After missing Tuesday’s night game due to school, I got a chance to watch the MSU-UI replay on ESPNU late last night and early this morning.
Here are some quick observations on the 71-62 victory for the Illini, which have little time to celebrate with #1 Ohio State (an absolute matchup nightmare) coming into the Assembly Hall on Saturday morning.
○ I have to say that I really like the new orange uniforms that Illinois was wearing last night, particularly the Illinois lettering on the front of the jerseys that was half-blue, half-white. That’s a great look. The new uniforms also had the names of the players on the back, something Bruce Weber got rid of a few seasons ago.
○ It was great to see Illinois utilize its athleticism on the wings and get out in transition early and often en route to building a lead in the first half. Brandon Paul’s first basket came on a beautiful lefty scoop (see the picture above) off the break. Jereme Richmond scored a layup in the secondary break off a controlled drive and kick from Paul. Mike Davis had an emphatic two-handed slam off a gorgeous feed from Demetri McCamey in transition. For a team that has the depth on the wings, is jump-shooting reliant, and lacks consistent low-post scoring, Illinois would be well-served to try and run more often because easy buckets are hard to come by for this squad.
○ All in all, the first half was fun to watch on both sides, with both teams getting up and down the court. That’s how basketball is supposed to be played as opposed to the foul-fest that was the second half of the recent Illinois loss against Wisconsin.
○ The sophomore Paul had his best game as an Illini, and I’m not making this statement based on just his 20 points and ridiculously efficient 7-11 shooting from the field. Paul was under control all night long, making just maybe one or two sketchy passes, and applied great defensive pressure on the perimeter against the Spartans. Combine those facets with his highly efficient scoring, and Paul had a great all-around performance. Here’s hoping that Paul can continue to bring such a spark off the bench, as seen in the last two games, beginning with the defensive end. It also helped last night that Paul got a few early baskets around the rim. To me, Paul’s game is at his best when he is getting offense off of his defense and attacking the rim as opposed to settling for just the three ball. While Paul started off this season strong, faded a bit and has bounced back, he has made great progress from his freshman season. With all this in mind, I still believe that Paul is going to break out in the Big Ten and nationally next season.
○ Following his still-mysterious DNP against Wisconsin, Richmond had a really big game, scoring 14 points and grabbing 5 rebounds, including 2 key boards in the game’s final two minutes. Judging the comments of players like Bill Cole and Tyler Griffey regarding the Richmond situation after the Wisconsin game, it would seem that Richmond had to win back some of teammates. Playing the way he did on Tuesday night, with great focus and impact, is a sure recipe for him to do so quickly, if Richmond hasn’t already done so.
○ While Illinois was better overall during its home win against Wisconsin, the Illini were also focused for a full 40 minutes against the Spartans, resulting in the second most impressive performance of the season. It’s amazing what concentration can do for this team and baffling why this team still doesn’t have it every game.
○ Just as is the case when focused, the Illini are a much different team when active. See Mike Davis’ performance last night versus the previous two games. While Michigan State gets up and down, a style that favors Davis, the senior forward really has no excuses for not getting himself interested and involved during grinder games against PSU and Wisconsin. Last night is what Illinois needs from Davis the rest of the way, especially Saturday against Ohio State’s menacing front line.
○ Illinois’ offense was stuck in the mud during the PSU and Wisconsin losses. Last night, the Illini generally had great ball and man movement in the motion, which is a necessity for the offense to be successful. Give credit to McCamey for running a nice show against Michigan State after struggling to get the Illinois offense in gear last week. My one concern with the offense is that D.J. Richardson seems to have been forgotten at times this season. Richardson had just 5 shots on Tuesday.
○ Illinois shoots 53.2% from the field and wins. As any Illini fan knows, Illinois lives and dies by the jump shot. When it’s there, the Illini will most often win. When it isn’t, the Illini will most often find themselves on the other end of the stick. That’s just how it is with this Illinois team until Weber starts bringing in some traditional low-post scorers who can get easy baskets on the interior.
○ For as good as Illinois has shot at home against Wisconsin and Michigan State, the Illini won both games by nine points each. While a nice margin, it’s important to remember that both games were very close until the end, so even when Illinois shoots the ball well, it figures to be in tight affairs when playing against the upper-echelon teams in the Big Ten.
○ Even though Michigan State has struggled a bit this season, I still think this team will be a national-title contender come March. The Spartans have too much talent, experience and depth, and Izzo is the best coach in the country when the games really matter. What makes Izzo so good is that he has faith in all of his players and will play anyone in a Spartan uniform. With that said, he will also bench anyone who isn’t playing well or with the needed urgency, as seen with Durrell Summers last night.
○ While a Michigan State buddy of mine sent me a text message after the game citing his displeasure with the officiating (a very fair argument when considering that MSU was whistled for 22 fouls compared to 12 for Illinois, and that Illinois shot 19 free throws to MSU’s 9), the Spartans lost this game because they settled for too many jumpers. With Illinois making just one field goal in the last 10:30, MSU could have pulled out the road victory if it went inside to Draymond Green or Delvon Roe. Rather, Michigan State fired up too many difficult jumpers and missed 13 of its last 15 shots. The Spartans connected on just 7-of-26 threes (26.9%) all game long, with Korey Lucious and Kalin Lucas combining to go 2-10. At the end of the day, MSU needs to pound the ball inside. With that said, it’s safe to say that Illinois will be in foul trouble when the teams meet in East Lansing in a couple of weeks.
○ Bruce Weber had a nice game in my opinion, opting to go with smaller lineups utilizing Paul and Richmond as opposed to bigger lineups featuring the slower Bill Cole and not-as-physical Mike Tisdale. Quite frankly, Michigan State has and will always be a bad matchup for Tisdale, who had a decent game in 23 limited minutes. Cole saw just 17 minutes on Tuesday night.
Here are some quick player observations.
15 points (4-11 from the field, 2-4 from three, 5-8 from the foul line), 3 rebounds, 11 assists, 3 turnovers, 2 steals and 1 foul in 37 minutes
○ McCamey had a very nice bounce-back game after subpar performances last week, beginning with his ability to get the Illini into good offense and find open teammates as opposed to dribbling the ball to death.
6 points (2-5 from the field, 2-4 from three), 0 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 fouls in 29 minutes
○ Richardson hit his first jump shot in three games and played his normally tough defense, but am I alone to think he has been a bit of a forgotten man offensively at times this year? I will never question Richardson’s resiliency despite his recent struggles and ankle injury. He’s a tough kid and will be fine the rest of the year.
0 points (0-1 from the field, 0-1 from three), 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal and 1 foul in 17 minutes
○ Cole missed his one shot from the field, with the refs missing the fact that he got hammered on that three-point shot, and wasn’t a big part of the game plan yesterday, with Weber matching MSU’s athleticism on the wing with Paul and Richmond.
11 points (4-6 from the field, 3-4 from the foul line), 11 rebounds and 2 fouls in 38 minutes
○ Active for this huge game, Davis played great, providing Illinois with some toughness on the interior and making the most of his scoring opportunities.
5 points (2-5 from the field, 0-2 from three, 1-2 from the foul line), 3 rebounds, 2 turnovers and 3 fouls in 23 minutes
○ Tisdale scored Illinois’ first basket of the game on a nice post up on the block and hit a big jumper late in the second half. With that said, he struggled on his other shot attempts with MSU’s physicality down low, but played an overall decent game in limited minutes. Tisdale only had 3 fouls, which is very good for him when considering how he’s racked them up all year long and was in foul trouble during both games against MSU last year.
20 points (7-11 from the field, 4-6 from three, 2-3 from the foul line), 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 1 steal and 1 block in 26 minutes
○ Paul has had bigger scoring games during his two seasons in the orange and blue, but rarely has he done so with such efficiency against a quality of opponent like Michigan State. Seventeen of Paul’s points came in the first half. Can he remain a consistent force throughout the rest of conference play?
14 points (6-8 from the field, 2-2 from the foul line), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 turnover and 1 foul in 23 minutes
○ While whatever truly happened last week will apparently be forever clouded in mystery, what’s certain is that Richmond played the type of game last night where he is most effective, that is, operating on the blocks and inside the lane as opposed to settling for or forcing the perimeter jumper. Richmond pulled down a tough defensive and offensive rebound on back-to-back possessions late in the game, and played with great toughness from the get go.
0 points (on 0 shots), 2 rebounds and 2 fouls in 5 minutes
○ Leonard has been doing a nice job of getting emphatic rebounds in the past couple of games, though he was not ready for Michigan State’s physicality, as seen in his quick fouls.
0 points (on 0 shots) and 1 turnover in 2 minutes
○ Griffey got in late in the first half and turned the ball over swinging the ball on the perimeter, where he has been a bit shaky and uncertain this year.
Crandall Head, Joseph Bertrand, Kevin Berardini, Jean Selus
○ As expected, none of these Illini played.
Until Saturday and Ohio State.
Topics: Basketball, Bill Cole, Brandon Paul, Bruce Weber, Chasson Randle, Crandall Head, D.J. Richardson, Delvon Roe, Demetri McCamey, Draymond Green, Durrell Summers, Illini, Illini Basketball, Illinois Basketball, Illinois Fighting Illini Basketball, Jereme Richmond, Joseph Bertrand, Kalin Lucas, Korey Lucious, Meyers Leonard, Michigan State Basketball, Michigan State Spartans, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, Spartans Basketball, Tom Izzo, Tyler Griffey, U-of-I Basketball, University Of Illinois