With the Illini rolling to an easy victory Saturday night, it seemed as if all the pieces of the puzzle were there for a nice run in the Big 10 and the NCAA tournament. There was something missing though. Aaron Spears, Luther Head, and Richard McBride to be exact. Where will these players fit in once they return? Will they be in Bruce Weber's doghouse all year long? How will their teammates react to the playing time that these guys will take from them? These are the questions Illini-Nation will try to tackle.
Luther Head speaks with the media
Going with a 9 man rotation looked just about right for Bruce Weber against WIU. There were times when the guards seemed to tire but overall it worked out fine. With the addition of Head following the Mercer game, the lineup could be shaken up a bit. Bruce Weber must decide if he wants to go with a 3-guard lineup or keep Brian Randle and Roger Powell in the starting mix. After watching Saturdays game there is no doubt in my mind that the best lineup would be:
F- Brian Randle
Brian Randle may get more time than he thought
There is no team in the Big 10 that could run with that squad. This lineup would also allow Bruce Weber to use his uptempo style to produce countless turnovers and transition baskets. The Illini would be giving up some size but it would be made up for with team speed. James Augustine can rebound with the best of them, Brian Randle and Luther Head can jump out of the gym, and Deron Williams is a big guard that posted 9 rebounds on Saturday night. Also, Deron can guard most small forwards so the Illini wouldn't be giving up a whole lot on defense besides bulk.
That's where Aaron Spears comes in. Spears is the monster in the middle that the Illini need. They have plenty of finesse big men. Spears clogs the lane and uses his long wingspan to grab rebounds and alter shots. He also gives them a low post scoring threat as he attacks the rim. The Illini were missing something Saturday night and it was Spears. They need someone nasty in the middle. Someone who plays with emotion. Someone that doesn't get shoved around on the low blocks. Hopefully Aaron Spears will step up to the plate and take on that roll.
Richard McBride will be missed against the zone defense
Richard McBride will be the last player coming back from suspension. With teams realizing that the best way to play the Illini is with a zone, Richard will be needed. McBride has a sweet shooting stroke and will keep defenses honest on the perimeter. Countless times Western Illinois begged the Illini to shoot the 3 and Dee and Deron converted some of them. McBride is a sniper. He can knock it down from long range. It's a shame he's had to miss these first few games. He needs the experience really bad. Coach Weber has said repeatedly that McBride is really playing some good defense in practice too. McBride is the X-factor of this team. If he can give them the pure shooter they lack, this team will go far.
Bruce Weber is big on players keeping team rules. These guys have broke his trust somewhat. However, if they work hard I can't see Weber being too harsh on them in regards to playing time. They need the experience and he needs them back. The current players will welcome them back with open arms. This team is a family and they will pick each other up and become stronger and more focused from this.
The player that will be affected the most by the return of Head, Spears, and McBride will be Warren Carter. Carter played brilliantly in the 2nd half Saturday and showed the potential for greatness is there. Spears will take away most of his minutes once he returns. Carter is too weak at this point to bang with the big boys in the Big 10.
Expect to see Luther Head getting a lot of minutes in the Temple game. Spears will get some but he will have to work his way back up the depth chart after missing these first couple games. McBride should be back in time for the Arkansas game. As long as he's still playing well in practice everything should be fine for him. The Illini are close to being back to full strength for the first time this year. An exciting season will start to get even better.
Pictures by Kedric Prince Publisher