Thursday, November 29, 2007

Wake Me When It's 2009

No, I'm not talking about the White Sox. Their future is probably a bit bleaker. I'm talking about the Fighting Illini basketball team. Is it too late to take back all the nice things I said a couple of weeks ago?

My optimistic projections were based on three premises:

a.) Shaun Pruitt learned how to pass out of a double team instead of forcing bad shots
b.) Chester Frazier improved his shooting enough to become a legitimate outside threat
c.) Brian Randle would be more assertive on the offensive end (I held out no hope he could stay out of foul trouble)

Last night's miserable performance against Maryland left all three of these premises in shambles. Playing poorly against Duke is one thing, but Maryland is not a very good basketball team, and last night's performance was an embarrassment.

I take no solace in the fact that the game was winnable and Illinois kept it close despite playing poorly. Illinois plays hard enough on the defensive end to compete with all but the elite teams in the country. But their complete ineptitude on the offensive end promises nothing but a repeat of last year's struggles.

One factor is that Weber has players woefully unsuited to his motion offense as no one can finish a drive or consistently hit outside shots. Throwing down low doesn't help much as Pruitt can't get it back it out when the defense collapses.

Some writers found Calvin Brock's production a sliver lining in an otherwise ugly game. But I'm less sanguine on Brock's performance and potential. How pathetic is it that a player who shoots 6 for 14 is your offensive star? And did I mention most of his shots were wide open?

I shouldn't harp on Brock since he was in fact their best player last night. But he has an awful shooting form which will never allow him to consistently hit jumpers. This really should have been fixed his freshman year as his shot greatly limits his potential.

Brock has a great sense for the ball and always seems to find space to get off an open shot. If he could consistently hit them he could be the game changing player the Illini need. Weber has failed to develop Brock into a great player. And Weber's failures are starting to add up.

While Jamar Smith will be back next year, the team figures to continue to struggle on offense until Richardson, Bertrand and Paul get to campus in 2009. Maybe then, with athletic guards and wings, this offense can get back in motion.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Garland to the Angels

A year ago at this time, the Sox needed a center fielder, a left fielder and a shortstop. So Kenny Williams went out and traded his fifth starter, Brandon McCarthy, for a bunch a prospects and ignored the gaping holes in his lineup. OK, he did sign Darin Erstad, but I'm trying to erase the Erstad era from my memory.

After predictably bad years from Podsednik, Uribe and Erstad, Williams again needs to fix holes in left, center and short this off-season. He took the first step by trading Jon Garland to the Angels for Orlando Cabrera.

Both are entering the last year of their contracts and the talent changing sides is basically a wash. Both are marginally better than league average players at their respective positions.

But I believe this trade makes the Sox better next year. The upgrade from Uribe to Cabrera will likely be greater than drop-off between Garland and the pitcher who replaces him (at this point it looks like Gavin Floyd). If the Sox do sign a top free-agent in center, they should be competitive in 2008.

You can read a long, but not very enlightening, thread on this trade over at BTF.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Illinois v. Northeastern

Illinois's opening game win over Northeastern was hardly a thing of beauty. The final score was 63-55. Even though the game wasn't as close as the final score suggested, Illinois did not have a good day. Like last year, there were missed free throws, bad outside shooting, and long scoring droughts.

I don't want to make too much of one game as they did get the win. But I don't know if I can take another year of great defense and horrible offense. It's just not much fun to watch.

Hopefully some of the younger guys will play better as none of them stood out except for Bill Cole (6 points). Randle and Pruitt did a good job in the paint but the guards can't seem to make anything happen in the half court set.

In other notable games over the weekend, DePaul blew an early 17 point lead over Creighton and lost their opener on the road. Both teams lost their two best players from last year's squad. DePaul was up by six at the half but Creighton dominated the second and ran away with the victory.

The big surprise in the state was UIC beating Bradley on Saturday. I thought Bradley would be contending for the MVC conference title. But now I'm not sure now as they had no business losing to a team which figures to be middle-of-the pack in the Horizon.

Friday, November 09, 2007

It's That Time

Who's ready for some college basketball? I watched Illinois scrimmage at Glenbrook North last week and there is a lot to be excited about. Illinois has a few good young bigs, Chester Frazier looked good shooting the three, and Pruitt is a beast down low. I think they can be better than expected this year and they have a solid freshman class that will be a good foundation for the next few seasons. Tisdale, Cole, Davis and McCamey have a chance to be part of another final four run. Here's a season preview from the Big Ten Network:

Since I'm feeling optimistic, I'll say the Illini will finish fourth in the Big Ten, even with a very hard league schedule (only Northwestern and Iowa for one game).

Predicted Standings
1. Indiana
2. Wisconsin
3. Michigan State
4. Illinois
5. Ohio State
6. Purdue
7. Penn St.
8. Michigan
9. Minnesota
10. Iowa
11. Northwestern

Unfiltered With Dennis Miller

I've always been a Dennis Miller fan. While he didn't quite fit on MNF, he was no worse than Kornheiser is now. Of course you would think Kornheiser would be better, being a sportswriter and all. But he will never get the criticism Miller did since his sport section colleagues don't have the balls to call him out.

Anyway, Miller has a new show on the Versus channel on Tuesday nights. I'm not sure if I'll catch it as Versus is pretty high up on my channels (I usually stop at FX - channel 58). But this clip that was sent to me by a PR person was pretty funny, even though it includes Curt Schilling.