Illini's Talent Keeps Coming

The Illini recognize the efforts given by two players who arrived without much acclaim. They will be among the players the Gophers have to contend with Wednesday evening.

When Chester Frazier and Trent Meacham arrived at Illinois in the summer of 2005 — when the Illini were fresh from a magical 37-win season and their first appearance in the NCAA championship game — neither was exactly regarded as the rightful heir to the throne owned by Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head.

Meacham, a Champaign native, transferred home from Dayton without a scholarship offer from Bruce Weber. The Baltimore-tough Frazier, meanwhile, was recruited late out of a prep school and his next-best scholarship offer came from an A-10 school. Both were at the sharp end of ample criticism during their first three years at Illinois.

But as the Illini wrap up their home schedule with games against Minnesota and Big Ten leader Michigan State this week, Frazier and Meacham are the leaders of a team that ranks among the biggest pleasant surprises of 2008-09. To be sure, they'll receive ample acclaim when they, along with fifth-year senior Calvin Brock, are honored prior to the Michigan State showdown on Sunday.

Frazier, in addition to being a leading candidate for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors, leads the league with 5.4 assists per game. He wants to be a college coach sooner than later — and it seems likely Weber would welcome him on his staff whenever an opening pops up.

"No one tries harder," Weber said in the Chicago Tribune. "No one plays harder. No one has fought through more injuries. And when good things happen to him, it makes me feel good."

Though Frazier doesn't score much (he has two more points than assists), he tends to save his shots for crucial moments. In Sunday's 70-68 win at Ohio State, for example, Frazier drilled a pair of 3-pointers in the final six minutes with the shot clock running out. He finished with six points on three shots.

Meacham, despite a deep shooting slump during league play, still ranks among the leaders in 3-point shooting (56 of 131, 42.7 percent) and ranks as Illinois' second-best defender. Including his freshman year at Dayton, he needs just eight points to reach the 1,000 career mark. Oh, and he has earned the use of a scholarship most of his time at Illinois.


NOTES

  • Illinois' 33-point effort against Penn State on Feb. 18 ranked as the school's lightest offensive output since Jan. 6, 1947 — when the Illini lost 34-31 to Minnesota at Huff Gym. The combined efforts by the Illini and the Nittany Lions set Assembly Hall records for fewest points (71) and field-goal percentage (29.2 percent) and ranked as Division I's lowest-scoring game since Dec. 2005.

  • Thanks to their first free throw-less game in Assembly Hall history on Feb. 18 against Penn State, the Illini went an amazing 58 minutes and nine seconds without shooting a free throw. Mike Davis made two free throws with 47 seconds left at Indiana on Feb. 15, then Demetri McCamey snapped the streak with a free throw with 2:38 left in the first half on Feb. 22 at Ohio State.

  • Illinois jumped to No. 3 nationally in scoring defense (56.2 points per game) by allowing Penn State just 38 points. Only Washington State (55.1 ppg) and Stephen F. Austin (56.0 ppg) rank ahead of the Illini, who are trying to become the second consecutive Big Ten team to win the scoring defense title. Wisconsin earned the honor last year while reaching the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.

  • F Mike Davis set a personal Big Ten best with 22 points on Feb. 22 at Ohio State. The sophomore canned 11 of 14 shots to produce the second-highest output of his career. He also grabbed eight rebounds, which allowed him to remain second in the Big Ten with 7.8 boards per game.

  • G Demetri McCamey finally looked like himself on Feb. 22 at Ohio State after struggling with the flu in Illinois' two previous games. McCamey handed out four assists in the first four minutes en route to a 15-point, seven-assist afternoon against the Buckeyes.

  • When sophomore C Mike Tisdale puts the ball through the hoop, the Illini almost always come through. Tisdale has 14 double-figure scoring efforts this season — and 16 for his career — and Illinois has won every time. Moreover, according to the Daily Herald, Tisdale averages 12.6 points per game in Illinois wins but just 4.5 points in Illini losses.

  • When Illinois reached the NCAA title game in 2005, Bruce Weber got to use the same starting lineup in every game. Had he not needed to prove a point to lackadaisical point guard Demetri McCamey at this season's outset — whom he brought off the bench for the first two games — the Illini would have used the same starting lineup in every game this year, too. The big news, though, is how Weber has limited the use of his bench lately. In the Feb. 18 home loss to Penn State, the bench played a grand total of six minutes and 18 seconds in the second half. He topped that on Feb. 22 at Ohio State when the bench played just 4 minutes and 18 seconds.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "You've got to fight through that stuff right now. There's a lot of teams with guys that are boogered up. Ankles and knees and colds and coughs. This is it. You're down to the last couple weeks of the season, so you've got to fight through those type of things if you're going to, you know, have a team that does something special." — Illinois coach Bruce Weber, inspired by Demetri McCamey's so-so showings while battling the flu, imploring his players to suck it up in the Daily Herald.

    IN FOCUS: At this juncture, Illinois really needs a win over front-running Michigan State to prove it will be able to hang with the nation's big boys when the NCAA Tournament comes along (a win over MSU also would essentially clinch an NCAA berth, too). The Illini led by as much as nine points when the teams met in East Lansing, Mich., on Jan. 17, but they foreshadowed their future offensive struggles against Minnesota and Penn State by scoring just three points over the final 6:11 to lose 63-57. Point guard Demetri McCamey is among the many Illini who need to play better at home than they did at MSU. Twice in the last four minutes, the Spartans' Travis Walton ripped the ball right out of McCamey's hands.

    PLAYER ROTATION: Usual starters — PG Demetri McCamey, PG Chester Frazier, SG Trent Meacham, PF Mike Davis, C Mike Tisdale. Key Subs — F/G Calvin Brock, PF Dominique Keller, PG Jeff Jordan.

    GAME REVIEW:
    Illinois 65, Indiana 52
    Penn State 38, Illinois 33
    Illinois 70, Ohio State 68

    GAME PREVIEW:
    vs. Minnesota, Thursday, Feb. 26
    vs. Michigan State, Sunday, March 1
    at Penn State, Thursday, March 5
    Big Ten tournament at Indianapolis, March 12-15


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