Posted by sportsmaven on March 19, 2009
Just think of what could have been if the Fighting Illini played the entire game like they played the last 6 minutes of tonight’s first round NCAA Tournament game. Watching the University of Illinois basketball team play tonight, you would have thought their record was 9-24. If you didn’t know better, a 24-9 record would have been unfathomable.
(AP Photo/Greg Wahl-Stephens)
In the opening round of the 2009 NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, Illini coach Bruce Weber was selling his team as the underdog. I think Weber has an incredible understanding of his basketball team after witnessing their performance in tonight’s game.
Illinois just got totally outplayed tonight by a very scrappy Western Kentucky University Hilltopper team. The Hilltoppers played very impressively in beating Illinois 76-72, putting an end to an overachieving season for the Fighting Illini, who lost 4 of their last 5 games to close the season. Down by 17 points with 6 minutes to play, Illinois made a furious comeback to make the final score respectable, but this game was lost by their sloppy, uninspired play in the first 34 minutes of the game.
The Illini were outhustled on both sides of the floor tonight, being out-rebounded by 10 boards. Western Kentucky came out playing intense, at an incredibly quick pace and they made Illinois looked like they were standing still, which is literally how they played this game. Illinois looked asleep, getting killed by back door cuts and the wide open 3-point shot. Illinois looked bored, unathletic, lacking physical play and all-out effort. The end result was reflective of the effort that Illinois provided.
I wrote in a post earlier in the week that if Illinois G Chester Frazier couldn’t play, the trio of sophomore players needed to step up their games. G Demetri McCamey, F Mike Davis, and C Mike Tisdale needed to step up to lead this team. Of the three, Davis was the only one that even came close to doing anything productive. McCamey once again, played small on the big stage and Tisdale was never in the game, physically or mentally. The only Illini player that was ready to play at the same level of intensity and passion was senior G Trent Meacham, who led Illinois in scoring with 24 points.
The Fighting Illini have lacked an inside game for as long as I can remember. Even in 2005 when Illinois was national runner-up to North Carolina, they were a guard oriented, perimeter dominant team. At least the guards on that team had a little athleticism. The current Illini team lacks explosive athleticism at the guard position and their interior players lack strength and quickness.
The next two years of recruiting classes will bring a much needed fusion of talent, both on the perimeter and on the inside. Then we’ll see how the Illini game fares. Until that talent arives, the Illini faithful should be estatic that this year’s team won 24 games with this level of talent.
Posted in Fighting Illini | Tagged: 2009 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, Bruce Weber, Chester Frazier, Demetri McCamey, Fighting Illini, Hilltoppers, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, North Carolina, Trent Meacham, University of Illinois, Western Kentucky University | Leave a Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on March 17, 2009
On the eve of the 2009 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament for the University of Illinois, the mood is cautiously optimistic, teetering on a miniscule bit of giddiness. While the Illini have struggled all season with consistency and leadership, they have forged a very solid 24-9 record, with big wins over Purdue (twice), Missouri, Minnesota and Wisconsin, all ranked teams this season.
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Illini Coach Bruce Weber was named a finalist for the 2009 Jim Phelan National Coach if the Year Award, as well as witnessing the emergence of sophmores G Demetri McCamey, F Mike Davis and C Mike Tisdale. The Illini secured a 5th seed in the South Region and was promptly dismissed by CBS basket ball analyst Clark Kellogg as the 5th seed most likely to be upset.
Defensively, the Illini have sparkled as a team, playing outstanding team oriented, in your face defense. Of all the key statistics, defense is what propelled the Illini to a 8 game improvement in the win column from last season. The Illni are 3rd in the nation in scoring defense, allowing an average of 56.5 points per game, 7 pts./game less than last season.
Offensively, the team is roughly the same as last season, averaging 65 points per game, an abysmal 231st in the nation. Their 60.2 pts./game in Big 10 play would put Illinois at 300th in the nation in scoring.
“These are the times that try men’s souls” is the phrase that seems to permeate from every ounce of Bruce Weber’s arm-waving, gyrating displays of encouragement, exclusively saved for McCamey and Davis. It may be a lot to ask of men of such youth and greenness, but with the loss of senior G Chester Frazier due to a hand injury, McCamey, Davis and Tisdale must mature in a hurry. They must mature in the most challenging of environments, the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
The future starts on Thursday, March 19th at 9:55pm EST in Portland, Oregon where the new Fighting Illini tip off in their first round matchup against Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers. With strong recruiting classes in 2009 and 2010, the big success of the Illini men’s basketball resides in the future, but on Thursday night, three sophmores begin laying the foundation of better things to come.
Posted in Fighting Illini | Tagged: 2009 Jim Phelan National Coach Of The Year Award, 2009 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, Chester Frazier, Clark Kellogg, Demetri McCamey, Fighting Illini, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, Minnesota, Missouri, Purdue, University of Illinois, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Wisconsin | Leave a Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on January 11, 2008
Don’t let Illinois’ Rose Bowl performance fool you, the Fighting Illini are on the rise. After New Year’s Day’s meeting with the USC Trojans, Illinois is a better team that the final score of 49-17 indicated. The Illini played with heart and toughness, and with a bit of talent, but USC is arguably the team with the best talent in the country. Illinois, at times, hung in with the Trojans, but the gap in talent between Illinois and USC was too great, at least for this game, on this day.
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire
Now many people think that Illinois should just be happy they made a BCS bowl and that any other year, the 9-3 Illini are happily playing the Capital One Bowl, watching Ohio St. in the Rose Bowl. I think that’s fodder for narrow-minded; pessimistic thinkers. Illini Coach Ron Zook is an outstanding recruiter, and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley’s spread offense and his Washington DC area connections (as well as his remarkable eye for recruiting difference-makers) provides the rebirth of the Illini football program.
Now, if we could only get Ron Zook to help Bruce Weber recruit for the basketball program……
Posted in Fighting Illini | Tagged: BCS bowl, college football, Fighting Illini, football, illinois, Rose Bowl, Trojans, USC | Leave a Comment »