Monday, November 21, 2005


Thoughts After Two Games

In consecutive games played within 44 hours or so, the Fighting Illini have gotten off to a 2-0 start with home wins over South Dakota State (90-65) and Texas Pan-American (71-59). The Illini generally looked pretty good against SDSU, while having a rough game vs. Texas Pan-American. There's not much you can tell two games into a season, but I'll give it a shot:

1) It's been confirmed to me, this team will likely go as far as Dee and Augie can carry it. Dee's had an up-and-down start, scoring well but turning the ball over more than expected. He appears to be a bit uncertain of his role, as he needs to score for the team to succeed but has to show point guard skills to the NBA scouts. The dilemma caused by this will likely be an ongoing sub-plot to this Illini season. After two games, Dee is leading the team in scoring (19.5 ppg), steals (3.5 spg) and minutes (34.5 mpg). He's only shooting 39.4% from the field, however, has shot 21 of 33 field goal attempts from beyond the three point arc (64% of his shots) and has an uncharacteristic 10 turnovers against only 6 assists. While much has been made of Dee diversifying his game in the offseason, he still shoots a very high percentage of three pointers and his assist-to-turnover ratio is the worst of his Illini career. Thankfully, we're only two games into the season so expect many of the numbers to change drastically. Dee should have at least a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio when it's all said and done.

Augie is averaging a double-double at 16 points and 10.5 rebounds, making it look easy against relatively weak competition. He's shooting an out-of-this-world 73.3% from the field and is averaging 30 minutes per game. Augie has picked up 6 personal fouls in 2 games, which is a bit worrisome when you consider the level of competition. If Augustine misses much time in any game due to foul trouble, Illinois will be in a world of hurt inside.

2) Rich McBride has stepped up. McBride did not look good in the preseason and there was discussion of him losing his starting job to Jamar Smith. Through two games, King Rich has shown flashes of what made him a top 30 recruit nationally in high school. He's played a more complete game with averages of 13 points, 6 assists and 2 steals in 31 minutes per contest (a surprising second on the team in minutes played). McBride still shoots too many three pointers (17 of his 22 field goals have been threes, 77%), but he's shooting a high percentage from long-range (41%). Rich has been a bigger part of the team than I expected so far and his continued emergence will have a major impact on the team's success.

3) Shaun Pruitt has the potential to be a big-time player at Illinois. He showed that potential in the first game against South Dakota State, when he had 11 points and 7 rebounds on 5-5 from the field. Unfortunately, Shaun picked up a foot injury and played limited minutes against Texas-Pan American. Nonetheless, it's encouraging to see a guy with his size and skill level next to Augustine in the starting lineup.

4) Brian Randle needs to play better. Coming into the season, Randle was named a captain by Bruce Weber. Many people expected Randle to use his athleticism to have a breakout redshirt sophomore campaign. So far, it hasn't happened. Randle's game appears to be built around confidence, and right now he doesn't have any. He's only playing 17.5 minutes per game so far, 7th on the team. Randle is averaging 6 points, 5 rebounds and shooting 66.7% from the floor. He's 0-4 from the line so far, and it's clear that Brian's deficiencies shooting the ball outside of 5 feet are just killing him right now. Randle also has a penchant for picking up fouls, with 6 personals (the same amount as Dee Brown in 1/2 the playing time). Finally, Randle isn't getting after it defensively like many expected, as he hasn't blocked a shot and has only 2 steals. Teams playing a zone against Illinois will probably force Weber to limit Randle's minutes, as he cannot shoot well enough to play the wing and may be too undersized to play the 4.

5) Jamar Smith, Chester Frazier and Warren Carter appear to be the first three guys off the bench, with Marcus Arnold close behind and gaining on Carter. Smith has played the best of that bunch, as he's fourth on the team in scoring at 9.5 points per game in 20.5 mpg. Jamar's rebounding better than expected (3 rpg) but has shown a tendency to become distracted on defense. Like Brown and McBride, I'd like to see Smith diversify his game more, as he's shooting 73% of his field goals (11/15) from beyond the three point arc.

Chester Frazier appears to be TV analyst Doug Altenberger's favorite player. Many people, Altenberger apparently included, would like nothing more than to see Frazier succeed to use as proof that Bruce Weber can recruit by taking players other major programs don't want. Yes, Frazier looks like he tries hard on the floor, especially defensively. But I'm not yet convinced that he's a positive producer for this team. In two games, Frazier is playing big minutes (19 mpg, way more than I'd personally like to see) but is averaging only 2.5 points on 28.6% shooting from the field and 17% from the three point arc. Most alarming, 6 of Frazier's 7 field goal attempts (86%) have come from three point land. That is just too much for a player that simply can't shoot very well at this stage of his career. On the positive side, Frazier has yet to commit a turnover which is excellent for a freshman point guard. But in my opinion, Weber has to find a way to get Frazier out of the game when teams play zone. Texas-Pan American was way too effective playing a zone and that will be a recipe many other teams use this season. Illinois has three excellent outside shooters in Dee Brown, Rich McBride and Jamar Smith. There is absolutely no reason a guy like Chester Frazier should shoot 5 three pointers in a game this season.

Carter and Arnold bring different skill sets to the table, and their playing time will likely depend on matchups and whether Illinois needs an offensive threat (especially one that can hit a jump shot) or a defender as a backup post player. Carter is somewhat surprisingly only seeing 12 minutes per game so far (8th on the team). In those minutes, he's efficiently putting the ball in the hole (5.5 ppg on 55.6% shooting) and rebounding well (3 rpg). I'd personally like to see his minutes go up, but we know that Weber only plays guys that he trusts to defend. Three years into his Illini career, it doesn't appear that Carter has earned that trust yet.

Marcus Arnold appears to be another Bruce Weber favorite. Every comment from Weber about Arnold seems positive. I haven't seen much yet to support that enthusiasm. Short and not very athletic for his position, Arnold is averaging 1.5 points per game on 14% shooting from the field in 11.5 minutes per game. He's also shooting 33% from the free throw line (1-3). I hope his defense is something special to be taking away minutes from somebody else that can likely be more productive offensively.

6) Illinois will see a lot of zone this season, especially in the pre-conference schedule. Any team that is less talented and wants to stay with the Illini will slow the game down and force people like Chester Frazier and Brian Randle to hit outside shots. It's bad coaching if the other team doesn't take advantage of that particular Illini weakness.

7) Calvin Brock appears to be out of the rotation. He's another guy that can't shoot very well and appears to be more of an athlete right now than a basketball player.

8) CJ Jackson is redshirting. Good decision for CJ although his best decision would be to figure out that he's not going to be an NBA player but that he could be an NFL player.

9) People wonder why some individuals find Bruce Weber unlikable. If you watch (or listen on the radio) to some of these early season games where the crowd is not into it, it's very easy to hear the Illini head coach constantly screaming at his players to do this or that. To some people, it's part of Bruce Weber's charm. To others, it can be very annoying. For recruits visiting Illini games early in the season, I often wonder what they think? If I'm a high school stud who's been told how great I am my whole life, do I want to go play for a guy who's going to squeal at me for 40 minutes? Does it matter? Who knows.

10) Wichita State is a very dangerous game. The Shockers are well-coached by Mark Turgeon and have a veteran team. In the pre-season, I thought this would be a tough game but ultimately won the Illini would win. While I still feel that way, I'm less confident than I was two weeks ago.

11) While the Illini have looked vulnerable, at least they're 2-0, about to be 3-0, and they didn't lose to Hawaii while having their players mocked for cramping up constantly.

12) Look for the Illini to have their way with Texas Southern. The coaching staff will use Sunday's mediocre play to drive home some teaching points and I expect the Illini to have their best game of the season so far on Tuesday.

While I agree with much of what you said, I found myself lol when reading your condescending attitude towards all things Bruce Weber.

I too, would like to see Carter put forth the necessary effort to earn more pt, but not sure that's gonna happen.

With Mcbride, Smith, and Pruitt stepping it up early on, we may not struggle as much as I thought onthe offensive end if they continue to improve.

Frazier will be a serviceble backup IF he can have better shot selection (fewer jumpers) because the other areas of his game have been more than adequate imo.

IMO this team will be very dangerous come March (provided Augie decides to be assertive ALL the time), but it definitely will take time.
Good analysis. A few points.

1. Dee took 8 3's and 8 2's in game one. Against the zone he had to take more perimeter shots. Some of his turnovers are due to the fact that the other guys are still learning

2.Randle will see more time at the 4 against certain teams.

3. Weber stated that Frazier took too many 3's. Some may want Frazier to succeed for that reason, but I also think some people want him to fail so that two helpings of crow won't need to be served.

4. Zone won't be as much of an issue when they prepare for it.

5. Weber is an old school coach. He coaches on the sideline. So does virtually every other coach in the country. Have you ever watched Izzo? Tubby Smith? Would you rather have a more calm and quiet guy like Amaker or Alford? We have our recruiting issues, but that isn't the issue.

6. Wichita State will be a good game, but they aren't really a veteran team. they return only one starter from last year.
Also, Weber told Arnold that 'It can't get any worse' after the first game. So I wouldn't say he is always positive towards him. He did do a better job againstthe zone than Pruitt on Sunday.
Weber has only said positive things about Arnold? I guess that's true if you consider telling him that he can't play any worse than he did the first game as spinning it positively. Besides, if he said something critical, you'd say that recruits would think he threw him under the bus.

Weber coaches his players during the game? Holy crap! Who's ever heard of such a thing? Simply preposterous!
About Chester. While watching Gonzaga play yesterday I couldn't help wondering why we didn't think Jeremy Pargo was a better option for us than Frazier.

Pargo played amazingly and looked like a veteran on the court yesterday for them making huge plays against Marylands upperclassman.

I think Chester will be a nice player for IL, but I fear Jeremy will haunt us and that maybe it already started.
11 points, 7 assists and 3 steals in 27 minutes for Pargo against Maryland. He looked great, definitely more of an offensive threat than Frazier, although perhaps not as much of a pure point guard. Pargo's got a very strong, athletic body and it looks like he's going to be a real player for Gonzaga. Will be interesting to watch how he does tonight vs. Michigan State.
Good analysis of the players IMO. You do have a thing for Weber though. Did you catch Self's act last night.....he doesn't coach like Weber does during the games...he just yanks the kids out and yells at them.

As for Pargo, initially there were grade concerns...and there also were attitude concerns. Looks like a good player....he was the 1 chicago kid that we passed on that I would have offered.

Marcus Arnold was, in the words of his candid coach, "awful. Just laugh about it," Bruce Weber said to his transfer from Illinois State after 17th-ranked Illinois opened the season Friday with a 90-65 victory over South Dakota State. "You can't play any worse."
Well, we now know that if YOU were a "stud recruit" watching Weber on the sidelines that YOU wouldn't want to be coached by him. Thanks for that insight. However, not sure your comments provide any substance as to what any actual recruit might think.

I agree with Butts, if you watched Self and Lute on the sidelines last night, they appeared just as annoyed, and even more so, than Weber did/does.
Honestly, I think what's most annoying about Weber during games is something he can't control, which is the high-pitched squeal of a voice that he has. As long as he keeps winning I know many will say who cares, but you don't see Self and Olsen screaming the entire game telling somebody to screen for certain people or to go rebound. I don't think Weber is intentionally annoying, I just think it's his voice and the fact that it carries so much when parts of A section are empty.

Compare Weber's comments about Arnold to his comments about Carter. To me, he seems to favor Arnold a bit but maybe I'm reading into things too much. With Arnold, I don't think Weber questions his effort or his desire to do well. With Carter, I get the impression that Weber questions those things and his ability to be taught. Still, when you have bricklayers like Brian Randle and Chester Frazier playing against a zone defense, I'd try to figure out a way to get Carter more than 6 minutes. He's tailor made to carve away a zone with his shooting ability.
It's only two games. We haven't played well at times. I would rather get yelled at during the game, then sit on the bench and get yelled at. What is should be interesting to a recruit, is if players are listening to Weber? Bobby Knight and Gene Keady would really put the fear in their players. College players need discipline. Let it go... We can bitch about recruiting in spring, lets play ball. Go Illini..
I guess we will agree to disagree on Weber's coaching style. I am also very vocal on the sidelines...or in the dugout...when I coach. I believe kids need to be told what to do...especially when they don't know. At one point Lute was screaming for anyone to hear..."We need to pass the f...... ball." I think it is clear that you don't like you nitpick. I can't wait to see your reaction when Illinois scores 49 points in a game.
Marcus Arnold has looked poor. JMO.
Butts, I have no problem with teaching and coaching during the game. I think it's important in many situations, especially with a younger team like Weber has this season. Like I said, I think it's most annoying b/c of his squeal and the fact that it's so noticeable with the small crowds. Watch the game tonight on WCIU and see if you find it charming, annoying or (likely) somewhere in between. I just wish he would just let his guys play sometimes and keep the squealing to more of a dull roar...

Why don't you just start every story with the title "I Can't Wait Until Bruce Weber Is Gone"?

Could you be anymore condescending?
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