Bruce Weber has his 2011-12 Fighting Illini in real good shape to make the NCAA Tournament, with his third big, signature win coming just the other night over Michigan State. Yet he’s on both the hot seat and the bad side of Illini Nation. (Much more on this in a quickly upcoming post) Why?
Style points. Illini basketball is “sexy” alright, sexy as Camryn Manheim or Kathy Bates.
Their 42-41 win over MSU was the fewest points the program has scored in a win since 1946! Even though this teams look destined to hit Black Jack (21 wins) when the regular season ends, they still have an alarming amount of similarities to the 1998-99 team coached by Lon Kruger that set the school record for losses by going 14-18.
Weber’s 2008 team broke that dubious record by finishing 16-19 (yet another reason the Orange Nation is gathering pitchforks and torches right now).
Similarly wretched offense
This is what’s most noticeable and obvious in comparing the two teams. The current Illini are 9th in the league in scoring, 8th in field goal percentage, and dead last in three-point shooting. In fact, other than Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson, who would even bother guarding behind the arc? Seriously, who? Point guard A. Tracy Abrams has 5 3-pt field goals made on the season, POint guard B. Sam Maniscalco is shotting 25% FG, 13% 3-pt in conference play.
I said in my game recap story from the season opener that this team will really struggle with perimeter scoring this season. It’s been even worse than I thought.
Most games are very close, with plenty of scores in the 20s at halftime.
So much for helping the national reputation of Big Ten basketball with scores in conference play looking like this: 57-56, 59-54, 52-54, 42-41, And we’re only halfway through the conference season. Expect a few more 24-22 type halftime scores this year, just like the ones produced by that lovely team from my junior year at school in Champaign.
Only 1 true consistent scorer, Brandon Paul vs. Cory Bradford
Both are true chuckers, and they deserve to be. Who else will step up and make up buckets? No one. The production of Meyers Leonard is about as whimsical and predictable as the behavior of a drunk UI sorority girl. As you soon as you think you’re headed somewhere…nope, you’re not. And not a lick of it makes any sense at all, because people will continue fawning over both regardless of them ever having to actually do anything. Leonard will likely get drafted because of his size, even though it’s clear he needs at least one more year in school, if not two.
BP3 is much more athletic than Bradford was, but had Cory stayed healthy who knows what he could have developed into. Both teams rise and fall by these guys’ three-point attempts.
Really Bad Point Guard Situation leads to overmatched transfer getting lots of minutes
The ’99 team scored 70 just five times, that’s it! They didn’t hit 80 in a single game until the second game of the Big Ten Tourney. This team has hit 80+ on four occassions, and 70+ on 10. and there’s still nine games left. So they are light years better than this group. But they do share some serious point guard issues.
Recruiting gaps have dictated this team start the true freshman Abrams, who has potential, but it one dimensional at best. Depth is provided by Maniscalco, but is he healthy? Or just this bad? I stated his numbers above, and he’s a offensive black hole every time he touches the ball now. And Illinois knew his injuries made him damaged goods before he got here. Thirteen years ago, the Illini often played/started Nate Mast, another undersized, overwhelmed Caucasian. Mast was a former walk-on who had no business playing in the Big Ten, but Frank Williams couldn’t get his academic act together yet, and the other options were Bradford (a two) or McClain (an undersized three) running the point. Have fun with that.
Make no mistake, I’m not saying the ’12 team is the ’99 team. This year’s unit will finish at or above .500 in the Big Ten while that team starting Bradford, McClain, Lucas Johnson, Damir Krupalija and Victor Chukwudebe ended up 3-13 in conference. This team can close. They win the ugly ones, and perhaps they can take one more thing from the ’99 team- their most redeemable trait. That unit went on to beat three nationally ranked teams in three days at the Big Ten tournament, including an eventual Final Four team in Ohio State. That was March madness, and hopefully this team can have an exciting tourney run upsetting better teams, like the ’99 team did in the conference tourney.
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports
A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; and he’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.
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