Making 'Nois - December 6th

We’re just shy of ten games into the NCAA Basketball season, which is typically the point where we start to learn who teams truly are. For example, Duke Basketball is 10-0 and a good basketball team. On the other hand, you have the University of Maine, who is 1-7 and a bad basketball team. You see? It’s pretty simple.

Like any good collection of data, though, you always have outliers. In this instance, let’s look at Illinois and Illinois State. The Illini are 6-3 and the Birds are 4-4, but I can’t tell you where on Earth these teams will end up in late early March. Both teams are pretty young and inexperienced and haven’t had the easiest of schedules. So let’s take a look at what the last week has taught us:

Illinois 6-3

The Illini lost both games they played within the last week and I’m really not as angry as I probably should be, especially since both games were conference games. Both of these games were lost in overtime, and both of them showed exactly what Illinois basketball is, and what it can be.

The Northwestern game can be looked at in two ways. The first way is that the game was at Allstate Arena in Rosemont as a “road game”, in front of a majority Illini crowd. With exception to the Wake game, Illinois had looked pretty impressive, so you think they might be able to manage on the road, because it was almost a home game-type crowd. The second way you can look at it, is a road game against an experienced NCAA Tournament team. I’m an optimist, so that’s what I’m going with. Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey are All-Big Ten caliber players, so this definitely shouldn’t have been looked at as an easy win. To go along with that, the Illini offense struggled. The end of the game came down to Te’Jon Lucas taking the ball to the rim because he was the only one that could at the time.

Maryland was a completely different game. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to throw up watching a game on TV as much as I did on Sunday night. The Illini went into half down like 20 and I thought Brad Underwood was going to murder someone. Turns out, all he did was snap a clipboard and obliterate a trash can with his fist. He should probably try that before the game, next time, though, because something clicked with his squad. Illinois dropped 49 points in the second half, and basically had the game won, until they didn’t, and the game went to overtime. That has been the theme in these three losses. This team is unbelievably talented, but they are so young and just can’t find ways to win. I could write for hours about how well Mark Alstork played defense in the second half, or how Trent Frazier possibly had a breakout game, but other than Aaron Jordan, the team just lacks consistency at this point. This week the Illini have Austin Peay and UNVL (on the road). Come out with a 2-0 record and Underwood should be pretty happy heading to the end of non-conference play.

Illinois State 4-4

As I was writing last week’s update, I think I said something about ISU getting whooped by Nevada.  I would have loved to see last year’s team playing on the road at Nevada. They had the experience and the talent to possibly come out of there with a win. This year they’re just too inexperienced and injured. I mentioned that we have no clue who these two teams are yet, and ISU fits that mold perfectly. The injuries to Clarance and Dave have taken minutes from two guaranteed contributors and forced guys to play heavier minutes then they should be. I’m definitely excited about some of the new guys, but if Clarance and Dave were healthy, how many minutes would guys like Hein, Gassman, and Martin be playing right now? I honestly don’t know the answer to that, but I really can’t wait to find out how this team looks healthy. With all this being said, Nevada was a no contest. They won by 30 and almost dropped a hundo.

On the flipside (again with the inconsistencies) ISU looked pretty darn solid at home against Tulsa. Tulsa is typically a solid team, and ISU has now beaten them twice this year with ease. While Keyshawn was the star early on, I really really like what Malik Yarbrough has been doing lately. That kid can do it all and should only get better as the team continues to gel on the court. Along with Yarbrough, you always know what to expect with Phil Fayne. Fayne kinda looks undersized when you watch on TV, but he’s got great touch close to the basket and will come close to a double-double every night. One person I’d really like to see more out of is Tinsley. William was a stud player in high school (s/o HOIC) and was said to have had a great two years in JUCO. So far he’s only averaging 3 PPG and hasn’t found his shot at the D1 level. Regardless, he’s enough of an athlete and had success, so things should be able to turn around for him.

Well, the season is almost a third of the way over, and we really have no idea what we can expect out of these two programs. As seen so far, though, there is a ton of potential for each team to grow as the season progresses. Even after three straight losses, I’m all in on Illinois having a shot to compete in the B1G and have a good chance for postseason play. ISU’s season is far from over, too, with how level the playing is in the MVC. Once they get healthy and find a groove, I think the Birds have the opportunity to have a TON of success in conference play.