Duke gets too many calls

Back from vacation, having recovered from my college basketball illness in time to have watch most of the Sweet 16 games down to last night’s final.  And the title of the post says it well.  Duke and Coach K get too many calls.  They just do.  Yes, their guys made plays and shots when needed.  Yes, they run an offense designed to open driving lanes and draw contact.  Yes, they were lucky the Badgers were worn down from the Kentucky game.

However, if you look at last night’s championship, you’ll note a very key point in the game, with Wisconsin playing well and up by about 7-8 at around the 15 minute mark of the second half.  Suddenly, the refs find their whistles.  The same thing happened against Michigan State and Gonzaga.  Four fouls in a row.  Every bump is a foul.  A Duke player jumps into the defender it’s a foul.  Duke charges are instead blocks on the other team, etc.  On the other end, Duke hand-checked with abandon and it wasn’t called.  Maybe the refs can only take so much of Coach K’s voice and at some point they just capitulate and start making those calls.

No one was more surprised or annoyed than Wisconsin coach, Bo Ryan.  As he told reporters after the game, and as he’s said many times, “We just don’t foul.”  It’s pretty much true.  The Badger haven’t been whistled for many fouls this year or in recent years with Ryan as the coach.  It’s how they play and also testament to Bo Ryan’s own sideline presence.  So it must have been pretty disheartening to see Duke in the double-bonus with so much time left.

As an Illini fan, I truly didn’t like the thought of Wisconsin winning a title.  It just doesn’t seem right.  But as a basketball fan I was really pulling for the Badgers down the stretch.  A big part of it was the officiating.  Too much.  And that’s a shame.

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March Malaise

I don’t have a bracket this year.  Just don’t have the inclination.  This is what those awful final three games of the Illini season have done.  No tourney analysis, no matchups that can’t be missed.  Bah.

chief_logo_upsideHow does this happen?  A question for the coaching staff and all fellow suffering Illini.  How do we wake up today and it’s been 10 years since our last deep tourney run.  How do you not show up for half the game against Purdue and the entire game against Michigan, when all you need is one win to get in?  And as far as that NIT game – let’s all do ourselves a favor and try to forget that one…

We’ve known for some time this team was flawed, capable of bad stretches, offensively challenged at times.  But this ending collapse revealed flaws in the whole system – the recruiting, the offensive and defensive systems, the bench coaching…  And now we’re all asking ourselves if John Groce can be the guy.  Because nearly everyone wants him to be the guy:  he works hard, he says the right things, he’s a Midwest and Big 10 type of coach…  Really don’t want to head into this off-season with these kinds of questions about him. Continue reading

No tourney picks; Coaching…

Maybe it’s not having my team in the tournament – although, I’m usually more objective and make better picks when the Illini are out.  Hey, can this please be the last year in many without the Illini in the tournament?  Coach Groce, looking in your direction…  Maybe it’s because I actually won the pool last year and am feeling the pressure to repeat.  Maybe it’s because the wife’s been monopolizing the laptop…

At any rate, no March Madness picks this year.  Just couldn’t carve out the time to do it.  At least five or six people are disappointed.

The real reason:  the joys of coaching.  Yes, Youth Soccer  Spring Season is nearly upon us, and there’s stuff to do…  Getting all the drills and mini-games organized, having the kids vote on shirt colors and team nickname, contacting the team sponsor for this year’s donation, pricing and ordering the team shirts, securing a field for practices, writing the welcome email for team parents…  Yeah.  Not to mention the weather’s been nice enough a few days to actually get the kids outside and kick it around a bit.

So that’s the reason.  Focused on the kids’ season.  Yeah, I’ll be tuning to watch the tournament (and the NIT as long as the Orange and Blue are alive) and hoping  for upsets and Wichita State to shut people the hell up.  But no official picks.  Maybe next year.

clap-clap, Sport!

Yesterday was a big day for sports in Beemsville.  The two teams we the care the most about, the two teams we follow with rabid devotion, both had vital matches yesterday.  When does that happen?  Both won and both won ugly.  When does that happen?

Illinois basketball, 57-49 over Colorado in the 2nd round of the NCAAs.

USA Soccer, 1-0 over Costa Rica in the final round of World Cup Qualifying.  In a freaking blizzard!

This strange confluence of sporting events is sort of like the visit of a comet or a particularly obscure distant relative.  It can only occur every few years, if the Illini are in the tournament on the same day the USA is trying to make the World Cup… Continue reading

March Maladroitness

It’s that time of year!  And with our Fighting Illini back in the mix again, we will be following this year’s NCAA Tourney with the kind of relentless commitment that will make the wife sigh and roll her eyes.  Speaking of the wife:  she’s agreed to fill out a bracket this year and attempt to get into it a bit.  She probably hasn’t watched more than one or two basketball games all year (and then only begrudgingly in the background).  She will probably beat me like a drum.

I’ve really kind of given up trying to be all analytical and stat-driven about the tourney.  It never seems to work.  I also have to admit that I don’t watch as much college hoops as I used to, so my sample’s not as large.  I have watched a lot of Big 10 ball, though (ugly as it may be at times), and that’s one of my themes.

We’re all about the the themes.  This year it’s ‘B1G is legit’.  In past years it’s been ‘B1G is underrated’, etc.  I always pick too many from the conference.  I always pick against teams with coaches I don’t like.  I always pick some crazy upsets (sometimes it works).  So this year, I’m embracing these traits and themes.

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Bracket Time

With no rooting interest or teams to follow, this year’s bracket picks should be much improved.  Right?  RIGHT?

We’re going against the usual form and trying to avoid personal bias as much as possible.  This means not overestimated Big 10 and Missouri Valley teams and not picking upsets for teams or coaches we despise.  Also, we didn’t spend hours doing statistical analysis this year, instead we went by teams we’ve seen and the general absorbed commentary of the talking heads.

So here’s a Sweet Sixteen, with Final Four picks italicized:

South: Kentucky, Wichita State, UNLV, Duke

West: Michigan State, New Mexico, Murray State, Missouri

East: Kansas State, Vanderbilt, Florida State, Ohio State

Midwest: North Carolina, Michigan, San Diego State, Kansas

A few surprise and upset entries, but nothing to outrageous.  Let’s see what happens.

Pentagram: Illini Tourney Games

Their pre-season publicity poster had the theme, Ready for the Dance, but like many in Illinois, we figured this inconsistent team would go one-and-out at the hands of ex-Coach #1.  Instead the Fighting Illini looked as good as they have in months while dismantling Lon Kruger’s UNLV squad.  Then, facing ex-Coach #2 in Bill Self, the team had the chance to make history and knock off a #1 seed.  Had we been playing Pitt or Duke I’d have liked our chances, but the Jayhawks’ power in the post and physical ‘D’ proved too much.

Adding to the drama:  news of Jereme Richmond’s stealth-suspension or whatever you call it.  Not having one of your most talented players – even if he’s coming off the bench – is obviously bad.  We’ve heard some rumors but will not add to them here.  Suffice to say, we hope Jereme gets it together.  He needs to realize basketball is a team sport, and part of being on the team is realizing everything you do has consequences for both the individual and the team.  Weber has consistently given players who get into trouble second chances, and that seems to be the case here (otherwise JR would not have even traveled with the team).  We will all just have to wait and see what comes of this.

Whether you were disappointed in this season overall (and I certainly was – my pre-season expectations were to compete at the top of the Big 10 and make the Sweet 16 with a chance to move on), you had to like the execution on Thursday and the effort on Sunday.  But let’s just consider one more lost opportunity in the mix of recent results.

Had Illinois hung on to beat Michigan in the Big 10 tourney (or pulled out one or two of their many other late-game collapses), it very well could have been the Orange and Blue as the #8 seed in the West Regional instead of Michigan.  That means it would have been the Illini taking on the Tennessee Volunteers in the first round.  That would have given us the chance to put Bruce Pearl to the sword instead of Michigan. Think about that for a minute.  How sweet would that have been.   Hell, I’d rather have the opportunity to steamroll the dejected cheating Vols than to move up to a higher seed and an easier draw.

Regarding the actual games, Five points in your final Illini Hoops Pentagram for the season… Continue reading