The 2010-11 Illinois basketball team, hyped as having the best chance for post season success in six years, failed to impress onlookers against Lewis University. But as head coach Bruce Weber explains, it served as a valuable teaching tool. And there were extenuating circumstances.
"I think it's obvious it wasn't what we had hoped. But it probably benefitted us. They've been told how good they have a chance to be, and they perhaps needed a little humbling to realize exactly where we're at.
"I try to give a lot of people a chance to play in exhibitions, so we probably didn't have a good flow. But if we have the depth we think we have, those guys have to play and produce, and we have to give them minutes."
Southern Indiana has connections for Weber.
"Southern Indiana is a team coached by Rodney Watson, who was my former assistant at SIU. One of the other assistants is Derek Tillman, one of my former players. So it's a great chance to see those guys and play against them.
"It's a team where Jamar Smith played last year. They had an unbelievable season but lost most of their scoring. They still have some veterans back, and they've added some guys. I feel like they're going to be very competitive. It's good to come back and see if we can make some progress."
A continuing concern for this team is leadership. Yes, the seniors appear willing to share their knowledge with the younger players and serve a leadership role in practices. But they must be as strong-minded when their own games are off and the opposition is putting up a good fight.
"With leadership, especially when things go tough, you need that mental toughness," Weber reminds. "That will probably be the test of how good we are."
Demetri McCamey, the senior most capable of leading this team statistically, must also expand his game to help his teammates. His encounter with Lewis University produced mixed reviews according to Weber.
"Okay at best. He didn't really assert himself. We put him in a lot of ball screens last year. We didn't have a lot of people to do things. We've tried to limit that right now because I don't want them to think that's the only thing we can do.
"As the season goes on, we can put sets in to have him be successful. But I'm trying to advance his game and hopefully advance some other guys' games. We could make it easier on him, but I'm trying to make it so we can get us better as a team and him better as an individual.
"He just didn't get enough done. And his decision-making was not the best, obviously the two charges. Hopefully he and all the guys will perform better on Tuesday."