Illinois 87, Iowa 77: Hoops Musings for the Morning After, Game Fourteen


When a team shoots nearly 67% from the field and 72% from the three point line to get a road win in the Big Ten, there would seem to be little room for complaining.

However, certain things about last night’s Illinois victory against Iowa were a bit disturbing despite the hot Illini shooting, including some curious post-game comments by Bruce Weber about Demetri McCamey.

First the good.

○ Make no mistake about it, the Illini are a jump-shooting team. Always have been, always will be under Weber. When their outside shots are falling, and the ball is moving from side to side, as was the case in the second half against Gonzaga and for most of the Iowa game, the Illini are a beautiful team to watch. When those shots are not falling, as was the case during losses to UIC and Missouri, the Illini are far too one-dimensional. While the Illini shooting was quite incredible last night, this team  needs much more balance on the interior. However, when you lack a traditional low-post scorer, perhaps with the exception of Jereme Richmond, the Illini will always be a team that lives and dies by the jump shot. Against Iowa, the Illini thrived. We’ll see how they fare against Wisconsin on Sunday, a game that has me quite nervous. Illinois shot the ball well in two wins against Wisconsin last season and struggled in its one loss to the Badgers.

○ While the Illini put up crazy shooting percentages from the field and beyond the three-point arc, they only won by 10 points, a margin that looks respectable in the box score but doesn’t do justice to the fact that Illinois failed to knockout the Hawkeyes when it had a chance to do so early in the second half. Leading by 12 at the break, Illinois stormed out in the first two minutes of the second half, taking a 19-point lead and forcing an Iowa timeout. Unfortunately, the Illini were unable to put away the Hawkeyes, which responded and cut the game to 6 points at one point in the second half before Demetri McCamey put the team on his back with a tough three and ridiculous floater at the shot-clock buzzer. Quite frankly, Iowa played with more urgency and toughness than the Illini during this run and for most of the second half as the Illinois offense got consumed with too much one-on-one dribbling, particularly McCamey, who didn’t get the Illini into much motion during this period of the game. Defensively, the Illini slacked off when it could have went for the jugular and struggled to contain Iowa penetration all night, particularly by juco transfer Bryce Cartwright. At the end of the day, thank goodness the Illini shot the ball so well because this game could have been much closer when considering that the up-tempo Hawkeyes got off 16 more shots and were only 8-of-15 from the foul line.

○ I was shocked to see Weber give Mike Tisdale an early hook during the first four minutes of the game after the Illini center got bumped and traveled on the first possession of the game and later threw a weak reverse pass to D.J. Richardson that went out of bounds. While Tisdale would get spelled for about 2 minutes by Meyers Leonard, it’s about time Weber pulled the plug on the senior center, who has been struggling big time in the last couple of weeks and getting minutes that he frankly hasn’t deserved, just being honest here.

○ After the game, Weber called out McCamey despite the senior scoring 20 points and dropping 10 assists to 5 turnovers. Here were Weber’s exact quotes from Stu Dorando’s story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

"He [McCamey] has to get in better shape. I’ve been on him. He ate too much Christmas candy, too much turkey and potatoes. He’s got to get lean and mean if he’s really going to be successful."

While I agree with Weber that McCamey, despite his overall strong game, looked sluggish at times, especially defensively (see my comments below on McCamey’s individual performance), and understand what Weber’s trying to get at in terms of pushing the leadership envelope, I question why the Illinois head basketball coach doesn’t call out other seniors in the media like he does with McCamey. While McCamey is far from a perfect point guard (he is more suited as a two-guard) and can really frustrate with at least one or two head-scratching decisions each game, he is Illinois’ best player and has come a long way in terms of getting in shape the last two seasons. Without McCamey, this Illinois team wouldn’t be 11-3.

I just don’t understand why Weber doesn’t hold other players to the same standard, at least publically, with Tisdale especially coming to mind. While I have nothing against Tisdale, he has been AWOL the last few weeks, playing with little emotion, energy or toughness in my opinion, and yet Weber keeps going to the senior when he has options on the bench such as Leonard or Tyler Griffey.

While I respect Weber as a human being, his whining about certain players, lack of accountability for others and stubbornness is getting very, very tiresome, and I’ve been a Weber-backer for a long time. It’s time for Coach Weber, once again a very decent human being, to look in the mirror and start evaluating how he’s running things, specifically in terms of not developing a deep-enough bench and failing to show any confidence in his young players beyond Jereme Richmond.

○ Illinois wins this game by 10 yet something still doesn’t seem right. Let me rephrase that. Something is missing with this team, particularly a defensive toughness and overall urgency to be great rather than just good enough. With that said, Iowa impressed me last night under first-year head coach Fran McCaffery. Far less talented than the Illini, Iowa never quit and played a really tough game when it could have folded. While I was skeptical of the McCaffery hire at first, last night convinced me that he will bring an entertaining style to Iowa. Once his players get more experience and start doing some of the little things more consistently, and if Cully Payne comes back from sports hernia surgery, this team could pull off a couple of upsets in Big Ten play. Cartwright and freshmen Melsahn Basabe and Roy Marble have potential, and Matt Gatens is a mentally tough player who makes up for some of his athletic limitations with his headiness.

And now to some individual comments on the Illini last night.

Demetri McCamey

20 points (7-10 shooting, 4-5 from three, 2-2 from the line), 3 rebounds, 10 assists, 5 turnovers, 1 steal and 1 foul in 35 minutes

○ I certainly understand some of Weber’s frustrations with McCamey, who once again fell into the trap of coasting at times in the second half as Iowa made a comeback and also struggled defensively all night, particularly at containing the dribble and closing out on the three-point shot. Despite his laziness, McCamey still was Illinois’ best player last night, as was the case against Missouri, when he hit big shots when the Illini absolutely needed them. Don’t get me wrong. This kid can still pick it up, and shouldn’t be falling into such traps, but other Illinois seniors could also pick up their games. Just saying. Next to Frank Williams, McCamey is the best Illini whom I can remember at hitting absolutely ridiculous shots.

D.J. Richardson

17 points (5-7 shooting, 5-7 from three, 2-3 from the line), 5 assists, 2 turnovers, 1 steal and 2 fouls in 35 minutes

○ Along with McCamey, Richardson set the tone early with this three-point shooting and is a blast to watch when hitting his jumper. I’ll live with D.J. not taking a two-point shot given how hot he was from behind the arc last night, though Richardson would be well-served to mix his offensive game with some more mid-range shots, particularly off the bounce.

Jereme Richmond

12 points (5-7 shooting, 0-1 from three, 2-2 from the line), 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers and 3 fouls in 24 minutes

○ I didn’t realize how efficient Richmond was last night during a quietly effective game. Richmond has not been a danger from the perimeter but certainly is on the inside for the Illini. Along with McCamey, Richmond seemed to get a bit too content when Illinois went up 19, making a few questionable decisions that led to him getting pulled for Cole. Richmond has impressed this season but has seemed (at least to me) in the last couple of games to be teetering more on the dangerous side of the edge that he brings to the team.

Mike Davis

15 points (7-12 shooting, 1-1 from the line), 3 rebounds, 1 turnover, 1 steal and 2 fouls in 30 minutes.

○ Like Richmond, Davis had a quietly effective game, although he has been really struggling with his mid-range shot and had a lot of gimme baskets set up by deft interior passing by the Illini. Only 3 rebounds is a bit surprising for Davis, who has grabbed double-digit rebounds in only 3 games this season. Some of Davis’ drop off can be attributed to Tisdale doing a better job on the boards and Richmond joining the team, but Davis is far too athletic to only grab three rebounds.

Mike Tisdale

6 points (3-5 shooting), 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, 2 blocks and 5 fouls in 21 minutes

○ With the exception of the early minutes of the second half when he played aggressively and effectively, Tisdale had another blah game in my opinion. As of recently, Tisdale just doesn’t look like he wants to make a difference on the floor, especially on the interior, unless he is getting set up for an easy dunk. I thought Illinois would have made it a point to go to Tisdale early and often against the smaller Iowa frontline, but the team didn’t. Once again, Tisdale quickly racked up fouls and another disqualification, his 5th of the season. Tisdale has fouled out in 2 of the last 3 games and registered at least 4 fouls in 4 of the last 5 games. It looks like Weber will continue to go with Bill Cole when Tisdale is out of the game rather than developing Leonard and Griffey, who played a combined 10 minutes last night. Tisdale is getting 24.4 minutes per game (which is 3 minutes less than last season) in large part due to his foul trouble but I could live with him getting less (i.e., around 20 minutes) when he’s not playing well.

Bill Cole

14 points (4-4 shooting, 4-4 from three, 2-2 from the line), 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 1 steal and 1 foul in 28 minutes

○ Cole had a great game off the bench, shooting and stroking the ball with confidence and providing a nice rebounding lift. In my opinion, Cole has been really good in the last three or four games for the Illini, and should have been on the floor as opposed to Tisdale at the end of the UIC and Missouri games. While Illinois has had better hustle players than Cole over the years, I am really starting to grow fond of the senior’s game. With that said, I’d also like to see Griffey get some more time as I think he can have a similarly solid impact as well if given the chance and some actual meaningful minutes to work with as opposed to a 2-minute spurt around the 12-minute mark of the first half.

Brandon Paul

2 points (1-2 shooting, 0-1 from three), 2 turnovers and 2 fouls in 17 minutes

○ With the exception of a gorgeous scoop layup in the first half, Paul was not much of a factor. He has not had a steal in seven games. The Illini coaching staff is right to get on Paul about this disturbing statistic as the sophomore can and should be a game changer in the passing lanes. Paul was great early in the year for the Illini but is in a slump, although he was good against Missouri with the exception of the end of the first and second halves.

Meyers Leonard

0 points (0-1 from the field), 1 turnover, 1 block and 1 foul in 6 minutes

○ Leonard is very raw, and I’m expecting him to be quiet for most of the Big Ten season while having a couple of surprising games. With that said, he warrants more than 6 minutes, particularly with the way that Tisdale has been playing, and when considering that he’s the only really physical big guy that Illinois has. Of course, Leonard usually can’t stay on the floor due to fouls.

Tyler Griffey

1 point (0-0 from the field, 1-3 from the line), 2 rebounds and 1 turnover in 4 minutes

○ Yawn…only 4 minutes for Griffey is getting very old in my opinion. I don’t know why Griffey is not getting more time. He’s not that good defensively but is a real heady player who should be playing at least 10 minutes a game. I’m hoping Weber will rediscover Griffey sometime soon in the Big Ten, possibly ahead of Leonard, because this kid can contribute now if given some decent minutes.

Crandall Head, Joseph Bertrand, Kevin Berardini, Jean Selus

○ No surprises here as all four players didn’t play. The opportunity was there though if the Illini could have put Iowa away early in the second half.


Until next time.