Illinois scheduled Western Michigan as part of an agreement that included two football games between the schools. The Broncos have a top scorer in David Kool, a 6'-3", 208 pound senior who averages 22.3 points per game and hit 61.5% of his three pointers Wednesday against Eastern Illinois. Kool also grabs over 5 rebounds and hands out 3 assists a game. Illini coach Bruce Weber discussed the Broncos.
"They're very solid. The kids know how to play, they have a system. The one kid (Kool) has had some huge games. I think he leads the MAC in scoring. I know he had 34 the other night against Eastern, and I think he had 32 or 28 games. We've got to find him. He was 8 for 13 from three the other night.
"They have a couple big guys who set screens, get to the glass. The other players know their roles. Just a good, solid Mid-America team that's gonna make you play.
"They are pretty good in transition. Their guards are pretty good three point shooters, and they'll push. When they played Temple at home, they gave them a heck of a time with their transition. And we have not been the best guarding in transition. We've tried to work on it the last two days pretty intensely."
WMU has two other double-digit scoring threats. Senior Martelle McLemore (6'-5", 208) averages 13.3 points on .523 accuracy from the field. He also rebounds at a 7.2 clip. Sophomore Flenard Whitfield (6'-7", 230) goes for 11.5ppg and shoots .527 from the field to go along with 6 rebounds a game.
Senior Donald Lawson (6'-10", 245) is the rebound leader with an 8.2 average. He scores over 9 points a game and has 15 steals on the young season. Point guard Mike Douglas (6'-0", 185) doesn't score much, but he is the floor leader and sets everyone else up for shots. He averages over 5 assists a game. Freshman Nate Hutcheson (6'-7", 210) averages 5.8 poinst a game in just 14 minutes.
The Illini players are aware they can be upset if they don't come to play. They learned that lesson the hard way in Las Vegas. Mike Tisdale repeated Coach Weber's mantra for the week.
"Obviously, they're a very good team with pretty good players. We've got to come out ready to play. We can't come out down like we did against Boise State and expect to win."
Brandon Paul spoke along similar lines.
"We definitely need to focus on these next couple games. We have Western Michigan Sunday. We can't take any teams for granted. We've got to come out and play hard, just like we did against Vanderbilt."
The Illini still need to improve defensively, but their scoring outburst this season has them excited about the future. All five starters can score, making it tough for opponents to guard them all effectively.
"That's why I love my team", Paul asserts. "All five starters are averaging over 10 points. So it's not one person doing all the work. One game, D.J. (Richardson) can go for 20. Meechie (Demetri McCamey), Tisdale, Mike Davis and myself can all score double digits. So it's fun to have everybody who can play."
Other teams are now focusing their defense on Paul, but that is okay with him.
"Yeah, but I'm not worried about that because I'm not the only offensive weapon. We've got many people that can score. Jeff (Jordan) and Bill (Cole) have been playing great coming off the bench. It's good to have depth like that."
Richardson has been a clutch shooter for the Illini in his first season. He also appreciates how well the offense is working right now.
"We have a variety of guards and big men,and all five starters are averaging double figures. Mike Tisdale is basically one of our best perimeter shooters. Obviously, Mike Davis is a ton of a load. Demetri has had three great games in a row. If we have that from the upperclassmen, the freshmen will follow along."
Richardson has amazing court awareness for a freshman, and he is at his best under presure.
"Yeah, just the confidence I have. At Findlay (Prep), I wasn't much of a scorer. I just laid back and didn't worry about the points. But now I'm back to the way I was in high school, trying to score."
Tisdale loves the balance, but he wants to see it on both ends of the floor.
"It's good to have balance on your team. If one guy's shot is off one night, another guy can step up and score. It's good for us to have a balanced offense, and I think we've got to learn to have a balanced defense."
McCamey has been the scoring leader for the Illini so far, averaging 13.8 points a game. But it is his improved leadership that has been most noteworthy.
"I want to do anything I can to help the team. Whether it's ten assists or 25 points or just clapping on the sidelines. Whatever I've gotta do to help the team win.
"It's all a matter of maturing. I'm here for leadership. Chester (Frazier) and Trent (Meacham) did good things as senior guards, and I'm an experienced guard so I have to be a decision-maker if we're gonna be successful this year."
Weber wants his team working as hard on defense as offense every game. Motivation is the key. Perhaps losing two games in Vegas, putting them in a corner regarding their hope of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, will be the stimulus for more consistent play.
"The key with us is the desire to get better," Weber reminds. "That's the most important thing. If we're gonna make progress as a team, that and the defense are gonna be important."