Last year is in the past, but so much has been made about Deron Williams and Luther Head. Another player that may have been the real key was Roger Powell. Last year there were many games that Powell led the Illini in scoring or had games when he would give Head Coach Bruce Weber 20 points and 5 rebounds. This year that load or role has been given to sophomore Brian Randle. It's safe to say Randle hasn't had a 20 point night in a very, very long time. During the NCAA press conference, Randle felt the other teammates were the "back up" singers. If they want to play next weekend they better start looking for the leading role in the "music" group.
Rich McBride is another key player. It seems that "King" Rich doesn't play as well when he's not playing at Assembly Hall. This must all change - starting tonight at 6:30 p.m. "We need Dee and James to play well for us, but we have to have guys like Brian and Rich step up this tournament," said Weber. McBride knows last year he was more of a role player. This year the team will be counting on him.
The third weapon in this bunch is true freshman Jamar Smith. Sure, this is a lot to ask from a freshman, but if Smith and McBride can get hot at the same time Dee's game gets better then he doesn't have to stand around at the top of the key when the shot clock runs down and jack up a 25-footer.
Bottom line: Illinois is as good as any team in this tournament. It's up to the players now; they must show how bad they want it. Weber could tell his team just didn't have the fire needed at this time of the year. Of course Weber took the blame for his team's recent energy level, but the fact is - now is the time to play or to go home where Illini fans will get ready for spring football.