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Illinois Owns Big Ten Tournament

Posted by sportsmaven on March 10, 2007

I know, it’s a stong statement to make in saying that Illinois owns the Big Ten Tournament, but it does seem that way. Maybe the Illini really own the United Center in Chicago. The Illini fought a tough battle today against their beloved rivals, the Indiana Hoosiers and came away with a 58-54 win tonight. They now face the enviable task of facing the #4 team in the nation, the Wisconsin Badgers. Illinois will be playing it’s third game in as many days, so I look for this game to be over earlier rather than later.

Warren Carter Celebrates Illini Win in Big Ten Tournament
(AP Photo/Brian Kersey)

In watching the Illni play all season, the one thing that stands out is that they are a great defensive team. They are 7th in the nation in scoring defense. That’s their forte. Their problem is that they have a hard time scoring themselves. Illinois really lacks a consistent go to scorer, someone whom scares the opposition, who the opposition gameplans against. In the same breath, Illinois also lacks a team leader, someone who will take charge of the game, make the big plays when needed, be the floor general. The other glaring deficiency is that Illinois lacks a killer instinct, a trait that carried them a very long way in their run to the national championship game two years ago, but strongly lack this season. I think that 23-10 looks good on a resume, 23-11 is not bad either. Illinois has beaten the teams they should beat, with 2 wins against a strong Indiana team. Their only “bad” loss this season was to Iowa in Iowa City last week.

Illinois should be a HUGE underdog in tomorrow’s semi-final game in the Big Ten Tournament. I think Illinois has done enough to move off the bubble and should be in the NCAA Tournament’s field of 64 teams. I am anticipating that they will be a 10 seed (or maybe as high as an 8 seed if they beat Wisconsin). The Illini will once again depend on C Shaun Pruitt and F Warren Carter to compete with Wisconsin, but they cannot carry the load alone. In tonight’s game against Indiana, G Rich McBride was a no-show, scoring 1 point. G Brian Randle was also a no-show, scoring 2 points, and playing some lax defense. I believe that Chester Frazier will be the key to the Wisconsin game. If Pruitt and Carter maintain their strong offensive play and Frazier has a game like he did against Penn St., the Illini may have a chance. If not, they will have their hands full against F Alando Tucker and G Kammron Taylor. The most surprising players for Illinois this season are Carter, Pruitt, and the development of Chester Frazier. The most disappointing players this season by far is Brian Randle and Rich McBride. I expected way more from this pair, expecting them to take their games to the next level and lead this team. Randle was hurt early and never got track this season (can you believe this guy was one of the 50 players that were listed for the National Player of the Year before the season began?) and McBride just never developed, period.

By the way, this Illinois team is going to have the same problem next year, as there is no established scorer being developed, or coming into the freshman class. Eric Gordon would have provided that one stud player factor, but he will be in Bloomington next season. As good a coach Bruce Weber has shown himself to be, his recruiting hasn’t yet caught up. The next two years are the key to the direction the Illini basketball program is going — either towards a strong national powerhouse, or a very glorified mid-major level.

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