Sunday, February 07, 2010

Chief Trumps Sparty in the House of 'Paign

I disagree. Last night's 78-73 victory inside the Hall against Michigan State wasn't a must-win game of any sort. That phrase is highly over-used and over-valued in today's sport's lexicon. It's not like our entire season or our NCAA Tourney hopes hinged on that single outcome. Headed into the contest at 15-8, a loss to 15-9 wouldn't have put the final stake in our casket.

But, it was a nice one to get! 16-8 sounds so much better this morning. GAMEDAY was there to set the national scene. We still have seven more tough conference games before the BIG-10 Tourney in Indianapolis, which starts on 3/11. Special night. And with the conference race now a legitimate five-way affair, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan State, and Illinois all have their sites set on bigger things than just making the tournament. All are 7-3 in conference or better. It's go time. It's mid-February. Seasons are made or broken by what happens down the stretch in the last ten games of conference play. It's what most 'experts' and tournament officials look at when deciding those final at-large bids. Who's you play? Who'd you beat? And how many quality wins? So far, the Chief is 3-0 with a brutal schedule down the stretch that includes road games at Ohio State, Purdue, and Wisconsin. Ugh!

For the moment, let's celebrate Saturday night. Richardson and Paul stepped - up BIG TIME in that contest posting 14 and 8 points, respectively. But it was when they scored that meant as much if not more than how much. Richardson continues to develop nicely and has proven himself the better player so far this season. He plays more like a seasoned Junior than a freshmen. He's an all-around contributor who brings shutdown defense (at times) to the table with his ability to hit the 3-bomb from outside. I'd like to see him improve his shot-selection, especially near the basket and in transition, but he's a hooper, a go-to player, and somebody I want on the charity stripe when the game is on the line. Paul is still trying to understand where he fits in right now. No doubt about his physical ability and his 'hops'; this bunny has some serious legs. He needs to get better in all facets, esepcially on defense and from the free-throw line.

No doubt, this is McCamey's team right now. Actually, it has been all year. It will go as far as Demetri's heart and will to win. I could make the point there's no better player in conference right now than DM. He's definitely our MVP, leading the team in scoring and assists with a 5-1 ratio to turnovers. Wow! Nobody has a better cross-over in this league. He can break both of your ankles in blink of an eye.

As for the game, we held Sparty in check much of the night without Lucas. No doubt, the Spartans were playing with one hand behind their back all game. I'm not sure we would have won had he started. But, I'm not sure we would have lost either. Never under-estimate the power of the Orange Krush inside the House of 'Paign. Fewer student bodies mean more and do more for their team. A few nights ago against Iowa, almost 200 of them made the bus trip to Iowa City making Carver feel more like the Assembly Hall down the stretch. Nobody does it like the Orange Krush. They do it wtih class. Here's what else we learned about Illinois Hoops and the BIG-10.

I need to see more from Davis and Tisdale right now. Both need to step up physically in their floor presence, especially on defense. Neither is playing up to his full potential. Davis seems to be falling in love with his jump shot. Tisdale topples over with the slightest of winter winds. At 7-1, Tizzy needs to be a more dominant post player instead of a euro-style phenom. In general, defense needs improvement, especially in the transition game and down low. We defend the perimeter well, allowing < 30% from beyond the arc. Step up men. We can't celebrate this one for too long. Next one is in Madison, against Wisky, inside the Kohl Center. Ouch - tough place to beat a Bo Ryan - coached team.

Take 'em one at a time this time of year. This team is improving, for sure, after beign left for dead after the NW loss a few weeks back in Evanston. Looking back for a quick second, it's entirely possible we should be sitting on two or three more wins after blowing 2nd-half leads against Utah, Bradley, NW, Purdue, Mizzou, and Gonzaga. Ugh! There's always next year. But we can't play like that right now.

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