Thursday, December 31, 2009

Illinois Vs Northwestern: A Good Game

That is something that I never thought I would say.  In all of my dozen or so years of obsessively following Illini basketball I never enjoyed watching the UI-NW match-up. 

Afterwards I never thought things like "That was a quality game of basketball" or "That was competitive game played by athletic and racially diverse players", instead it was always "Wow, I'm glad that Northwestern succeeded in dumbing the game down to the point that they only lost by 15" or "I now like the sport of basketball less" or "Is it really a good idea to recruit exclusively in the former Soviet Union and Glenbrook North?" and "Teams should be required to have a weight room". 

All told, at 2 games per year, for let's say 12 years, at approx. 2 hours a game, Northwestern owes me 48 hours of good basketball.  They paid back about 2.5 hours of it last night in the 89-83 OT loss to the Illini.

Northwestern came into the game at 10-1 and at #25 is ranked for the first time since Lydon Baines Johnson was president.  In his memoirs LBJ wrote that "Succeeding JFK after the CIA shot him was tough, the whole Vietnam thing was tough, but Northwestern being ranked in college basketball was the most brutal point of my presidency".
All kidding aside, I really am pleased that Northwestern might be a respectable team and that hopefully the days of watching them drain the shot clock in hopes of losing 60-45 are over.
I do have some thoughts on the actual game that doesn't involve making fun of Northwestern (Ok there will be some mocking along with the analysis).

First of all, Mike Tisdale.  You have to give him props.  He was one of the main culprits in the Missouri debacle then bounced back to give on the best single game Illini efforts since D-Mac dropped 31 as a freshman against Eric Gordon and Indiana.  Tisdale was the best player on the court for the entire game and is the most skilled offensive player for the Illini.  If he doesn't get 10-15 shots per game from this point on, then there something seriously wrong with the coaching staff. 
There were two things about the 31 point 11 rebound preformance that I particularly enjoyed.

1. Tisdale had the attitude of a player taking over a game.  He got fired up and even was mean-muggin and staring down Northwestern players several times during the game.  Granted it is pretty easy to act tough when your playing against a bunch of pre-med nerds and a 6-11 stiff with a hilarious receding hairline named "Luka".  But regardless, I was encouraged by Tisdale demanding the basketball and taking it to lesser defenders.

2.  In all of Tisdale's 31 points not a single one came from a jumper.  There were hook shots and that one-handed turnaround thing, but no true jump-shots. Not that Tiszy (I'll be refering to him as Tiszy for the remainder of the post, he's earned it) shouldn't shoot jumpers, he is still one of the better shooters on the team, but everything he got came with his back to the basket, at the rim - off a pass or rebound putback, or at the free-throw line.  To recap, Tiszy scored 31 points without using of one of his best skills as an offensive player.  This to me is simply amazing and a testament to how far he has come as a player.  When he came in as a freshman all it seemed he was good for was the 15-foot jumper, now 2 years later, he puts up 31 and leaves one of his best weapons in its holster.

Now on to the other Mike.  I know it may seem unfair to be critical of a player that put up 20 points and 17 rebounds, but whatever.  I'm not happy with Davis.  I have been known to declare that Davis is a basketball-intelligent, hard working version of Warren Carter.  Perhaps I was a little hasty, maybe Davis is just another Warren.  Mike D. went 9 of 14 from the field, but honestly he should have shot a higher percentage (I realize this sounds ridiculous).  Tisdale abused the weaker Northwestern defenders, but truthfully Davis had a greater mismatch.  He was defended by 6-4 Jeremy Nash, 6-5 freshman Drew Crawford, and most egregiously -Jon Shurna at 6-8 and listed at 210 pounds (I'm guessing more like 195), and other times Davis roamed free in the 1-3-1 zone that Northwestern employed.  Basically there was not a time this game where Davis shouldn't have been dominating.
Also were several times in the game, where Davis simply didn't defend anybody.  He just seems to lose track of time and space several times in a ballgame.  Like the time that NW was inbounding the ball with 1 second on the shotclock and Davis was standing with his hands literally on his hips as his man moved to the corner and hit a three.

Lost in the joy of the Illini victory was the debacle at the end of regulation.  To start off, let's establish that Bruce Webber can't draw up an inbounds play to save his life.  Every high school basketball team runs better inbounds plays than the Illini.  The best case scenario in Bruce's inbounds plays is that we lob the ball over the top into the backcourt and pray we don't turn it over.

Anyway, the Illini have the ball on the sideline in the backcourt with about 14 seconds left.  Bruce draws up the play where  he stacks three players in the backcourt then does the classic - everyone goes a different direction, only Northwestern doesn't pressure and they are just standing there in the backcourt running this retarded play that for some unknown reason was meant to get the ball to DJ, who was apparently confused by the lack of pressure and took 7 seconds to get the ball into the frontcourt where Bruce promptly calls another timeout.
One more brilliant Bruce inbounds play later the Illini throw the ball deep in the backcourt to DJ who, with only seconds left rushes the ball up and get stripped and narrowly avoids disaster as NW's desperation shot misses.

There were two things wrong with that final play: First, the ball should go to Demitri, end of conversation.  There is no good reason to give the ball to your freshman guard who is a little shaky with the ball against pressure instead of your seasoned guard who has been playing great all season.

Second, You cannot throw the ball deep into the backcourt with only a few seconds left to play, best case scenario for DJ after that was a desperation 3.  If you get it short into the frontcourt you have more time to get a penatrate and kick or some kind of motion to get a good shot.  

With all that said, it was a must win for the Illini after dropping the previous two, and it's time to get excited for the Gonzaga game.

1 comment:

  1. We haven't run effective inbounds play since 2004-05. There are two problems. Getting the ball in, and then taking a shot.

    We always end up lobbing it into the backcourt. Every time. This eliminates any kind of quick strike. This must be Weber's fault. Maybe he should have the guys practice it more.

    We seldom get a shot off. If we get a shot off, its rarely a good one. Someone pulls the trigger from NBA range. This must be the guards' fault. Chester Frazier, for all his work ethic, never knew what to do with the ball in his hands and the clock ticking to zero. McCamey doesn't make great decisions either.

    As for last night, there is no excuse for not getting a shot off with 14 seconds left in regulation. Why those guys went about running the inbounds play Weber called when there was no pressure from Northwestern is dumbfounding. That ball should not be launched back to D.J. on the other half of the court. Unbelievable. The same goes for turning the ball over with 7 seconds left.


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