Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wisconsin-Illinois thoughts

Ho-hum. We just strolled into Champaign and completely dominated the Big Ten's top program of the decade, and it's business as usual. The way things are going, it's not that surprising (more on that later).

Really enjoyed the effort. Five guys with eight or more points, different guys taking turns carrying the load and delivering body blows to the staggering Illini.

-Sometimes it's sort of amazing how different the Swing looks in the first minute of the game compared to how it looks in the 30th minute of the game. Early on tonight we were out of sorts on offense, but as the game wore on we did whatever we wanted on that end. Certainly Illinois came out hard on defense, but is there more to it than that? Does it have to start out with a feeling-out stretch?

-Not Butch's best game - looked helpless against Pruitt at times and never found a rhythm on offense. Conversely, Stiemsma gave great minutes at the 5, including a couple nice shots and a sweet pass to J-Bo for a 3. What a luxury it is to have two solid 7-footers - usually Butch is the guy, but tonight Stiemsma was the better option.

-Pruitt's dominance early on is disconcerting. He is one tick above average but was getting whatever shots he wanted. Much like D.J. White last week, though, he faded in the second half - did he get tired? Did our post guys front him better? Without going back and watching the game again, I'm guessing Landry had a lot to do with that, I've always liked the way he battles in the post on defense.

-Early on I jotted down that Bruce Weber should be playing Demetri McCamey more. He didn't impress me in Madison, but was terrific against Indiana. After a slow start today he really came on strong.

-J-Bo is really figuring out how to put himself in position to score. I'm as excited about his layups as his 3-pointers.

-Excellent game for Landry on both ends. Those two 3s he made were shot with confidence.

-Flowers also had an underrated good game, his usual little bit of scoring to go along with great defense.

-Really happy to see Jarmusz get lots of meaningful minutes. Nothing against Leuer, who I think is fine and will contribute again this season. But Jarmusz offers more of what we need in an eighth man right now. I was happy to see him come in and get a rebound right away, take a shot (even though he missed), get a steal. It's also good on-the-job training for next year, when Tim will be needed to fill a role similar to what J-Bo did last year and the early part of this year.

-A quiet 18 points for Pop, if that's possible. He hit some real circus shots.

-Now a few words about Illinois. Late in the broadcast, Wayne Larrivee was talking about how this was a transition time for Illinois. I disagree - transition implies that another stretch of similar excellence is imminent, and I just don't see it. This looks like it could be the second stage of a significant downturn.

The Illinois we saw with Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Luther Head, Brian Cook, Frank Williams, James Augustine, et al, was incredible at times. They didn't shot themselves in the foot with avoidable turnovers or missed layups. They didn't jaw at the refs, like Pruitt, after every unfavorable call. They didn't lose at home.

Why? In addition to being tough and well-coached, they were talented and well-rounded. The current Illini roster has some guys who are good at one or two things but deficient in others. Pruitt can bull his way inside for some points, but is a terrible shooter and commits dumb fouls. Chester Frazier is a tenacious defender but can't shoot - vice versa for Trent Meacham. Calvin Brock is OK. I thought Brian Randle might become a star, but he's regressed. If Jeff Jordan was named Jeff Peplinski, he'd be playing at Wheaton College. Mike Davis, Rodney Alexander, Mike Tisdale - just guys who run around flapping their arms. Only McCamey has any real upside. I haven't heard anything about their incoming recruits.

Bottom line: Weber is a good coach, but he won with Bill Self's players. Now that they're gone, he's struggling. I'm not suggesting he can't turn it around, but it doesn't seem likely to happen next year. It will be interesting to see if, however far-fetched it might seem, Illinois finishes with two losing seasons in a row, how patient the school will be with Weber.

He did lead one of the greatest seasons in recent college hoops history just three seasons ago, but memories are short. Especially when apathy creeps in. A student manager behind the Illinois bench was seen yawning early and often. Lots of empty seats in prime locations. The student section, which has always struck me as intimidating, lacked energy. Maybe they just get up for yelling at Eric Gordon and Kelvin Sampson nowadays.

Go back two paragraphs -- weren't we just discussing the UW football program in these terms two months ago? Substitute Bielema for Weber and Barry Alvarez for Bill Self, and you've got fairly similar scenarios. Only our football team hasn't actually slid to the bottom of the Big Ten yet, and Illinois's basketball team has. Here's hoping it doesn't happen.


ajs said...

It was good to see Jarmusz get some meaningful minutes- the grind of the post season is slowly nearing and we will need another defender -especially during the BT Tourney grind- I was impressed with his length and his knack for hawking the ball. Was this a product of matchups for Bo? Or has TJ cemented himself in the rotation?

JBo is stroking it- you can see his confidence building- a la Jon Bryant.

ajs said...

Something I remembered I thought was interesting while watching the game last night. Bo had


All on the floor at the same time- for quite a while. Significance? All are prep stars from the state of WI who led their team to the State Tourney. All but Hughes ended up winning a title. I had to double check that St. Johns didn’t win one but was disappointed they didn’t. I’d be willing to bet that was the only time in UW BB history anything similar has happened. Bo has certainly built his fence around the state of WI.

Just thought I’d share

ajs said...

check that- Landry. Vincent made it to the title game but got beat by Wes Jr's Memorial. (i think?)

scott.tappa said...

Great point on your last two posts. Butch could be substituted in there as well, he made it to Madison with Appleton West. Nankivil, too.

It was Madison Memorial who beat Landry's Vincent - because they stopped throwing Marcus the ball. Pretty boy Wes kept getting the ball, and they won.

I didn't see Pop's game at state, but my brother told me he was horrible, forcing up shots and playing out of control. Most of these guys have come up big in Madison.

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