Inaugural Illini Exchange



By Paul M. Banks and Paul Schmidt

Welcome to the first ever Illini exchange featuring my self and Paul Schmidt, a writer with and many Kankakee area publications. Paul’s life journey has taken him from SICA to the same University of Illinois entrance class as myself to currently residing (along with his wife Amber, the most SICA name a girl can have) three buildings down the street from me. Yet we didn’t meet until Homecoming 2008 when the Illini football information department fatefully placed us next to each other in the press box. We started talking to each other like a younger, college football version of Statler and Waldorf (the Muppet old men in the balcony who don’t care for most things…and the loss to Minnesota provided plenty of material that day) Since the orange and blue are playing MUCH BETTER than most experts thought this season, let’s get started as’s newest writer and I address Illination.

(PMB) A one point loss versus a pretty good Clemson team has kept us from a perfect pre-conference season, who really saw this coming? I say 12-1 pre-conference, 9-9 in Big Ten season, and 1-1 in the conference tourney which brings Illinois to 22-11 come March. I still think of this team as a NIT squad, but with numbers like that…tournament worthy? What are your thoughts about the Illini getting back to the big dance?

(PS) First off, thanks for the kind introduction.  I haven’t gotten that nice of a reception since my wedding night (ZING!).I’ve told a lot of people that I’m truly drinking the Kool Aid on this Illinois team.  I think that, record-wise, we’re going to see a 20+ win team with 10+ losses, just based on what’s left in the non-conference schedule and the strange breakdown of the conference.  I really feel like the Big Ten this year is a conference of haves and have-nots with very few teams in between qualifying as mediocre. There’s a lot of teams that Illinois should beat in the conference, and probably some that they shouldn’t, with very few toss-ups, if any on the schedule. What does this mean?  I feel like their RPI is going to be similar to the Syracuse team of two years ago that everyone said would make the NCAA’s, then on Selection Sunday was left out – that team performed in much the same way, beating everyone they should have and no one they shouldn’t have.  The good thing about a profile like that is that you don’t have any bad losses.  The bad thing is you really don’t have any marquee wins to hang your hat on. I think that 22-11 is extremely realistic as a record, but I think that they’ll need to get to 10-8 in the conference (and 23-10 overall) to be dancing. 

(PMB) Good analogy! They have the same colors too. With assists on 71.1 percent of its baskets this season, Illinois ranks second in the nation in assist percentage. The Illini rank sixth in the NCAA with 19.7 assists per game. Illinois also ranks eighth nationally with a team assist-to-turnover ratio of +1.5.

Conversely, there has been a lot of dumb turnovers, like the passes that seem to go to nobody…(great example was the United Center win over Georgia the game we were both covering…of course, they gave me a better press seat in section 115 than they gave you…which I bring up for no reason other than to rub that in- again!)  But this team is reminiscent of the 2005 Champaign Campaign team in that we see good ball movement within the motion half-court set and plenty of assists. What have you seen as the biggest strengths and weaknesses on this team?


(PS) If we’re making that comparison, let’s limit it exclusively to the fact that most of the baskets seem to come from assists.  To paraphrase Dennis Green, let’s not crown their asses just yet. Their biggest weakness, in my mind, is a really big one: I don’t feel like this squad has an identity yet. I love the concept of a squad where anyone can put the points up on any given night, like this team seems to function (also similar to the ’05 team), but you must have that go-to guy, the guy that is the leader and will score those points for you in the clutch (i.e. Deron Williams on the ’05 squad).  I don’t know who that guy is on this team, and I fear it is a problem that can only get worse with Alex Legion becoming eligible starting this weekend.  Even though they are young guys and there doesn’t seem to be an ego problem on this squad, there’s going to be a lot of bodies all trying to get their shots as this season goes on.
(PMB) I would agree that the stat I mentioned is the only way you can honestly compare this team to ’05. And the embarrassing last possession versus Clemson is the perfect example of what you mean when talking about their lack of a closer. With homage to Boers and Bernstein, let’s talk about Dr. Chester Frazier and his development on offense. He’s always been a great defender, nothing much on O, kind of like a poor man’s Travis Walton. So far though, he’s been a pleasant surprise, being a glue guy like Warren Carter in ’07, a key to this season through his energy, hustle and senior leadership. In the latest NCAA statistical rankings released on Dec. 15, Dr. Frazier ranks 14th in assist-to-turnover ratio (+3.4) and 19th in assists (6.8)

(PS) Travis Walton’s mom must be delighted that he’s getting a mention on the internet!  What a moment!I have a real problem with Dr. Chester, and it’s because I  would really like to love the guy.  His “chest bump” of Eric Gordon brought me out of my seat until I remembered that he nearly (inadvertently so) caused the death of a teammate. I don’t think Warren Carter ever did that.

But he hustles, he plays great D, he dives for balls, he plays hurt, and he truly cares about his teammates.  On the court, I should say.  I mean, he’s the kind of guy that I usually love when he plays for Illinois (Lucas Johnson) and hate when he plays for other schools (Brian Cardinal, Tom Coverdale, et al). I just can’t get past the things he did.


(PMB) True. I was only talking about the on-the-court activities, not the darkest incident in Illini history, the one occurring in February 2006 and involving he-who-shall-not-be-named. (The idiot thug two-guard from Peoria who was ludicrously given another chance, and still messed that up.) Frazier is the last holdover from the crash. And I just felt Travis Walton move up in the Google rankings just now.

Moving on, where did Mike Davis come from? Who is this guy? Now the conference’s leading rebounder and our leading scorer, how about his partner in the Mike and Mike show, Mr. Tisdale?

(PS) The most pleasant surprises of the season right there.  Bruce Weber always coaches solid defensive teams, so that was never a worry. However, I didn’t know if this team, as it was currently composed, could put up more than 30 points a game.  The sophomores, all of them, have really stepped up their game, Davis especially.  I never saw this coming from him.  I sort of thought he had some upside, maybe 10 points 6 boards a game, but I thought of that as his upside for his career, not this season.  And he’s exceeding it.  Just amazing.Tisdale isn’t as much of a surprise, because I thought there was a chance that he could take the reigns of the offense this season, but I thought that it would be critical for him to put on about 20 pounds.  If Tisdale does that, I honestly think that he could become an NBA prospect, and be the kind of guy that could anchor the post the next two seasons.  illuc.jpg (PMB) Indeed, he could be like a slighter better Robert Archibald. In Billy Cole and Bubba Chisholm, we have two white guys who definitely belong on Bill Simmons’ famous “Reggie Cleveland all-star team” and Richard Semrau (also surprisingly white) would be an alternate. Thoughts? Other quirks of this team?

(PS) Richard Semrau sounds like one of the Russian terrorists from Air Force One.This team seems nearly absent quirks, or as they would say in Latin, ‘in quirkus absentia.’  I think they seem funny, and when we were at the United Center doing post-game interviews, I felt like the Mikes and Demetri McCamey were ready to start telling jokes or making people laugh (Tisdale, especially, seemed ready to cut loose – he had a half smile on his face the whole time and I felt like there was something funny he WANTED to say but just didn’t), but no one asked the right question.  So right now, I feel like they are a team waiting to break out of their comic shell, so to speak.

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  1. I appreciate the college basketball nerdiness… and am excited to see Alex Legion dress for the Illini

  2. good dueling duo – keep it up

  3. Oh, it’s going to get nerdy! believe me. We’ll touch on what Legion brings to the table next week. I don’t think I-L-L will have a trouble with Detroit tonight

  4. HUGE win for Sparty today… Purdue whipping up on Davidson… Minnesota upsets Louisville… the Big Ten isn’t so down after all… more to come in my 101 this week…

  5. fo scho. the b10 is nowehere near as bad as people made it out to be. They are #1 in conf RPI for a reason! its going to be a fun conference season

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