absolutely wrong in my prediction about tonight's game against Indiana! And I'm glad! While it wasn't pretty, the Illini toughed and grinded out a great victory against Sampson and the Hoosiers. Effort wise, it was a strong performance across the board. The main players of the game, in my opinion, in order of effectiveness, were: Pruitt, McBride, Carter, Frazier, Carlwell, Brock, Meacham, and Smith. Smith continued to struggle, but I understand that Weber is just trying to show confidence in him by playing him a lot of minutes in the hopes that he'll fight through these tough times. Illinois won this game through defense, defense, and more defense. Neither team shot very well for the game, each team making less than 20 shots total for the whole game. Gut check time came with about 5 minutes left in the game. Once again, Illinois held a small, tenuous lead. And once again, they started to falter offensively. Too much dribbling around at the top of the key by Frazier, and suddenly, Indiana had the ball and looked like they might start a seeminly inevitable game closing run, a la the Wisconsin game. This time, however, Illinois had some people step up. The big basket came from McBride, who got the ball and dribbled in to nail a clutch 15 foot pull-up along the baseline. Nice job Rich! It was a free throw battle down the stretch, and even though they missed their fair share, the Illini were able to make enough to salt away the game. So, now we're 3-4 in the Big Ten. There's nine games to go, and each of the nine games are against teams that we can definitely beat. Remember-- we don't have to play Wisconsin or Ohio St. on the road this year. So things are looking up. Maybe my prediction of an 8-8 record was too conservative. How about 10-6? Definitely 9-7 is within reach. I think 10-6 will probably get us in to the tourney. If we finish 9-7 in the Big Ten, then we might need to win at least two games in the Big Ten tourney to ensure an NCAA tournament birth. Here's a few other notes from tonight's game:
1. Looks like Brian Randle will be out for up to ten more days due to his "plantar fasciatis" condition. This is an apparently extremely painful condition that makes it difficult to even walk around slowly.
2. When is Jamar going to snap out of this slump? Weber has decided to go "all in" with Smith. There's a lot of coaches out there who would have benched him by now. I respect Weber's decision to let him play through this slump. If he benches Jamar, the kid may never recover from something like that.
3. Frazier had mixed results as the point guard tonight. He did an okay job handling the ball at times, but he still struggles at passing and distribution. He tends to loiter at the top of the key, getting himself trapped at times and also in shot clock trouble at times. Sometimes, when he does dribble to his left to mix it up, he gains a lane inside, but then he has a tendency to put his head down. Once his head is down, he usually dribbles into a dead end. At the dead end, he usually can pull of a pretty credible dribble-stop-head fake-pump-pass or something like that, and he's able to pass it to Pruitt or Carter down low. Other times, he ends up throwing up a wild shot or getting tied up down there. Either way, I have to remember he's a sophomore, and is ever improving. He sure does play hard, though, doesn't he? He played 35 minutes tonight, and was working so hard on defense that his legs were cramping up in the huddle near the end of the game.
4. McBride can help Frazier run the offense once the team is in the half court. Yes, we need Chester to bring the ball across half court. He does a good job with the dribble. But at times it seems like McBride can create more in the half-court than Chester can. He has better court vision, and had a few good passes down low tonight to the Big Men. He's especially dangerous when he dribble-penetrates and hits those pull-up jumpers. That really opens things up on the inside, cause he's already a threat to hit from 3-point land. Throw in the mid-range penetration, and he's going to be able to get a lot of assists by feeding Pruitt and Carter down low.
5. I'm glad Bruce Weber shook hands with Kelvin Sampson. Quite frankly, I'm over the whole recruiting thing. I could care less who Sampson is getting or got, or how he recruits. Winners don't spend their time obsessing over what the other guy is doing. They spend all their time prepping and executing their own winning plan. Let's let the other guys worry about what we're doing-- on the court.
Things are looking up for the Illini. If we can get healthy this week, then we can really attack these last nine games. We should just take one game at a time and see what happens. Next, we have Purdue away, on Saturday I believe. It'll be tough to get a W in West Lafayette. But a win makes us 4-4 in the Big Ten. I'm looking forward to watching, once again.