Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Reasons to Smile

Despite the fact that Bruce and the boys were able to relax and enjoy spring break, I have found several reasons to smile during the college tournament season:


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Nice Run

So the Illini weren't able to sweep their Big Ten Tournament opponents and find a line on the brackets -- but kudos to Georgia for succeeding in the SEC. Last weekend was still a nice run.

We saw the team we thought we'd see more of all season -- strong senior leadership, a dominant post game, intense defense, great rebounding, solid free throw shooting, driving guard play, lots of assists, and a will to win. Yes, you had to be a fan to truly appreciate the games. The fatigue factor made offense a bit painful to watch at moments over the weekend, but the Illini really hung in there all weekend, until Wisconsin started taking -- and hitting -- 3s.

The weekend also can set a strong tone for next year. McCamey, Tisdale and Davis got good experience to build on for next year. There is optimism around the additions to the '08-'09 team. Bruce has learned (I trust) more about getting his team to buy in to his philosophy and practice his principles.

I am curious to see where the team will go from here...but only time will tell.

But for now, it's time to pick my brackets...



Saturday, March 15, 2008

Don't Stop Now

Brian Randle and Shaun Pruitt just aren't ready to go home. Pruitt played strong inside, (although it would have been nice to give him the ball a bit more often in the second half) and made his free throws (6 of 7 -- not bad, big guy). Randle did lots of little things, made big baskets, and stayed out of foul trouble. The senior starters led the Illini in scoring.

It wasn't pretty. Turnovers and other mistakes were evidence of fatigue for both the Gophers and the Illini. The injury no-call clock thing and Brock's swollen eye with 7.8...I mean 8.0...I mean 4.7 seconds left summed up the game. [Please note that Hoffarber slaps well with his right hand, even though he is left-handed. The ESPN College GameDay crew acknowledged their error in claiming he was a righty during their coverage of his miracle shot to knock off the Hoosiers.] Both teams looked like they were playing their 3rd tough game in 3 days, with lots of missed shots, passes and plays.

But the Illini have Tubby's number this season, as they extend their win streak against the Golden Gophers to 20 games. The Gophers almost recovered from the momentum swing after Tubby's 10:25 timeout that sparked a quick Illini run, and I was pretty nervous when Calvin lost the ball off his own leg with about 18 seconds left and only a 4-point lead. [Personal side note: At least I was watching, as I understand some -- my brother included -- didn't make the effort. Why would you choose emptying a moving truck over this?] But the Illini pulled it out, and now have the privilege of facing Wisconsin Sunday afternoon.

The Illini will be the second double-digit seed to reach the Big Ten Tourney final. The first? The '99 Illini reached the title game as an 11 seed, where they lost to top seed Michigan State. And Iowa won 4 games in 4 days in '01 to win the tournament. So anything is possible.

Wisconsin will be a tough game. They will be quite a bit fresher than the Illini, and they expected to reach the final. But the Illini are clearly on a mission. I just hope the boys packed enough clean underwear for 4 days in Indy...

Go Illini!

Labels: ,


Friday, March 14, 2008

Third Time's a Charm (Again)

"They" say it's hard to beat a team 3 times in a season. Tonight, Penn State and Purdue would agree.

This is the team we've seen tantalizing glimpses of all year. A team that can score in the last minute of a game. A team with a strong inside and outside game. A team that fights back to reach OT and makes (at least a few) free throws down the stretch. McCamey was impressive -- 6 for 6 from 3. And Pruitt was a load inside. Although he fouled out, Randle helped the Illini get off to a strong start, and Meacham's assists for the backdoor cut were truly beautiful.

Despite turnovers and standard free throw shooting, the Illini stayed focused and made shots when it counted. Yes, Purdue helped out with missed free throws of their own and both teams had plenty of turnovers, but the Illini once again wrote a different ending to their story. They tied the game with under 20 seconds to go -- and then got a critical defensive stop. A combination of solid defense, good passing and Demetri's shooting helped the Illini win.

[Side note: I must confess that I made a point to watch the second half of this game because I want to watch my boys' last game of the season. I was surrounded by Illini fans with more faith in the team than I had -- although I'm fairly sure they hadn't followed this season closely enough to appreciate how many times they've broken my heart with a close loss. But yes, the Illini won, and although McCamey probably could have hit a half-court shot, there was no need with 2 minutes left in OT. But thanks for putting up with my doubts and cheering with me, guys.]

The Big Ten Tourney has traditionally allowed the Illini to shine. With the season on the line and no expectations, the combination of experienced seniors and talented freshmen are determined to keep playing until they're out.

The Illini also have a history of beating teams for the third time in a season during the conference tournament. The Golden Gophers, who knocked Indiana out with one of the most impressive buzzer-beaters of the season, could fall into that category, as well. After all, there's also a tournament precendent for teams to play four games in four days...

Go Illini!



Thursday, March 13, 2008

Not Just The Same Old Story

This afternoon, the Illini looked to be writing a familiar story. Up by 10 with 5 minutes to play, the Illini lead steadily slipped away. The Nittany Lions made 2 free throws to take the lead with 2 minutes left, and Illini fans know what that has meant this season. This team showed promise early in the season, but after more close losses than I care to count, the boys seemed to have their heartbreaking late-game routine perfected.

But not today. Chester Frazier managed to write a different story with a tough reverse layup with 3.8 seconds left. Penn State's last shot didn't fall, and the Illini won a close game. Finally! The Illini won a great close game. Yes, the season will end with their next loss, but the Illini have a great history in the Big Ten Tournament and anything is possible...

Go Illini!



Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Few Highlights -- And Reason to Keep Looking Ahead

So the 2007-08 season wasn't all that Illini basketball fans hoped, but there were bright spots:

Plus, Billy sent us a sharp-shooter from Kentucky who will be on the floor next year. Assistant Coach Howard is recruiting hard, and the frontcourt will be strengthed with a solid JuCo next season. As long as the verbal commitments become signed letters of intent, opportunity to rebuild the team is great.

So although the Illini season will be over after the Big Ten Tourney this weekend, there is reason for measured optimism.

Plus, the Big Ten Network and Comcast are supposedly close to making a deal, so it will be much easier to watch football and basketball next year.



This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?