Smile Politely

Scouting the Spartans

Jerrance Howard runs the scouting report Thursday.

Jerrance Howard joined the Illini coaching staff on International Talk Like A Pirate Day, 2007. In the 2.5 years since, he’s spent a lot of time on the road, a lot of time in practice and — over the last year — a lot of time changing diapers.

He’s barely had time to do his laundry, much less sleep. And to top it all off, he has the duty of scouting the Big Ten’s best team, Michigan State.

In one sense it’s hard. They run a thousand variations from their offensive sets.

On the other hand, it’s easy. The only thing a team needs to beat the Spartans is superhuman speed and superhuman strength.

The easiest way to beat the Spartans is to catch them on a bad shooting day. The hardest way is to force them into a bad shooting day while also denying them easy put-backs on offensive rebounds.

The Illini will put these theories to the test this afternoon in East Lansing, in front of a national television audience. The game features the Big Ten’s last two unbeaten teams.


If someone offers you a bet wagering that Bill Cole won’t be in today’s starting line-up; take it.

Pseudonymous internetters may regard Cole’s help-defense as faulty. Only one opinion matters, though. In Bruce Weber’s eyes, Cole is nearly perfect.

Last week Bruce Weber said, “Bill Cole is just solid.” That was it. No qualifiers. Simple and straightforward. And he moved on to the next topic.

This week in practice, Weber seemed to be referencing Cole’s critics. He identified Cole as the guy who gets it right, whatever others think. And he te tore into those members of the team who haven’t quite cottoned on to the importance of help-defense.

“Yeah, your man didn’t score … BUT OUR TEAM LOST!” The volume increased as Weber turned beet red.

He was talking about dribble-penetration. You don’t have to be psychic to foresee the consequence of poorly-defended dribble-penetration. It’s the kick out.

Wide open looks from the arc — this years Achilles Heel — begin with a lazy shift. What Weber sees is not Bill Cole’s man wide open on the wing. Weber sees the lay-up that Cole cut off when no one else helped out.


Spring cleaning at Ubben includes rearranging files from the Lon Kruger era.

Also overflowing from storage are DVDs of random basketball games.

The Illini administrative staff DVRs every televised game. When post-season tourney time comes, they’ll have something to watch, no matter who they’re playing.

Here’s a recording of a contest between Xavier and Temple, poached from teevee. (This is legal.)

It’s one of thousands. There’s a veritable treasure trove of old games.

Significant others and moms who toss valuable baseball cards might regard this collection as equal to its weight in chewed chicken bones, soiled tissues and used cat litter.

But it’s gold to people with a serious basketball problem.

Like you.

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