Illini on the Brink

It’s been nine days since Illinois’ improbable win over Ohio State, and the Orange and Blue are back on the court tonight at Penn State.  They are about to begin a key stretch of games that will tell us a lot about where this team truly stands.  Just like Michigan State is better than it’s early season losses, just like Indiana isn’t nearly as good as their impressive home wins indicated, these Illini are tough to figure.

Joe B.

Brandon Paul’s awesome performance against the Buckeyes hid a lot of warts.  This is still a team that plays uneven defense, gives up way too many turnovers, and can look downright awful on offense.  On the other hand, they win close games, play hard, and have some of the better athletes at their positions in the country with Myers Leonard and Paul.

Bruce Weber and Co. have six more home games, which you should win but never know.  And by my count, four toss-up road games, where you at least have a chance to win.  If the Illini could somehow get ten more wins, they’d be looking at a share of the Big 10 and a high seed.  Seven or eight wins are more likely.  Six or less is a sign of implosion.

Much of the coming success or lack thereof depends continuing improvement by key players and the health of Sam Maniscalco and others.  If Sam can play again, it opens up options.  If he’s severely limited or someone else gets hurt, all bets are off.  We also know the Weber will not change the offense, and that we are stuck with the motion.  Again.  So the only hope there is they avoid the excruciatingly long droughts, somehow pass better, and shoot well against the good teams.

Let’s check in on Beemsville’s pre-season keys to the season and see where we are…

  • Leonard steps up – Myers has certainly stepped up.  He’s avoided foul trouble and dominated stretches of games.  He still has lots of holes in his post skills, he’s immature, and he overcompensates his foul tendency by not playing defense at all at times, but he’s become Illinois’ best player.
  • The Illini become a fearsome pressure team – This hasn’t really happened.  They play really good defense at times, but they’re not elite at this point.  Breakdowns in when to pressure and when not to have led to a frustrating number of layups and bad fouls.  The Illini need to improve defensively to make noise in March.
  • Paul finds his role – The jury’s out on this one.  Brandon was great offensively his last time out, and he’s had some solid efforts.  In fact, he’s far and away the hustle-points leader (he also plays more minutes than nearly everyone).  He rebounds, steals, blocks, and draws the toughest defensive assignments.  He also leads the team in turnovers, horrible passes, and bad shot decisions.  BP3 does it all.  He just needs to do most of it a little better.
  • Freshmen play well – This one is hard to rate.  Abrams is improving into a solid sixth man and option.  Egwu and Myke Henry have had their moments.  But other than Tracy, they’re not playing as much or as well as we’d like.  Weber has shortened the rotation, excluding Mike Shaw, and could do so again down the stretch.
  • Winning Time – We noted how many close games the Illini lost the last few years.  This year they’ve turned that around.  The only close loss was against Missouri.  They’ve won the rest of the close ones.  This is testament to the will of the players and guys not shrinking after the final timeout.  Because of how bad the team can play at times, they need to continue to control Winning Time.
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4 thoughts on “Illini on the Brink

  1. It may be better if Sam doesn’t play at all than if he plays too much with the ankle limiting him to 60% (or whatever %) efficiency. He isn’t a great B1G athlete even at 100%. Limited by the ankle, he is even more of a defensive liability. IL has done well enough in his absence. At this point, the difference between a healthy Sam and the one we have is pretty vast insofar as he determines the outcome of the remaining season. If Weber plays him too much over Abrams, I think it can hurt the IL. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sam has a good game tonight against PS as so much watching from the sidelines will build up a hunger. But, the atrophy of his ankle could be a blessing in the end. Love what Sam brings, but that ankle is obviously severely limiting him.

    Of all the players that haven’t done enough so far, I see Griffey topping the list. He has shown the ability to shoot the ball in the past (I would have had him as IL best shooter preseason). If he can at least start making his jumpers and threes, it will help out immensely.

  2. The Rube has thought about and discussed Coach Weber with lots of folks. FWLIW here’s my looooong take on it.

    Coach Weber is a good man, just like Coach Zook. He does things the right way in recruiting and taking care of his players etc. Thats the end of it….period.

    The motion ISN’T an offense its a damn play! It isn’t something that a team can run over and over and over for years and years and years and expect it to continue to work. Sure it was as beautiful as ANYTHING you’ll see on a basketball court in our ’05 run, but lets be honest….all 5 of the starters on that team at the very least had a cup of coffee in the NBA and had skills to match that offense and the basketball IQ unlike perhaps ANY group EVER put together ANYWHERE!

    So the question becomes, does the coaching staff TRULY believe they have the horses to keep running the same thing over and over and over and NOBODY will figure it out? How aloof and full of themselves are they….or perhaps they just don’t KNOW anything else? The motion is a gimmick PLAY that should be run from time to time, but not as a base offense IMHO. Weber has been here for SEVERAL years now and hasn’t done much at all to change the offense to fit the players he has. He hasn’t been successful in recruiting the kind of players that FIT his system either. Ask yourself this. WHY is the only play we EVER run when the shot clock is running down since the year after the runner up season been a Dee Bro….er Demetri McCam…..I mean a Brandon Paul isolation at the top of the key to throw up some garbage? How hard is it to game plan for that? “O.K. (Insert defensive guards name here), if the shot clock gets below 10 seconds just stay in front of Brown or I mean McCamey…no thats not it…Paul….or whoever and put a hand in his face when he throws up some garbage….and (insert big mans name here) IF he drives just slide over he won’t pass it off.” Ta Da!!!! Game plan for ANY posession against Illinois under 10 in the shot clock. Speaking of game plans does ANYONE believe that any team in the conference spends ANY time at all working on how to stop the motion anymore? Hasn’t EVERY player in the league (barring first year guys) seen it at least twice and understand that you only have to deny the post and put pressure on the wings and hedge on the ball screen at the top of the key….and thats IF you decide you don’t want to simply throw in a zone every three or four posessions on Defense because THAT really throws a monkey in the wrench works for Illinois.

    The bottom line for The Rube is that I believe Coach Weber and his staff are good coaches against basic no frills offenses and defenses. They cannot adapt to change and down right have REFUSED to adapt their offensive game plan to fit the players they have. What adjustments did ANYONE see in the second half of the PSU game? Did ANYONE else think this game was tailor made for Joe B.’s mid range game? How many points could he have had if he would’ve been the middle guy on their 3/4 court press at the elbow extended? How many points could he have had if the team had made a CONCERTED effort to get him the ball against that zone at the elbow? Sure he wasn’t hitting his shot like usual last night….or was he? He didn’t get but what 2 shots outside layups the entire game? Not really a decent sample to know if he was having an off night or not was it? “Wait they did throw it in to Meyers more in the 2nd half!” Sure they did….they also threw the damn ball out of bounds just as many times. Bardo pointed out VERY astutely last night that college players “can’t throw an entry pass anymore.” Truer words were never spoken. Bardo was right if he were playing he’d probably be leading the country in assists based solely on passes in to Meyers….PSU’s biggest guy was 6’9″ for crying out loud….Also did ANYONE have any confidence at all that we’d get a decent look at the basket on that last play? We have the worst sideline and under the basket in bounds plays in ALL of college basketball. Short of a miraculous individual effort from someone…we weren’t scoring on that last play. We would’ve been better off letting Sam try to get to the rim instead of calling the time out before and letting them set their defense. Of course we all would’ve preferred BP or Joe B. to have the ball, but by calling TO Weber allowed the PSU staff time to outwit him

    Finally, as The Rube said above The Rube does believe Coach Weber is a good guy….The Rube knows he is, The Rube’s met him several times. He is also a decent coach….however, his refusal to abandon a gimmick offense when he doesn’t have the players to execute it will be his undoing. Insisting on running the motion with the players we have would be like the Patriots running a wishbone or an option offense with Tom Brady and company….it just doesn’t fit….period. Again, The Rube doesn’t know if Weber doesn’t know anything else, can’t teach anytyhing else or TRULY believes that this offense is best for the current Illini? Any of those things is unacceptable and if something doesn’t change he’ll motion himself right out of a job….again JMHO….rant over

  3. As there are no new posts on Illini basketball The Rube will now attempt to explain here why coach Weber needs to go…..feel free Mr. Ville to move this over to a more appropriate topic when you get around to posting one! ;^)

    The Rube has been watching Illinois basketball for as long as The Rube can remember. The Rube remembers the Henson teams with Jens Kujawa….Ken Norman, Etc. going back probably 30 years (I’m 37). I know there are folks on here who have been around twice as long as me. That isn’t my point. My point is in 30+ years of watching Illinois basketball my…..passion I guess you could call it has NEVER been this low. The Rube’s been a FERVENT fan his entire life….I’m a 2nd generation alumnus, my son will be a 3rd. But I can honestly never remember a time when I cared less one way or the other.

    Now the questions come, is that the fault of Weber? Is it even his job to make sure the fans enjoy watching this team? The Rube thinks both yes and no on both issues. His offense and flat out refusal to make changes to keep up with the times, makes watching Illinois basketball almost painful for someone who has played organized ball for 30+ years and has a fair understanding of the ins and outs of the game. But on the other hand it is up to the players to execute. As far as fans enjoying it? Sure his main job is to get these young men a degree, teach them some things about life first and basketball second. Make sure that he wins more than he loses. However as a card carrying memeber of the alumni association etc. The Rube thinks its also at least partially his job to make the game entertaining to watch.

    The Rube does realize that sounds VERY superficial. But it truly bothers me that I just don’t get as amped up as I used to, to watch Illini basketball. Before ANYONE decides I’m not a true fan….understand this. As I said I’m a 2nd generation Illini, I have been on this board since before it was run by scout.com, hell I had a dog named Lou (after then coaches Lou Tepper and Lou Henson) a Kenyon Sand Boa named Chief, only about 5 t-shirts out of 50+ that aren’t Illini or at least Orange or Blue, I spent 4 years at this university (actually 4.5 ), lived in C/U for over half my life, was on the Board of Directors of Illini Rebounders for 5 years (a member for twice that) and have had many very personal interactions with SEVERAL players and the coaching staff. THE RUBE BLEEDS ORANGE AND BLUE. However, I cannot honestly say that it excites me anymore. Maybe I’m just getting old and some other things have become more important. But, I used to just be teaming with anger when this team lost…up unitl probably a year and a half ago…now….not so much. They lose…I just flip the channel, go turn on the xbox or go play something with my son and don’t really give it a second thought. That in and of itself REALLY bothers me.

    I guess for me personally it is the Coach that has caused my lack of enthusiasm. The Rube was a Merryman supporter of Weber…up until about 3 or so years ago. The Rube has an older brother who is also got his undergrad at Illinois, who was at SIU for graduate school when Weber was there. He has even turned the corner. I want to be excited about this team. I want to be excited about Illinois basketball again. I just don’t think I can as long as Weber is here. The offense is terrible, the team lacks concentration one year, heart the next, leadership ALWAYS and there isn’t anywhere else someone can look other than at the coaching staff. I do truly respect and personally like Bruce Weber and his family, which is why this is personally very hard for me to write (but it is therapeutic). His wife comes to 4-5 rebounders luncheons per year and is a wonderful person as well. However, his inability to change or upgrade or whatever you want to call it has bogged this program down. It is to the point for The Rube personally, where Illinois football is at, as far as The Rube looking forward to watching the team…perhaps even lower….and I came from a town where football doesn’t exist (literally….we only had 96 kids in the entire High School).

    I suppose The Rube’s being selfish. It shouldn’t be all about being entertained, but The Rube will personally hold Weber and his staff responsible for almost killing The Rube’s fandom of this team. It isn’t dead completely, but its on the table, the paddles are out and somebody needs to yell “clear” and shock this system back to where it use to be…..The Rube just don’t know if Bruce is capable of jump starting this lifelong fans Orange and Blue heart….or maybe he isn’t even the guy The Rube wants holding the paddles……

  4. Pingback: Illini Teetering Precariously « Beemsville

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