Illinois Basketball Summer School: Senior Forward Mike Davis, Part II

With averages of 10.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, and 15 double-doubles during the 2009-2010 season, Illinois forward Mike Davis posted junior statistics that most players would love to have.

However, despite what his final numbers indicated, Davis’ junior year was quite strange on the court, having the feel of 3 separate seasons all for the price of one.

After posting 7 double-doubles in 13 non-conference games, Davis would have double-digit points and rebounds in just 2 of the first 13 Big Ten games. In that stretch, he would go scoreless in 2 games, be removed from the starting lineup for 4 games, and look as if he had lost his confidence and thrill for the game.

At the end of the season, Davis would pick up his effort and look like the Mike Davis of old, notching double-doubles in 7 of his last 10 games, including 3 of the final 5 regular season games, both Big Ten Tournament games, and 2 of 3 NIT games.

In Part II of the Illinois Basketball Summer School series on Mike Davis, Writing Illini continues to recap the forward’s third year, including his season highlight/lowlight.

Davis’ Season Highlight:

Davis put on a show at Clemson on December 2, 2009, scoring 22 points on an amazing 9-for-11 from the field, grabbing 9 rebounds and helping the Illini rally from 23 down in the second half to complete a stunning comeback.

While Davis scored a career-high 28 points a year earlier at home against Clemson, this performance was much better given the circumstances (a road game, Illinois coming off 2 losses in Vegas, fighting back from a huge deficit to win, etc.).

Against heralded Clemson big man Trevor Booker, Davis played with no quit, great urgency and an overall competitiveness that was inspirational.

After this game, Davis looked like he was going to have a monster junior season. Unfortunately, his junior season would be very inconsistent and hard to figure out.

Davis’ Season Lowlight:

After snapping out of a 4-game funk early in the Big Ten season with a 17 point and 15 rebound performance during a home loss to Purdue, Davis’ Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde personality reappeared during a January 23rd loss at Northwestern.

Davis failed to score on just 3 shots and grabbed a meager 2 rebounds in 23 inactive minutes as the Cats blitzed Illinois late to steal a winnable game from the Illini.

Really struggling at this point of the season, Davis was benched for Dominique Keller at halftime of this game and then replaced in the starting lineup by Tyler Griffey for the next 4 games.

Recapping Davis’ Junior Season (See His Junior Stats)

After having an incredible sophomore season during which he played 690 more minutes than his freshman season, increased his scoring and rebounding averages by 8.7 points and 6.3 rebounds respectively, and was named second-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and third-team All-Big Ten by the media, forward Mike Davis began his junior season on an encouraging note before struggling with big-time inconsistency throughout most of Big Ten play.

After suffering a broken foot in the summer between his sophomore and junior seasons, Davis showed no ill effects early in 2009-2010, averaging a double-double (12 points and 13.5 rebounds per game) after the first two contests of the season.

Davis would actually register a double-double in 3 of Illinois’ first 4 games, with the exception being a 12 point and 9 rebound performance against Presbyterian.

With the 4-0 Illini and Davis off to an impressive start, the season-long inconsistency from a team and individual perspective would begin to rear its ugly head during Illinois’ ill-fated trip to Las Vegas.

Davis was a no-show in a buzzer-beating loss to Utah, finishing with just 5 points and 4 rebounds in 25 minutes, but rebounded the next night against Bradley, finishing with 17 points and 8 rebounds in 35 more influential minutes, though the Illini would fall to the hungrier Braves.

Looking hung over as a team from the Las Vegas weekend from hell, the Illini would have little time to recuperate, facing Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

The Illini would trail by as much as 23 points early in the second half, before staging an incredible rally, thanks to inspired play from Davis, D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul and Mike Tisdale.

Playing arguably his best game of the season, Davis was a beast for the majority of his 34 minutes, displaying great urgency and some controlled nastiness in the second half en route to a highly efficient 9-for-11 shooting performance, team-leading 22 points and tough 9 rebounds, including a huge offensive rebound late in the game that extended an Illini possession resulting in a Tisdale score.

Especially impressive was the fact that Davis did most of his damage against Clemson starter and future first-round pick Trevor Booker.

If the Clemson game showed us anything about Davis, it’s just how talented and meaningful he can be when playing with great activity, urgency and focus, and when taking his offensive game inside more as opposed to relying too much on the perimeter jumper.

While the Clemson game had the potential to be a turning point for Davis and the Illini as a whole, it unfortunately wouldn’t be so.

Days later, a sloppy Illinois team would survive Boise State, with Davis registering a double-double (16 and 12) but also looking a bit disinterested at times and having a rough night with his post defense.

The Illini were certainly interested for their next opponent, a ranked Vanderbilt team that was pretty much dominated for 40 minutes.

While Davis did not get many shots (5) and finished with just 4 points and 8 rebounds, his overall game against Vanderbilt was very impressive on a night when Tisdale and McCamey really shined.

Davis’ ability to flash the middle of the Vandy 2-3 zone and pass the ball to the short corner to Tisdale was key early in the first half as Illinois got off to an early double-digit lead and would not look back.

After a solid 22 minutes during a blowout of Western Michigan, Davis would struggle in back-to-back neutral site losses to Georgia and Missouri.

Davis’ lack of upper-body strength was evident against Georgia as he struggled to defend Bulldogs’ big men Albert Jackson and Trey Thompkins, and his nonchalance was especially apparent on a late game-changing play where he went up too soft for a chip-shot layup that was emphatically blocked away by Georgia guard Travis Leslie.

Against Missouri, Davis would struggle all night with the frenetic pace, looking out of sorts, rushing and air balling several shots, and turning the ball over 5 times.

With 5 non-conference losses heading into the Big Ten opener against #25-ranked Northwestern, Illinois needed much more consistency from not only Davis but the entire team.

After having a quiet first half that ended with NU up 9 at the break, Davis would pick up his game big time in the second half and overtime of a tight Illini victory, finishing with 21 points and 17 boards.

While Tisdale would get most of the accolades (31 points and 11 rebounds) before fouling out early in overtime, it was really Davis who won this game by isolating and posting up NU several times and hitting some clutch half hooks late in the extra session.

Unfortunately, it would be a while before Davis had another big game in the Big Ten as he seemed to lose some confidence in himself.

However, before continuing on in the Big Ten, the lllini had to play Gonzaga the day after New Year’s.

While Davis was guilty like all of his teammates of not coming out ready to play as Illinois fell into a huge hole early, he at least gave the Illini 43 minutes in the overtime loss at the United Center, where Tisdale would have one of his worst games of the season due to foul trouble.

After struggling with Gonzaga’s interior size on the defensive end and having a rough 6-for-16 performance from the field (for 12 points), Davis and his shooting touch would be dubiously missing during Illinois’ next 4 conference games.

During a home victory against Iowa, Davis was 3-for-8 from the field en route to a quiet 8 points and 6 rebounds in 24 nondescript minutes.

Days later in Bloomington, Indiana, Davis would get just 2 shots off in 35 minutes and finish with only 2 points as Illinois came back thanks to Tisdale’s 27 points and McCamey having a great second half.

While Davis would have 11 rebounds against Indiana, he generally seemed inactive and lost within the offense during this game.

Davis was once again quiet three days later, registering just 6 points (on 1-for-6 shooting) and 4 rebounds during 28 minutes of a victorious one-point home squeaker against Penn State.

After three straight disappointing Big Ten games, Davis looked like he found his stroke when Illinois traveled to Michigan State during a battle of the conference’s remaining unbeatens.

Davis was really active and efficient early in the game, scoring 8 quick points before losing his touch and going silent in the second half.

Davis would finish 4-for-15 from the field for 11 points and grab just 4 rebounds against a much more physical Spartan team that chewed up and spit out the foul-plagued Tisdale in this contest.

At home against Purdue, Davis seemingly snapped out of his 4-game Big Ten funk, but the Illini fell nonetheless.

After a great first half on the offensive glass, Davis and McCamey wouldn’t let the Illini die as the Boilermakers scored nearly 60 points in the game’s final 20 minutes.

Davis had a stretch in the second half where he would score 8 quick points and keep Illinois in the game before Purdue would hold on at the end.

While there are no moral victories, especially when losing at home, Davis’ competitive effort against Purdue was spectacular, finishing with 17 points on 8-for-16 shooting and 15 rebounds.

Yet, despite his encouraging performance against the Boilermakers, Davis would follow up with perhaps his worst game of the season, going scoreless at Northwestern on just 3 shot attempts in 23 ghostly minutes, playing with little energy (see his 2 rebounds) and getting benched at the start of the second half in favor of Keller.

Illinois would fail to put NU away before getting blitzed late and losing its third straight game to bring its conference record to 4-3.

Davis’ benching would carry over to the Penn State game, where he was replaced in the starting lineup by freshman power forward Tyler Griffey for not only this contest but the following 3 games.

Davis would actually have a decent if not spectacular performance against the Nittany Lions, finishing with 11 points on 66% shooting, 8 rebounds and several clutch shots (one at the end of the first half, another late in the second half) to help Illinois hold on for a much-needed win.

Coming off the bench at home against Indiana, Davis brought little energy in the first half, resulting in him sitting for the first 12 minutes of the second half.

While Davis would make some hustle plays in the last 8 minutes of this back-and-forth contest won on a McCamey buzzer-beating floater, his overall lack of activity (another game with just 2 boards, to go with 6 points) was confounding.

While Davis would have a huge bucket late during an ugly road win at Iowa, his 7 points and 6 rebounds in 29 minutes just weren’t getting it done for the Illini.

With #5-ranked Michigan State coming to the Assembly Hall and Illinois starting a brutal stretch of conference games to end the regular season, Davis finally would come up big for the Illini, scoring 16 points on 7-for-13 from the field, blocking two shots late and capping the upset with a dunk with just seconds left.

Despite only grabbing 2 rebounds against Michigan State, Davis was rewarded for his active performance against the Spartans as Weber inserted him back into the starting lineup for a road game at Wisconsin.

At the Kohl Center, Davis would go scoreless (getting just 2 shots) but come up with a few big rebounds late (to bring him to 8 boards on the game) during 25 relatively quiet minutes.

However, since McCamey and Tisdale were huge as Illinois pulled off a shocking upset on this night, Davis’ quiet game was a bit forgotten and not really scrutinized.

Winners of 5 straight, the Illini were shot down back to Earth by Ohio State during a Valentine’s Day blowout at the Assembly Hall, where Davis was one of the few Illini to play with good energy but like the rest of his teammates in that he struggled with his shot (4-for-11 for 8 points).

Davis’ shot was rolling a week later at Mackey Arena, where he would tally 16 points (8-for-14 shooting), grab 12 rebounds and swat a career-high 5 shots during an incredibly active 40 minutes; unfortunately, the Illini would fall late despite a valiant team effort.

Needing a win at Michigan, the Illini were certainly not pretty but got the job done, with Davis notching 13 points and 12 rebounds but lacking consistent execution along with the rest of his teammates.

Illinois’ occasional sloppiness and lack of focus at Michigan would catch up with the team at home against Minnesota, which got up big before a late Illini rally would fall short. Davis again struggled with his shooting (4-for-11) but did provide some decent energy in spurts; however, he also picked up a technical in the second half and got caught napping on defense several times, including a decisive basket by Minnesota’s Paul Carter with about a minute left in the game.

With Illinois quickly becoming an NCAA Tournament bubble team, Davis would struggle with his shooting (4-for-11) but play hard during a loss to Ohio State and then come out strong in the first half before going quiet in the second half of a home defeat to Wisconsin to end the Big Ten regular season.

Entering the Big Ten Tournament, Illinois had to win at least one game to keep its dancing dreams alive. Davis would be huge in a rematch against Wisconsin, playing with great focus, energy and defensive toughness while finishing with a balanced 10 points, 10 boards, 2 blocks and only 1 turnover in 39 minutes.

After the huge Wisconsin win, Davis and the Illini didn’t rest on their laurels, taking Ohio State to double overtime before running out of gas. For a player who looked like he could care less about competing during extended stretches of the conference’s regular season, Davis was fantastic in this game, taking over late in the second half nearly to give the Illini the win and finishing with an inspiring 13 points, 18 rebounds and 1 steal.

Unfortunately, just when Illinois was starting to click as a team, it was left outside the NCAA Tournament and relegated to the NIT.

Davis would play well in Illinois’ first two NIT victories, going 7-for-7 from the field in the first half and finishing with 17 points during a win at Stony Brook, and then rebounding with an impressive second half against Kent State to finish with his final double-double (16 points, 16 rebounds) of the season.

After 4 straight solid games, Davis would be quiet in a season-ending loss to Dayton, scoring 10 points and grabbing 8 rebounds but not having as much of an impact as his final line might have suggested.

In conclusion, Davis’ junior season was a weird one to say the least.

After a hot start, Davis was really up-and-down, certainly solid if not great in a fair share of Big Ten games, not much of a factor during an extended stretch of conference games, and a real difference maker in some big victories (and tough losses) for the Illini.

For a team that turned it on and off way too much last season, Davis was one of those Illinois players especially guilty of lacking the consistent urgency that was needed for the Illini to be a great team versus a middling one.

While Davis’ final statistics were certainly respectable on paper, it’s hard to argue that he had the type of junior season that he was expecting, both individually and collectively.

Hopefully, the bitter taste of a disappointing junior season will fuel Davis’ fire during his last season in Champaign.

Alright.

Coming in a few days, Part III of the Illinois Basketball Summer School series on Mike Davis will provide a scouting report on his game, compare his junior numbers with his first two seasons, and make some projections for his senior season.

Until then.

Topics: Assembly Hall, Brandon Paul, Bruce Weber, D.J. Richardson, Demetri McCamey, Dominique Keller, Illini Basketball, Illinois Basketball, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, Purdue Basketball, Tyler Griffey, U-of-I Basketball, University Of Illinois

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