Klee: Nothing to brag about

Klee: Nothing to brag about

CHAMPAIGN — As Illinois and Cornell walked through the postgame handshake line, a fan behind press row shouted his opinion of Monday's game.

"You got lucky, Illinois!"

The fan was wearing orange. And after the Ivy League visitors led for most of the second half at the Assembly Hall, he was probably right. Illinois eventually won, 64-60.

On Thursday against No. 9 Missouri — and that ranking is probably too low — the Illini are going to need all the luck in the St. Louis casinos.

The Tigers (11-0) are playing fast and confident and as well as any team in the country. Illinois (11-1) had to overcome its largest deficit this season — 10 points — to slip past a Cornell (4-5) squad picked to finish sixth in the Ivy League.

"No one's been able to stop them," Bruce Weber said of Missouri. "They score a lot of points. They shoot the three. They run."

Weber added, "Those dudes play hard."

One other thing: the current Tigers sincerely enjoy beating the Illini. They own a two-game winning streak in the Braggin' Rights series and their postgame locker room sounded like an eggnog party after both double-digit wins.

"If we come out like we did today, the game's going to be over before we know it," said UI junior Brandon Paul, who made a pair of clutch jumpers to beat Cornell.

"We know they're good and it's going to be a tough game," said Meyers Leonard, who had his third double-double (19 points, career-high 16 rebounds).

And there is the Illini's singular advantage, at least in terms of personnel: the 7-foot-1 Leonard. With Missouri's four-guard look, there isn't the imposing figure in the paint. But like the brilliant Illini of 2004-05, "No one's been able to take advantage of them with (their) lack of size," Weber said.

Leonard acknowledged he would play a significant role if the Illini were to swing the upset. He sustained a strained back against Cornell but said afterward, "I'll fight through it."

"I do like the matchup (with Missouri), definitely. I feel like I can take over the game," Leonard said. "I did a good job of that in the first half (Monday)."

"He's a big advantage for us," Weber said. "But we've got to get him touches."

Yes, the Tigers have played an easy schedule, but they have ripped through it like it was a wet paper bag. Mizzou's won eight of its past nine games by at least 25 points. Every win has come by at least 10 points. Illinois will be the second ranked team to play Missouri. The Tigers crushed the other one (then-No. 18 California) by 39.

Meanwhile, Illinois is trying to reinvent its identity. Two months ago it was considered a deep team that might be able to wear down opponents. Now, the bench has managed three points in the past two games and has been outscored in six straight.

Missouri's pressure defense demands you have fresh legs. But the Illini bench production has regressed so sharply, it's almost as if the coaches are nervous to make substitutions.

"If we play this way against Missouri it could be a long night," Weber said.

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jules61 wrote on December 20, 2011 at 1:12 am

Yes they did get lucky. I love Illinois, but Missouri will not lay down. You had better be playing

like you mean it or you will get mopped up by a team like mizzou.  you just cannot play catch up

all of the time. especially going into conference play. 

oandb wrote on December 20, 2011 at 2:12 am

Bruce is overmatched. Rips his best player who then is the only player to show up two days later. i guess bruce couldn't blame him last night for yet another debacle. When players don't improve it is coaching. The illini will get blown out many times the rest of the season.

GOOB wrote on December 20, 2011 at 8:12 am

"No one's been able to stop them," Bruce Weber said of Missouri. "They score a lot of points. They shoot the three. They run."

Hmmmm. Just the opposite of your team Bruce. I'm glad you are 11-1, but the cracks are widening. Your guys need to run. They need easy baskets. They need confidence. They need to play loose. Why do they seem so up tight and lacking confidence? Why do they seem so confused on offense?

Good luck with Missouri. I am hoping for the best.

houstonillini84 wrote on December 20, 2011 at 9:12 am

Uh, maybe they seem to lack confidence because many of them are shooting bricks. Any team that misses so many shots will start to doubt themselves and look tentative; its human nature. I swear, people will try to blame anything on coaching. This team sure didnt look tight when the shots were falling, they looked tough and confident; wasnt Weber the coach then too?? It all comes down to making shots: make them and the offense looks good, miss them and it doesnt. The good news is that even when we miss shots this team plays pretty good D and keeps us in games. Cornell was shooting extremely well from 3 last night but we stayed on them and eventually they started missing. Thats why I think the effort is there, its just that the shots havent been recently.

Bear8287 wrote on December 20, 2011 at 11:12 am

... it might also be that they are not running their offense very well which leads to poor shot selection and fewer shots being made... maybe?

Given what happened to the football team this season, if the players really care about Coach Weber and his staff, they really need to start playing like it.

houstonillini84 wrote on December 20, 2011 at 1:12 pm

actually if you watch the games they are getting quite a few open shots and missing them. That has caused them to lose some confidence and start pressing and trying to force things, which of course causes it to snowball when they keep missing. The classic example was early in the UNLV game where he passed the ball half a dozen times, broke down the D, and found DJ for a wide open 3... and he missed it, a shot he makes probably 2/3 of the time. It happens.

Anyway, it seems to me that the 'cause' is the missed shots and the 'effect' is the loss of confidence and pressing in the offense, not the other way around. Naturally when you are behind by 10+ like thery were against UNLV the players are going to get frustrated when they cant hit shots.

oandb wrote on December 20, 2011 at 9:12 am

name one highly touted bruce Weber recruit who has improved under bruce and his assistants. Thought so.

Zentrails wrote on December 20, 2011 at 9:12 am

We got lucky 11 times so far. That's got to set a new record.  LOL

Hey KLEE!! at least we didn't lose to friggin' Davidson.

Zentrails wrote on December 20, 2011 at 10:12 am

Hey oandb, every heard of Head, Powell, Augustine, Brown, and Williams?

Thought so.

read the DI wrote on December 20, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Hey Zentrails, ever heard of Bill Self? They were his recruits!


Some people ...

Dan Bloeme wrote on December 20, 2011 at 9:12 am

With unbeaten Missouri looming next it's fascinating to see the fearful reactions of Illinois fans and media types covering the Illini. It's "mighty Missouri", top 10 team, fast, furious, confident, championship contenders and as Weber says "Those dudes play hard". Why can't those things describe the Illini as well. Aren't the Illini athletic, fast thoroughbreds that play confidently, aggressively, furious and hard wire-to-wire? Well they could be and might be with a different style of play or different coach. Player for player, Illinois doesn't give up any quality or talent over Missouri, yet Bruce Weber has them playing like mid-major 2 and 3 * rated players.

Zentrails wrote on December 20, 2011 at 10:12 am

11-1 mid-major 2 and 3 * rated players (sic) Wow, amazing Klee-like insight.

Nice avatar, though.   LOL

Zentrails wrote on December 20, 2011 at 10:12 am

Hey, you are the same "Dan" as at that putrid "Loyalty" site, aren't you.  LOL

wincer_85 wrote on December 20, 2011 at 10:12 am

OanB illini, you're definitely right on everything. Bruce is a terrible  coach and never, ever, ever gets any of his players to improve. Right.


Except that he does. Examples:

Luther head, in his 1st 2 years under bill self, averaged 6 pts and 1.5 assists/game.

Under Weber in his last 2 years, Head averaged: 13 pts and 3 assists/game. Yup...0 improvement. there.

Deron williams: 1 year under self, averaged 6 pts, 4 rebs, 3 assists

                         2 years under Bruce, 13 pts, 6 rebs, 4 assists. guess that counts as no improvement as well.

Those are only 2 examples but there are many, many more. Meyers Leonard also hasn't improved any since last year, apparently. Not sure where you're coming up with Bruce or anyone on his staff not being able to help any players improve, because just about every single one of the players have improved.

houstonillini84 wrote on December 20, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Actually its hard to think of players who *didnt* improve under Weber. Maybe Randle, but a lot of that was because he wasnt cut out to be a primary scorer but needed to play that role. Dmac had his ups and downs certainly but even so he improved. Guys like Pruitt and Chet and Trent improved dramatically. And right, the improvement in Leonard and Grif this year versus last year is amazing. They dont even look like the same players out there, not just in terms of performance but also in terms of toughness and confidence.

read the DI wrote on December 20, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Jereme Richmond. Came in as an HS All-American. Left as a complete nobody.

SunnyGuy53 wrote on December 20, 2011 at 11:12 am

Missouri's top six players in minutes from their last game, were four seniors, a junior and a soph. Illinois' only senior/grad is Maniscalco. Their top bench player (Abrams) is a frosh.

An Illinois win on Thursday would be huge. I don't necessarily expect that, but I expect the Illini to give a great effort. The Gonzaga game was only a few weeks ago. Prepare to be surprised by these Illini.

They just need to keep quiet, and do their "talking" on the court.


Sunny Guy

oandb wrote on December 20, 2011 at 11:12 am

missouri has a chance to win the national title. Illinois has a chance to finish in the top 1/2 of the Big ten. The one road game Illinois played (the absolute beating by UNLV) and its impossible to imagine this team making the tourney this year. This team went to Italy, had tons of practice time and is now regressing just when the schedule turns tough. Calipari and even Creen are playing frosh who mesh immediately. Weber treats frosh like the plague and it shows. Bruce is overmatched- ever watch a worse zone offense?- and it will only get worse.

ekane555 wrote on December 20, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Klee - "No 9 Missouri - and that ranking is probably too low..." Are you kidding me? Mizzou SOS is #305, yes 305. Let's settle down a little bit on the Tigers and on this Illinois team from the "the sky is falling" so called Illini fans. This team has 2 major minute players from last year in this system, and we are 11-1.

DoubleR13 wrote on December 20, 2011 at 3:12 pm

"Meanwhile, Illinois is trying to reinvent its identity. Two months ago it was considered a deep team that might be able to wear down opponents. Now, the bench has managed three points in the past two games and has been outscored in six straight."


For me that's all you need to see.  They can't even find one guy to come in and give them 6-7 points a night off the bench.  Mind you they've had all these amazing recruiting classes yet not one sophomore or freshman is doing anything other than Leonard.  Not one.  The total lack of offensive creativity and strategy is depressing to watch and has been for years.  They never get to the free throw line, and never have.  You can't win consistently year in and year out by jacking 3 pointers with 5 to go on the shot clock.


I'm so tired of hearing about the "motion offense."  All offenses are predicated on some type of motion, especially in college.  Weber's happens to be setting ball screens 35 feet from the basket and playing a 3 man weave until you panic and jack a shot.  Different players, same song since 05-06.

GlenM wrote on December 20, 2011 at 6:12 pm

Jules61: So Mizzou won't lay down.  Go out on a limb with that prediction.  Who said they would?

oandb: If BW "ripped" ML and then two days later ML was his best player, why is that a bad strategy?  Maybe BW should "rip" more players?  You asked to name one highly-touted BW recruit that improved: Leonard, McCamey, Richardson, Paul, Griffey, Pruitt.  All top-100 recruits that got better while at UI.  Aside from Zeller, all Indiana freshmen are in single digit minutes (Zeller is arguably equivalent to Leonard).  Comparing freshman playing time between Illinois (top RSCI recruit: 65) to Kentucky (3 in the RSCI top 7 and also #19) is laughable unless you want to bash BW for not recruiting.  It is not impossible to imagine the Illini in the Tournament this year ... can they get a .500 B1G record?  Sure they can.  Oh, and the Illini have won three road games this year: Richmond, ISU, and Maryland.  UNLV is not the only game away from home. 

Dan Bloeme: the people who sound fearful of Mighty Mizzou are the negative commenters, like yourself. These Illini have played hard, just not all the time.  Although it is frustrating that BW doesn't seem to get maximum effort out of his players at all times, that's not unusual for other coaches and systems.

SunnyGuy53 has it right: Missouri plays upperclassmen (6 of its top 7 players by minutes, including 5 Seniors).  Should Mizzou play more freshmen?

The team has looked poor of late, but has also had less practice than usual around Finals.  Hopefully -- regardless of the result against Mizzou -- the team can get away for a few days around Christmas and come back ready to attack the conference season.  If this team fails to make the Tournament, the naysayers will probably get their wish.  But I believe this team's best basketball is yet to come, and will be top half of the B1G good.

Jam wrote on December 21, 2011 at 8:12 am

I have enjoyed Illini basketball for over 50 years and I enjoy this team no less than all the others.  My hope is that Meyers would stick around for another year, but I doubt that he will.  I also hope that each and every one of the Illinois fans would have a Merry Christmas as we celebrate the birth of the Saviour Jesus.

Firehawk wrote on December 21, 2011 at 9:12 am

This fan base is becoming unbelievably classless. A complete bunch of whiners and complainers no matter what the outcome is, some of you people are a compete embarrasment. Go root for another team and quit pretending that you are Illini fans anymore! This team is torn down when they win, and torn down even worse when they lose. They have 6 Freshmen, 2 other players practically in thier first year playing, 2 more players playing big minutes for the first time in their career, and a transfer, and yet some of you all talk like they should be in the national championship game this year!! You people need to get real, you're a complete joke! Just a bunch of immature kids flaming a team they claim they are fans of...GROW UP!

minwyhe wrote on December 21, 2011 at 4:12 pm

I have watched the Illlini whenever I have a chance living in Colorado.  I note that for several years now that the motion offense in basketball is not as good as the oponents particularly good oponents style.  Does Coach Weber watch other styles for the weaves that the players use on other teams to see different sytles?  I am far from being an expert, but it seems as if other teams get open a lot better than the Illini do.  You can tell me if I am wrong.