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.