Inconsistency, lack of effort, and disappointing: those three words are as good as any when it comes to summing up the University of Illinois Men’s Basketball 2010-2011 season. For a team that was supposed to do great things this year, they had a very up and down campaign. After starting the season 10-1 (only loss coming in OT to Texas at Madison Square Garden), the Illini stumbled in the back half, and finished with a 20-14 record.
The biggest problems the Illini had were mental.
But it didn’t help that their point guard wasn’t able to be a true distributor in their motion offense. He had to do most of the scoring himself. Not having a dominant insidepresence hurt too.
The player who decided the Illini fate most of the time was makeshift senior point guard Demetri McCamey. When he played well, Illinois was a team that could beat anyone on any night. But when he was off, and he was off quite a bit in midseason, the Illini could lose to any one (see: 7-24 Illinois-Chicago).
McCamey was uber-talented, but he struggled with the little things. If he could have held onto the ball better and played consistent defense, the Illini would have improved their poor 5-10 record against the RPI top 50.
This trickled down to the rest of the team.
Talent was never the issue; effort was. Look at teams in the NCAA tournament today. Is Butler more talented than Illinois? No, of course not. But they remain focused and interested for 40 minutes every night. They get down and play defense and rebound, and that is why they are in the Final Four for the second consecutive year.
With Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, and McCamey leaving, their 3 main contributors, the Illini have a chance to get a new identity on this team. They can have the new up and comers D. J. Richardson, Brandon Paul, and Jereme Richmond set the example to play with effort and defensive intensity.
The first question the Illini have to answer next year is who sets up the offense? If Bradley transfer Sam Maniscalo gets cleared then this should resolve itself.
If not? You might see more of Joseph Bertrand, but I wouldn’t expect anyone else besides Brandon Paul to play the point next year. He proved last year that he can play defense and get to the rim. Now he has to become the vocal leader of the team, take care of the ball, and find open teammates.
Another problem the Illini will have is size down low. They always seem to struggle against good interior teams because they consistently can’t defend well in the post. Even though Mike Davis was a good rebounder, he wasn’t physical enough. And we all know how well Mike Tisdale did as a 7’1” shooting guard – I mean, center. With the loss of both starting big men in Tisdale and Davis, Meyers Leonard will have to step up next year. If Leonard can bulk up, and dominate the boards – something Tisdale couldn’t do – then the Illini will be better off.
Freshman Crandall Head, Luther’s younger brother, played some big minutes in Richmond’s absence, and if he can keep improving, the Illini will have a scary talented team despite a lack of size. The upcoming recruiting class should help add depth up front with Mike Shaw and Nnanna Egwu. If either can help to keep opposing teams off the glass, Illinois will be far better off in limiting second chances.
I fully expect the Illini to be a top 25 team next year, but the difference between that and a Final Four appearance are defined in two words: consistency and effort. If they don’t have these two, they should probably just continue watching at home while teams like Butler take their place in college basketball.
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