Since this is the inaugural column, I would like to give you a brief rundown of what to expect. I am going to discuss the pertinent topics at hand regarding the Illinois athletic programs while interjecting my opinions on the topic. My opinions may be funny, or they may be serious, it all depends what mood I am in at the time. So let's get started as I talk about the topics I have deemed important this week.
THE 'BILL SELF FUNERAL'
|Illinois Head Coach Bruce Weber During Preseason (AP/Tom Roberts)|
I truly believe Bruce Weber received way too much criticism from fans all across the Illini Nation. I also believe that criticism was to be expected as he was not the "named" choice on the tips of the tongues of every Illinois fan to replace Bill Self. Bruce Weber was immediately thrown into a situation with unfair expectations he could never dare understand nor live up to, and that was not fair.
Even in the unfair climate surrounding Coach Weber, I do not think some of his comments were warranted, especially those directed towards Coach Self. Coach Weber stating that he "kicked [Self's] butt" in head to head contests when their teams faced each other on the court was a little overboard. Coach Weber could have, and I believe should have ended his comments on the matter after describing the Thursday night "funeral." He should not have editorialized with the false information about Coach Self's record at Illinois, by including the statement that "he lost 10 games by 20 points." This comment is patently false*, and unfortunately takes away from the point Coach Weber was trying to make, that the Fighting Illini are his team now.
Bruce Weber is Illinois' coach, not Bill Self and fans will grow to accept that as the wins start piling up this season. Unfortunately, Coach Weber's recent comments to the media and fans contained a high shock value causing this to become a bigger story than it needed to be. Hopefully there will be no more public talk about the previous coach at Illinois from the current coach, because if there is, this situation could become ugly in short time as each coach uses the media to one up the other.
THE MOTION OFFENSE
|Illinois' Dee Brown Converts a Breakaway Layup (AP/Robert K. O'Daniell)|
Right now, Illinois is not running the offense instinctually, they are thinking too much. This often times causes problems on the court, especially in regards to the team's offensive spacing. As each player is trying to remember where they need to be on the court, they often resort to making cuts to the basket or across the baseline. These cuts, while normally good moves are being made at inopportune times. If you are not looking at where the ball is and the next logical place the ball will be in the offensive system, you may run your defender into the wrong place.
Often times, the Illini big men are too close together on the court when the ball is at the point or wing, allowing the defenders to guard them with just one player. If we could get the big men, especially, to make their movements for position instinctual, instead of generated from thought, the offense would definitely have more motion, and probably more easy baskets.
Sealing Off in the Post
Last year as even the most casual basketball observer could tell you, Illinois relied on Brian Cook to do the bulk of the scoring in the post. The loss of Brian Cook and the lack of James Augustine emerging to shoulder that scoring load left by Cook is hurting the Illini offense this year. Part of the problem that is leading to James' inability to score in the post is the fact that he is not sealing off his defender, and getting the ball in a position to score.
Illinois needs their post players to seal off their defender better when the ball is on the wing and at the high post. James Augustine did a great job in the second half of the Memphis game of instinctually reading the high-low pass from Nick Smith and sealing off his man, but that read from a post player has been few and far between in the early portions of this season, no matter where the ball is at.
I would love to see more entry passes into the post players, but post entry passes are not just on the guards, the post players need to give the guard a hand for the pass. The guards cannot get the ball inside if the big guys are not able to seal off their defenders providing a solid target for the guards to get them the ball in a position to score.
Running Your Defender Off Picks
I have see numerous Illinois players run right past picks set by teammates, and not set up their defender. This could become a problem later in the season when Illinois is trying to create open jump shots or alley oops passes when a basket is desperately needed. Setting up a pick is a simple concept, but it is rarely executed by offensive players in today's game. All the Illini need to do is take one jab step to the side of the pick and then go the other way around it. 95% of the time, the defender will be slowed up enough to give the offensive player a lane to the basket, or an open shot. This would open up more scoring opportunities within the flow of the offense with very little extra work.
One thing that was nice to see Saturday night was the high-low read coming back into the offense for Illinois. I was told that it was never practiced by the team before being inserted into the motion by Weber; he just reminded the players that they can and still should try to make the read when the opportunity presents itself. It was the forced read in Bill Self's high-low motion, hence the name, but this team has the skill set, especially when Augustine and Smith are on the court together, to dominate offensively with the high-low read. I expect to see more and more of this read intermixed with the other reads available it as the season progresses.
- The Basketball Band playing Hey Ya! may have been the funniest part of Saturday evening, especially when you could hear them singing "Shake It, Shake It, Shake it like a Polaroid picture" on the microphones. I do have a criticism for the band: When we are playing the Memphis Tigers, or any team nicknamed the Tigers, do not play Eye of the Tiger as a pep song, it just is not right. Thank you for taking that under consideration, and I know you will do the right thing in the future.
- I saw the imitation 'Cooking with Weber' shirts this weekend, I am officially flattered. A reminder for those that want to order the real shirts for a Christmas gift, you can do so here. Also, the advertisement will be back on the basketball board for your reading please rather quickly.
- If there was any doubt in your mind before this weekend, there should be none left that the NCAA Selection Committee will place North Carolina, Kansas, and Illinois all in the same bracket this March. Can I go to Vegas and bet on this proposition bet?
- I have officially given up defending the Big Ten to the nation because most experts are right in this regard; the Big Ten is just bad this season. Illinois, Purdue, Michigan State, and Wisconsin are the only sure fire NCAA Tournament teams in a league of eleven. The Big Ten has not been this down in a long time.