Illinois center Mike Tisdale is probably the best shooter on the team. Through 25 games, he is shooting an outstanding 58.5% from the field with many shots from 15 feet or beyond. However, some teams defend him well and prevent him from getting scoring opportunities. And there are times when foul trouble limits his minutes.
Against Wisconsin, a team without a dominant inside presence, Tisdale was money. He scored 19 points on a variety of jumpers, hooks, dunks and free throws. Illinois coach Bruce Weber noticed the Badgers might have trouble defending the pick-and-pop at the top of the circle, and point guard Demetri McCamey set Tisdale up for several open looks.
"He's struggled inside because people bodied him. I told the guys ahead of time. If you run ball screens, it's something their defense will have trouble with. We were able to execute it. Demetri made the good reads, got it to Tisdale."
Ohio State is next on the Illini schedule. They have a long-armed shot blocker, but they are not especially tall. Tisdale might get open looks by flashing into the high post against the Buckeyes' zone defense. But more often than not, opponents have found ways of frustrating Tisdale and minimizing his value.
"He does struggle when he tries to post up against a physical team. When it gets physical, he seems to react negatively. He goes on the other end and gets a touch foul or position foul and doesn't move his feet.
"We need him in the game because his field goal percentage, his understanding of the game, his passing ability are all positive things. He mentally has to do a better job of not reacting when things go against him and getting those ticky-tack fouls."
Weber says Tisdale's frustrations are both the result of what is happening to him and what opponents are doing to him.
"Opponents are more physical, and he doesn't deal with that well. And then he gets frustrated, the mental part of it. He'll go down to the other end and get out of position and get a frustration foul. Or the offensive foul where people push him, push him, push him, so now he's gonna retaliate and he's the one that gets the call.
"He's a smart kid, so he's got to keep his head, move his feet. He can play better post defense if he moves his feet. In the off season, he's got to get stronger. I hope that will happen for his senior year. But right now he's got to deal with it mentally and keep his poise."
When asked why opponents were allowed to push him out of position in the post area, one game official claimed Tisdale needed to put more meat on his bones. That didn't sit well with Weber since post players are supposedly allowed to establish position in the post. But Tisdale laughed it off.
"I honestly didn't hear much about it. I thought it was kind of funny. If anything needs to be taken care of, I'm sure Coach will do it."
Does he see it as a frustration or a challenge?
"I really don't care. I'm gonna go out and play my game either way. I'm not gonna gain weight right now, so it doesn't matter. I'm gonna play with what I've got."
Weber has asked for clarification on the rules governing post defense. He knows what is supposed to happen, but if the games are called differently, he needs to teach the new variations to his players.
"I have brought it up a couple times to people. One thing I've asked is, 'Am I teaching post defense wrong?' You move your feet to try to get around them, you try to deny, you wall off. We watch the films and get all the bulletins on how you can't displace. But it's just how it's called, no matter how frustrated we all get.
"I want to know for my own sake. Do I teach differently now? Is this what the game has gone to? I think the frustrating thing sometimes for fans, you see the wrestling matches inside the post and then there's a touch foul on the outside. It doesn't always make sense.
"You are allowed to make contact and to establish position, but if that contact is maintained, my understanding is it's supposed to be a foul. And if you displace somebody, it's supposed to be a foul. But I don't always think it's called that way. It's something I'll continue to bring up, for myself for how we teach it. We have to make a decision on that."
Tisdale gets manhandled in the post, and it does affect his overall perspective on the game. But he is not one to complain publicly about the officiating.
"It's okay, it's normal. I just need to move my feet a little more. If I cut out the silly fouls, it will help a lot."
Tisdale gets fewer outside touches this year due to the nature of the offense being run. Having McCamey at the point rather than Chester Frazier has made a big difference for him.
"Demetri is more of a scorer. He'll want to go outside, and I don't want to crowd him up. If I step out, he can go in the lane. Last year Chester was a pure driver, so I got to stay around 15-16 feet. It's a little different, but I feel comfortable either way.
"When Chester penetrated, he was going to kick it out no matter what. With Demetri, he goes in there to score. That's why I'm not getting as many looks, but if he's scoring I can't complain."
Of course, McCamey will likely still have games where his shot is off. The team must be able to adapt and have other shooters with confidence ready to step up when McCamey needs help. Getting Tisdale more touches would benefit the team, and it would help his overall confidence and sense of optimism.
"We've got to find other guys who can score, so we've got to find ways to get him the ball," Weber reminds. "Whether it's his short corner jump shot or elbow jumper, somehow we've got to screen for him, or he's got to find ways off dribble penetration to get some open looks."