Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Tonight @ 7:15pm CST or 5:15pm PST
Big Ten Network

“Some people are going to respond better to the stick, and some people are going to respond better to the carrot, and some people have to be tricked into doing something that they didn’t believe they could do.” -Mark Twight, owner of Gym Jones in Salt Lake City

It's amazing what you can unlock when you find out what drives a person.  That's what I like the most about our new coach and this year's team.  We are playing with much more confidence and determination than we have in the last few years.  It is a little harder to see this after this weekends 17 point loss to Wisconsin, but the Badgers just knocked off #2 Indiana on the road and are sitting atop the Big 10 at 4-0.

We have 3 wins against teams ranked in the top 15:  Butler at 13, Gonzaga at 10, and OSU at 8.  The Big 10 season has been up-and-down so far, but after a rough 2011-12 season and the departure of our best player - Meyers Leonard - the Illini are light years ahead of where I expected them this year. 


If we want to dance this year, we need to finish .500 or greater in conference - maybe 1 game under will work with the wins we've posted so far.  After a 1-3 start to the year, we have a slightly uphill battle.  The strategy is simple, though, beat Northwestern, Nebraska, and Penn State and hold court at home.  The Big 10 is stacked this year, and we can't afford to let any games get away. 

So Sorry

The Illini need a little I figured the tried and true IGP might help.  Start with a quote, end with a quote (always worked in HS), "It's only weird if it doesn't work."  Let's get back on track Illini.

Illini - 73
Mildcats - 64

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Illinois vs. Fichigan

Illinois vs. Fichigan
Tonight, 6pm on ESPN

Last week, during the depths of the Illini 6 game losing streak, it was Illini Game Preview Editor in Chief Matt Spitz's birthday.  A few friends decided to decorate his cube.


My favorite part is the caption in picture 3, "Matt - don't expect me to mollycoddle you just because it's your birthday.

While Spitzer has been vocal about replacing Illini Head Coach Bruce Weber at the end of this year, he is still very much rooting for the Illini to finish the season strong and squeeze their way into the NCAA tournament.

Didn't think that was possible?  Well a few of the ESPN talking heads do.  On a Monday's ESPNU College Basketball Podcast, Andy Katz said that if Illinois can beat Michigan and Wisconsin, they stand a chance of claiming a spot in the field of 68.  Doug Gottlieb surprisingly agreed.

Let's focus on Michigan, first.


With even the faintest glimmer of NCAA tournament hope, I believe that the Illini will come ready to play.  Against Iowa on Sunday, we stayed true to our strategy and it paid off.  The Illini stuck with big man Meyers Leonard, and he poured in 22 points while pulling down 14 rebounds.  An active offense also opened things up for Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson.

The same game plan must play out tonight for the Illini to turn back Fichigan. Pound the ball inside to open up the rest of the floor for DJ and BP3.  We coughed the ball up 17 times vs. Iowa and are averaging 14 turnovers per game this year.  Protecting the rock will be crucial to claim victory.

Fichigan - 62
Illinois - 64

Tournament Life Support

Monday, February 20, 2012

Illinois vs. tOSU

Tonight @ 6pm

It was sad to see Meyers Leonard crying on the Illini bench during the 2nd half of Saturday's loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  During moments like that, you realize that the team you live and die for is filled with 17-22 year old kids.  Leonard was frustrated in his performance, and he was disappointed that his team was not going to make the NCAA tournament.

In the same way, I it is also hard to watch Coach Weber go down the way he has in the last 2 weeks.  We all remember his perseverance in winning over the Illini players and fans during his first season with the Illini, and the magical journey he took us on the following year.  No one can discount his accomplishments after the fact.  I don't believe that any coach could have pulled more out of our 04-05 team than he did.  Weber deserved his National Coach of the Year Award in 2005, and he also deserves our respect and cheers as he ends the season.

Illinois vs. tOSU

It took a 43 point Herculean effort from Brandon Paul to knock off the Muckeye's earlier this year, and the way the Illini are playing, I'm doubtful that lightening will strike twice.  According to my supermarket statistician, Todd Persky, Meyers Leonard hasn't scored in double figures in three game.  Leonard was up to the task the last time he played the Jared Sullinger, and the Buckeyes were content to let the two play heads up.  I expect Myers to come out inspired today and play with some passion.

No matter what the Illini do, though, I'm not sure that it is going to be enough to compete with the Muckeyes.  Sullinger, William Buford and DeShaun Thomas are a scary combination - especially playing at home.

Illinois - 59
Muckeyes - 68

One More Chance - The Big Ten Tournament

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Illinois vs. the Mildcats

Today @ 2 pm

Thursday’s win over MSU was huge for the Illini this season.  It was our second win over top 10 teams and it brings our record to 3-1 against the AP top 25.  I believe our spot in the tournament is secure (barring an absolute implosion), and the month of February will be all about how we improve and where we finish in the Big 10.

I heard a lot of complaints about the MSU game.  “It was low scoring.” “They couldn’t rebound.”  “I’ve never felt less excited about a win over a top 10 team.”  Although the last comment cracked me up, I was encouraged by Saturday’s effort.  We battled, we scrapped, we got floor burns, and we even inflicted some pain (Tracy Abrams).  Brandon Paul’s confidence is skyrocketing.  He leads the team in points (15ppg) and assists (2apg) and is second in rebounds (5.1rpg).  He is taking the ball to the rim with authority, and he is shooting well from behind the arc.  Tracy Abrams is another player gaining confidence.  He had a huge 3 against MSU, and he is much more comfortable handling the rock.   

The Illini play a much tougher schedule in February - four of our last nine games are against ranked opponents.  I am confident that the Illini will finish strong and end up third in the Big Ten.  We need to get behind them the rest of the way.


Let’s be honest.  Every year, the Big Ten Network talks about how this year will be the first year that Northwestern makes the tournament.  This is the equivalent of saying that Nick Smith or Mike Tisdale bulked up in the off-season.  It sounds possible…until you start thinking about it.  Even if the Big 10 automatically starts Northwestern at 3-0 to start the conference play, they will never make the tournament.  Let’s stop kidding ourselves.

In the first match-up, the Illini turned back a furious comeback by the Cats thanks to a timely free throw from Myke Henry and a huge block by big man Meyers Leonard.  Northwestern had a woeful shooting night - 36% from the field and 28% behind the arc.  Also, NU’s top slasher, Drew Crawford, was terrible.  He only scored 8 points - 10 short of his season average. 

Northwestern’s ever changing defenses will give us trouble in spurts, but as long as they stay man for most of the game, we should be OK.  DJ Richardson has been quiet lately.  He is bound for a big a game.  Also, Meyers Leonard must dominate the interior and the boards today.  Meyers, channel your Justin Tuck.

Pats – 24
G-Men – 28

Illini – 63
Mildcats – 54

David Diehl and Steve Weatherford  

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Illinois vs. Minny

Tonight, 7pm at the Barn
8pm at Finnegan's if you are in South Beach

In the history of the Illini Game Preview (9 years for any of you new subscribers), I’ve picked the Illini to lose only once.  I felt so guilty and there was such uproar from Illini fans that it never happened again.  Every week, when I pick them to win, I know they can do it.  Every so often, when we play a team like tOSU or Kansas last year in the tournament, I have a few doubts – but overall, I’m confident.

My confidence in the Illini is still there, but my confidence in the coach is gone. 

I have always been a fan of Bruce Weber.  I don’t think that any other coach could have done what he did with the 04-05 Illini.  He has helped his players grow as basketball players and as men – leading them to the NBA and to some of the highest ratings of academic achievement for a college sports team.  It is time, however, for coach to be dismissed at the end of this season. 

You’ve all seen the stats in recent articles: a .500 Big10 record over the last 5 years (48-47 including this year), making the NCAA tournament 3 out of the last 5 years, and only winning one time.  Some Illini fans point to our stagnant offense or poor play calling at the end of the game as reasons for the Illini descending to a middle of the road Big10 team.  I point to something else – a lack of identity.

In college basketball, a new group of players comes into the program every year.  When Dee Brown, Deron Williams, and James Augustine joined the Illini in 2003, it was still Brian Cook’s team; but the Illini had an entirely new dynamic.  They fed the post whenever they could, but they also converted more fast break points than we had seen in a while. 

In addition to new players joining the team, older players change dramatically – think Kevin Turner as a senior, Robert Archibald as a senior, Luther Head as a Senior, or Warren Carter as a senior.  All these guys were completely different players than they were as freshmen.

With a new crop of freshman and ever changing upperclassmen, the Illini identity should be different every year.  Under Coach Weber, the Illini offense has stayed the same, their defense has stayed the same, and the personality of each team hasn’t shown through.  In college basketball, heart, hutstle, and teamwork trump individual skill and coaching strategy 99% of the time.  Let’s give our Illini some freedom to play basketball.


The Illini already turned back the Gophers once before this year in Champaign, but it took them double overtime to do it.  Ralph Sampson III was excellent for the Lophers in the first meeting, but Meyers Leonard has been steadily improving throughout the year, and I expect him to get the best of this match-up tonight.

I hope to see one of my favorite newcomers Myke Henry get some bigger minutes tonight and team up with Brandon Paul to lead the way.

Minny – 57
Illini - 59

South Beach

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Illinois vs. the Golden Lophers

6:30 p.m. at Assembly Hall

Add a few more Illini themed gifts to your shopping list for next year.  I received Illini cheese dip, salsa, tabasco sauce, chips, mug, and hot chocolate mix.  These will be consumed at an Illini themed taco night (dedicated to Timothy Ore) sometime very soon.


Mizzou lived up to expectations during the first half of last Thursday's contest by building a 41-30 halftime lead in St. Louis.  I was watching the game with a few fans who reminisced about how much the Tigers looked like the '04-'05.  They were hard to keep out of the lane, and they were shooting lights out.  The game was threatening to turn into a blowout until, lightly used red-shirt sophomore Joseph Bertrand sparked the Illini on a 17-2 run.  Bertrand poured in 19 points on 9-9 shooting, but the Illini fell short to the Tigers 76-74 after a pair of costly turnovers in the final minute.

Bertrand was spectacular in going strong to the rim and burying short jumpers.  The Illini played much more of a 4 guard lineup to counter Mizzou's speed.  Weber also installed Brandon Paul at the high post when Mizzou went zone.  Against a zone, the middle is always vulnerable to attack.  By having Paul who can shoot the short jumper or drive to the hoop, the Illini had many  more options to attack Missouri.


The Gophers frontcourt was looking solid early this year as shot blocking machine Ralph Sampson III ruled under the basket and forward Trevor Mbakwe was scoring 14ppg.  But Mbakwe suffered a torn ACL against Dayton a few weeks ago and is out for the remainder of the season.  The Lophers have actually excelled without Mbakwe defeating Virginia Tech and USC in back to back games.

I'd love to see the Illini repeat some of the strategies they used Thursday night against Missouri.
  1. More Joseph Bertrand (I'd like to see more Crandall Head as well - Breaking News: Crandall Head has left the team per Illini beat writer Paul Klee.)
  2. Play a 4-guard line up.  
  3. Put Brandon Paul in the middle against a zone.  This gives the Illini more ways to score if the 3-pointer is not falling. 

The Illini need to start the game off right by putting the ball down low to Myers Leonard.  I expect a big game from him and from Brandon Paul who scored well against Missouri but made a few key turnovers late.

Illinois - 63
Lophers - 57

Chips & Dip

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Illinois vs. Mizzery

Tonight, 8pm @ The Barn & Company (950 W. Wrightwood)
Email me if you are going to come out.

Saturday was painful as the Illini fell to UNLV 64-48. It was difficult to watch for those in attendance at the United Center. There was even a smattering of boos as the final seconds ticked off the clock. The IGP does not condone booing a college team. Sitting in the 300 level, it was interesting to watch the game from above. I could see the sets develop much better than on TV and now understand why coordinators in football like to watch the game from above.

There was a lot that concerned me about the game:

· What’s the play?: Several times in Saturday’s game, the Illini looked at each other and pointed in different directions. Some on the court didn’t know the play or how to start the set. We need to know every play from every position on the court.

· Entry Pass: UNLV played up on the Illini and denied the first pass. When Maniscalco or Abrams couldn’t get rid of the ball after crossing mid-court, the offense looked discombobulated. After the screen and re-screen to get open, the shot clock was already down to 20 seconds and the offense had not been initiated yet. We need a counter when this happens – usually some sort of back door screen or cut to create a lay-up and hopefully loosen up the defense on future possessions.

· Inbounding the Ball: Have we ever scored off an inbounds play? I often watch them and wonder if we are trying to score or just avoid a 5-second call. We need to turn inbound plays into scoring opportunities.

· Middle of the Floor - Drive: The ball spun round and round the perimeter like a top. For Weber’s offense to be effective there needs to be a scoring threat. When Dee, Deron, and Luther were in their heyday, the Illini would pass around the perimeter but they were always a threat to drive to the front of the rim. This kept the defense off balance and created open three pointers, unlike the highly contested shots the Illini were taking Saturday.

· Middle of the Floor - Post: Feeding the ball into the post opens up the offense just like a drive. Meyers Leonard is a great passer from the post. When he was getting double teamed early, he drew fouls or found the open man. We need to keep going to the big man.

· Loosen up and play ball: I’d like to see our young athletes have some more freedom. Whenever a young player makes a mistake, he is benched. Coach, let these guys improvise a bit and see what happens.

UNLV exposed some holes, but let’s see how the team improves throughout the year. It’s early, and there is a lot of promise.


Missouri looks fantastic early in the year. They remain undefeated through 11 games and are ranked #9 in the country. They have played a cream puff schedule, but they are wining in impressive fashion. While the Illini have been allowing bad teams to stick around (Cornell, Illinois State), Mizzery is scoring 87.9 ppg (2ndin the nation) and winning big.

UNLV ran the floor against us and so will Mizzou. They are fast and can light it up from long distance. Marcus Denmon is a deadeye shooter. Averaging 19.6ppg and shooting 45%from behind the arc, he is as pure as they come. Whoever draws him on defense cannot lose him for a second or 3-pointers will assuredly be raining down.

Paul Pressey runs the show. He’s fast and can distribute, averaging 6 assists per contest. The Illini have had trouble with fast guards all season. Instead of helping on defense, let’s make him finish. Once Leonard swats a few shots into the second row, Pressey won’t know where to go.

If we want to win, everyone has to play well - most importantly - Meyers Leonard. He needs to touch the ball every possession. If the offense runs through him, we will stand a fighting chance.

The Illini bench is the other place where we need solid production. They’ve been abysmal in the last few games. They have been outscored in the last six games and put up only three points in the last two. Tracy Abrams, Crandall Head, Nnanna Egwu, and anyone else willing to contribute are all welcome to the party.

It’s going to be an uphill battle folks, but I know we can do it.

Illinois – 76
Mizzery – 74

The Newest Illini Fan - ALW