Saturday, February 03, 2007

2 in a ROW! Down the Stretch They Come....

They say the last 10 games of the regular season make up the real meat of bracketology. It's like the 'second' season of CBB. Or maybe the 3rd. To be honest, CBB doesn't really capture my attention until mid January when conference play really starts to heat up. The games in November and December are eye candy, appetizers, or warm-ups for what's on the horizon. There's nothing like the intensity of conference basketball (until the MADNESS begins).

That being said, my squad has put together two good home wins this week over Michigan State and Minnesota. Granted, they were two 'must-have' wins for us at home if we have any aspirations of making the BIG DANCE come next month. Defense has been at the hear of the last two wins, holding both opponents well under 40% from the field. Tonight we held the Golden Gophers to 17-55 or 31% shooting. Wow, there aren't too many teams out there in the nation that play defense as well as these FIGHTING ILLINI. We only shot 40% from the floor and 37% from behind the ARC. Not a big surprise; we're worst in conference in just about every offensive category in the BIG-10. Winning ugly is all we have let.

Andy looky there, guess who showed up tonight? Mr. Smith added 13 points on 5-10 shooting and 3-7 from behind the ARC during his 32 minutes. Tonight's performance marked the end of an 11 for 60 slump since conference play begain against MICHIGAN. That's big for him. He's been struggling since late December with injury to both ankles. That's like a racecar driver attempting to race with two spranged wrists. If you don't have your feet under you; you have nothing. Long-distance shooting is all about the foundation. The most important stat for him and ILLINOIS tonight was clearly the thirty-two minutes of action. This is good news for my young squad. We need another legit shooter from downtown to help McBride carry the load. Now, if Jamar can just show-up and play like this every night. Hopefully he'll 'find himself' in February like Pruitt and McBride 'found their games' in January. In order for us to make the BIG DANCE and have any success in the TOURNEY this year, we need more balanced and consistent scoring from the BIG FOUR: Carter, Pruitt, McBride, and Smith. I don't quite think Randle is healthy enough to give us consistent scoring minutes each night. But, if the BIG FOUR can account for ~ 55-60 points / game then I like our chances. So, there it is. I'm calling these four guys out down the stretch. Here's what they need to average in the box score:

Carter ~ 14 points / game, Pruitt ~ 16 points / game, McBride ~ 15 points / game, and Smith ~ 12 points / game. I know they are capable of such scoring, with good inside and outside balance. Make no mistake about it, we are a halfcourt team on offense. This isn't another FLYIN' ILLINI team like in '88/'89. But, there's no reason this team has to remain in last place in the conference most offensive stats. That's inexcuseable to me. As such, it's really hard to diagnose this year's squad in terms of how good they can be. The potential / skill is there. It's time to actuate.

If the offense comes around, there's no telling how good this team can be THIS YEAR. I still submit that very few teams out there across the nation play as solidly on defense as the ILLINI. We EXPECT to hold everybody under 40% from the field, and do just that just about every time. A few times this year we've held some good teams to under 30%. Then there was the Ohio State debacle at home where they lit it up against us from the inside and outside. That was our low point on the year. We are an inside / outside squad with Pruitt and Rich McBride. The offense runs most efficiently on this dynamic balance. When things go south, it's usually one or both of these that mysteriously disappear. I like seeing both Rich and Jamar with 3-7 from behind the ARC. That's good news; especially when Pruitt goes for double digits. Then there's our foul shooting.

Ugh! Another 50% night from the line tonight. This is unforgiveable. I mean, talk about achilles heels. Give the lack of leadership and consistent scoring (to date) on this squad, we HAVE to make the foul shots to have a chance to go deep in March. Otherwise, there might not be much of a March.

But for now, I rejoice in being 17-8 (5-5 in conference) and three of our last four. Now, we go on the road for the next two (@ NW and @ Indiana). We have to win one of those games. Two wins would be huge. I still think we're in with 21 wins. Anything less will require a run in the conference tourney and some fortune from the selection committee. We don't have a good road win yet this year. We have one or two more chances @ Indiana and @ Iowa. Our three best wins have been against Missouri, Indiana, and Michigan State. Needless to say, we need to protect the home court down the stretch like we did tonight.

“The way they’ve defended the three has been incredible,” said Minnesota interim head coach Jim Molinari. “You’ve got to play off the bounce against Illinois, and they are very good perimeter defenders. Any time you shoot poorly, defense has a lot to do with it. They made us take contested shots.”

“This was a good team defensive effort,” said Illinois coach Bruce Weber. “We’ve definitely done a good job on defense here the last three or four weeks, and I think they understand that that’s going to be the difference."

web site counters
ISP unique hits since Aug. 2k6

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?