Monday, November 30, 2009
Wanted: Hungry Illini Players
Tangent: I was hoping my Bears could pull that game out but if they couldn't I was hoping Adrian Peterson would run for 300 yards so my fantasy team could at least win. Alas, neither happened. Sigh.
I have to admit I didn't watch the entire Utah or Bradley games last weekend but what I saw on the hardwood made me sick to my stomach. Those are two tough early season losses that will definately have an impact on tourney seeding (assuming IL makes the Big Dance).
This will be a big test of this team: whether the team can bounce back, learn from the losses and come back strong with a good effort and hopefully a win Wednesday night at Clemson.
Personally, I would like to see more of D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul. They are top-flight recruits and should be playing as many minutes as possible. Sure, they will make mistakes but so did Dee and Deron when Self started them as freshmen. However, I think it paid big dividends later on as they had that experience under their belt.
As bad as these losses are, I'm not even close to ready to throw in the towel on this season. I think the Illini probably entered the top 25 a little early. However, my hope is that being knocked out makes them hungry to get back in. This team has talent. They just need more chemistry (which will come as the season progresses) and hunger (which can come with having a chip on your shoulder).
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Illini Pass First On-Court Test
Wofford isn't your typical early-season cupcake. The Terriers beat Purdue in West Lafayette a couple years ago, and just last week they beat Georgia, after losing to Pitt by just 3.
And at Assembly Hall, the Terriers immediately set out to prove they can play with anyone, anywhere. Hot 3-point shooting and working deep into the shot clock allowed Wofford to lead much of the first half. But the Illini stepped up on defense and pushed the tempo in the second half to finally pull away.
Lots to like from the Illini:
- Inside game. Mike Tisdale dominated down low in the first half, and Mike Davis became a force in the second half. The Illini had a clear advantage down low.
- Demetri McCamey. The point guard led the Illini with 21 points, including a buzzer-beater to give the Illini a 3-point lead heading into halftime and a highlight-reel behind-the-back layup in the second half.
- Freshman shooting. D.J. Richardson made 5 of 6 from 3, helping the Illini keep pace with the hot hands of Wofford. Although Brandon Paul made the first shot for the Illini, he struggled with foul trouble. But between the two of them, these freshman have accounted for critical scoring for the Illini so far this season.
- Defense. Not so much in the first half, but in the second half, the Illini turned up the pressure and severely limited scoring opportunities for the Terriers. The Illini proved they could make adjustments at halftime that really make a difference.
- Energy off the bench. The Illini off the bench really added energy to the game, especially Bill Cole. Cole had a nice layup on a break, but he also had some great hustle plays, good defense, a nice tip-in, and enthusiasm. Jeff Jordan added a spark on the perimeter, as well.
Of course, it's only November, and there are opportunities for the Illini to improve as they get ready for a challenging conference season:
- Free throw shooting. I'm glad to see the Illini getting to the line. They had 22 attempts compared to 15 for the Terriers. But the free throw percentage needs to go up -- 14 of 22 could easily be the difference in a game in the coming months.
- Rebounding. The Terriers out-rebounded the Illini, epecially in the first half. And the Illini had a significant height advantage. I disagree with the ESPNU commentators, who described the Illini as a strong rebounding team. Mike Davis is solid, but across the board the Illini need to be more aggressive on the boards.
- Controlling the floor. This athletic Illini team can run. They should be pushing the tempo, controlling the game and pushing opponents faster than they want to go. The Illini did this successfully at some points in the game, but the Terriers dictated tempo for close to half the game.
- Defense. Yes, I realize this is in my "lots to like" section. But in the first half, the Illini allowed a few too many open 3s and too much penetration. As the competition gets tougher, the Illini will need to play a full 40 minutes of stingy, aggressive defense. These guys are capable.
And now, on to Las Vegas. Go Illini!
Cross Country Champion
Labels: Illini cross country
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Did I Hear that Right?
But with the fun of college basketball comes that over-enthusiastic voice from the sidelines. And I heard that voice tonight calling the Carolina-Ohio State game. And I think I heard Dickie V. say that the Illini would be better than expected this year. (Because, of course, it makes sense to talk about the Illini in a semi-final game of a tournament they aren't playing in.) He also got in praise for the Orange Krush and Bruce Weber's recruiting.
I think. I tend to tune that voice out.
Did I hear that right?
Labels: Illini basketball
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
We learned quite a bit more about this Illini team:
- Demetri McCamey is critical to their success. When he's on the floor, the passing is pretty. Really pretty. I'm not sure which was my favorite in this game, but the behind-the-back was impressive. McCamey again led the team in assists. But when he left the game with 2 fouls late in the first half, the Huskies went on a strong run thanks to 3 consecutive Illini turnovers.
- They can find the free throw line. It's nice to see the Illini driving to the basket and drawing fouls. Next step: improve the team free throw percentage.
- Brandon Paul likes to shoot. And he can draw offensive fouls. Paul followed his record debut with a 20-point night, and even though he cooled off in the second half, he continued to play solid defense with some great plays and more than his share of offensive fouls.
- Turovers could be a big problem. They had 14 against the Huskies, who took full advantage of their opportunities.
- Interior defense has pros and cons. Pro - blocks. Tisdale and Davis have shown their ability to block shots, and Dominique Keller and Brandon Paul got in on that action against NIU. Con - lack of physical presence. Tisdale and Davis are talented, slender perimeter big guys, not bang-the-boards, fight-for-space guys. And that could become a problem in the Big Ten.
- Mike Davis is into double-doubles. He had a career-high 17 rebounds and 14 points against the Huskies, and he's been challenged to average a double-double this season. That would be a huge boost for the Illini.
- D.J. Richardson has lots of energy. Should he be able to maintain that all season and channel it into defense, he could grow into the designated top-scorer-shut-down defender, a role up for grabs since Chester Frazier graduated.
The Illini have plenty of things to work on, and the Big Ten season will be tough. After all, the Illini are in the top 25, but that still puts them 6th in the conference. They have time to improve before the schedule really picks up, and they need to take advantage of those opportunities.
But despite allowing a 19-point lead to dwindle to 3, the Illini regained control of the game and took care of business. Nice game, boys!
Monday, November 16, 2009
Coach Kevin Hambly's girls pass the ball well and hit strong. Senior KylieMcCullie and junior Laura DeBruler racked up several kills. And libero Rachel Feldman continues to improve as she fills the hole left by the season-ending injury to Ashley Edinger.
The Illini dominated the first two sets before falling in the third as the Buckeyes finally got thier passing game on track. The forth set was back-and-forth for a while, but the Illini eventually pulled away just enough to take the match.
The Illini should be able to finish the conference season strong, and hope to maintain second place behind Penn State. Then on to the post-season, which should be exciting. Once again, if you want an Illini team to get excited about, check these ladies out.
Labels: Illini volleyball
Sunday, November 15, 2009
A Look at Things to Come?
But, we got a good look at the future of Illini football. Jacob Charest had some great passes and showed promise. He also made some mistakes, but he got quality experience that will serve him well as he takes over the Illini offense next season. Charest shows that he's got a strong arm. His decision-making will develop with time under center.
But I don't have the energy at the moment to dig into that game. I'd rather focus on a few things that haven't made recent posts.
Like the top-10 recruiting class that signed letters of intent for Bruce Weber.
Jereme Richmond followed through on the commitment he made before he even started high school. Richmond hails from Waukegan, Ill., plays wing and is a concensus top-25 recruit.
Crandall Head is set to follow in his big brother's footsteps as an Illini. Like Luther, Crandall plays guard. He recently had an ACL repaired, so he isn't currently playing. He's been around the Illini program since he was in middle school, and now he's officially a member of the Illini basketball family.
Meyers Leonard is a 7' center from Robinson, Ill. According to the Illini staff, Leonard reminds them of James Augustine, with his ability to run the floor. He won the 2A dunk contest last year.
Along with this year's freshman, the future of the Illini basketball program -- back in the national rankings at #23 -- looks very bright.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
2009 Tips Off
Warning: I may sound like a broken record with what I like and what needs work with Coach Weber's team.
What I most appreciated about the season opener was the Illini passing. Sharing the ball and getting assists has become a trademark of the Illini under Bruce Weber, and this team showed signs of continuing this style of play. They had 22 assists on 36 baskets, led by 7 from Demetri McCamey. I especially enjoyed the assists from the big guys -- Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis each had one, and their passing looks great.
This 3-guard offense likes 3s, and they probably won't fall so easily all season, but freshman Brandon Paul made the 3-pointer look incredibly easy all night. Congrats to Paul on surpassing Deon Thomas for the most points in a freshman debut, with 22. Paul had a great game, with 4 assists, 4 rebounds and no turnovers to go along with his team-high 22 points, including 4 from 3-point range.
But the Illini did show they could get the ball inside, at least against the defense of SIUE. Both Tisdale and Davis shot 4 of 5 from the field. They will need to continue to feed the big guys to allow the long-range game to work well.
One big improvement from last year -- getting to the free throw line. The Illini attempted 26 free throws, compared to 23 attempts by SIUE. But with that improvement comes a critical challenge -- making those free throws. With the strength of the Big Ten, the Illini are going to need to do better than 18 for 26, or 69%, from the line. The Cougars only missed 1 free throw.
Though the Illini dominated the boards 41 to 30, I would like to see more aggressiveness and assertiveness as the Illini go for rebounds. However, Davis had 10 boards, and Tisdale and Richard Semrau each had 6.
Perhaps the biggest thing the Illini had going for them in their season opener was their energy. If they can maintain the energy level and speed through the season, they will be competitive.
The Illini are off to a good start, and they have a manageable non-conference schedule. This group should be fun to watch...
Land of Lincoln Trophy Debut
Personally, I've found the best way to handle the ridiculousness of such "PC" moves in sports is to not dwell on them...just let it go. But first, a moment to rant. The new, intentionally manufactured trophy for an in-state rivalry game is a perfect example of hijacking the "organic" process of developing traditions and true rivalries.
Traditions are part of what make college sports so much fun. But traditions are best when rooted in years reality and mythical memories. Did the alums of Texas A&M vote to call themselves the 12th man? Of course not! Rivalries add loads of emotion to college football. But did somebody decide one day that Ohio and Michigan should become bitter rivals? Nope. That's a rivalry that grew over years into one of the most intense in college football.
Trophies are more interesting when they are random and slightly illogical. Like the Illi-Buck. Why a turtle? I don't remember the story at the moment, but the concept of a turtle as a trophy is amusing.
Now, I have nothing against Abe Lincoln, and I'm a proud citizen of the Land of Lincoln. My issue is with the contrived nature of the new trophy. Voting by the fans to come up with a trophy that's more PC? Please. The "Land of Lincoln" has a named derived from the language of the Native Americans who first built the longhouses and learned to master the rivers and forests and plains of our state. Is it discriminating to ignore their contribution to what the state is today? Lincoln wasn't even born in Illinois. And he lost lots more elections than he won. Yes, he was a great president in a very difficult period of our country's history. The Lincoln museum in Springfield is fantastic. But are we ignoring other parts of our history by irradicating any mention of earlier lifestyles and cultures?
But whatever. I'll now just let it go.
Who will bring home the bronze hat thing that was designed by a Hawkeye alum? (Does the fact that it was created by a Hawkeye bug anyone else?) Who knows. Tough to predict. Northwestern is coming off a huge win at Iowa. The Wildcats have Kirk's number. Will they build off of that, or have a natural letdown? And will the Illini play like they have the last 2 weeks, or will the team that played the first half of the season return?
So many questions. Let's see them answered on the field.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
And Penn State has a very impressive streak of their own going -- 90 straight matches. The Nittany Lions are riding the longest volleyball winning streak in NCAA history, and the 3rd longest winning streak of any NCAA sport.
Last weekend the Illini broke in a new libero, as sophomore Rachel Feldman took over for Ashley Edinger, who ended her Illini career with a torn ACL. Feldman had an excellent debut match, with 19 digs and successful returns on 41 serves against Michigan.
Michigan took the first set, but the Illini rallied from 5 points down to take a one point lead before losing 27-25. But the Kevin Hambly's girls won the next 3 sets to win the match. They followed this performance with a strong win against Michigan State -- the last team to beat the Illini.
Junior Laura DeBruler earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors for her performance over the weekend, and she is second in the conference in both kills and points per set.
DeBruler and her team will face a tough challenge Friday Night in State College. But they are firmly in second place in the Big Ten. They will follow up the Penn State match with a Sunday match at Ohio State. That game will be broadcast as a taped game on the Big Ten Network Sunday night. These girls are worth watching. Seriously.
Monday, November 09, 2009
This backcourt could be a memorable Illini backcourt, and easy as 1, 2, 3...
1 - D.J. Richardson - Peoria, Ill. Dietrich James Richardson is proof that the Peoria Connection is alive and well. D.J. is proud of his Peoria roots, and he says his favorite Illini growing up were Dee, Deron and Luther, and he's looking to follow in their footsteps. He says he's excited to improve his defense, but he put on a bit of a show in the final exhibition game against Quincy, scoring 23 points. He went 5 for 8 from 3-point range, as well. His team mentality, work ethic, conditioning and talent are all signs that we could see special things from this new Illini.
2 - Joseph Bertrand - Sterling, Ill. Joe Bertrand is one example of the influence D.J. has on others. D.J. helped persuade this 6'5" guard to join him in Champaign. Bertrand is the all-time leading scorer at his small-town high school, and became a familiar name on the local high school sports highlight show. He also joins the list of "freakish" Illini athletes. However, he had surgery on his knee in September, and still has the option to redshirt. That decision should be made this week, and although Bertrand wouldn't choose to redshirt, he will need to consider the condition of his knee. But he's got plenty of potential...
3 - Brandon Paul - Gurnee, Ill. The 2009 Illinois Mr. Basketball, Brandon Paul is the first Mr. Basketball to choose Illinois since some kid named Dee Brown in 2002 (remember him?). Paul also caught the attention of former Illini Deron Williams, who likes Paul's potential. Oh, and Paul can get to the free throw line -- one area that this team of talented jump shooters needs to work on. He scored 13 points in the Missouri-Southern exhibition game, and 11 points against Quincy. Another player to watch over the next few years.
And although the backcourt is getting plenty of attention, let's not forget the addition up front.
42 - Tyler Griffey - Wildwood, Mo. Tyler Griffey is the all-time leading scorer and rebounder at his St. Louis-area high school, which lists former Illini Robert Archibald among its alumni. Griffey could log some minutes as a backup for Mike Tisdale this year, unless he opts to redshirt. However, he could earn a spot in Coach Weber's rotation, as could every member of this class. Tisdale describes Griffey's game as European in style.
These boys should be fun to watch over the next couple months and years. Go Illini!
Saturday, November 07, 2009
Where Has That Been?
And the defense...Terry Hawthorne, welcome to Big Ten football. The freshman from East St. Louis followed up his performance last week with a beautiful pick-6 from Gophers QB Adam Weber. And as a whole, the D sacked Weber 7 times for a total loss of 50 yards. Plus, they held strong once again to hold Minnesota to a field goal after a goal-line stand.
The blocked punt for a TD was scary, but the Illini came back nicely to score once more. Yes, the final score shows how effectively the Golden Gophers came back late in the game, but we'll take the Big Ten win on the road.
It would have been nice to see this team a bit sooner this year, but I'd rather have a few games to enjoy than none at all. Yes, it's been a rough season for Tim Brewster and his Gophers, as well, and the Iowa loss to Northwestern doesn't do much for the Big Ten rep. But a win is way more fun than a loss. And a win on the road bodes well for the future, especially after the free-fall that was the first half of the season.
Great game, boys! Go Illini!
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
The Illini football team heads up north to Minnesota, looking to build on their strong performance against Michigan.
In Champaign, the volleyball team, now ranked #5, will host #15 Michigan and Michigan State this weekend. And they will take the court without libero Ashley Edinger. She is out for the rest of the season with an ACL tear in her left knee. She tops the Illini record book in digs, so her injury is a big loss for the Illini.
On Sunday, Bruce Weber's basketball team will play their final exhibition game before the season gets underway. The boys warmed up with Missouri Southern last week, and will take on Quincy this weekend. Then college basketball will get underway, followed by what should be a very tough Big Ten season.
So take your pick -- there's plenty Illini games to follow this weekend. Go Illini!
Sunday, November 01, 2009
Signs of Life!
Thank you D-line.
Thank you Juice. Thank you LeShoure. Thank you O-line. And Benn. And Ford. And Cumberland. And the rest of the team. And Tate Forcier's slippery hands. Oh, and instant replay and the play review system.
The Illini showed signs of life at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. And the Michigan Wolverines left the stadium with an L for the first time in a long, long time. (I could go into the game they stole in 2000, but that would just irritate me, so I'll focus on this season.)
Juice and his O-line proved they could still cruise down the field with a strong opening drive. The problem was that Michigan immediately answered. And then the offense stalled. The D did reasonably well, managing to hold Tate Foricer and company to a couple fields goals.
But it really wasn't looking good in the third quarter when Roy Roundtree took off down the middle of the field after out-running the Illini coverage. Signs of life seemed to be non-existant. Except for a freshman in the secondary who refused to give up on the play. Hawthorne drug Roundtree down from behind. On the 1.
And then the Illini D put together a stand like they hadn't had all season. 1st and goal. No gain. 2nd and goal. No gain. 3rd and goal. A bit closer to the end zone. 4th and goal. Down just inches from the goal line.
The Illini offense took this performance to heart and went on to score. A few times. While the D prevented further scores, with a bit of invaluable help from Michigan turnovers.
The offense on the first drive and after "The Stand" is what we had hoped to see all season. But I'm very glad it showed up, especially for one of our favority Big Ten foes. Program rebuilding aside, it's always sweet to get a win over Michigan.
We really didn't know what we would have with the defense, especially with the critical losses of key players. But the D that showed up yesterday was impressive. Yes, they needed the help of the review system, but they had the "indisputable video evidence" needed to prove they could stand.
And so, just like Terry Hawthorne refused to give up on the play, I refuse to give up on the program. This year hasn't been pretty. And who knows what next season will bring or what changes will be needed. But signs of life like we saw yesterday are encouraging.
Boys, please use this as a turning point for the season.