Tuesday, November 28, 2006

No Fight in My ILLINI 2- Nite

Yet another ACC/BIG-10 loss for the BIG-10 and my ALMA MATER. Ugh!. This was a tough home loss, our first to a non-conference foe since 11/17/98 (51 games). Remember Lon Krueger ladies and gentlemen? Maryland really took us out of our game tonight by forcing 12 turnovers and holding us to only 36% from the field, 26% behind the arc. Normally we shoot 40% from downtown, especially at home in the sea of orange.

This was a close game throughout, especially in the 2nd half. But, down the stretch Maryland, lead by their superstar freshmen VASQUEZ from Venezuela, made the big plays to turn the momentum time and time in their favor. One of the differences between a great team and an average team is knowing the concept of time and possession. Great teams find ways to manage the clock while manufacturing high-percentage shots given the stage of a game. Average teams rely on raw talent and athelticism to make things harder than otherwise necessary. Tonight, I saw more greatness in Maryland than I did in the men from Champaign.

My ILLINI squad looked lazy and confused at times, especially Rich McBride who's just back from a DUI suspension. At times he played as if he still had a hangover. Come-on already. Keep your head in the game, Richie; and stop playing fast and loose with the rock with the game on the line. Rich, my man - step it up! I'm calling you out in November. But bro, you're a senior stud who has to lead this team until Randle gets back in a month from his groin injury. Same for Warren. Mr. Carter has to learn to bring his athleticism to each and every play on both sides of the centerline.

I can't complain that we're 7-1 at this point in the season. Yes I can, but I really shouldn't. We've gotten off to lousy starts in several of our first few games only to turn 'it' on in later in those games to pull-off the wins. That's not a good philosophy for victory when the competition gets better. And tonight, the competition was better. We have a long way to go to get back on top of this conference. I'm sure things will get better as the season goes by and players grow into their roles. But for now, we're a young hardwood squad searching for an identity, some consistent scoring, and team leadership. The sooner my guys stop looking over their shoulders for Dee and James the better. It doesn't get any easier come Saturday against Arizona in the desert.

And one final thought tonight on a cold and icy night from the PNW (Pacific Northwest). We're supposed to get some freezing rain tomorrow night. When will they end this BIG-10/ACC challenge? It's a joke already. The ACC always kicks our collective asses this early in the season. I think this is the 7th or 8th year of the thing. The BIG-10 has never won a challenge to my knowledge. I wouldn't even call it a challenge given the poor level of basketball play in most games by the black and blue division. The only challenge I see is when the ACC teams have to make their connecting flights through O'Hare.

Some of my favorite post-game quotes:

  • "I think we just thought the lead was going to extend itself when we went up five," Carter said. "We've just got to know how to close the gap."
  • "We shouldn't lose at home, I don't care who's here," Weber said. "We gave up 72 percent shooting in the second half. I understand the competition's good, but that shouldn't happen at home."
  • "It should have been closer in the second half than it was," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "Then in the second half we didn't grab it."

Looking ahead is always a dangerous thing to do, especially in late November. But that's the kind of guy I am. The ILLINI need to figure several things out before I can say with confidence how this year is going to end up. Of primary concern to me right now is understanding role and position on the team. Getting Brian Randle back in December will be a big help assuming he's 100% healthy when he returns. Others need to step up in the interim (Frazier, Smith, Pruitt, Carter, and Brock). The young guys need to grow-up fast and find themselves and the rest of the team. On the low end, I see this team going 18-12 before the BIG-10 tournament. Anything less than 18 wins will be a disaster in my book. However, if I look on the bright side, there might be 24 wins out there against just 6 losses. So, I guess I'll go with a more realistic 21-9 record heading tourney time. Check back in a few months to find out how these predictions hold up.

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