Illini Wonk
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
  The Bullseye Gets Bigger
The night started with two unbeaten teams in college basketball and almost ended with none. On a night when Boston College lost their first game of the season, the Illini pulled out a come-from behind win on the road and handed the Michigan Wolverines their seventh straight loss in conference play.

Credit Michigan with giving Illinois one of their toughest games of the year. The Wolverines game plan was clear from the beginning and they almost executed it to perfection. Coach Tommy Amaker determined that his short-handed team couldn't run with Illinois, so on offense they spread the court and went deep into the shot clock on every possession (ESPN frequently displayed the number of times they went under ten seconds on the shot clock). On defense, they stuck with a zone and gambled that the Fighting Illini couldn't beat them from the outside. It almost worked.

After jumping out to leads of 16-6, 18-8 and with 8:47 left in the first half they led 23-15. The Illini then went almost 12 minutes without a field goal and ended up trailing 24-28 at the half, only the second time they trailed at half-time all season. Early in the second half the Illini found themselves behind by eight points. Then, Dee Brown took over on defense.

Brown stole the ball on three consecutive Michigan posessions and converted them all for lay-ups. The last was a three-point play that put the Illini ahead 42-41 with 7:54 left and they would never trail again. From there, Illinois poured on some style points with Brown going behind his back to James Augustine for a dunk and Luther Head feading Deron Williams for an alley-oop dunk.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about Illinois' performance was their apparent willingness to settle for jump shots. Exactly half of their 48 shot attempts in the game were from behind the arc and they made less than 30 percent of those. Illinois showed little ability or desire to get into the paint, despite the cold shooting night from outside.

Although they shot poorly, the Illini did a lot of things well. They only turned the ball over five times in the entire game and their eight steals were the difference between their 24th win and their first loss. The Illini also showed a remarkable resiliency. Despite the fact that the three starting guards played 117 of a possible 120 minutes coming off one day of rest, they seemed to get better as the game went on. Most impressive was that, once again, the Illini showed that on any given night, any one of the five starters can beat you. Tonight it was Dee Brown. Tomorrow night it might be Roger Powell (who had nine rebounds tonight).

The media have turned in a few recaps and most of them focus on the performance of Dee Brown. Sports Illustrated is here. CBS Sportsline here. FoxSports here.
The Illini have shot well from behind the arc all season but it's a mistake to believe that it's our game. It's almost like the guys are forgetting their game and settling for the long range shot.

We are a speed and attack offense pushing the ball up the court and distributing the ball. We don't play to beat the zone from the outside, but rather by not allowing the defense to setup in the zone. Making the 3's is gravy, but it's not our piece of steak. In the first half and the beginning of the second half, we were not getting enough dribble penetration.

Thank goodness they remembered.
I never, never, never enjoy seeing any Illinois team come out flat. There also seems to be a kind of trend emerging where we are getting up, to a slightly higher level, than that of our opponents. The ability to turn things off and on will not always be there, and I would be scared to dip into that well too many times.

Having said that, for almost any other team in the country, the last couple of performances, especially on the road, would have resulted in a loss. In each case, they did what they needed to when they needed to, to win the game.

I think this whole streak will wear on them, and I think that has manifested itself recently. Fortunately, they have a few days off before the Badgers come to town, and hopefully some rested legs, bona fide competition, and a rejuvenated spirit will be displayed.

Keep up the great work. I enjoy your blog almost as much as I enjoy watching these guys win.
I echo JD's comments. thanks for the blog Wonk.
Dee was amazing last nite at crunch time wasn't he?
I was telling my wife that I hate to see them try to make all those threes. The announcers had it right when they said the IL players were a bit tired and that's why some of the shots where hitting the front of the rim.
The Illini then went almost 12 minutes without a field goal and ended up trailing 24-28 at the half, the first time they trailed a half-time all season.ESPN said that at halftime, but that's not correct. Illinois was losing to Purdue 39-33 at halftime of their game. Just an FYI.
Thanks all for your comments and corrections. That performance from Dee was incredible. It's one thing to score three times in 90 seconds, but to steal the ball before each basket in that amount of time? Unbelievable.
To echo what a prior posted noted ... The Illini went over 12 minutes without a field goal, and were only down by 4 at half. I suspect there are not too many teams in the country that could do that, and still be in the running.

For fear of piling on, Dee was amazing. He showed that oft-overused phrase "the will to win" last night. On any given night, a handful of players from the Illini have done so, and I believe that is one of the things that makes them special - Augustine & Jack "3" Ingram against Wisconsin, Luther "I love" Head against Iowa, Deron (assists) and Augustine against IU, and the list goes on and on.
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