Personally, Saturday was a great day, mainly because it started out with an Illinois win, the way all good days start or finish depending on game time. I was able to watch Illinois defeat Iowa in the company of friends inside Assembly Hall, and then have a post game celebration at Fat City. Later that evening I went to watch a high school basketball game in Springfield between Sacred Heart Griffin and Pekin. The only observation from that game that may be of wide interest to Illini fans is that I expected a lot more from Pekin's Matt Hagen. I remember a few years ago when he was being mentioned as a high major prospect during his freshman and sophomore seasons in high school. Now he is headed to Rice, and with the way he played Saturday night, he did not even appear to be a player that could succeed at the level of Rice. I guess Freakin' Boy Wonder is lucky that he did not offer Hagen a scholarship when he was in grade school because he did not appear like he would be able to compete with Iowa farm boys for time on the scout team on Saturday night. Enough rambling from me about a completely useless topic like Pekin and Matt Hagen, and on to the Fighting Illini's game against Iowa.
BRUMBY'S OBSERVATIONS FROM IOWA @ ILLINOIS
- I liked the game plan Steve Alford brought into Champaign for the Hawkeyes. Every one heading into the game knew that Iowa was undermanned, not having the talent to match up with the Fighting Illini, especially without center Jared Reiner. Alford knew this fact and played it up to his team in the locker room proclaiming them as big underdogs, but his coaching on the court is what gave the Hawkeyes a very good chance at defeating Illinois inside of Assembly Hall for the first time in a long while. The switching of defenses the Hawkeyes did between the 1-3-1 zone, the 2-3 zone, and the man-to-man defense on nearly every possession made life difficult for the Illinois guards who struggled to set up the offense, let alone know which offense they were supposed to set up. Alford's strategy allowed Iowa to keep Illinois on its feet, not sure of itself early in each half court possession, and was especially effective in holding Illinois scoreless for a long stretch in the middle of the first half.
- Despite being at home, Illinois once again was not the aggressor in the game. This is a problem with the Fighting Illini this year; they too often let the other team dictate the tempo of the game. The other problem with not being the aggressor is that Illinois does not get the basketball in the lane and draw fouls creating the "easy" scoring opportunities from the free throw line. Illinois also is not able to help open up the outside shot by getting their defenders playing on their heels instead of the balls of their feet. If Illinois can start being the aggressor on the court, the Illini will start to look like the team many fans expected them to be this year.
- Shame on the Big Ten for not having a big rivalry game like Iowa & Illinois played when school is in session. I cannot help but think the Big Ten purposely scheduled this game to ensure that this year's new sportsmanship rule (a rule I dubbed 'The Pierre Pierce Rule' the second I heard about it) was not in any way violated by the Illinois students that would have surely been on Pierce's case all game. The Big Ten also scheduled another large rivalry game Michigan @ Michigan State for last weekend, when students were not on the East Lansing campus. If the Big Ten truly believes college sports are for the students, they should schedule better and accommodate the large rivalry games (Illinois vs. Iowa, Indiana vs. Purdue, Michigan vs. Michigan State, and Ohio State vs. Michigan) to be when school is in session and the student population is on campus. This is the best way to get the best atmospheres for these games that showcase what Big Ten basketball is all about.
- The hustle and determination the Illini showed in the second half of the Iowa game is what this team will need to win more games in the Big Ten. The play that exemplified the will of one player saying that "his team was not going to lose today" was Deron Williams diving right in front of the Illinois bench and saving a loose ball for the Illini in the second half. That play ignited the Illini on the court. The team played with a passion it had not played with in the past three games for the rest of the game. That passion was also demonstrated with a Dee Brown steal and a timeout while he was diving out of bounds in the final minute of the game that sealed the Illini victory over the Hawkeyes. Illinois will need more hustle and determination like that from every player on the team during the rest of the conference season, especially if they even think of contending for the Big Ten Championship. Can the Illini play like that from this point forward? The Illini have the chance to answer that question Wednesday night when Penn State travels to Champaign.
- Illinois ran some great set plays after timeouts resulting in easy alley-oop baskets, why don't we see these more? Bruce Weber designed some very good set plays that led on three instances to easy baskets (two from James Augustine and one from Roger Powell) Saturday. My only question is why don't we use more set plays to initiate the motion and possibly get some quick points? If they don't work, then you start up the motion. It is a very simple concept, and I think one that would help this team get used to scoring in the offense. They could also help the team understand the reads they need as the set plays just focus on one particular read they could make while running the offense. These plays were a key to Illinois' victory over Iowa, and I hope we see more of them in the future.
- I don't like the us versus them theme that ran through some post game comments from Illinois Head Coach Bruce Weber after the Purdue and Northwestern games. I know it is not Bruce Weber's job to sugarcoat anything to the media, and I have no doubts there are struggles between the players and the coaches this season. But, the one thing I ask is to hide these struggles as much as possible from the media and the fans by saying things like "we felt too good about ourselves" instead of the comment that was made after the Purdue game "they felt too good about themselves." I know I am splitting hairs here, but I just think it would be better for all parties involved, including Weber, if the coach would simply use "we" when describing the problems this team is having and not separating himself from the players with public comments. There are enough apparent problems between the coaches and players, so why even bring another possible issue to light with comments like this?
- After the game, I screamed to Steve Lavin and asked him when he was going to bring his Purdue Boilermakers in here and lose to Illinois. Lavin responded in a joking matter and was very complementary towards the Illinois crowd, especially the Orange Krush. I was surprised he even responded to me as he does not know me from Adam. He turned around and had a brief thirty second conversation from the floor to where we were standing on the bleachers in between the AA and A section divide.
- A message board discussion idea that was thrown around this weekend by a friend and I: If you took Illinois' best player in the modern era (include Harper and Johnson) and compared him to the best player from any other Big Ten school save Northwestern and Penn State in terms of how they performed in the NBA, would Illinois even be able to say that their player was better than any of the other team's best player? We were talking about this, and we came to the conclusion that each team has had a better professional player than anyone that has come from Illinois. Not a happy conclusion that we came to, but can anyone dispute it? Please try to on the IlliniBoard.com Hoops Fan Forum today if you would like.