Thursday, January 05, 2006

Dee, D, Dee, and more D (UPDATED)

Dee Brown and Defense. That is how Illinois beat the Spartans tonight. Here are some quick thoughts:


1) Dee Brown--He scored a career high 34 points while still working to get his teammates involved. He had an outstanding all around game and you couldn't have asked for anything more.

2) Defense--The Illini held the Spartans to 50 points. Their average is 82.8, tops in the Big Ten. Think about that for a minute. The Spartans were rarely in rhythm, had turnovers, and took bad shots. They shot only 36% for the game (and when the game ended, I thought it might have been even lower than that). A special hats off to Brian Randle for his work holding Big Ten scoring leader Maurice Ager, who averages 22 points, to only 9. As Coach said, Randle just broke his spirit and took Ager out of the game early. Other teams have to take a look at what Illinois did to Michigan State and be very concerned. If the Illini play defense like that every game, they will win the Big Ten (with very few losses, although I am not ready to predict an undefeated conference record yet) and make a deep run in March.

3) Protected the Home Court--To win the conference title, you have to win your home games and win at least half your road games. This was a quality win over another Top 10 team in the country, which is important come tournament seeding time, and is a big boost to start conference play. They protected their home court, it should give the team a boost of confidence, and it takes some pressure off as the team faces three more tough games coming up.

4) Hopefully, no more listening to some of the so-called experts say that we haven't beat any ranked teams yet and that the Illini aren't as good as their record, which now stands at 15-0. On a side note, if Illinois wins on Saturday at Iowa, they will move up in the national rankings as both UConn and Memphis have already lost this week. Illinois could be ranked fourth or higher come next week.

Room for Improvement:

1) If anyone else would like to step forward and help with the scoring burden, that would be appreciated. On nights like this, you give Dee the ball and keep feeding him but he has got to get some help from his teammates. He won't score like this every game and the team has to have some other scoring options. Tonight looked like early in the season when they were all standing around watching Dee instead of running the motion offense.
--From a player standpoint, Jamar Smith got a rude awaking tonight and I hope we will see him shake it off and come back strong (to be fair he didn't play all that much, primarily because Frazier is the better defender, which we needed tonight). All that being said, also remember that he is only a freshman. The upper classmen need to step it up. McBride hit a big time shot to seal the game and I hope that will be a big boost for him moving forward. I also liked Frazier's play--he did a nice job in there and helped give Dee a break from handling the point, which freed him up for some of his scoring. Hopefully in future games, he can be in there and Dee can actually get a chance to come out of the game for a breather. He couldn't tonight because we just didn't have any other consistently viable scoring options. Also, I noticed Dee limping at one point in the second half. I don't think it was anything serious but it's not something any Illini fan wants to see.

2) Augie--I loved that he contributed in other ways since he wasn't scoring, such as through strong defense and rebounding but the team needs him to be a consistent scorer. Overall this year, he has been but he cannot disappear on the offensive end during big games like this. The seven turnovers are a concern but I don't think that will happen again.

3) Free throws, free throws, free throws. Virtually the entire team needs to improve in this area, but especially the post players. And while the whole team needs to improve, Pruitt's shooting from the line is especially pathetic. There is no excuse for shooting under 50% for the season. The Illini ABSOULTELY MUST IMPROVE in this area or it will cost them some games down the road.

Other Thoughts:

--I really like Brent Musberger, Steve Lavin, and Erin Andrews. I wish they would work every Illini game.

--I don't like it when broadcasts miss the start of play at different times during the game because of commercials or because the cameras are focused elsewhere. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed like ESPN2 did that multiple times last night and it was very irritating.

--Tom Izzo is a class act, win or lose. Wish there were more like him and Weber. I love to see the Illini beat Michigan State but they are one Big Ten team that I have nothing but respect for.

--I love DVR's. If you don't have one, get one. I didn't know what I was missing until I did, especially now that I have the Illinette. Being able to pause the game or back it up to see a play over is great. You can't do that with a VCR during the game.

--The officiating was pretty good overall. They missed a few things and I still don't understand exactly why Coach Weber got a technical but if the rest of our games get this type of officiating, I will be happy.

Finally, it was a great game to start the Big Ten season and now it's time to get ready for Iowa on Saturday. We will have more tomorrow but I wanted to get this up while it was fresh in my mind. Have a great night and GO ILLINI!

Friday Updates

One other thought before I get to today's media coverage. I was thinking about this last night and Chief confirmed it for me this morning, but in watching and listening to the game on ESPN2, it seemed much quieter than is normal at the Assembly Hall. Not sure if anyone else picked up on that but Chief and I are in agreement that it didn't seem as loud as usual. Even though the bulk of the students are still on break, I just can't believe that it was as quiet as it was portrayed on TV. Not sure if the people doing the broadcast can filter some of the noise out of the broadcast or what, but something seems out of place. If ESPN2 did do something like that, then thumbs down to them.

There is nothing but outstanding media coverage today. Game summaries here, here, here, and here. The last one is my favorite thanks to quotes like these:

--"I thought we faced Vince Young tonight," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said, referring to the workhorse quarterback who guided Texas to its Rose Bowl victory Wednesday. "I've never seen a better performance out of a guy making tougher shots than Dee made. He won the Heisman tonight."

--"All of his career, he's been a marquee guy," Illini coach Bruce Weber said. "He loves big games. It's just phenomenal what he did. We were drawing up things in the huddle, anything we could think of. We wanted to get him the ball."

--"I'm not sure Illinois was at its best tonight,'' Izzo said. "I know Michigan State wasn't. But Dee Brown was at his very, very best tonight. There were at least four shots where I would have said, 'I'm glad he's taking that shot. Oh, shoot. It went in.'''

Rick Morrissey of the Tribune feels last night was like March Madness in January as he talks about Dee Brown's peformance.

Rick Telander of the Sun-Times discusses how orange is still the PERFECT (my emphasis) color.

Apparently Mark Tupper and I must think alike as we both began our columns/articles with "Dee and defense." Click here for his article in today's Herald and Review.

And the winner of today's best column and award for the best headline goes to Mike Nadel of The Beacon News. We don't usually highlight Mike or the Beacon in Illinitalk but that may have to change. He presents some amazing facts and statistics as he explains how Bruce Weber owns Tom Izzo and that Illinois has surpassed Michigan State as the premier basketball program in the Big Ten in the column titled "Tom Izzo can call Weber his daddy."

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