9 things really wrong with Illini basketball right now

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Last night the #23 Illini lost at home to a Northwestern team that has their coach squarely on the hot seat, is reeling from injuries and without their best player in Drew Crawford. The loss was the third in a row by double digits for the Illini, and the three defeats have been even more lopsided than the scores indicate. This shouldn’t be happening to a team that was ranked in the top ten just a few short weeks ago.

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Illini guard D.J. Richardson can’t seem to find his shot

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After starting 12-0 the Illinois Fighting Illini are 2-3 in their last 5. And one of those wins was rather ugly. A big reason for their recent struggles is the ramped up level of competition as Big Ten play has begun. But it’s also they fact the team lives and dies by the three, and no one was more so than senior guard D.J. Richardson. Of all his field goal attempts on the season, only 46 have been of the 2-point variety. The three is D.J.’s game so when it’s off, so is he, as are the Illini?

Richardson has always been streaky, he’s had major struggles with his shot at various times during his college basketball career, but this slump could be his worst. Or it seems that way since the Illini are ranked so high and playing in so many high profile games?

Maybe it’s time for Coach John Groce to sub Joseph Bertrand in the lineup for Richardson?

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Illini seniors D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul lead the way

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The Illinois Fighting Illini suffered their first loss last night to Mizzou, but they’re still 12-1. And nationally ranked. I think any Illinois fan would have taken 12-1 at this point when the season started. This Illini team will go as far as their seniors will take them. And I’m not talking about Tyler Griffey. Four year starter guards D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul are the keys to the Illini maintaining that top ranking and getting a high seed in March. And then doing something with it.

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Embattled Illini avoid first winless February since 1907

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The college basketball season is only five months long, so any time you’re talking about a winless month, it’s not a good sign. And in their seventh and final game of the year’s shortest month, the Illini would not come up short.

They picked up a 65-54 win over the Iowa Hawkeyes, avoiding the February donut, which hasn’t happened to the program since 1907.

The Illini also improved their record vs Iowa at home to 61-14 all time; they’ve won 11 in a row at Assembly Hall vs. the Hawks and seven in a row overall against the team from Iowa City.

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Just how shaky is Illini coach Bruce Weber’s Job Security?

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The Assembly Hall crowd in Champaign called for Bruce Weber’s head. Illini fans in B Section screamed “pack your bags” and “I can draw up a better offense.” This has gone on for years, except this time there was one major difference- No one in the orange and blue crowd stuck up for Bruce.

And this happened during one of this year’s signature wins, a victory over a top ten Michigan State team. Illini Nation seems to be totally fed up with Weber. He’s about as well liked as point guard Sam Maniscalco, who acts like a black hole in the offense. His field goal and three-point percentages are so low that on those rare occasions he hits a shot, it seems like a miracle has occurred.

Down at courtside on this night you could hear Weber screaming “MOVE MOVE MOVE!” Because there’s just no motion in his motion offense; a system that has produced only a .500 record in conference since the Champaign Campaign national runner-up year of 2005.  And Mansicalco is a big example of what’s wrong with Weber’s decision making: giving more playing time to grindy, hustle players instead of the talented ones.

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Illinois Fighting Illini Tournament Resume: Strengths and Weaknesses

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In our latest NCAA Tournament projection, we have the Illini as a #9 seed in the South Regional. Since February is pretty much here- time to think about who needs to shore up the old resume for selection time come March.

At 16-6, 5-4 in conference, RPI 37, SoS 26 and 5-4 and vs the RPI top 50 their profile looks very solid, but not extraordinary. Including that BAD loss at Penn State (WTF is up with that? Seriously, a top notch program like Illinois being dominated in recent years by a program which has like 15 whole fans?).

Half their wins look hideous on paper but that doesn’t really matter. This isn’t based on the polls which can be influenced by margin of victory.

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Spartans’ Leading Scorer/Rebounder Draymond Green Leaves Game With Serious Leg Injury

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The Big Ten’s leading rebounder, and best player on the nation’s 9th ranked team may be out for awhile. Michigan State forward Draymond Green seriously hurt his left leg in tonight’s mild upset loss to the Illini, and left the game with 3:50 left, unable to walk on his own power.

Green was down on the Assembly Hall floor in Champaign for quite awhile, and after examination was able to hop over on his one good leg to the MSU bench.

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Michigan St.-Illinois Game Just Like Overall Series: Very Tight

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Entering tonight’s contest, the Michigan State-Illinois series was tied at 55. The last 13 games in the series have been decided by 10 points or less, and this was no different. And the #9 Michigan State Spartans fell to the Illinois Fighting Illini 42-41.

There was really ugly offense in the first half, by both teams.  A 22-20 score is often the result when one team’s best player shoots 2-8 from the floor, and the other team’s best player sits with foul trouble. D.J. Richardson was pretty much the entire offense for Illinois in the first half, scoring 7 of the team’s 22 points.

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2011-12 Illini Have Competitive Advantage over ’10-’11 Version

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It’s rather ironic when you think about it. Last year’s Illini basketball team entered the year with exceedingly high expectations; the theme was last dance for a talented senior trio. This year’s team entered with zero expectations. The theme was rebuilding and re-establishing. Yet, if it were somehow possible to get the two teams to play each other I’d pick this year’s squad every single time.

For argument sake, the game would have to be with a cloned subset of the players who were on both teams, I mean 2011 Meyers Leonard would be on the roster of last year’s team and 2012 Meyers Leonard would be on this year’s team.

And I still think last year’s squad had more overall talent; but this year’s squad has much more heart and the ability to handle both success and failure.

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Illini Hoops Want More Defense Behind Leaders Richardson, Paul

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One of the biggest reasons the Illini fell well short of preseason expectations last year was their lack of defensive heart and intensity. It isn’t like a Bruce Weber coached team to not defend, and last year Illinois lost way too many games because their inability to get stops down the stetch and in crunch time.

Especially on the road, Illinois would dig deep holes for themselves right off the bat. Later, they would score enough to catch up, but their failures on the other end kept them from closing the gap.

This season Weber wont have to deal with the constant motivational issues with Demetri McCamey and Mike Davis, psychological issues with Mike Tisdale and off-the-court isseus with Jereme Richmond. In a sense there’s addition by subtraction. Illini best defender, D.J. Richardson is back, and he along with Brandon Paul, the other only juniors on a team with no seniors, will be expected be the leaders.

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Illinois’ Second Half Choke Not Surprising

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There wasn’t much you could say about the Illini and their fall to top-ranked Ohio State on Saturday afternoon.

It was certainly disappointing.

It was certainly a let down after building a lead.

The one thing you really can’t call it, and we all know it deep down inside, was all that surprising. [Read more…]

Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Northwestern Wildcats, LIVE BLOG! The “Rivalry” Renews!!!

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OHHHHHHHHH It’s a family affair here at the Ass Hall tonight. Not really, but I feel like Northwestern is our “little brother”…

We’re three minutes to tipoff!  The purple weenies are here! There was a bigger crowd for Wisconsin (wait, that’s not good)…Northwestern HAS to win this game (wait, that’s worse…). Uh oh. Maybe this is gonna be trouble tonight…2:30 til tipoff and we find out!! [Read more…]