Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Meltdown in Maryland - Down Goes the Chief!

I know it's technically still November. Heck, I should be happy the football team still has another game to play - when was the last time that happened to Illinois Football? Certainly, the Chief has much to be grateful for in this season of thanks and peace on earth (relatively speaking). Still yet, when you let one get away (as opposed to getting outplayed in a loss) - it still hurts. The tribe went down to Maryland tonight at the Comcast Center: 69-61, on just 33% from the field, 31% from behind the arc, and 44% from the charity stripe. Ouch!

This will be a short one and cut to the chase. We are not a good shooting team. We are not a good offensive club. At times, we look out of sync - heaving desperation shots that have no business of going in. And I'm not sure why. Check that, I know exactly why. As Weber attempts to fold-in new talent with old, we don't have a scorer, a goto option, a THREAT on each and every position. The team is clearly not firing on every offensive cylinder.

So far this season Randle and Pruitt have been huge disappointments. Yes, I'm calling them out. Each is barely averaging ~ 10 points / game. For big guys in the post with that much 'skill' and 'athleticism' they each should be averaging ~ 15 / game. Instead, I see short-armed shots, a lack of committment to attack the rim, clumsy footwork, and tight play. Let it go my brothers. Let it go and FINISH! Do it like you've done it before and forget the 'style' points. You're not that good to worry about posters. On the outside, Meacham, Alexander, and Frazier have been mediocre at best. The lone bright spot on offense this year has been Calvin Brock - and only at times. Again, we lack consistency in scoring. These four guys need to average ~ 10 points / game. The team seems to be searching for some offensive leadership, a pivot point about which a scoring threat can be built. We have some good pieces, but right now the puzzle is far from completion.

Maybe I'm being too hard on the guys. Our only losses have come at the hands of the ACC (Duke and Maryland). Maybe we're still suffering jet-lag from the 'road odyssey' to start the season (5 road games in just 19 days and 10,170 total miles from Champaign to Maui to College Park). We're still 4-2 heading into December with a couple of home games against Weber State, Arizona, Miami, and Western Carolina before the border clash with Missouri. We should be 8-2 or 7-3 heading into that confrontation. I'd like to see us hit ten wins before BIG-10 play starts in January. Once conference play commences, the beatings will begin. I don't see us winning more than 10 games in conference this year, with as few as potentially 8 heading into the BIG-10 Tourney. Making the NCAA Tourney is no sure bet for a squad that went to the title game just three years ago against Carolina. It's been all downhill in Champaign after that. Unlike the elite programs who can get talent each and every year, we don't re-load. We re-build. And that takes time.

Message to Coaches - This year's team does not appear to have an identity. I don't see any spirit or moxy on or off the court. The energy is there at times, but usually misdirected. The team struggles to play a disciplined game for 40 minutes. I can appreciate the intensity and effort at times, but somehow and someway we need to channel our energies so we're all pulling in the same direction. Leadership would be great from Pruitt, Randall, or Frazier. But I wouldn't count on it. These guys are good but not great players. Their reputations for being outstanding in the post exceed actual performance. That being said, we shouldn't be afraid to experiment with the starting line-up. Right now, I'd go with Pruitt, Randle, Alexander, Brock, and Frazier. Meacham, McCamey, Davis, and Tisdale seem to be more comfortable coming off the bench, where we need the depth on both ends of the court. Take it or leave it.

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