Monday, December 14, 2009

Signs of Games to Come

The Big Ten basketball conference season is going to be tough. But the dominating win over Western Michigan shows how the Illini are using the non-conference seaseon to prepare for the next two months.

Offense: This Illini team can score! Yes, they were ice-cold for the first 4 minutes of the game Sunday. But, unlike last season's team, the 2009-10 Illini have plenty of firepower. With Mike Davis consistently getting double-doubles, Mike Tisdale's mid-range jumper and hook shot, Demetri McCamey both dishing and scoring, Brandon Paul driving, D.J. Richardson from 3 and Dominique Keller coming up big off the bench, the Illini have plenty off options to rack up the points. And they are -- getting more than 80 points a game. I don't expect scoring to stay that high once conference play starts, but we should see more points than we did a couple times last year.

Strength: Against WMU and others, the Illini have had a clear size advantage. And they've exploited it. But Sunday, one promising sign for the future was the aggressiveness and strength of Tisdale down low. He consistently went after rebounds more assertive than we've seen from him in the past. And he was a bit more aggressive in the low post. Good preparation for the physical play in the Big Ten. Tizzy will be fighting bigger guys for position in a couple weeks, but I like to see him fighting now. He's got a bit more meat on his bones, and he's showing he can use it. Paul adds great strength on the perimeter, as well.

Speed: This team can run. And they like to run. As individuals and as a team, we've seen plenty of quickness on the floor. McCamey chasing down loose balls. Paul blowing by defenders for a dunk. Transition offense. Quick passes that get ahead of the defense. Yes, these boys do get out of control and throw it away more than they should when going fast, but they are still taking advantage of their athleticism.

Free Throws: Sunday the Illini were very good from the stripe, shooting 14 of 15. Although they aren't consistent getting to the free throw line or making those baskets, the Illini are trending up over time, and this will be critical in conference play.

Defense: The Illini don't lock down quite as firmly as they did last year on defense, but they did hold the Bronos' leading scorer David Kool to 13 points, well below his 23 ppg average and his recent 32-point games (yes, that's plural). Shot blocking has added lots of excitement to the defense, and Tisdale isn't the only one doing that. The Illini have also shown us they can play more than just man-to-man D. This is another area with plenty of room for improvement, but it looks to be trending up.

But before the Big Ten season starts, the Illini have a couple tough road games. In Atlanta against Georgia Saturday, and the Braggin' Rights game next week.

Should be fun. Go Illini!


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