Illinois Summer Basketball School: Senior Center Mike Tisdale, Part II

Here’s the second and final part on Mike Tisdale in the Illinois Basketball Summer School series (check out the first part here).

Included are a scouting report on Tisdale’s game, a comparison of his junior statistics with his first two seasons at Illinois, 5 areas where he needs to improve as a senior, and some projections for his final year in Champaign-Urbana.

The Tisdale Scouting Report

Extremely well-schooled in the fundamentals  (including an incredible outside shooting touch that extends to about 21 feet), Illinois senior center Mike Tisdale is often described as a European-style big man, one who flourishes playing on the perimeter rather than in the post.

Late in his junior season, Tisdale certainly thrived outside of the paint, specifically with junior point guard Demetri McCamey in the pick and pop game, which allowed him to do what he does best: float on the perimeter, spot up in shooter-ready position, and step into, fire and make open shots while facing the basket.

While Tisdale was highly effective with his shooting in the pick and pop game (and even used the occasional ball fake and bounce to free and set up closer looks), he became way too reliant on the perimeter jumper during his third collegiate season.

Of course, Tisdale will never be confused with the traditional low-post banger and is not necessarily built for such physical play, lacking a strong-enough upper body or base to stay rooted to the ground.

With that said, Tisdale would still be well served to rely much more on his 7-1 length, diverse offensive abilities and skilled footwork in the post.

While Tisdale is clearly more comfortable and confident on the perimeter (as opposed to rushing things down low, often upon feeling contact), the Illini big man is no slouch on the interior.

When patient with his back to the basket and the ball in his hands, Tisdale can utilize a series of effective moves, including turning or drop stepping towards/away from the baseline for a short turnaround/fade-away jumper, using a dribble or two for a half-hook or sweeping hook, and throwing nice shoulder and ball fakes to clear space for a quick shot.

Tisdale does occasionally struggle to establish and hold his position in the post, typically resulting in him getting pushed farther away from the basket than he likes. Once this contact comes, Tisdale can get a bit frustrated and lose sight of the need to stay the course, back down his opponent and seek a shot in close. He will often rush things at this point or kick the ball back out to the perimeter.

While Tisdale made better strides as a junior in terms of absorbing and playing through contact, he needs to improve in not only this area but his overall toughness and assertiveness down low.

Make no mistake about it, Tisdale is clearly a finesse player, which can be his worst enemy at the rim sometimes, especially when bypassing the dunk for a layup (see numerous misses against Missouri).

Since he spends as much or even more time on the perimeter than in the paint, Tisdale does not grab enough rebounds for his size (6 per game as a junior). When down low, Tisdale can get pushed out of the action and does not always compete hard enough for every rebound.

However, when crashing the boards as an aggressor, Tisdale can be a decent and surprisingly good rebounder, especially on the offensive glass, where he had several highly-skilled tip dunks last season (see the second Michigan State and Ohio State games).

Of course, rebounding is oftentimes about wanting the basketball, and Tisdale is not a player whose game is predicated on having the greatest activity. By no means is Tisdale lazy; he’s just not a high-motor guy (not many 7 footers are to be honest).

Consequently, Tisdale can go very quiet for significant periods of time (for as long as a full half or even the entire 40 minutes during really tough games) and get lost in the offense, which is not always his fault and partially the result of Illinois not always making a concerted effort to feed the post.

It’s a shame that Tisdale is forgotten about at times, as he is very efficient and usually makes the most out of his field goal attempts. And when Tisdale gets to the foul line, he is typically money as one of the best free-throw-shooting big men in not only the Big Ten but the country. With the possible exception of sophomore D.J. Richardson, there’s not another Illinois player that I would want at the charity stripe with the game on the line than Tisdale.

On the defensive end of the ball, the lanky Tisdale naturally still struggles to provide resistance and hold his position against more physical players in the post, though he has gotten much better in this area. Oftentimes, he will use his length to play over the top when denying the entry pass to stronger opponents but does not always look comfortable doing so.

While averaging 1.6 blocks per game as a junior, Tisdale could do an even better job of utilizing his length to alter opponent shots, specifically when coming over from the help side (something that his teammate Mike Davis is better at in this point of their careers).

For a 7-footer, Tisdale is actually more solid than you would think in terms of his perimeter defense. He does a decent job of hedging screens and moving his feet when switched on guards. While Tisdale naturally isn’t able to contain every wing player that he faces, he is also not just a matador when mismatched on the perimeter, which is saying a lot for someone his size.

Overall, Tisdale is a highly-skilled basketball player and very good kid who means well on and off the court. He has continually improved his conditioning and game throughout his 3 seasons at Illinois.

If Tisdale can make it a higher priority to establish himself offensively in the post and play with much more overall consistency, toughness and even a little nastiness (while staying out of foul trouble), he should continue to improve and have himself a very solid senior season, both individually and collectively.

If Illinois is able to have some decent success as a team, Tisdale may draw some attention from NBA scouts based on his intriguing skill set for a big man. While I currently don’t see Tisdale getting drafted in the 2011 NBA Draft (though those opinions can change quickly in just one season — look at Luther Head after his junior and senior seasons), he will be able to play professional basketball for a long time, most likely in Europe.

Breaking Down Tisdale’s Numbers as a Junior

Tisdale’s statistics increased pretty much everywhere.

27.9 minutes per game (↑ from 24.7 minutes as a sophomore and 10.4 minutes as a freshman).

11.9 points per game (↑ from 10.2 points as a sophomore and 3.2 points as a freshman).

282 field goal attempts (slightly ↑ from 277 as a sophomore and 110 as a freshman).

1.52 points per shot (↑ from 1.25 as a sophomore and 1.15 as a freshman).

58.5% field goal shooting percentage (↑ from 53.1% as a sophomore and 48.2% as a freshman).

112 free throw attempts (↑ from 64 as a sophomore and 30 as a freshman).

83.9% free throw percentage (↑ from 79.7% as a sophomore and 63.3% as a freshman).

6.0 boards per game (↑ from 4 per game as a sophomore and 1.7 per game as a freshman).

1.6 blocks per game (↑ from 1.4 as a sophomore and .4 as a freshman).

0.8 assists per game (slightly ↑ from 0.6 per game as a sophomore and 0.3 as a freshman).

0.3 steals per game (↔ with 0.3 per game as a sophomore; ↑ from 0.1 as a freshman).

3.3 fouls per game (↑ from 3 per game as a sophomore and 1.4 as a freshman).

5 Areas of Improvement

1. Get Stronger

As detailed during many Illini games in the last two seasons, Tisdale has struggled to gain weight for much of his Illini career, despite eating 6,000 calories a day (read more about the incredible Tisdale diet).

Apparently, Tisdale has made weight lifting a much bigger focus this offseason, and the returns have been very promising. As of last week, Tisdale checked in at 253 pounds, which is 18 pounds more than what’s he currently listed at on fightingillini.com and 25 pounds more than what he weighed as a freshman.

According to those who have been around Tisdale this summer, the much needed weight gain is quite noticeable, as is the improved confidence in his game.

For Tisdale to accomplish the next point (playing bigger as a junior), it was imperative for him to get stronger this summer, especially after seeing how Dayton pushed and bumped him around to end last season.

So far, the summer results have been spectacular.

2. Play Much Bigger

While Tisdale does not have to ditch the perimeter game, it would be nice to see him (and his coaches and teammates) make it a higher priority to put the ball in the post much more often, specifically early in games to get the senior involved sooner rather than later.

While the pick and pop game can be highly effective and fun to watch when Tisdale is clicking (see the Big Ten quarterfinal game against Wisconsin), it doesn’t exactly lead to many free throw attempts (a huge problem for the Illini in the last couple of seasons).

Tisdale has the offensive moves, footwork and smarts to score in the post. Hopefully, more strength will breed more confidence for him to go down there and do so. Ideally, Tisdale will get more shots as a result of establishing himself on the blocks.

Despite starting all 36 games last season and logging nearly 30 minutes a game, Tisdale had 10 or more shots in only 10 games. The Illini were 6-4 in those games. Tisdale had 9 or more shots in 16 games, with the Illini 10-6 in those games. On the season, Tisdale averaged just under 8 shots (7.8) per game.

By no means does Tisdale need to be a bulk shooter, but with more shots down low (as opposed to strictly on the perimeter in the pick-and-pop game), he will hopefully be even more efficient and get to the line a few more times than last season’s 3 attempts per game.

Interestingly, Tisdale’s most dominant game last season came against Northwestern on December 30, 2009, when Illinois got him the ball in the post early and often. Tisdale took a season-high 14 shots (making 11), and went to the stripe 11 times (making 9) en route to 31 points. He also had 11 rebounds that game.

While Tisdale certainly benefited from Northwestern’s lack of size, his numbers also had something to do with staying down low as opposed to floating outside.

While rebounding isn’t Tisdale’s specialty, he had just 4 games with double-digit rebounding and only 3 double doubles as a junior . To be fair, Tisdale did have 11 other games with 7, 8 or 9 rebounds, all of which were above his season average of 6 rebounds. With that said, Tisdale did have 17 games where he had 5 or less rebounds, suggesting that he does put enough focus on securing the boards and probably spends a little bit too much time on the perimeter.

3. Cut Off the Tales of Two Halves

For an upperclassman, Tisdale had far too many games last season when he was nonexistent for nearly an entire half (the Presbyterian, Clemson, Boise State and last two Ohio State games especially come to mind) or not much of a factor at all (see the Gonzaga game and first Michigan State and Purdue games).

Part of this was on Tisdale for not asserting himself more or getting into early foul trouble. Some of this was on his teammates for failing to feed the big man. Some blame goes to the coaching staff for not doing a  better job of making post touches and shots a higher overall priority within an offense that is too perimeter oriented.

While Tisdale was a more consistent player as a junior, neither he nor Davis established themselves as consistently as McCamey, who become a much more dependable player after his sophomore season.

4. Learn How to Play with 3 Fouls

Tisdale fouled out 7 times last season and was essentially a non-factor in at least 4 of those games (in the neutral site game against Gonzaga, at Michigan State, versus Purdue at home, and against Dayton in the NIT). Tisdale finished with 4 fouls in 6 games and 3 fouls (much more acceptable) in 16 games.

In the games that he fouled out, Tisdale typically racked up a couple of quick fouls early in the game (sometimes off the ball) and never recovered, ultimately rendering him useless in those contests.

In some cases last season (most notably the Gonzaga game), Tisdale simply was not smart with his fouls, letting his foul trouble get to him and then compounding his frustrations with way-too-aggressive defense that led to his quick disqualifications.

Figuring out how to stay on the court with that 3rd foul as opposed to quickly getting the 4th is something that Tisdale has yet to master in college; he has one season left to figure this out.

5. Be A Better Competitor and Even A Little Nasty

As stated earlier, Tisdale is a good-natured kid who relies on a finesse game as opposed to a rough-and-tumble one. With that said, when Tisdale played with a bit of a chip of his shoulder last season, he was a huge key and even a difference maker for the Illini.

The one game that especially stands out is when Vanderbilt traveled to the Assembly Hall, where Tisdale flat-out dominated Commodores’ center A.J. Ogilvy on both ends. Tisdale looked like he had something to prove that game and did so from the get go against Ogilvy, even dunking on the Australian big man and talking some trash to him.

While Tisdale doesn’t have to change who he is and act like a Matt Barnes on the court, he could be a little less content at times. James Augustine was a really nice kid off the court, but he played with an edge and some physicality on it, even if his spot in the lineup was pretty much assured.

Maybe with some legitimate competition (brash incoming freshman center Meyers Leonard) nipping at his heels and some more confidence after a very productive summer, Tisdale will play with a little more attitude for the Illini.

Projecting Tisdale’s Senior Season

Tisdale is a Weber favorite and will have a legitimate shot in 2010-2011 to start every game for the third straight year.

Even with Leonard arriving on campus, Tisdale will log most of the minutes at center.

Expect Tisdale to be in the 27-28 minute range with Leonard in the 12-13 range, though I’d like to see Tisdale and Leonard around 25 and 15 minutes respectively, especially if Leonard is as good as advertised.

If Tisdale is as inconsistent as he was at times last season, it will be interesting to see if Weber uses Leonard as a carrot to get the senior to be much tougher and more urgent. There were times last season that McCamey and Davis went to the bench for up-and-down play, and while Tisdale could have joined them for a game or two as well, he somehow avoided this fate.

Hopefully more competition will push Tisdale to be much better than he’s ever been and be an impetus for Weber to hold Tisdale to a much higher standard.

Of course, more team depth will ideally mean less pressure on Tisdale, who offers amazing versatility as a:

● Go-to-guy against smaller teams like Northwestern, Iowa, Penn State, Michigan and Indiana;

●  Pick-and-pop specialist against Wisconsin and Purdue; and

●  Role player against more physical teams like Michigan State, Ohio State and Minnesota.

It will be a pleasant sight if Tisdale uses his increased upper body mass to his advantage by getting in the post more often and reducing his reliance on the outside jumper, which could be a great weapon for Weber to pull out of the bag late in close games.

If Tisdale can find more balance in his game, he should be able to boost his average to 13-14 points per game (even with Illinois’ depth) in roughly the same amount of minutes as last season.

With more strength and confidence, Tisdale should strive for 7-8 rebounds and 2 blocks per game, and make it a more general point to be much tougher in the lane.

While Tisdale is not a first- or second-team Big Ten player (I’d put Jon Leuer, JaJuan Johnson, Draymond  Green and Jared Sullinger before him), he has a realistic shot to be third-team All Conference.

Regardless of the summer hype, I believe that Tisdale’s game translates better overseas than in the NBA, though you can’t teach seven feet and some of the skills that Tisdale possesses as a big man.

Overall, Tisdale is one of the more unique players to don an Illini uniform in the last 10 years.

Illinois has rarely gotten 7 footers in its program’s history (just 4 that I remember), and now has 2 on the roster in Tisdale and Leonard. Two of the program’s 4 seven-footers (Tisdale and Nick Smith) played more like guards than traditional big men, which could be quite glorious or frustrating at times.

With that said, Tisdale’s diverse skill set and ability to make big plays late in games can also go unappreciated, something that I have been certainly guilty of at times.

Putting his individual strengths and weaknesses aside, Tisdale and his fellow seniors (McCamey, Davis and Bill Cole) need to be about the team more than anything else this upcoming season.

In reality, these four seniors haven’t accomplished much collectively in their 3 years in Champaign. In their one season as upperclassmen, they presided over one of the most inconsistent Illinois teams in recent memory.

While more talented than Illinois’ 2009 senior class of Chester Frazier, Trent Meacham and Calvin Brock, the 2011 guys have yet to match the leadership that those upperclassmen possessed when leading a surprise Illinois team 2 years ago to the NCAA Tournament as a #5-seed.

Whether Tisdale and company can set the example by playing with more consistency and urgency and then lead this team back to where Illinois belongs on a much more consistent basis – the NCAA Tournament – is what I’m most concerned about when observing all 4 seniors in 2010-2011.

Alright.

The Illinois Basketball Summer School series will return in a couple of days, with Part I on Mike Davis.

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Tags: Bill Cole Bruce Weber D.J. Richardson Demetri McCamey Illini Basketball Illinois Basketball James Augustine Meyers Leonard Mike Davis Mike Tisdale U-of-I Basketball University Of Illinois

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