Illini Wonk
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
  IL joins the Big Dance
IL made it into the NCAA tournament on Sunday. After the selections were made their were some who felt that IL was one of the teams that is not as deserving to make it into the tournament as teams that were left out.

All in all IL does has a record that merits playing in the Big Dance.

Syracuse and Drexel are the town teams most often mentioned as getting snubbed. But is is usually Arkansas or Stanford who are pointed to as the teams that "stole" their bid and not IL. When you are looking at the teams that are being slotted into the 10th-12th seeds they all have some good points and some bad points.
Here is a quick look at the final teams to back the tourney and the teams that were left out.
those that made it:
IL 23-11 (11-8 Big Ten) RPI 29 Strength of Schedule 23 (4-9 vs. top 50)
Old Dominion 24-8 (16-4 Colonial Conf) RPI 40 SOS 82 (1-3 top 50)
Arkansas 21-12 (10-9 SEC) RPI 35 SOS 15 (5-5 top 50)
Stanford 18-12 (10-9 Pac 10) RPI 63 SOS 37 (5-6 top 50)
Xavier 24-8 (13-3 Atlantic 10) RPI 34 SOS 84 (3-2 top 50)

those that didn't make it:
Syracuse 22-10 (11-7 Big East) RPI 50 SOS 45 (3-7 top 50)
FL State 20-12 8-10 ACC) RPI 41 SOS 18 (5-12 top 50)
Drexel 22-8 (14-6 Colonial) RPI 39 SOS 95 (3-0 top 50)
West Vir 21-9 (10-8 Big East) RPI 57 SOS 109 (2-7 top 50)
Kansas St 22-11 (11-7 Big 12) RPI 56 SOS 91 (2-5 top 50)
Air Force 22-8 (10-7 Mt West) RPI 30 SOS 76 (2-4 top 50)

I know "The Committee" says that they don't really pay attention to conferences is but I think they do.
Drexel was eliminated because they were not going to place three teams from the Colonial Conference into the tournament. And Old Dominion beat them twice. And while Drexel beat several teams on the road in non conference play, they did not fair well against the three teams ahead of them in their own conference.
Syracuse fell victim to losing to 6 other teams being selected out of the Big East. Villanova seems to be the team that beat them out for a place in the tournament.
As for FL State. they had a tough schedule but they really did win any of the big games. And contrary to what Dickie V would have you to believe, 7 ACC teams is enough.
Both WV and K State were rather mediocre in their RPI, SOS and their records against top 50 teams.
Of all the teams that looked good for most of the year and didn't make it, it was Air Force. With only BYU making it from the MT West Conf perhaps they should have been included. Losing their final 4 games did not help them at all.

To me IL is not the team that should be tossed out but you can draw your own conclusions.

IL may have deserved a bit higher seed than 12th. It is my opinion that they were put there in order to be placed in the opposite half of the bracket that IN is in. Letting IL play their 1st game(s) in Columbus is in a small way something that the committee could do to even it out just a bit.

Here are a few links to stories on IL and the tourney
The bracket
A look at the West Bracket
A look at IL vs. Vir Tech
Fox Sports look at the surprises and snubs
CBS Sportsline's look
Sun-Times: Players are relieved,CST-SPT-ill12.article
The Tribune: No bad losses helped,1,7803405.story?coll=chi-sportstop-hed
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
  Illinois Fighting Illini look to rebound against Michigan State Spartans
At 8:00 CST, the Illinois Fighting Illini Men's Basketball Team will look face the Michigan State Spartans on ESPN. To follow the game online, click here for the Gametracker.

The Illini are coming off a miserable showing on the road against the Purdue Boilermakers and will try to right the ship against a Spartan team that gave Ohio State a run for their money last Saturday. Wonk watched the Spartans almost come back from a 20-point half-time deficit and only lose by two points.

This Illini team knows a lot about blowing large half-time leads to the Spartans. In an earlier meeting this year, the Illini had an 11-point half-time lead, but gave up a 15-0 run early in the second half before going on to lose 63-57.

Tonight, the Illini will look to contain Michigan State's one-man-show: Drew Neitzel. If you're watching the game, leave a comment below.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007
  Purdue goes on 21-0 run and embarasses Illinois
It was 4-4 and things weren't going to bad for the Illinois Fighting Illini who were playing at Purdue. Jamar Smith made an outside shot for the first time in who knows how long and the game was tied. Then the wheels fell off. Way, way off.

The Purdue Boilermakers then reeled off 21 straight points to take a 25-4 lead and the game was effectively over by the half-way mark of the first half. During the Boilermaker run, the Illini went 13 consecutive possessions -- a span of 9:23 -- without scoring, missing eight shots and committing six turnovers. From a team that has patented scoring droughts during games this season, this one probably topped them all (with the possible exception of the second half at Michigan State).

After the game, Mark Tupper blogged that it was Ugly with a capital UG! He was right. The only Illinois player who had a reasonably good game was Shaun Pruitt who, with 13 points and 11 rebounds, recorded his seventh double-double of the season. He could have had much more and Won will get into the reasons why later in this post. This game needs to be dissected, because it showed everything that was wrong with this year's team.

First, and most glaring, was the play of Chester Frazier. It's hard to be hard on the guy, because he plays so hard. His seven rebounds attest to that fact. But, the Illini can not be a good team with him playing at the point guard position. He can't initiate the offense, get the ball where it needs to go or play within himself. Four turnovers and four assists is not going to get the job done. And Wonk doesn't even want to talk about how embarrassing it was to see Purdue leaving him wide open at the three point line daring him to shoot. Illini fans can only hope that his abysmal play as of late is at least partially due to injury.

Second, would the real Jamar Smith please stand up? Smith swished a long two-point shot two minutes into the game and then went 0-for-the-rest of the contest. He finished 1-7, 0-5 from the three point line. To say he is in a shooting slump is the understatement of the century. Like, 2 for 33 on threes over the last seven games. Is this the same guy that made 48 percent of his three-point tries last season? Even more disturbing is how badly many of his shots are missing the mark. Last season misses from Smith usually looked like they were going in. This year's misses are closer to hurting someone than going through the basket. Smith appears to be the Chuck Knoblauch of college basketball. Injuries play a factor, but so does the mental aspect.

Rich McBride. Where to start? After showing some promise over the last few games with a renewed shooting ability, McBride still has the ability to lay an egg in any game. This one was a whole omelet. He was 2-9 from the field, which happens to shooters. But, unlike Frazier, you just don't get the feeling that he's trying that hard. Look at the stats. In 36 minutes of play, McBride had one assist and zero rebounds. He didn't even have a foul. When David Teague was hoisting one of his deadly second-half three-pointers, you usually saw McBride (and sometimes Smith) trailing about five feet behind him.

Additionally, Wonk can't figure out Warren Carter. The guy has the ability to dominate. Witness his game against Arizona. But, in a similar fashion to the entire Illinois offense, Carter has the proclivity to pull extended disappearing acts. His stat-line against Purdue was respectable (if you discount the six turnovers). He was second on the team in scoring with 12 points on 4-9 shooting and 3-4 from the free throw line (more on free throws later). Those stats would have been sufficient...last season. This season, Illinois needs Carter to step up and take charge if they're going to have a chance to win. He needs to realize that the NBA players are gone and he needs to take over a large portion of the scoring. Unfortunately, he seems reluctant to do that.

The only player that contributed anything off the bench was Trent Meacham and this blogger would like to see him getting more minutes at the expense of Frazier. He scored all five of Illinois' bench points. Brock had probably his worst game of the season, missing the front-end of two one-and-ones and not grabbing a rebound in 18 minutes of play.

The only silver lining that Wonk sees thus far is that injuries have probably played a big role in the teams' troubles. But how much? Sure it hurt having Randle out, but Randle hasn't shown his potential much at all this year. He suffers from the same problem the seems to plague Carter. He hasn't figured out that the team needs him to dominate...not participate.

I can't understand how an entire team can be so bad at free-throws. Last in the Big Ten. There was a stretch in the second half where Illinois was trying to make a run. They had four trips to the free-throw line and came away with two points. That's not going to cut it. If Greg Oden can learn to shoot free throws with his off hand...don't you think the Illini could learn to shoot them with their dominant hands?

As Tupper said in his post-game blog-post: What’s needed is a great stretch run, a 6-2 finish in league play. Saturday’s performance did nothing to make anyone believe that’s likely. With a 15-8 record, Wonk thinks it might be time to start worrying about finishing good enough for an NIT birth.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007
  Can you say...must win?
The Illinois Fighting Illini men's basketball team faces Iowa tonight and will be trying for the third time for their first conference win.

Wonk doesn't often like to use this phrase, but...this game is a must win. The Illini are 12-5 and tied for last place in the conference at 0-2. Considering the reputation of the Big Ten this year, Wonk doesn't believe that 20 wins and an 8-8 conference record will be good enough for an invitation to the NCAA Tournament, especially if Illinois is without a win against a top-25 foe. If the Illini lose tonight and end up 0-3 in the conference, they will likely have to go 9-4 the rest of the way in order to ensure a berth in the Big Dance. That is a tall order. So, it is this blogger's belief that the Illini have to win tonight.

Wonk will be watching courtesy of ESPN Full Court. To get the live GameTracker, go here.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006
  We're bragging again
The Fighting Illini got a big win in the Bragging Rights game with a 73-70 victory over Missouri. The win was the seventh in a row in the series and Illinois' first signature win of the season. Shaun Pruitt led the way with a career high 19 points and nine rebounds. He was a monster and his energy really led the way to the Illini win.

Mark Tupper called it A game worth bragging about on his blog and Wonk agrees. Big Ten Wonk chips in with six thoughts about the game...all worth reading.

What did you think? Wonk might have some more thoughts in the days to come, but real life has been too busy to comment much. Thanks for your patience.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
  Let the games begin
Enough with the's time for the main course. As the Chicago Tribune points out: Maryland is the 1st big test for 7-0 Illinois. The unbeaten and #23 ranked Maryland Terrapins will be the first game against a ranked opponent for the Illini this year. The 6:00 p.m. CST game tonight is part of the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge and can be seen on ESPN.

The MSM storyline for the game is Baltimore native Chester Frazier will be welcoming his hometown team to Assembly Hall. Mark Tupper says that Frazier was a big Maryland fan growing up, but that the Maryland recruiters never knocked on his door. Frazier's gameplan is to not get too excited.

Wonk has seen Maryland play this year and they will be tough to beat, especially without Brian Randle. The game offers the Illini the first chance to prove that they can play at the level they have in the past few seasons. To follow the score online, click here. Leave your thoughts about the game below.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
  Frank Williams scores 32 in NBADL Debut
Frank Williams led the Sioux Falls Skyforce with 32 points in his NBADL debut - a 114-104 loss to the Dakota Wizards. Williams' stats were stellar, shooting 10-17 from the floor, 6-10 from behind the three-point line and 6-7 from the charity stripe. The University of Illinois star also had 6 assists and 2 steals while only committing one turnover.

Next up for Williams and the Skyforce is a game with the Idaho Stampede on November 30. Illini Wonk is planning to attend.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
  Trent Meacham v. Jon Scheyer
There's one thing we've clearly established: Bruce Weber can't recruit. He may be able to land locals like Jamar Smith, Trent Meacham and Bill Cole, but he can't get Jon Scheyer, Derrick Rose and Sherron Collins. Under Weber, Illinois better get used to the shadow of Big Ten recruiting powerhouses like Ohio State and Michigan State. Right?

Well, let's look at this season so far. Let's compare the unheralded Trent Meacham with the celebrated Jon Scheyer. Through Four Games, here are Meacham's stats:

PPG: 14.8
AST: 3.5
A/T: 1.56
STL: .5
FG%: .486
FT%: .833
3P%: .556

Here are the stats for Scheyer over his first four games:

PPG: 10.8
AST: 1.5
A/T: 1.0
STL: 1.0
FG%: .481
FT%: 1.000
3P%: .563

So, despite playing similar minutes (35) to Scheyer (32.5) and shooting a similar percentage, Meacham is averaging four more points and two more assists than Scheyer. Meacham also has a better assist/turnover ratio and has been to the free-throw line three times for every one of Scheyer.

It may be early in the season, but perhaps Weber isn't as bad of a recruiter as we all assumed? Maybe he's looking for guys who fit his system rather than players who want the spotlight for one or two seasons before they jump to the NBA? Just a thought.
Monday, November 20, 2006
  Frank Williams joins the Sioux Falls Skyforce
The Sioux Falls Skyforce have been in the CBA for years and are preparing for their first season in the NBA Development League. On the roster is former University of Illinois Fighting Illini standout Frank Williams. He was drafted by the Skyforce in the third round, and returning coach Mo McHone said "I never dreamed he would still be there in the third round."

As regular readers of this blog will know, Wonk is located in Sioux Falls and now plans to start attending more Skyforce games.

Rumor has it that he's a little out of shape after not playing for a while, but will be expected to put in quite a bit of time at the point guard spot. For a video report on the Skyforce training camp (with a few brief glimpses of Williams), click here.

So, along with the coverage of Illinois hoops that you have come to expect, you will also receive periodic updates on the play of Frank Williams. The season tips off November 24.
Friday, November 17, 2006
  Illini improve to 3-0
The University of Illinois men's basketball team improved to 3-0 on the season with a 85-50 win over Georgia Southern. The Illini got 19 points from Trent Meacham and 17 from Calvin Brock. Mark Tupper said they're taking advantage of their chance at some minutes that would normally go to the injured and the suspended.

Even walk-on Chris Hicks was on the court for seven minutes and scored two points. Click here for the box score. Next up for the Fighting Illini is the Florida A&M Rattlers on Sunday at 4:00 p.m.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
  Ouch x 2
Jamar Smith out 4-6 weeks with a high ankle sprain. Brian Randle "week-to-week" with a groin pull that has team doctors consulting with specialists around the nation for what is described as an unusual condition.

With McBride serving three more games of his four-game suspension, the Illini might have to go here for some bodies to put on the court.
Monday, November 13, 2006
  Illini sign three recruits
University of Illinois Men's Basketball Coach Bruce Weber recieved signed letters of intent from three recruits on the first day of the fall signing period. They are: Point guard Demetri McCamey (pictured here) from Westchester St. Joseph, forward Bill Cole from Peoria Richwoods and center Mike Tisdale from Riverton. Kedric Prince has the details on the trio here for

Of the recruits, Weber said: They're all excited to be here. The comment was a thinly veiled reference to Eric Gordon, who was the backdrop to the day's events. Randy Kindred apparently thinks Weber is just trying to cover up the fact that the recruiting class is more suited for Carbondale than Champaign. Bruce Weber acknowledges that, when it comes to recruiting, We have to sit back and evaluate what we’re doing.

This may be opening a big can of worms, but what do you think about the Illini basketball recruiting class of 2007?
Sunday, November 05, 2006
  Mr Rose Opts for Memphis
As expected by many Derrick Rose announced yesterday that he intends to play for Memphis Conference USA instead of either IL or IN in the Big Ten.

There are several things that Rose his older brother Reggie have said that leads me to think, for the most part, they are just giving double talk to the media and fans at large.

In the Sun-Times article Rose says in one sentence who better to learn from than assistant Memphis coach Rod Strickland. He goes on to say in the Sun-Times story and also in the Chicago Tribune story that his discussion was based in part on the fact that Memphis has promised him that he is going to start as a freshman (I guess current starter and preseason all conf player, Soph Chris Douglas-Roberts a former 4 star rated player, either is going to head for the NBA himself or sit out while he watches Rose play next year.) and that "He gets to play his own game." That's funny. I always thought basketball was a team sport and that it was the head coach who decided the style of play for the team. What a shear coincidence that this 17 year old high school student's style is exactly what John Calipari has the Memphis Tigers playing. And even more interesting is that according to many experts including's Dave Telep, Derrick is going to be at Memphis for a season or two and then leave for the pros. Well does that mean if he is to play his own game that he is currently playing the style of game that the NBA franchises are looking for? If so it is amazing. Even Michael Jordan had a few things that he needed to learn at UNC and still more once he was drafted by the Bulls.
So if Derrick is going to have to change his game, even a little bit, it is just possible he could learn what he needs to learn at IL. After all IL has put PG with the names of Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head into the NBA in the past couple of years. It would seem to me that the Illinois coaching staff has had a hand in their development. And did so without the assistance of Rod Strickland.

In another part of the Sun-Times story Rose's mother is quoted as saying that she and the family support his decision. That's nice. Every family should stand behind the decision that their children make when they are picking out a college. The part I find curious is when Derrick said that he is following the family's principle of, "it's all about the education." I didn't realize that you can get a 4 year degree AND play major college basketball AND do so in only a year or two. I know this kid is good but he has to be extraordinary to get his degree in such a short period of time. If it is really and truly ALL about the education, how can he choose Memphis over IL? I will be surprised if Derrick even has to declare a major. But if he does, I wonder if Memphis has a better program than IL in that field.

The Tribune article quotes Rose as admitting that he had made up his mind two weeks ago. Then what was the reason for going to IL last week? It just seems rather strange to me. Was it really to look at IL one more time to see if they really were a fit for him? Maybe so. I am sure he liked the reception that he received. His older brother Reggie compared it to a greeting that a rock star would receive. Reggie then goes on to say if IL only had treated Derrick that way on his previous visit, instead of like a "regular recruit", he just may have selected for IL instead of Memphis. It seems to me what really bothers Derrick and Reggie is not that IL is not a great fit for him and that Memphis is. It is that IL and Coach Weber won't promise them the moon and treat them like rock stars whenever they walk into the room.

Which team is really the best fit? I don't know. It appears to me that IL would have been the better choice based on the better level of play. (The Big Ten is rank as the 4th best conference and the feared Conf-USA is 12th.)
Last year Conf USA placed only Memphis and UAB into the NCAA tournament. This year only Memphis is projected to make it to the Big Dance.
For the record, I am not implying that Memphis has a weak program nor do they lie to their recruits. What seems to be in Derrick's best interest is to be the big fish in a small pond. Put up some very gaudy numbers and then take the money and run. If that is the case I am glad he is not coming to IL. I just don't think it is the best interest of the IL program to sell themselves out for the sake of having a player on the team for a year or two.

I liked Rick Morrissey's column. He says Weber is doing it right. Weber may not land the top recruits at IL. But he isn't going to lie to them either. He offers the players a chance at a quality education and chance to compete in the Big Ten. And as long as Bruce does this I doubt many of the super elite players will come to IL.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
  Illinois Basketball Recruiting is bad for Wonk's Heart
Wonk can't take this anymore. By "this" Wonk is referring to the last 12 months of Illini basketball recruiting. First it was Sherron Collins spurning the Illini for Kansas. That was followed by Eric Gordon committing to the Illini, taking us all on a roller-coaster and then picking the Hooisers.

And now, Derrick Rose. Why mention Rose? Didn't he rule out the Illini in August? Yes. Sort of. The Illini weren't on the August list...but they are on the November list. Rose put Illinois back on a list of three that includes the Memphis Tigers and the Indiana Hooisers. He even took an official visit, coming to the Orange & Blue Scrimmage last night with his brother and Simeon guard Deon Butler and was joined by Simeon coaches Fred McClinton and Marcus Alderson. For some photos, go here.

The Illini poured it on. Get the full story from Clyde Travis in the Sun-Times. Apparently, Rose will announce his decision one week from today at a press conference in Burbank.

Okay, bloggers, IB posters, conspiracy theorists, et. al. What can these latest developments possibly mean? Why the Orange shirt? The orange & blue shoes? Why visit Champaign if you've already made up your mind and plan to announce in one week? Where's the Prozac?

As Mark Tupper eloquently blogged: I’m sure most Illini fans will be afraid to climb back on this roller coaster when they haven’t stopped vomiting from the up-and-down ride on the last one piloted by Eric Gordon.

Tupper (wisely) advises that no one get their hopes up, believing this could just be a ploy to make Memphis jealous. Comments from Rose's high school coach make the visit sound like a courtesy. Illinois Prep-Bullseye says the about face borders on "shocking" and insists that it was NOT a publicity stunt and that the trip to Champaign [was] a lot more than just a mere courtesy visit.

What do you think?
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