Illinois Sports Extravaganza, Part Two, Basketball

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By Paul M. Banks and Paul Schmidt

8 minutes until tipoff
Welcome back to Champaign, the Pauls are still in the house.  Quite literally, the House of Paign!

Is this game on TV?  Who knows…who cares??? We’re here to break down all of the action for you tonight, and we’re only slightly tired after the barnburner that was the Illinois football game.demetri

Illinois and Boise State have a lot to live up to if they hope to be as exciting as this afternoon’s football game! (PS)

Tipoff
Patriotic crowd tonight, singing the national anthem with the band…also, a fun addition to the intros, it appears each Illinois player has their own avatar on the replay board.  No, they aren’t amphibian-looking and blue.

This is the first matchup in history between Boise State and Illinois, and only the fourth time the Broncos have ever played the Big Ten.  They like to score points.  Defense, though, is not their strong suit.

I’m guessing it will be a little while before they play a Big Ten team again after tonight…Illinois 95, Boise State 60 is the prediction…(PS)

What an ending indeed! That was guano crazy. Talk about finding a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory! I’m guessing this one will be a lot more decisive than the football game. I think the Illini might break 100 here. It’s kind of weird to see Boise St. playing basketball. It’s kind of weird to see them not on a blue football field for that matter. (PMB)

Boise St. leads 11-9Illinois 14, Boise State 14, 13:14 left 1H
I still think the Illini roll, but right now, BSU is hanging tough.  On the plus side I’m getting really good at typing the word “State”.

Right now, the Broncos are a little more athletic than I thought, and have some good speed in the game.  Their cuts to the hoop are sharp, and with the number of open looks from 3 that they are getting, the picks and screens have been really, really nice.

However, they are remarkably deficient on the defensive end, and really on the glass as well, with the Illini getting a number of good putbacks.

Illinois 22, Boise State 19 11:10 left 1H
Really nice oop-de-layup from McCamey to Dominique Keller. The pass was a little bit errant, but Keller used his long arms to corral the pass and lay it in.

He’s been my man-crush for a while, but I haven’t said it yet this game…I wish Keller would get more PT.  I really do. (PS)

Yeah, he would start on so many other teams in Div 1. the 1980s Knicks, whoops I mean BSU, the uniforms tripped me up, my bad, are running up down with the Illini. This is a very troubling start here. I love how Boise St. has guys named Montreal, Noonan (miss it! MISS IT NOONAN) and a Zach Moritz! seriously where’s Belding and Spano.

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Illinois 34, Boise State 34
Interestingly, Some dude named Okoye (I think it was Christian) just rumbled in from the one-yard line for a score, and Noonan Noooooooonan just hit a driving slicing jumper to tie it up. They aren’t a bad Boise State team…(PS)

The band obviously knows that there’s a Noonan here tonight, because they’re playing Journey’s “Any way you want it” during a timeout. Best made famous by Rodney Dangerfield’s character Al Czervik “so what? so LET’S DANCE!”

Now they’re playing Don’t Stop Believin. Where’s A.J. and Crede? by the way McCamey sitting in foul trouble is hurting the Illini right now…still up by one, 37-36 3:43 till half.

And I noticed there’s some dude named Anthony Thomas too. That’s funny, yet another Bears running back who had a great rookie season, and then did NOTHING. BTW, Doesn’t Brandon Paul sort of look like a young Kendall Gill?

Mike Davis’s jumper has been like the internet connection here, in and out.

Illinois 42, Boise State 38
Brandon Paul looks a lot like Kendall Gill, except for the mohawk.

Illinois go into the half struggling a lot more than they ideally should be. it is, however, surprising that Boise State has quite as much athleticism as they do — that is not typically a WAC characteristic. They do, however show solid three point shooting — something that perennial WAC favorite Utah State is always good at.

The Illini need to improve on the defensive end, something I’m sure that Bruce Weber is making very, very clear right now. (PS)

Illinois 47, Boise State 38 19:01 left 2H
Wowsa, quick start to the half, a Mike Davis put-back and a McCamey 3 puts the Illini comfortably up nine — and I use the word comfortably for the first time tonight.

The Illini are, thank goodness, shooting 7-of-13 from three-point range for the game and that is truly the only reason this game is close — Boise State would be running away with it without that…(PS)

Actually Illinois should really be winning this by a LOT! They won the rebounding battle for the first half, and committed 6 turnovers to BSU’s 13. I would like to see the Illini build some momentum from the Clemson win, btw how cool was that scoreboard show before the game? The highlight reel from the ACC Challenge, the greatest comeback in school history.

I was expecting a blowout to follow this. as it stands 52-46 Illinois 15:46 left to play

Illinois 54, Boise State 50 13:56 left 2H
Zach Morris back on the floor, teehee.

“Hangin around, hangin around…this kid’s got alligator blood.” Teddy KGB’s quote about Mike McD in the legendary movie Rounders is apropos in this case, because the Broncos will not die.  They will not go away. And from a defensive standpoint it looks like the Illini won’t clamp down enough to be able to do anything other than outscore them.

A McCamey 3 puts the Illini up 7…it makes me think that the Illini better be ready for Cames to play 40 minutes a night. Banks, has one given Illini player ever been as important to his  team as it appears McCamey is to this one?  And yes, I know I’m softening on my stance from the Clemson game…(PS)

I know you’re not the biggest McCamey fan, that’s usually my department. Because he sort of plays the way I do, or used to on the schoolyard. shoot from the outside a lot, defense is optional. Anyways, that’s not a great sign for the Illini if they’re gonna be overly dependent on him, or any one single player for that matter. It was funny how in the media room at the Bulls on wednesday, we were watching the Clemson game. And one journalist said “that kid is going to play at the next level” about Brandon Paul. Then a Score personality (I’ll tell you which one offline) said “He needs to get McCamey’s bum ass out of his way, so does DJ, so he can run the point.”

I strongly disagree with that idea, but with the tremendous potential of DJ and Paul, I see where he’s coming from.

Illinois 68, Boise State 58 8:47 left 2H
Have I mentioned how much I heart Dominique Keller?? It helps that his name makes him sound like a girl…but I heart him much!

A breakaway dunk, and then a sweet little jumper pushed the Illini lead to 10, and Keller really is proving his worth as a utility guy off the bench. (PS)

Agreed. Hard to believe, but this odyssey, this double-dip, double-header, double-duty etc. of Illini sports concludes in 7 1/2 minutes, then postgame pressers, but it really was a blur wasn’t it? By the way that “House of ‘Paign” sound effect, the your guy just died in “Double Dragon” or “Streets of Rage” scream sound…as much as I hate it, it’s now growing on me.

double_dragon_xbla

Illinois 74, Boise State 64 4:30 left 2H
Like my cohort PB said…coming up on dagger time.  You have to put inferior teams away at this point.

Demetri McCamey just had a nice sequence with a teardrop runner, and then with a great drive to the hoop to push the lead out to ten.  It looked like he drew contact and there was no foul call…but…(PS)

Illinois 74, Boise State 68 3:14 left 2H
Annnnnnd…they didn’t do it.  They continue to let a worse team hang around.  Last year’s Illini team did the same thing, incidentally. (PS)

Illinois 74, Boise State 71 1:19 left 2H
Wow…just wow. This is really looking bad for the Illini. They have to be doing better than this against a WAC team picked to finish mid-pack there.  You HAVE to. (PS)

Illinois 76, Boise State 74 :35.8 left 2H
Another Bronco three and they don’t have to fould now.  With just 12 seconds left on the shot clock, if they force a stop, they will have the ball for the last shot with a chance to tie and send the game to overtime or…gulp…win. (PS)

Illinois 78, Boise State 76 :20.2 left 2H
And just when you thought Mike Tisdale had saved the game…Anthony Freaking Thomas, the A-Train…hits a driving layup to cut the lead to two. They are now in foul-or-die mode, though, and the Illini, typically a bad-shooting free throw team, aren’t half bad at it this year.

Unfortunately, they are having trouble getting the ball in bounds, and just used their last time out. The crowd does not have a good feeling about this…they are officially uneasy. (PS)

Illinois 80, Boise State 77  :15.6 left 2H
Bill Cole fouls out, in limited playing time off the bench.  He won’t be thinking about this game with pride 10 years down the road.

And a 1 of 2 performance from the line for Boise State and then Tisdale hitting two bulges the lead to 82-77, and a probable Illini win.

Check back for more after the post-game press conferences, with comments from Bruce Weber, the Illini and their opponents.

Illinois 84, Boise State 77

The Illini were a little subdued after the game, with Mike Davis summing up the disappointment best.

“It doesn’t even really feel like a win, and I don’t really think we played that great,” Davis said. “We got dominated inside, they got penetration on us, and we just have got to get set. We have got to come to practice every day and work to get better. Because if it doesn’t change, it’s like Coach says, we are gonna be some sorry guys.”

The Boise State defense was stout all game, holding the Illini to just 45 percent from the floor — a respectable percentage, for certain, but not when you consider that they shot 50% from behind the arc.

“What wasn’t making it difficult?” Illinois center Mike Tisdale said. “The dribble penetration, the high-low stuff, the big man sealing…we just have to work on that stuff. It’s Basketball 101, and we just couldn’t do that stuff tonight. We’ve got a couple of days of practice and we just have to get ready for the next team.”

Illinois head coach Bruce Weber wasn’t any happier after the game, as the players basically said that he was pretty angry in the locker room.

“I guess that would be an understatement today…” Weber said with a thin smile. “You guys have been here a long time today, and it’s been a really, really long day. Coach Zook, you just feel so bad about how they lost that game, and my thinking, as we got down to the end, I’m thinking man, all the sudden something is going to bounce wrong for us.  But it didn’t, and I give our kids credit for making plays down the stretch.”

Weber was also unhappy with his team’s inability to finish the game.

“You know we go and we get up ten points in the second half and have three opportunities on the fast break and don’t get anything out of it,” Weber said. “You know, that’s really where you’ve got to put a team away. Everyone has games where you don’t play quite as well, but now you’ve got to learn to finish it. It’s just different people every time, learning,  maturing, and just being smart.”

And that wraps things up from Champaign. On behalf of Paul Banks, I thank you all for following along today. We’ve been here so long today, and spoken with so many locals that I think now we have to take up permanent residence here…(PS)

Who Had The Worse Weekend, the Chicago Bears or the Illinois Fighting Illini?

Lovie

By Paul Schmidt

For most Chicago area football fans, the weekend wasn’t a complete loss. For anyone who is a University of Illinois graduate and a Chicago Bears fan…let’s say you’ve had better weekends, and leave it at that.

During the awfulness that was the Bears’ game on Sunday, it spawned somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 tweets on Twitter about just how bad the Bears were, and the most proposed question was, “Who would win in a game of football, the Bears or the University of Illinois?”

I opined in response to one of these questions that it’s just a silly question, that of course the Bears would win.

It took a tweet from @bears_insider that made me really think about what had just happened: “Ah, but what if Juice Williams wasn’t playing for the Illini?”

It really says something about how bad the Bears looked that that actually made me think for just a moment.

This is why, despite the insanity that was the Illinois game (over 200 yards rushing given up to Purdue by Illinois’ now-101st ranked run defense, rotating three quarterbacks and simultaneously killing both Jacob Charest’s and Eddie McGee’s confidences), the Bears had the far worse weekend.

Jay Cutler cemented himself as an enigma this season, sort of a higher profile Rex Grossman — Each game’s outcome will be determined in the first few minutes of offensive game play, whether Good Jay or Evil Jay shows up.

But Cutler wasn’t the only problem, nor the biggest problem.

That would be Lovie Smith and the defense.

Lovie took control of the playcalling this season, in response to Bob Babich struggling with that aspect of being defensive coordinator. This was supposed to be a return to the glory days of  Lovie’s Cover 2 (or Tampa 2, if you prefer) defense, back when the Bears, in 2006, had a ball-hawking opportunistic defense that created points on their own.

If you remember the 2006 defense, you’ll remember just how dominant and dangerous they were. Of course, with three more years of age and games played under their belt, and largely the same unit on the field, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that, on Sunday, the unit looked lost, slow and basically underprepared.

Slow, I completely understand.  I felt this whole season came down to how well the defense was going to play, and the health of Brian Urlacher, Tommie Harris and Peanut Tillman. While Peanut has been healthy for the most part, Urlacher obviously is done for the season and Harris has been completely M. I. A. when he has played.

I cannot defend the defense looking lost and underprepared, however, and that blame falls right at Lovie Smith’s feet.  Since he took control of the defense back, they have been suspect at best.  The only especially good thing that has been said this season was early on the strength of the play of the front four — which was basically all attributed to Rod Marinelli, not Lovie. Motivation, it would seem, is not Lovie’s strong suit, as the defense was completely embarassed on Sunday for no apparent reason.

Lovie’s also been far too slow to get plays on the field, which is a problem given that that means the team is slow to line up in formation, which in turn means that not everyone is always set and in position for the start of the play.

This smacks of unpreparedness of the worst kind — This isn’t the team not listening to the coaches, or going through the motions. This is the head coach, Lovie Smith, in charge of calling the defensive plays because he wanted to be (not because he had to), not being prepared enough to get plays and formations on to the field quick enough for his team.

This is Lovie Smith not recognizing the offensive personnel on the field quick enough and being able to respond.

zook2This is Lovie Smith in over his head.

In Champaign, the heat is on Ron Zook and his coaching staff. It’s definitely reaching the boiling point, and he needs to produce wins now or face some dire consequences in the near future.

Still, after Sunday’s Bears’ game, I can’t help but think that Zook probably felt a little less pressure. Even if only for a day.

The Illini may be Alright this Year

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By Paul M. Banks

This past weekend, the University of Illinois Fighting Illini got some measure of redemption from their week one DISASTER in St. Louis. The Illini responded from their 37-9 thrashing at the hands of Missouri to rout FCS opponent Illinois St. 45-17 in Champaign. Granted it was against a lower tier team predicted to finish near the bottom of their vastly inferior conference, but the Illini did without the services of arguably their three if not best, most important, players: QB Juice Williams, WR Arrelious Benn, and LB Martez Wilson. Williams, a Chicago native who’s been tutored by another Chicago product and star quarterback, Donovan McNabb contributed just one series before getting hurt. His injury is not supposed to be extremely serious and his return is key, for the Illini to have a legitimate leader.

Williams spoke about what he learned from working with McNabb. “Keep your head…a majority of quarterbacks know that when things start going on around them, people start talking, things start to tank. It’s just the quarterback mentality to let everything go and just stay focused and go from there, once you start paying attention to everything negative going on around you, you kind of lose sight of what you’re trying to do, so I just block everything out and just go,” Williams stated.

His top-flight receiver in a highly heralded corps is Arrelious “Rejus” Benn, a projected top ten pick in the NFL Draft. But his stock is falling because Rejus has been a total non-factor so far. The Illini receivers have been extremely hyped, and if Benn isn’t 100% healthy then other players like Jeff Cumberland, Jarred Fayson, and Tight End Michael Hoohoomanawananuii (have fun with trying to pronounce that) will need to step up big time. illinois

Illini Head Coach Ron Zook also needs to realize who his starting tailback is. It should be Daniel Dufrene, with Jason Ford as a capable back-up, not the other way around. They’ve battled some injuries as well this young season, so they fit right in with the rest of the team.

On the other side of the ball, it comes down to another well-recruited Chicago product, Martez Wilson, who moves over to Middle Linebacker, and needs to be the “quarterback” of the defense.

“The last two, actually the last three years, our Mike linebacker has led the Big Ten in tackles,” Zook said. “I don’t want to put the pressure on him that he’s not doing a good job if he doesn’t lead the Big Ten in tackles, but he’s a guy that a lot of things revolve around him, with our calls and so forth, and it’s going to be important that he has the kind of year that we think he can.” Wilson was also hurt and missed the last game. But Illinois won in impressive fashion, despite all the key missing pieces, which is a good sign. It’s also a good thing they have this week off- to get ready and healthy for mighty Ohio St. on September 26th.

Illinois Season Preview Part 3…Fearless (Fearful??) Predictions

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By Paul Schmidt

The success and failure of the Illinois Fighting Illini football season isn’t a difficult prospect.  With the previews in, the necessity of the offense to take care of the ball and the defense to force turnovers and play soundly is pretty well known, but in the end the Illini will have to try really hard to miss a bowl game again this season.

The only question left, then, is what type of bowl game can they can make.

First and foremost, there’s the games that, barring a series of unforeseen events, they will not lose.  The Illini have four of those games: Illinois State, Indiana, Purdue and Michigan. If Illinois loses any of these games, the season is not only an unmitigated disaster, Ron Zook should be fired immediately with his entire staff as well as Athletic Director Ron Guenther.  Without mercy or prejudice.  Quite simply, they are un-losable games.  They just are.

So, let’s take the remaining eight Illini games piece by piece, as they are the ones that will shape the way the Illini season goes.

9/5, Missouri (in St. Louis)– Missouri has constantly been a thorn in the Illini’s side since renewing the Arch Rivalry in football.  Why these games can’t be played on Mizzou’s and Illinois’ campuses on alternating years is mystifying to me, though. How St. Louis qualifies as a neutral site when your opponent is Missouri is baffling to me. It’s like saying the United Center in Chicago is a neutral site for Illinois basketball…there’s a reason why they’ve only lost twice there all time.

Just on the basis of returning stars and players overall, the Illini should win this game going away. With so many skill players graduated from Mizzou, it would seem as though they would have trouble scoring points against an Illinois defense that should be much improved.

The problem is, no one knows just how improved the Illini will be on the defensive side of the ball, and in a rivalry such as this, if either team gets a little bit of life breathed into it, that might be all they need to make a run.

VERDICT: Win, and a fantastic yardstick with which to measure the team’s prospects.

9/26, at Ohio State –Illinois obviously has a history of success in the Horseshoe. A stadium that is typically a house of horrors for most teams has been really somewhat neutral for the Illini.  Some very bad Illinois teams have

A celebrating Terelle Pryor...something Illini fans should familiarize themselves with.

A celebrating Terelle Pryor...something Illini fans should familiarize themselves with.

gone into Columbus and performed very well, and you don’t have to go very far back to remember an un-ranked orange and blue squad coming away with a win against the number one team in the country (in a related story, it got a little dusty inside Joe’s Bar on Weed Street in Chicago- also the night I got my first tattoo).

While last seasons’ game against the Buckeyes was viewed as something of a revenge game, expect this season’s game to act as the Buckeyes’ actual act of revenge as they take the Illini out to the woodshed.

VERDICT: Loss, and probably by more than a few points.

10/3 vs. Penn State– The Illini might be looking for their own measure of revenge against the Nittany Lions at home. The Illini weren’t exactly embarrassed on national TV last year, but the game certainly turned their season the wrong direction.  They never seemed to recover any momentum after that loss.

A team that features Darryl Clark, Evan Royster and more returning from a BCS team last season, they seem to be primed for a run toward a Big Ten title at the least. While I don’t think the Illini’s defense can stop a dynamic Penn State attack, I do think this is a winnable game at home for them.  Not that they actually WILL win it…it’s just a winnable game.

VERDICT: Loss, but a close one that might come down to the last possession.

10/10, vs. Michigan State –The constant praise heaped upon the Spartans is a little mystifying to me.  Easily their best player graduated.  And while their defense will again be strong, losing Javon Ringer will most likely make a weak offense last year even more stagnant this.  Maybe there’s something there.  I just don’t see it.

Also, there’s the problem they have less of a history of back to back successful seasons than Illinois does, and that’s really saying something.

VERDICT: Win, and I think it could be a blowout at home.

11/7, at Minnesota –

The Illini never play well at the Metrodome…the Golden Gophers have almost always dominated us there.

Wait, they opened their new stadium? They don’t play in the Humpdome anymore?  Then this one is a gimme!

VERDICT: Win, and a measure of revenge for a homecoming loss last year.

11/14, vs. Northwestern –The Wildcats dominated the Illini last year, in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated. However, the Wildcats lost their starting QB and RB, starting WR…I mean, the list goes on and on.  The Sports Bank founder has a big-time man-crush on Corey Wootton, and I agree that the defense will still be very good, but don’t they suffer from the same problem as the Spartans do?  How are they going to score enough points to win?  I know they have confidence in Franz Kafka at QB, but, again, I just don’t see it.

VERDICT: Win, and probably another easy one.

11/27, at Cincinnati –The Illini made a conscious effort this season to do two things: Beef up their non-conference schedule, and move their non-conference schedule around so that they wouldn’t have such a long layoff after the Big Ten regular season. This road game against the Bearcats is one of the games that is fulfilling those efforts.

This game scares the bejeezus out of me…hopefully it won’t come down to this as a must-win game for a bowl berth if I’m apocalyptically wrong about the above games. More than anything, the coaching matchup of Brian Kelly versus Ron Zook is…umm…well, let’s just say that doesn’t favor the Illini.

VERDICT: Loss, though with the number of starters that the Bearcats lost, this is a winnable game.

12/5, vs. Fresno State – Senior day, it should be important. This, in my estimation, will be the difference between a New Year’s bowl game and a lesser one.  The opportunity to play on New Year’s should be important to this squad.  It very much should be….right?

And still, the Bulldogs, a spunky mid-major, will be a stern test that will be difficult to overcome. They will be a fringe bowl team, led by a great head coach in Pat Hill.

The fact it is senior day for so many talented pieces of the Illini squad, that should lead the Illini to victory.

VERDICT: Win.

That leads the Illini to a 9-3 record. That’s enough for a major bowl, and would be a spectacular success by anybody’s measure.

The journey starts tomorrow, and it should be a fun ride.