Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hang 'Em High - Good Try Illini Hoopers ...

Finally, the season is over and the re-building can continue right up until we tip-off again next November. The best thing about a young team of sophomores and freshmen, is that they become an older team of juniors and sophomores. We actually got worse as a team as the season went on, especially in the month of March, culiminating with the loss of CF.

We looked dazed and confused in all aspects of our game tonight with the Hilltoppers of WKU. A good anaology would be like a powerful fuel-injected V-8 down at least four cylinders, misfiring through the entire power and torque bands. It was as if a few plug wires were disconnected - or missing altogether. Seriously, no team in the country has had to deal with what we've gone through over the past week, losing our best player and floor coach just days before the BIG-10 Tourney (Chester Frazier). Few players in the land meant as much to their teams as Frazier did for Illinois. And when you're best player is a guard, plays shut-down defense, hits clutch shots, is the pivot-point of your offense, and otherwise acts as an on-floor coach; it can't be good. Yep, when Chester went down and out last week our chances for any kind of post-season run went right along with him. You could see it in the eyes of the players. That was obvious tonight. No mojo. No fire. No life. Easy 12-5 upset to call this year. Give credit to WKU; they're a good little team, but Gonzaga should pull away from them mid-way in the 2nd half on Saturday.

Already looking ahead to 2009/10. We bring back as much raw talent and skill as anybody. Question will be can we put it all together and find that chemistry of 2004/5? I expect Tisdale and Davis to be studs in the post. McCamey, Jordan, and Legion will need to step up their scoring from the outside. But most importantly, we need to find that on-floor leader who sets the table and gets us good looks in the half court. I'm not sure that's McCamey. Far too often this year we settled for the outside jumper with no time on the shot-clock. Too many empty possesions and scoring droughts of four minutes or longer (12mins against Purdue), especially in the second-half of the season. We need to drastically improve our scoring, especially go-to scoring, to eliminate long dry spells where absolutely no semblance of offense is present. I think we shot the fewest free-throws in conference this year (another good indicator of Euro-ball and NOT getting to the tin). The NCAA tourney isn't about mediocrity at any level. If you don't play your best each not you can't expect to win. Weaknesses get exposed and purged quickly. There's nowhere to hide in the field of sixty-five. As it should be.

All in all, it was a good bounceback year for the tribe, finishing 24-10 despite losing three of our last four. That's 50% better than our 16-19 campaign last year in Champaign. I have high expectations for next season. We should contend for the BIG-10 regular-season crown, make a deep run for the BIG-10 tourney championship, and advance at least to the round of 16 in the NCAA. With a little luck (something we haven't had in 4 years) and a lot of hard work, it could even be more.

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