Saturday, January 20, 2007

Illinois Basketball: More of the Same - Another Loss at Home

I'll keep this one short and sweet. There really isn't anything new to report in today's home loss (3rd of the year under Bruce Weber) to Wisconsin, 71-64. You've heard me say this before too, but this was yet another game that got away (our 4th such loss on the year). Let me tell you, there is a big difference in 14-7 versus 15-6 with a signature win over Wisconsin (#3 in the land). We didn't get it done down the stretch, surrending a 3-point lead with under 4 minutes to play on our own home floor. Ugh!

Today's loss drops us to 2-4 in the BIG TEN this year (14-7 overall). Over the past 7 years, we're now 102-7 inside the HALL with three of those losses coming in the last two months. We had so many chances to put pull away and put this one away; but didn't. One of our achilles heels came back to bite us big time - foul shooting (just 14-23 from the charity stripe, worst in conference). And the misses were compounded by the fact that most of them were big momentum changers.

On the down side, Jamar Smith continues to struggle with angle injuries (to both of them). One of the most prolific outside scorers in the land, he's been saddled with pain in his legs for most of the year. It's hard to get off a good shot without the lower body supporting the release.

On the plus side, Pruitt (19 points) and McBride (15 points) both had great games down low and outside, respectively. Rich showed me that he still has a little heart and soul left in his step as a senior. He's still one of the best bombers in the land from the outside, although has struggled this year with some poor shot selection. Pruitt was huge down low against a very physical Wisconsin squad. Bo Ryan's guys play great defense, especially in the half court. They bang and pound for 40 minutes every night. And of course, the ORANGE KRUSH were amazing yet again in providing the home-court support to a team which is lacking in talent (especially scoring leadership). We get Indiana at home next.

I said a few months ago when I just didn't have a handle on this year's team that we could go 24-7 or 18-13 during the regular season. With only 10 games remaining (5 and 5) in conference play before the BIG - 10 tourney, I'm thinking the former prediction is less likely to materialize. 18-13 is looking more likely at this point. But who knows? There is a chance we run the table assuming we find ourselves and get extremely hot. Road games at Purdue, Indiana, Iowa, and NW won't be easy wins. However, assuming my EOY prediction is correct, we won't be going dancing this year w/o a deep run in the BIG-10 conference tourney. Again, not likely to happen. Hello NIT.

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Tough loss for the Illini. I tend to agree that the NCAA tourney is slipping away, unless we really turn things around.

With Jamar, I did not realize he still has ankle problems. Maybe they should just sit him, since he does not contribute much in his current condition.

I am not looking forward to the NIT.
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