Category Archives: NCAA Basketball

Illini Set To Face Toughest Test Yet

                In a conference like the Big Ten, nothing comes easy. If any team has seen that so far, it has been Bruce Weber’s Fighting Illini. After scraping by Minnesota with a double-overtime victory, getting blasted by Purdue on the road and barely surviving contests against Northwestern and Nebraska, the Illini have fans wondering if these performances are an illustration of their toughness or inefficiencies.

                Without big plays down the stretch, any of the Illini’s three conference wins could have ended up in the loss column. Still, it is going to take much more if the Illini intend to compete with the tops in the Big Ten, with Tuesday’s matchup against Ohio State serving as their first chance to show they can do it. The Buckeyes (15-2) will surely be the Illini’s biggest test so far this season.

                Ohio State, ranked #5 in the country in the AP and USA Today polls, will come into Champaign with a 3-1 conference record, having lost at #7 Indiana on New Year’s Eve. The Buckeyes currently hold a five game winning streak against the Illini, with Illinois’ last victory over Thad Matta coming in February of 2009.

                This year the Buckeyes look as tough as ever, led by sophomore standout Jared Sullinger. Sullinger ranks fourth in the Big Ten in scoring with 17.1 ppg. and second in rebounding with 9.6 rpg. Sullinger (6’8″, 280 lbs) was a handful for the Illini the last time he was in Champaign, scoring 27 points and grabbing 16 rebounds in the Buckeyes 73-68 victory. Most of Sullinger’s damage was done against then-seniors Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis. Now, Meyers Leonard will get his shot.

                Leonard has been up and down for the Illini the past five games. His 20 point, 11 rebound performance was key to Illinois’ 2OT victory against the Gophers. However, Leonard was much less of a factor at Purdue and home against Nebraska (7 points in each game). Foul trouble has plagued the young center, in addition to an occasional loss of concentration. Double teams and lack of touches have frustrated Leonard at times, but the Illini will need his best effort if they want to compete with the Buckeyes.

                The Illini must find ways to open things up for the big man, not allowing opponents to pack down inside. D.J. Richardson’s return to the starting lineup should help in this aspect, if the injury to his right wrist does not hamper his shooting capability too much. Another player who will be key in taking pressure off of Leonard is Joseph Bertrand. Bertrand has been a pleasant surprise for the Illini, ever since his 19 point performance against Missouri.

                Bertrand carried the Illini to victory against the Huskers on Saturday, scoring 25 points on 11-12 shooting. Through the past five games, Bertrand has averaged 15 ppg., while shooting an eye-opening 72.3 % percent from the field. Bertrand’s ability to put the ball on the floor and take it to the basket is something that Coach Weber’s squad has been lacking this season. His continued success will play a big factor over the final two months of the regular season.

                Pulling out a victory against the Buckeyes will be no easy task for the Illini, as they put their 13 game home winning streak on the line. Defensive breakdowns led to a beat down against the Boilermakers a week and a half ago, and the Illini will need to step it up against an even more talented offense. Buckeye point guard Aaron Craft ranks first in the conference in assists (5.1 asp), as he finds Sullinger, sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas (14.8 ppg) and William Buford (15.4), who will finish this season near the top of the list of Ohio State’s all-time scoring leaders.

                Illini starting point guard Sam Maniscalco is listed as doubtful with a nagging ankle injury. The chances of the Illini winning this game look nearly as bleak.

-Derek Piper

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Money-Makers, Not Money-Takers

     This is an article I wrote for my journalism class a couple weeks ago. Should college basketball players get paid? Or is the system perfectly adequate? Check it out….

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Richmond to Play in Must-Win Game for Illini

     Saturday’s game in Madison was a tough one for the Illini to say the least. The Illini shot only 30 percent from the field, they were called for 30 fouls in a game that saw 77 free throws between the two teams and they were without key freshman contributor Jereme Richmond.

     Richmond was in the building when the Badgers extended the Illini’s losing streak to two, but he never left the bench. This coming after the McDonald’s All-American missed two team practices during the week and returned to his home in Waukegan.

     Coach Weber pointed to “personal issues” as the reason for Richmond’s absence. Following his situation, there was much speculation as to Richmond’s future with the Orange and Blue but Richmond put those questions to bed today saying,

“I dealt with some personal issues last week that caused me to miss two practices while I was home with my family in Waukegan. With the help of Coach Weber and my family, I have worked through this situation. I appreciate their support and the support of my teammates for getting me through a difficult time. Unfortunately, my absence led to some false rumors that I want to put to rest. I have been and always will be 100 percent committed to the Illinois basketball program. My coaches and teammates are my family, and I’m looking forward to helping our team achieve our goals. I am an Illini for life.”

     Those are encouraging words for Illini Nation, as well as those uttered by Coach Bruce Weber stating that Richmond will play in a must-win game against Michigan St tomorrow night. Richmond will be key in the Illini’s attempts to get back on track and continue their undefeated streak at home this season.

     It won’t be easy, however, as the once struggling Spartans have won two consecutive overtime thrillers against Wisconsin and Northwestern. But you can forget what happened last week when it comes to these two teams. Last season the Illini split with the Spartans, while winning matchup last February when ESPN Gameday came to town.

     However, it has been the Spartans who have had Illinois’ number of late, winning five out of the last six matchups between the two teams. If the Illini want to change that, they are going to need a great effort from a variety of players tomorrow night.

     Demetri McCamey, who shot 3-13 against the Badgers, will need to get back in form. More than one rebound out of Mike Davis will surely be a necessity. No matter who you want to mention, Bruce Weber will need an improved performance after a tough stretch last week.

     Things won’t get any easier either with the #1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes awaiting this weekend. If the Illini want to remain in the upper echelon of the Big Ten, and the top 25 for that matter, now is the time to right the ship.

Prediction: Illini 73, Michigan St 68

The Illini have been a different team when they play in front of the home crowd this season. They seem to play with more energy and without question shoot a higher percentage from the field. I don’t see this changing very much in this game. After losing back-to-back games, the Illini will play with a sense of urgency in front of a packed house that will feature the Orange Krush at full strength now that school is back in session.

Tom Izzo’s squad will keep this game neck and neck, but an outstanding performance out of Demetri McCamey will help the Illini prevail.

*Let us know your predictions

-Derek Piper

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Illini Bracketology

http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/bracketology

     In or out? On the bubble or off? Where are the Illini you ask? Well, to say the least, it’s complicated. Illinois did not make things easier on themselves by losing to the Gophers at the Hall on Saturday and are now stuck in a do or die situation. With three guaranteed games left on the schedule, the Illini have no time for any more slip ups. The conference’s best, Ohio State, awaits tomorrow night, with what looks to be a double-header with Wisconsin on deck (last home game and the 4-5 game in the Big Ten tourney). Illinois, without question, cannot lose out and be dancing, in the NCAA tourney at least. One W may allow them to sneak in, two wins would be great, and more than that would be awesome, but who can really predict how this team will do? Honestly, how do you go from beating Michigan St and Wisconsin, and going stride for stride with Purdue at full strength to playing “first team to 50” with Michigan and barely reaching double digits in one half last Saturday? My only explanation is that Illinois is what I call “consistently inconsistent.” For now, many experts, Joe Lunardi included, have Illinois in but with work still left to do. On ESPN’s Bracketology, Lunardi has the Illini sitting at a 10 seed in the South and would be playing Richmond in the first round. That wouldn’t be a terrible spot, as I’m sure Coach Weber would be satisfied with any of the 65 spots right now.

     The next two weeks will tell it all, it’s make or break time. Are we going to see the Illini team that blasted the Badgers or the one that was grounded by the Gophers? I’m not sure, will the real Illini please stand up?

-Derek Piper

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What goes up…

    

     What goes up must go down, unless you’re talking about the shots the Illini took on Sunday. It obviously was not Illinois’ day, who tried to once again go to the well and pull out their six straight win, only problem was that the well was as dry as the Sahara Desert. Illinois finished the game shooting a woeful 34.3% from the field and 16.7% behind the arc. The Illini were without a player scoring in double figures, with McCamey leading the way with 9 points. Though McCamey could not find his stroke today, he didn’t have a terrible game as he added 9 assists and could have been a lot more if Mike Davis could catch the ball. The fact that Illinois’ win streak came to an end was not the shocking truth, it was the way they lost.

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A Whole New Look

      My, how the outlook of a season can change in an instant. Less than a week ago, the Illini were thought to be lucky just to make the NCAA tournament, but after two humungous wins and a five game winning streak, the Illini are tied for first place in the conference. Nearly a month ago Coach Weber benched junior guard Demetri McCamey for not giving the effort he expected on a consistent basis. Now, McCamey is right up there with Evan Turner and Kalin Lucas for Big Ten Player of the Year, after posting his two best performances of the season, and maybe his career at Illinois, in reeling off a combined 49 points and 18 assists against Michigan St and Wisconsin. Where has all of this come from? Well, obviously the credit has to go to the players, Demetri especially, for stepping up to the challenge, but who got them to do so? That’s right, Bruce Weber.

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Illinois-Wisconsin Preview

Derek Piper and Jacob Southey previewing the Illinois-Wisconsin game and also giving you some NCAA Tournament In-or-Out. Hope you enjoy it, give us your comments.

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