Will The Real Fighting Illini Basketball Team Please Stand Up?

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Sometimes this job is easy. Sometimes it’s really, really hard.

Take the Illinois men’s basketball team for instance. Many people are saying that the Illinois-Texas tilt, a game the Longhorns won 90-84 in overtime, is the best game of this young season so far. I can’t possibly agree.

I saw two teams playing disorganized, frantic, one-on-one basketball for much of the night and defenses that were, quite frankly, non-existent. I saw an Illini team that refused to rebound.

And I saw an Illini team that looked anything but resilient, a chilling call-back to last year’s squad that wilted in the face of any substantial heat or pressure — say, that of a warm light bulb, for instance.

Then the Illini, just 16 hours later, took the court and dominated Maryland. Sure, they repeatedly let the Terrapins back into the game, but an Illini team that had to be gassed physically and emotionally always built the lead back up. It was, in all honesty, a pretty impressive performance.

So which is real?
illinois

By Paul Schmidt

After reading several stories and blogs and game recaps, the simple, short answer is, I don’t have any effing clue. The longer answer…well…

It’s frustrating because the one thing that was supposed to become apparent from this trip to New York City was just what kind of team the Illini had. Would they be a Sweet Sixteen team? Or, as I suspected, would they be a team that would shockingly make the Final Four? Because the talent, surely, is there for that type of run.

After two games against solid, if not spectacular competition, I can’t say that anything would surprise me. What’s worse, is that I believe the team was traveling to NYC for redemption and an identity.

Redemption for last year’s debacle of a trip to Las Vegas. Redemption for a buzzer-beating gut-punch loss to Utah, and then a choke-job against Bradley. One thing that does seem fairly certain is that they did manage to find that redemption. They turned things around in the face of adversity, a good quality for a team to have given the strength of the Big Ten.

Did the Illini find an identity, however? They might have, although it will be a familiar one to many Illini fans: Stand around and watch Demetri McCamey create.

If that sounds familiar to anyone, it should, because it was the offensive motto of the 2009-2010 Illini as well, also known as the “Repeatedly Punching Myself In The Face” offense. It’s heart stoppingly frustrating to watch when no one seems interested in creating their own shots.

And that, in all reality, is the biggest problem I see with this Illinois team, and it was supposed to be a strength — Someone other than Demetri McCamey needs to be able to create with and without the basketball.

The bigs, as of yet, don’t seem capable (I say as of yet because Meyers Leonard has the capability to be that guy — just perhaps not this season…tough for freshmen centers in big conferences). Brandon Paul has shown flashes but it appears right now that he is going to be utilized as a spark-plug off the bench.

D. J. Richardson has shown flashes of create-ability too, but seems more content to play point-guard-B to Demetri’s point-guard-A.

What, then, is the answer?

It’s the same as it was in the preseason — Jereme Richmond.

Richmond has to assert himself into the offense in a constructive way — harnessing that extreme athletic ability positively. Again, we’ve seen flashes, like on the drive to tie the game and send it to overtime against Texas, but he still is committing too many fouls and having too much attitude towards opponents and officials (yesterday Bruce was asked by an official to tell Richmond to tone down the histrionics, and the official is right).

Factor in the lack of rebounding on both ends of the court, and the team is giving up too many second chance points on defense, and having too many one-and-dones on the offensive end themselves. If you are going to hoist up 48 threes in two games, many of those early in the shot clock, you have to be able to grab some boards to extend your life on offense.

So far, the Illini have also proven fairly unable to do that.

So…again…the question is, what should we expect from the Illini?

It looks like we just go back to waiting, and circle the next big game on the calendar.

November 30th against North Carolina. National Championship Game revenge or another missed opportunity to prove yourself worthy?

We will see.

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Comments

  1. I don’t know why I keep thinking Tisdale will one day develop into a big man. I don’t for some reason I think because he’s 7 feet tall he’ll one day become a center, and rebound.

    I really should know better, he never has cared to rebound. Even in (arguably) his best season, Chester Frazier, who’s 6’3″ outrebounded him.

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