Illini Wonk
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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