Well, I haven't devoted much thought to basketball on this site yet this year. I was trying to figure out where this lethargy was coming from about orange and blue hoops, and decided that it wasn't for any other reason than my brain was filled with thoughts of the Rose Bowl and Illini football. With the football season now over, let's take a look at Illini basketball.
It was a pre-big ten season that had very mixed results. Things started out well with the trip to Maui, with Illinois scoring victories over Hawaii, Az St., and Ok St. during that trip. They also played decently against Duke, though that ended up being an easy win for the Blue Devils. They followed that up with very close losses to both Maryland and Arizona, games that no one really thought Illinois would win. So, things were looking moderately good heading in to late December. Then, a loss at home to Miami of Ohio kind of woke everyone up. Uh oh, was the collective thought of everyone at the Assembly Hall that night. The offense was just anemic. Illinois bounced back with a win over Mizzou in the Braggin' Rights game, but then the wheels totally fell off with a loss at home to Tennessee St. in the last home game prior to the Big Ten opener. That's right folks-- TENNESSEE ST.!!!!!!!!!!!!! That was one heck of a shocking loss. After that game, Illini fans kind of took a deep breath and shuddered.
The Big Ten opener saw the Illini go down hard to a not very good Ohio St. team, once again at home. So, there's the summary so far of the big picture. Now, let's take a quick look at the players:
Chester Frazier - He's playing very poorly so far this season, and Illini fans are giving him absolute hell for it. A good number of fans cascaded venomous boos down on Chester when he left the game for the last time against Ohio St. That's the first time I can ever remember fans in the Assembly Hall booing the Illini. It truly was a sad day, to be honest. I'll never look around the Hall with the same kind of pride that I once did, that's for sure. Chester's playing hard, just not very well. His defense has been solid, if not spectacular. Jamar Butler torched him for 32 points in the Ohio St. game. Nevertheless, he's shown the ability to lock down a number of counterparts this season. His shortcoming comes on the offensive side of the ball. He has been playing horribly as the team's "quarterback". Indeed, his skill level has seemed to drop compared to last season. He tends to get in trouble when pressured hard on the dribble, and succumbs to the double team fairly frequently. Big problem there is he keeps his head down and picks up his dribble too soon when he's under solid pressure. Additionally, his passing has been poor, at best. He throws the ball away on lobs a lot, when he should either not pass it or should deliver a bounce pass. Another thing is that he has no confidence in his outside shot, and either airballs the 3 pointer or bricks it off the rim. This lack of confidence also causes him to pass up wide open shots. He tends to get out of control when he drives to the hoop, once again displaying a propensity to put his head down when in traffic. He doesn't move well in the motion offense. On top of this, his confidence is totally gone now. Positives? He is a good rebounder! I'm not sure what the answer is on Chester Frazier. I think Weber knows he has no choice but to keep working with him.
Demetri McCamey -- McCamey has played very poorly so far this season. He has shown flashes of talent, though. He can handle the ball better than Frazier in flashes, but he loses the ball off the dribble very frequently. He also tends to play with ihs head down, and has not shown very good court vision so far this season. He is a very poor outside shooter, and frequently airballs or bricks three pointers. He is a good passer, though. His defense is very poor. Overall, he is still somewhat of an unknown quantity. We need to see more of him before making any further judgments. A lot of fans want Weber to bench Frazier and to just go with McCamey. This is a case of fans having the "boo boo" face, however. He's not playing any better than Frazier, and his defense is much worse. Weber has been giving him more minutes as his effort and defense improve. I think Weber is handling things okay. Chester definitely should still start, however.
Trent Meacham - He has been Illinois' best guard so far this season. He had a couple of big games from the outside during the December run of games. He has shown the ability to consistently hit the 3 point shot--- but ONLY when he has his feet set and hits a spot up shot. He hasn't shown the ability to shoot off the dribble or to create his own shot so far this season. To be fair, teams really key on him since he is Illinois' only viable outside threat. His defense has been serviceable, but not spectacular. He has a tendency to get manhandled by bigger athletic guards, and he is slow. His effort has been outstanding, however. The big test for Trent will be this-- can he compete against a steady diet of big, phyical, athletic guards during the Big Ten season. He disappeared last year during the Big Ten. Let's hope he can make the adjustment this year.
Sean Pruitt - He plays solid defense, but he doesn have trouble defending against the more mobile big men (like Kosta Koufos). He has no shot outside of 5 ft. from the basket. He has shown good inside moves, though, and his rebounding has been outstanding. He still is not a good passer, and falls in to the double team trap very easily. Still, he's playing some pretty good ball for the Illini. His major huge weakness is free throw shooting. He missed two in a row at the end of the Tennessee St. game that surely led directly to the loss. He's hovering at or below the 50% mark from the charity stripe, I believe. Ouch.
Brian Randle - He's been very inconsistent so far, and has also suffered two separate injuries that have slowed him down a bit. He played fairly well against Ohio St., though. He once again has shown he's one of the better lock down defenders in the Big Ten. However, he has also once again shown the propensity to get into foul trouble early in the first half. He has spent many a first half this season primarily on the bench due to picking up two early fouls. Offensively, he doesn't move well in the motion offense, and his shooting has been absolutely atrocious. One three point shot he took in the season opener actually line drived and hit the shot clock, which is several feet ABOVE the backboard. Ugly. He should NOT take 3 pointers. Bruce Weber needs to flash him the red light on that. He has shown the ability to drive to the hoop, but most of the time he is pretty passive on offense. Finally, his free throw shooting has been absolutely atrocious. All in all, Randle's career is a pretty big disappointment so far. He needs to put all that behind him, and salvage something the rest of this season. One final note: Randle will not be playing in the NBA. He's not even close to being an NBA player. He might play in Europe, but his shooting is so poor that even that might be doubtful.
Well, as for the rest of the guys (Tisdale, Cole, Alexander, Davis, Semrau, Carlwell, Jordan, Hicks) we'll have to talk about them another time. They've shown some potential.
Tomorrow's game against Penn St. is a big one for this team. Whatever razor thin sliver of hope that they still have of making the NCAA tournament will be absolutely gone if they can't beat the Nittany Lions at home.
One final note: Please don't boo the team at the Assembly Hall. They're trying the best they can.