As Illini Nation prepares for possibly the biggest football game in decades, Bruce W.’s basketball team has suffered its worst, most embarrassing defeat in, yes, decades.
A loss yesterday, at the Assembly Hall, to Tennessee State (not the Volunteers) of the Ohio Valley (that’s EIU’s conference). Final score 60-58. Tenn St. is now 4-7. They are middle of the pack in a conference that will put one team, their tournament champion, in the NCAAs. That team will be a very low seed and lose badly the first weekend. This is bad. Very, very bad.
How bad? In 1990, Illinois lost to sister school Illinois-Chicago at home. But that was one of UIC’s best teams and featured, if memory serves, one future NBA player on the Flames’ roster. In the 70s, when UofI wasn’t very good, there were a few crap losses, but then again, not much was expected of the team in those years. Go back to 1987, the NCAAs, when 3-seed Illinois lost to 14-seed Austin Peay (also of the Ohio Valley). That was a brutally bad loss. This one is a close second.
If you’re a glutton for punishment, check around any of the Illini message boards and you’ll get a sampling of the Whinin’ Illini fanbase calling for Coach’s head. Most of the other fans are probably focused on the Rose Bowl, or it would be worse. And while, I don’t happen to agree with this take, I will go ahead and pile on Bruce, because, well, if you lose to freaking Tennessee State at home, you deserve it.
- Poor Guard play. The recruiting misses, betrayal/decommitment of a great prospect, suspensions, and academic failures have led us to the Meacham/Frazier backcourt. While Meach is servicable, our point guard play is not. Coach prefaces any comments about Chester with, “He just plays so hard…”, and that’s true, but he’s not very good on offense. In fact, he’s bad. McCamey is better, if for no other reason, than he’s a freshman with potential. Many had hoped McCamey would have played himself into a starter by now, and that just hasn’t happened. DMac has been inconsistent. But part of that is on Coach for the way he yanks the freshman (in true Lou Henson fashion) for every mistake made.
- Stubborn inflexibility. This is all on Coach. Why isn’t Rodney Alexander, an explosive player, getting more minutes? Why do we insist on running the motion (which requires good guards) when we don’t have the personnel for it? Why not more set plays for Pruitt, Trent, etc.? Why do our in-bounds plays suck so much? It’s like Weber refuses to adapt on principle. I just don’t understand it. Even Lou-do would bust out the 2-3 zone once in awhile, and he let his players fastbreak when he had the horses. Coach W. needs to take a long introspective look and make some changes. I understand not compromising your principles, and if they are tough defense, rebounding, efficiency on offense, etc., so be it. But for God’s sake adapt!
- Crap offense. See points 1 & 2 above. Maybe if some of our better offensive players, like McCamey, Alexander, Tisdale, get more minutes we would score more. How about this: scale back Frazier’s minutes and run the break! Sure, you’ll get more turnovers and quick shots, but that’s still better than running 30 seconds of offense and getting a bad shot. Besides, running a primary/secondary break will net you some offensive boards, which is one of this team’s strengths.
- Free throws. I have no idea here. Hire a hypnotist. The FT shooting nightmare has cost us three games now.
Coach needs to somehow address these shortcomings or the Illini won’t even make the NIT. Right now, the NCAAs are a longshot at best. The Orange and Blue enter Big10 play needing to finish in the top 3. More realistically, they need to position themselves for the conference tourney and hope to get hot in March.
But after a home loss to Tennessee State, that just doesn’t seem possible. I’m hoping this is rock-bottom before the triumphant ascension–that part in the story where your protagonist wakes up in the gutter and says to himself, this is where it changes, this is where I get back on track, it’s time for my comeback/training montage music… Yes, we’re all hoping.
(that’s right: just wait ’til, uh, 2010)
Help is on the way. Alex Legion and Jamar Smith will provide an immediate upgrade at guard next year. The recruits are lining up thereafter. But what do you do, now, Coach? Do you play the younger guys and adapt to your team, or stick with players that just aren’t cutting it. I know what my answer would be.
Hey, don’t we have a football game or something to fixate on?