Monday, November 27, 2006

7-0 Start

For all of our readers, Chief and I are still alive and kicking. Things are fine but we have had some obligations over the past couple of months that took a great deal of our time and prevented us from posting as much as we would like. Our apologies--we will try to pick things up now that the season is under way and with two big games this week against Maryland at home and Arizona in Phoenix.

The Illini are once again off to a great start to the season. Winning the Chicago Invitational Tournament by knocking off Bradley in the championship game leaves the Illini at 7-0. It hasn't always been pretty as the Illini have needed to come from behind in several games, including the game against Bradley, but these games have hopefully helped to build the confidence of what is a young team overall and a team that is seeking a new identity after the graduation of Dee Brown and James Augustine.

It was great to see Illinois get bragging rights with the win against a solid Bradley squad that went deep into the NCAA tournament last year. It was even better to see Jamar Smith return to action earlier than expected from his high ankle sprain. He really gave the team a lift on Saturday night and, based on my observations, he will be one of the vocal leaders of the team this year.

While I have not been able to watch all of Illinois' games this year (thanks to several of them not being on TV where I live), I did watch the Bradley game and have seen highlights from several other games. I think Illini fans should feel very good about the play so far of Chester Frazier, Warren Carter (and with his new hair "style" he reminds me of Ben Wallace), and Shaun Pruitt. Chester was the MVP of the Chicago Invitational while Carter and Pruitt were both on the All-Tournament team. These guys all have to take major steps forward this year for Illinois to be successful and so far they have been up to the challenge. Calvin Brock has also done a very good job for Illinois this year, and is an example of why fans should not writer a player off too soon.

The whole team should be commended for how they played while McBride, Smith, and Randle were all out. They managed to win the games they should be winning and got several guys some much needed experience in a variety of game situations. This experience can only help the team later in the year. It is good go have McBride and Smith back and once Randle returns later in December, this should be an exciting team to watch. It is difficult at this point to predict just how good this year's Illini team can be. However, we will get a few questions answered this week with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge game against Maryland on Tuesday followed by the game against Arizona on Saturday. The team will be without Randle for these two games but winning is a habit and this team has experienced a lot of wins over the past few years. Let's hope for two more this week!

Until later, Go ILLINI!


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