Mixed Reviews at Orange and Blue Scrimmage

Champaign, IL- The 2007-2008 Illinois basketball team made its first appearance in a game-style scrimmage at Assembly Hall on Sunday night. As would be expected from an early-season scrimmage, there were some unexpected surprises, and a few disappointments in the exhibition, which was won by the Orange team 64-63.

The scrimmage consisted of 4 8-minute quarters, with rotating rosters, so the final score was really a moot point. The Illinois coaching staff took the opportunity to try different combinations of players on the court for both teams.

Several players stood out, regardless of which team they were playing on. Junior college transfer Rodney Alexander went 5-8 from behind the arc and finished with 17 points, and 5th year senior Brian Randle hit 3 of 6 trey attempts, and went 8-14 from the field while logging 19 points. Brian Carlwell, while quiet offensively, pulled down 10 rebounds, and Shaun Pruitt added 8. Expected starting point guard Chester Frazier did not play due to a thumb injury, which was described as "day-to-day". Frazier will miss Wednesday's exhibition game, and there's a good chance he'll be held out of action until regular season play starts in early November.

Frazier's absence put the point guard responsibilities on highly touted freshman Demetri McCamey and freshman walkon Jeffrey Jordan. Neither player shot well, with McCamey going 1-6 from deep and 2-11 overall, and Jordan going 2-9 from the field, but both players showed the ability to get the team into the offense adequately. Jordan got to the paint several times, and converted one drive at the hoop, but made the mistake of going too deep several times with no one available to bail him out.

Results from the other freshmen were good, overall. Mike Tisdale suffered through a rough shooting night, but showed the ability to get open for 10-footers, and did not seem overwhelmed in the paint battling with Shaun Pruitt. Bill Cole was a positive surprise, hitting a pair of 3's and getting a pair of blocks. Mike Davis looked like a mini Brian Randle, showing a ton of athleticism around the rim while scoring 8 points, and Davis also had a pair of blocks.

The "shooting guard by committee" will be a work in progress. Steve Holdren went 3-7 from deep while adding 13 points, and Trent Meacham struggles, missing all 5 of his 3-point attempts. Meacham did show a nice pullup jumper on a couple of fast breaks, but the Illini will need his shooting once the regular season starts.

Overall impressions: If the shooting Sunday night was any indicator of how the season will look, the Illini will struggle to score from outside. This isn't a surprise-it's been the topic of discussion in several articles and on the message boards. However, the Illinois coaching staff is aware of the weakness, and will push this team to run at every opportunity, and try to get easy scores in transition. During the first and second quarters of Sunday night's scrimmage, Bruce Weber and the staff were pushing the team to run after made baskets, missed baskets, and turnovers.

The strength of this team is in the wings and in the paint. Shaun Pruitt was quiet Sunday night, but he showed something for the first time that people have discussed for his entire career at Illinois-passes back out of the post. Pruitt was doubled virtually every time he got the ball on the blocks, and if his first move didn't get him cleared, he'd pass back out and re-establish position rather than trying to split defenders and cause turnovers. If Pruitt can continue to do this, and the Illini guards and wings can get him the ball in position, Pruitt will live up to expectations this year.

We saw the good Brian Randle Sunday night. Time will tell if the good Brian will be the one who leaves his mark this year, or the other Brian makes appearances. Randle appeared to be moving well, and showed little effect from his injury, but Illini fans have legitimate reasons to be concerned about Randle, both from a physical standpoint, and from a performance standpoint. If the Randle that showed up Sunday night is the player we see all year, Illinois fans will be in for a treat.

Rodney Alexander is the real deal. He's got a good-looking shot, gets to the rim well, is built well enough to take a hit on drives and still finish, and get over the rim. He'll put up plenty of points for Illinois this year. The question with Alexander (as well as with Holdren, Meacham, and Davis) is whether or not they can defend at a Big-10 caliber level.

Both teams spent the majority of the 3rd and 4th quarters playing zone defense. I don't know if that's a precursor of things to come for Illinois this year, or if the staff just wanted to see the offense work against a zone, but the zone possibilities are fun to think about, given the size and speed on this year's team. As a side note, our offense stagnated against the zone.

Overall, the scrimmage gave us glimpses of what could be really good about this year's team, and some areas of concern.

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