Minute men

Minute men

   WASHINGTON, D.C.  Cleotis Brown or Sergio McClain? Robert Archibald or Brian Cook? Frank Williams or Nate Mast?

   Answers to these and many more questions about Lon Kruger''s lineup coming in the next few weeks as Illinois tries to get its rotation down in time for New Year''s.

   "We''re three games into the season," Kruger said. "We''re just very, very early. We need to see who''s going to get it done and see who''s going to be more comfortable.

   "Now, that number could be reduced as we get on into December and get closer to the conference season, but right now I think playing a lot of people is fine."

   Since practice opened a month and a half ago, Kruger has done all kinds of mixing and matching, trying to figure out what combinations work best. Eleven Illini have seen action in all three Illinois games. Seven have started. In Tuesday night''s 72-69 loss to Duke, Kruger subbed 31 times  14 more than the Blue Devils did.

   "Just watching them on tape, you can''t appreciate how quickly they get the ball down the court because they stay so fresh," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "(Kruger) does a great job of rotating people in there. They wore us down."

   For a coach, the challenge of running a team as deep as the Pacific Ocean is keeping everyone happy. At Illinois, roles are subject to change by the game and minutes have been tough to come by. Especially at small forward, where Brown (15.3 minutes a game), McClain (17.0) and Lucas Johnson (18.7) all play, and power forward, where Archibald (17.7), Cook (7.7) and Damir Krupalija (17.7) are fighting for time.

   Dick Vitale didn''t help matters any Tuesday night, screaming on national television after a nice move by Cook, "This kid''s gotta get more PT, baby!"

   "If you''re worried about playing time, you have to re-evaluate why you''re here. (Is it) to build a strong team or just go out there and play for yourself?" said Victor Chukwudebe, Marcus Griffin''s backup as center. "If you''re a selfish player, then that''s all you''re worried about. I''ve never been a selfish player, and I know the person that''s in there for me  Marcus Griffin  is getting the job done."

   Playing time became an issue Tuesday when McClain, with 20,000-plus watching at the United Center, became agitated on the bench after being taken out of the game. Williams had a similar reaction when getting the hook after a turnover.

   "That kind of comes with the territory," Kruger said. "When things aren''t going well, you address issues, and you always try to do it in a constructive way. But everyone deals with that from time to time."

   Neither Williams nor McClain was in Kruger''s starting lineup that night for the first time this season, the coach turning instead to Brown and Johnson. Brown responded nicely, hitting 4 of 5 shots and grabbing four rebounds during a 10-minute first-half stint.

   McClain, who''s having problems with his knee and missed Thursday''s entire practice, was held to two points and 10 minutes.

   "I thought Sergio was tentative early," Kruger said. "I thought Cleotis was more aggressive and more productive in that ballgame, and that''s going to be the case. Some games, Sergio''s going to be more effective. Some games, Cleotis and Lucas will be more effective.

   "How people handle that in terms of bouncing back and working on things to give yourself more opportunity is the big key. That''s tough sometimes when you''re used to a certain role throughout your career and all of a sudden you find the going a little bit more difficult and the results a little bit different. But learning how to handle that is part of moving up in levels of competition."

   Williams will be back in the starting lineup at 2:30 p.m. today, when the 16th-ranked Illini (2-1) meet 24th-ranked Maryland (5-1) in the first round of the BB&T Classic. Seton Hall (3-0) plays George Washington (2-3) beforehand, with the winners hooking up at 8 p.m. Sunday at the MCI Center, home of the Washington Wizards.

   To make it to the final, Williams & Co. will have to beat a fullcourt pressing Terp team that crushed Iowa 83-65 its last time out, thanks to a school-record 8-for-8 night from star forward Terence Morris. The 6-9 junior was an AP preseason All-American  along with Michigan State''s Mateen Cleaves, Ohio State''s Scoonie Penn, Auburn''s Chris Porter and DePaul''s Quentin Richardson  and has been playing like it lately (16.7 points a game, 6.5 rebounds a game, 3.3 blocks a game).

   "There''s not one thing lacking in his game," Terps coach Gary Williams said.

   Morris isn''t alone on Maryland. Sophomore guard Juan Dixon averages 17.2 points and 3.5 steals. Sophomore forward Danny Miller is starting to play like the McDonald''s All-American he was. And sophomore center Lonny Baxter has had back-to-back double-doubles his last two games, coming up with 17 points and 14 rebounds against Notre Dame and 16 and 10 against Iowa.

   "Baxter reminds me of a Big Ten player: physical and tough underneath," Chukwudebe said.

   The Illini plan to get more out of their best big man against Maryland than they did Tuesday. Griffin took seven shots against the Blue Devils  not nearly enough if you ask Kruger. He hit three.

   "We definitely want to and definitely need to" go to Griffin, Kruger said. "Part of that is moving the ball and getting the ball out of our hands and making him more of a priority in the minds of the other players."

   That means Williams, who''s had a rocky first few weeks as a rookie point guard. He''s second on the team in scoring (12.7 points a game) but tied for third in assists (four in 80 minutes, the same number as Griffin and Krupalija).

   "One of the most important things for a point guard is the responsibility of making all the players around you better and getting them opportunities, and that''s something Frank hasn''t been accustomed to doing as much as taking it into his own hands," Kruger said. "There''s an adjustment period that we''re working through, and hopefully we can do that quickly."

Illinois vs. Maryland, 2:30 p.m.

No. 16 Illinois (2-1)

Name

Ht.

Yr.

Avg.

F

Cleotis Brown

6-5

SR

5.3

F

Robert Archibald

6-11

SO

4.7

C

Marcus Griffin

6-9

JR

9.7

G

Cory Bradford

6-3

SO

16.3

G

Frank Williams

6-3

FR

12.7

No. 24 Maryland (5-1)

Name

Ht.

Yr.

Avg.

F

Danny Miller

6-8

SO

8.7

F

Terence Morris

6-9

JR

16.7

C

Lonny Baxter

6-8

SO

14.5

G

Juan Dixon

6-3

SO

17.2

G

Steve Blake

6-3

FR

7

- Site: MCI Center, Washington, D.C. (capacity 20,674, sellout expected)

- Radio/TV: WDWS 1400-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM, WDAN 1490-AM/WICD and Fox Sports Chicago will carry both Classic games, starting with the noon one between George Washington and Seton Hall. Joe Beninati and Glenn Consor call the action.

- Series: Tied at 1. Both meetings have come in the NCAA tournament, Maryland winning 67-61 in 1998 at Sacramento, Calif., and Illinois squeaking by 72-70 in 1984 at Lexington, Ky.

- Coaches: Maryland, Gary Williams (197-119, 11th season); Illinois, Lon Kruger (61-39, fourth season).

- The Terps win if: Morris is as good as advertised. A first-team All-ACC selection as a sophomore, he finished among the top 10 in the conference in scoring, rebounding, steals, blocks, field goal percentage and free throw percentage last season  the only ACC-player to do so.

- The Illini win if: Williams starts playing more like Steve Bardo and less like Steve Francis. Illinois highly hyped point guard caught a lot of flak for his 4-for-17 shooting performance against Duke. Look for more of those shots to go to Griffin this game.

- N-G prediction: Maryland 77, Illinois 73. This one should be for the Classic championship.

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