Pentagram: Illini-Spartans

Illinois followed their recent win one, lose one form with a loss to Michigan State, 61-57.  But not to worry!  With a road trip to Columbus on Tuesday, the Orange & Blue have a chance for a little mini-streak here…

This was the best chance for that enigmatic road win before season’s end, but Kalin Lucas proved too much for the Illini, hitting for 25 – including seemingly every clutch basket in the final 10 minutes.  The Spartans were vulnerable.  Draymond Green was less than full speed and they played several walk-ons for long stretches, but Illinois shot too poorly to win.

What it means now:  the Illini absolutely have to win the final two home games against Iowa and Indiana and win at least one game in the Big 10 Tournament.  That will get them to 20 wins and a likely 8-9 seed in the tourney.  The road games at Ohio State and Purdue…  Just try not to get beat up too badly and hope someone in orange has a career game.  Maybe the Buckeyes will be down a little.  Coming off that loss to Purdue, with a short turn-around.  Yeah.  We’re not holding our breath.

Five points in your can’t-stop-Kalin Lucas Pentagram…

  1. Effort was there, as illustrated by Illinois’ 11 offensive rebounds (to MSU’s 12) and stretches of high-effort defense.  Had they played with that much energy and commitment in several games (UIC, Indiana, Penn State, Northwestern, etc.) they’d have 20 wins already and folks would be less concerned.
  2. Execution – especially down the stretch – was not. Too many missed layups and wide open looks.  Too many defensive breakdowns and silly fouls at the end of the shot clock (although one should note that any game with Sanzere and Valentine officiating will have some bogus calls at the end of the shot clock, because those guys like to see themselves on TV).  If Illinois had made a just a few extra shots or stops, they probably would have won, because you never felt like the Spartans were going to pull away.  As usual, the team played lousy in the last 4-5 minutes – the time when no one seems to want to make plays and the other coach has figured out what he can use to break us down.
  3. How do you let Kalin Lucas do that? Lucas was 1-6 from the three point line and not particularly deadly from outside, but he kept getting in the lane for layups and floaters.  How did this continue to happen?  The Illini big men continued to show weakly on the high pick-and-roll, sometimes actually getting in DJ or Brandon’s way as they tried to recover.  The one time in the final ten minutes someone showed like your supposed to do it (Richmond, a freshman), Lucas was stopped.  What makes this worse is you got the idea that none of the other Spartans were going to hurt you other than an offensive rebound putback.  And yet we continued to play man-to-man.
  4. Except that one time!  Did you see it?  Did you see the zone? In the second half at least once and maybe twice, Illinois switched to a 2-3 zone late in the shot clock.  One time it worked, one time someone fouled.  It was a grand total of about 20 seconds of zone, but it happened.  It was like a Lon Kruger flashback.  Does this mean Weber’s starting to change, albeit at a glacier’s pace?  Could it be that he starts to accept that flexibility in the gameplan can actually help?  We can only hope.  What we should have done, after getting burned by Lucas off the dribble  again and again (see also PSU’s Taylor Battle, and Jordan Taylor at Wisconsin,  and Juice Thompson at Northwestern, and freaking Robo Kreps of UIC) is play a little box-and-one and make someone else beat you.  You think McCamey or Paul might have shown a little more agility on the high pick than Tisdale?  You think it might have confused the Spartans?  Would you rather give Appling or Kebler a semi-open shot than watch Lucas go down the lane one more time?  Yes, junk defenses usually only work for a little while – but 5-6 possessions was all we needed…  Try it and see.  Try something different.
  5. The same complaints almost aren’t worth repeating (but here they come): I wonder why we don’t throw it into the post when guys are open.  Why don’t we try to get Richmond the ball more on the blocks?  I wonder if Crandall Head or Joe Bertrand could possibly match DJ Richardson’s zero points, three boards, and one assist in 20 minutes.  Is it possible they might have played Kalin Lucas a little tougher?  It is conceivable they wouldn’t have made the offense any worse?  Why does Brandon Paul feel the need to chuck 3’s at inopportune times?  A little better shot selection by him would go along way.  He also needs to finish stronger when he gets by someone and quit flipping up those off-hand shots that never seem to go in.  Myers Leonard had a really bad play on offense at a key moment.  He also had a great block that makes you wonder how many shots he might erase playing in the middle of a 2-3…  But we’ll never know.  Leonard needs to get minutes, though.  Mike Davis has been tough the last month but still goes flying with the slightest contact.  Those two horrible offensive calls Ted Valentine slapped on him were real momentum breakers for the Illini…  And Demetri, well, he played better.  Made some shots but still didn’t finish the game strong.  It’s just odd to think about how good he looked in November and early December.  I still say if we had 5-6 set plays we could actually run, in addition to the motion (which always seems stagnant at the end of the game), McCamey would be the prime beneficiary.  First, he could play less minutes, and second, the offense wouldn’t be so dependent on him to do everything down the stretch.  You ever notice how the team seems to execute Coach’s set plays out of time-outs pretty efficiently?

But it’s probably too late now for any significant alterations.  Go Illini!

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