Can this Illini Team, specifically the Seniors, Ever Wake Up?

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bruce weber demetri mccamey

“We have had people talk to them, and we did everything except electric shock [therapy] to get them going,  Illini coach Bruce Weber said about his college basketball team. “They have to jolt themselves from the inside. We have to be determined and not let a team, especially on the road, jump on us.”

Weber made this comment after his Illini team lost at Northwestern; despite beating the same exact team by 25 points just less than a month ago.

For whatever reason, the Illini can’t seem to put together any type of consistent effort and heart into their play this season; but this problem has actually persisted for the past three seasons.

During those past three years, the Illini have been led by a trio of seniors –center Mike Tisdale, power forward Mike Davis, and point guard Demetri McCamey. This trio looks dubiously poised to finish their collegiate careers with zero NCAA Tournament wins.

That’s a rare feat in Champaign- four years without a tourney win, and it’s unfathomable that a trio with six All-Big Ten selections combined will be a class that “accomplishes” this.

Why? In four years, they just NEVER learn from their mistakes.

By Paul M. Banks

On Saturday, Weber likened the most recent loss to the movie Groundhog Day,’ with the same situations happening over and over: a slow start leads to playing catch-up all day, and they can never pull themselves out of their hole in order to see a victory.

Weber asked his players to treat every game like an NCAA tournament appearance over  two weeks ago.

“I thought it would give them a sense of urgency,” Weber said. “[But] as I said, it’s ‘Groundhog Day.”

So why isn’t Weber getting through to them? Are his coaching/motivational skills that poor? Or is this team just that apathetic and/or pig-headed?

Why hasn’t “the light turned on” and on stayed on for Tisdale, Dsvis and McCamey? There have been plenty of times when their play has inspired outside observers to say “Hey, I think he gets it now.” But it ALWAYS regresses back, and the Illini keep losing to teams with half as much talent as they have.

During 2007-09, lots of Illini faithful believed Weber couldn’t recruit, but he was a great Xs and Os coach. Now it’s the opposite, he has the talent, but can’t get that talent to reach anywhere near their full potential. Or maybe it’s just this one class. Weber said at media day in the fall, “we’ll only be as good as our seniors.” Unfortunately, he was dead right.

Roster wise, one could easily say that Illinois is the second most talented team in the Big Ten (behind Ohio State obviously). Yet here we are, a preseason top 15 team looks unlikely to even make the NCAA tournament. The “you can spell Fighting Illini with NIT jokes” and losing to a vastly under-sized Northwestern team are getting very old.

But why is this team so complacent and disinterested? This tweet from Saturday asks the very same question that numerous Illini fans have wondered:

RiseNU Rise Northwestern

I don’t understand how #Illinois can play with this little passion. They are getting beat up and down by #Northwestern. Seriously.

And here’s a statistical anomaly which boggles the mind, again posted on Twitter:

WillhiteHerald Lindsey Willhite

How about this, #Illini fans: Your team ranks 2nd in FG% in Big Ten games and 1st in FG% defense. Shouldn’t that put you near top of B1G?

Boggles the mind, but the answer is probably foul shooting. This Illini team fails to attack the basket often enough, while their opponents do it to them all the time.

McCamey said at the start of the conference season that someone at his holiday family gatherings told him he needs to attack the basket more.

Now he is.

A little bit.

Sometimes.

At the same press conference, Bruce later and said he’s been telling McCamey that from the beginning so 1.) Why has it taken Meechi this long to learn? 2.) Why wasn’t he listening to his coach in the first place?

Maybe McCamey thought he arrived after he won the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week Award? His horrible slump began a couple games after that announcement. He was just named a Cousy Award Finalist (nation’s top point guard) yesterday, so let’s hope that doesn’t have a similar negative effect on his game.

Until Saturday, Davis was having a great mini-run of games. After the Penn State win, he was asked what changed for him. He said practice, he’s practicing harder and that’s making him play better. Why has it taken him four years to learn that he needs to take practice seriously? Why couldn’t he have understood that last year when, despite being the conference’s leading rebounder, he found himself benched. In ’09-’10, his head wasn’t right. And that’s always been the knock on Davis. When he was being recruited, he was regarded as a 5-star in terms of raw ability and skills, 1-star between the ears. He’s intelligent enough; he’s just not mature or serious enough.

Finally there’s Tisdale.tisdale

You can’t coach 7-1, especially when he plays like 6-4. Look no further than Tisdale to understand why Illini detractors say this is a “European style team,” meaning everyone is a jump shooter, including the bigs.

Yeah he can make some threes, but 39% isn’t world-beating. And why would you want to make your biggest guy on the floor focus on the perimeter? When this team is already overly dependent on the perimeter for scoring? And Tis has seen his FG% drop by over 10 pts from last season.

Perhaps I know why- because we’ve seen Tisdale go inside on numerous occasions to get blocked by opponents 4-5-6 inches shorter than he is. In fact, during his sophomore year, Tisdale was out-rebounded on the season by 6-2 point guard Chester Frazier. So much for “coaching 7-1.”

Is there still hope for this team? Maybe there is beyond the three seniors, who fail to convey even a shred of leadership.  You’d think their experiences would have taught them something by now. However, Davis’ career peaked during his sophomore year, and Tisdale during his junior campaign. That leaves McCamey to wake up and answer the call to be a vocal leader- immediately.

One more dark thought, again from Twitter

Hailtotheorange Joe K

it is getting to be the point where I only need to republish my game prediction, and change the “will”s to “did”‘s

Can’t argue with that. Don’t think Bruce Weber would either.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net. He doesn’t have a real nickname, but he is also a regular contributor to the Tribune’s Chicago Now network, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com

He does a weekly radio segment on Chicagoland Sports Radio.com and Cleveland.com

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank

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Comments

  1. Chair Tossing IS a Sport says

    Illinois’ biggest problem is that Weber failed to recruit any true superstars for so many years. Other programs in the Big Ten (i.e. Ohio St and Michigan St) continue to pluck talent from all over the country (including Chicagoland). But there has been improvement. With players like Brandon Paul and Jereme Richmond, he is now getting the state’s elite talent. There’s a reason programs like Duke and Kansas and Kentucky don’t recruit guys like McCamey and Tisdale-they’re (aside from not being elite talents) mentally weak. I have watched these two young men play at Illinois for nearly 4 years now and I’m not sure either is truly a whole lot better than the day they walked onto campus as freshmen. They still make bonehead mistakes, seem (at times) uninterested on the floor, try to take the lazy way on defense, and worst of all, provide little floor leadership that a successful team needs from its seniors. Weber made a good decision to bench them the other night at Minnesota to start the game. Personally, I would have liked to see them stay there longer. If McCamey and Tisdale decide to show up and be the leaders and play the games they are capable of, this Illini team could get on a roll and make a deep NCAA run. With the younger players in the mix, they have the talent to play with anyone. But I wouldn’t bet on it. They’ll probably manage to win enough games to get in but unless the seniors decide to man up, the Illini will be a Second Round team AT BEST. Brighter times are ahead for Fighting Illini basketball but unless the seniors step up and become leaders on the floor, “ahead” refers to 2012 and beyond, not March and April.

  2. I would pretty much co-sign everything you said in this comment save one: Tisdale and McCamey both peaked their junior year. so to say they didn’t improve during their four years…well, maybe right now they’re regressing right back to where they were during freshman year…ok, I guess I can co-sign that point too.

    I think it’s imperative you now start (and give most minutes to) PG Paul, DJ and Jereme on the wings, Davis and Leonard up front. Yes, I know Meyers will foul out of every game in 10 minutes or less but they all need to get more experiences and develop now, because there is literally no junior class.

    next yr is going to be tough losing too classes. even though the senior class is filled with players who can’t play, or just don’t want to.

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