Admit it, Illini Nation: you just didn’t think this would happen. Why didn’t you? Because even in the face of all the evidence, you refused to accept just how integral Chester Frazier was to this year’s Illinois team. You let yourself forget that based on the talent level and the respective skills of the players, this team has overachieved all year.
Does that make us feel any better? Hell, no. I’m angry that Coach didn’t have the guys more ready to play. I’m disappointed that he didn’t develop the bench better to shore up some of the shortcomings. I can’t understand how the players come out so flat and continue to make the same mistakes over and over.
That said, and despite losing 4 of their last 5, I enjoyed this team’s efforts this year. I thought these Illini would struggle to make 20 wins and the NIT. And I truly believe (as stated by my rube brother) that if Chester Frazier plays, we beat WKU by 10 and are looking at beating Gonzaga and a chance to get pummeled by the Tarheels… Anywho, 5 points to your final Illini bball game pentagram:
- Chester Frazier, Team MVP. Sure he doesn’t score much, but nearly all of last night’s woes link back to the lack of Frazier. Need to lock down one of the Hilltopper’s tough guards? Chet. Need somebody to shag long rebounds? Chet. Need someone to will effort and intensity into his teammates when they’re sleepwalking? Yes, naturally, Chet. And, as one of the CBS commentators* stated repeatedly, having Frazier in the lineup helps McCamey get shots and run the motion.. I remember the game two years ago at Purdue when the Boilers dared him to shoot from the freethrow line and he wouldn’t do it. He was awful that day and I thought he would never be a contributor. I was dead wrong. Now I only wish he could’ve finished his career the right way, on the floor, and I truly hope to see him coaching for the Orange and Blue someday.
- Dribble Penetration killed us. Couldn’t stay in front of their guards, which led to help, which led to wide-open 3’s. And they made them, didn’t they? The classic recipe for mid-major victory. The question you had to be asking yourself: why continue to help? Why not let those guards drive in and attempt a contested shot rather than leave the shooters open? This was perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the game for me.
- Mike and Mike need to remember this, because they were not very good. Tupper writes about a similar scene during Brian Cook’s early career, and how Brian used it to motivate himself. We have to hope Mike and Mike take a similar approach. You have to think Tisdale will accept the challenge and work his tale off. Will he be able to gain enough strength and weight, though? 10-15 pounds and a stronger base will make all the difference. The same regimen for Davis, as well as ball-handling drills all summer. As for McCamey, the other piece of the Sophomore Starters, it’s simple: Make the commitment and drop 10 pounds. And try to adopt a little of Chester and Trent’s attitude.
- Seniors were classs, really all year. Last night Meacham and Brock were our best players. Calvin had the double-double and was the only one to maintain his intensity even when everyone else slumped. Trent came alive and hit shots during the scramble at the end. Sure, we all expect the new players coming in will provide a talent upgrade next year, but Trent, Calvin (and Frazier, of course) will be missed.
- Next year… next year… Break out the Cub-fan mantra now, because we all know what’s coming. In fact the Illini bball offseason report deserves it’s own post (so check back soon). It will be very interesting to see how Coach Weber addresses these expectations in coming weeks. I just hope he doesn’t start deflecting… How about that press — we’ll only be quicker and more athletic next year. How about playing 10 guys if you have 10 who can play. Most importantly, adjust your offensive philosophy, Coach. Your motion is a known commodity — especially in the Big 10. It’s true, the returning players will need to get better, and one or two of the Freshmen will have to step up, but the coaching staff needs to seriously reevaluate their game strategy as well. They deserve a lot of credit for constructing a methodology for getting wins out of this year’s team; now adopt some flexibility for next year.