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Next Up - Illinois


Illinois
DATE
SITE
TV TIME W/L ACC
11/28 Greensboro ESPN 9:00 5-0 0-0

W-S
|N&O
| Trib
| Daily
Illin
i |N&R

H-S | H-S
|Sun-Times
| ESPN | Devil's Den

Other ACC/Big10 links
Wake |Daily
Terrapin
| Bennett
Not Happy
| DeCourcy
| Charlotte

Ever since Bill Self was named the new coach at Illinois, we have been saying
that we think he's going to be great.  For one thing, he's an excellent
coach, obviously; for another, he has a clear understanding of the value of
proximity, and since Chicago is very near the University, he'll be fighting
tooth and nail to get players out of there.  Pat Kennedy, you have been
warned.

And we were impressed with Illinois' effort against Maryland and predicted
that they would upset Arizona (they missed, but the self-impressed Cats lost to
a mediocre Purdue next game out)

But after watching the Maryland game again, and thinking about our suspicion
that Arizona was puffing themselves up, we wanted to take another look at
Illinois (by the way does their style remind you of anyone? An up-tempo Oklahoma
State perhaps? With a dash of Kansas?)

First of all, the immediately obvious thing is that Frank Williams has grown
up. Last season he shot Illinois out of the Duke game.  That won't happen
again.  Sergio McClain and Corey Bradford are a solid compliment to
Williams.  And the big men are certainly more than competent.  But
after looking at the tape again, and thinking about Arizona, we have to ask:
what is wrong with those two programs?

On the surface, nothing.  They both win a lot, are highly
successful.  Yet they seem to self-destruct almost every year, and it's
hard to understand why. But the seeds are there again.

In Maryland's case, they played a horrible game against Illinois.  They
rushed shots, when they penetrated it was often reckless, and they left Lonnie
Baxter alone to contend with all the brutish work down low.  Steve Blake,
who should be the calm eye of the storm, was also vulnerable at times, driving
when he should pass, shooting when he should pass.  Dixon and Drew Nicholas
both did some dumb things in congested traffic.  Danny Miller was
invisible.  But the biggest problem was Terence Morris.

Morris is a brilliant talent.  If Duke didn't know that last season, we
learned it in Cameron.  But he is also soft.  Need some proof? Morris
has only taken 7 foul shots so far this season.  That would tend to
indicate he stays away from contact.

For Maryland, the problem is that after Morris, who do they turn to up front?
Miller?  Holden? Wilcox?  Frankly we thought the next best warrior up
front was Mardesich.

Perhaps the worst breakdown of all came when no one picked up an Illini guard
who shambled behind Blake on an in-bounds then, realizing he was wide open,
called for the ball and went coast to coast.

Anyway, Maryland has plenty of time to turn it around, but they desperately
need some help inside, and they have to play smart, particularly against a
physical team. Bad news: coming up  is Wisconsin.

Our theory is that teams reflect their coaches, and Maryland, to us,
certainly follows that idea.  If you want to see something interesting,
tape a Maryland loss and watch Williams' eyes.  That's not a man who deals
with pressure well.  By contrast, he deals brilliantly with
disadvantage.  Persecute Gary Williams and he thrives. Screw him and he's a
magnificent bastard. But give him an advantage and he blinks, he mutters, and
doesn't seem to know what to do.

Olson is a different kettle of fish.  Type-cast as a stolid Midwestern
Scandinavian, he could have coached the Lake Woebegone team, except that his
record there would be pretty good and not glittering. And yet, like Williams,
Olson's teams tend to blow up by postseason.

Where Williams tends to do better when he has the chance to exceed
expectations, Olson comes into every season with blue-chip talent, superb
guards, and a legitimate shot at the national title.  But you could go to
Rio betting against Arizona.  Why? Why does a team which is exceedingly
well coached and fundamentally sound so often come up short of expectations?

Our suspicion is that like Maryland, and really all schools, Arizona reflects
the coach.  One of the most revealing things we have learned about Arizona
is that they have their post-season banquet before the season has ended. 
Why would anyone do that?  Does that suggest a sense of fait accompli, of
smugness, of tempting fate?

We have a much better sense of Gary Williams than we do of Lute Olson, but we
do have a considerable knowledge of Tucson, having spent several years there,
and we can tell you that the culture there can't possibly help the team go far,
and it may affect Olson too for all we know. In our opinion it would be
impossible for it not to affect the players.

What we mean is this: Tucson, a wonderful place in many ways, is a one cow
cowtown, and the only game in town is the Wildcats.  The entire town
essentially conspires to pump them up all season, the writers speculate on where
the team will rank in the annals of hoops (like the banquet, before the season
is over), and with the town being so remote, unlike the Triangle or College
Park, the expectations can quickly get out of hand. This happens both ways - if
they are on a roll, they are going to supplant Wooden's UCLA; if they lose two
in a row the entire town is in mourning.

It's unimaginable to Arizona fans that they aren't the best team in the
land.  The papers pick it up. The TV picks it up. Vitale feeds it. 
Dominating the California schools really feeds it.

We think that boom/bust cycle, which has always typified Tucson's economy
also, is in evidence now.  Yet Olson himself, no fool, pointed to erratic
guard play as a serious problem on his team, and not having Loren Woods can't
help either.

Faced with these two enigmas of college basketball, Bill Self, a driven,
hungry coach with the boyish look of a slightly naughty Opie Taylor, had a
tremendous opportunity.  He took full advantage of Maryland's 
athletic turpitude, and stuck it to them.  Victory #1 for Self.  He
came up against Arizona and while he got down 15 his team charged back and made
a huge impression.  Victory #2. Now comes a Duke program he saw when Elton
Brand and company ran
over Tulsa
on the
way to the Final Four.
 

Tulsa had talked a little smack before the game, and Duke noticed. Now, Self
is at Illinois, and while he's still training his charges, they seem to be
learning quickly.  Do you think Self remembers the last game? We do.

In the Maryland game we noticed that Illinois did three things especially
well: they ran the floor beatifully, they pounded the boards, and they set
brutal picks. They also play pretty solid defense. At one point, either a zone
dissolved or they did the slickest meld into a man to man we've ever seen.

What they don't do particularly well is shoot.  Against Maryland they
shot .405, but one thing the Terps did well was to block shots with 10. 
Still, only two of the Illini were within hollering distance of .500 
Against Arizona, they shot .358, and if Frank Williams hadn't hit 27 (on 8-19
with 3 3 pointers), they would have gotten crushed, because no one shot well at all. 

Against mighty Texas Southern, they still didn't crack .500 (try .478). 
Against UNLV, they hit .509, and against Maine they managed .463.

It's a mixed bag, as you can see.

At any rate, here's what Duke has allowed  so far:

  • Princeton - .422%
  • Villanova - .621%
  • Texas - .394%
  • Temple - .379
  • Army - .293%

It's a fairly steep downward curve after Villanova, but none of those teams
are making their reputations by lighting up the scoreboard, either.

We're pretty sure that Self will not allow his team to play poorly on
Tuesday, but we're also pretty sure that if they shoot poorly, and Duke can get
throught their defense, then the game may come down to rebounds and
turnovers.