Saturday, November 14, 2009

2009 Tips Off

Friday night the 2009-2010 Illini men's basketball season tipped off with a solid win over SIU-Edwardsville, 96-69. And this could be a really fun basketball season.

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...

Go Illini!

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