Smile Politely

The Magic Is Gone

It’s over.

The fun lasted for much longer than anyone anticipated. But now it’s gone. The breath of fresh air, the new-look Illini, that’s all in the past. As with the 16–19 horror, this 2009 team is hard to watch.

What was so great about this team? They could shoot.

What’s so annoying about this team now? They can’t shoot.


Unlike current Illinois basketball, “Flight into Egypt,” a team effort between Jan Brueghel & Hans Rottenhammer, is not considered to be ugly.

On a night when even Jamar Smith was a little off, Illinois hit only a third of its shots. Smith’s “hot-handed” replacement, Alex Legion, again dented the rims, when his shots made it that far. And whatever disease he brought to the program, it’s catching. Once sure-fire shooters can’t pull the trigger anymore. Most seem gun shy.

You can pinpoint the moment at which Illinois collapsed and lost Thursday’s game. With about 13 minutes to go in the first half, and a small Illini lead, Wisconsin’s shrunken-head forward Jon Leuer (of Long Leak, Minnesota) waltzed through four orange jerseys for a rebound and put back. Marcus Landry did it at 9:30. Same deal, four jerseys. Is the lesson of Sean Higgins completely lost on this Illini team?

Yes, Illinois outrebounded the Badgers for the game. But our efficiency on offensive rebounds stunk. When we got the ball, we couldn’t put it in. When we rebounded our miss, we couldn’t put the ball in again.


Time after time last night Mike Davis or Dominique Keller gave the ball to Trent Meacham or Chester Frazier, and then flashed toward the basket. This is when they should have gotten a quick return pass. Instead, the guards deadened the action. They held the ball. Meacham did combine with Davis for a quick flash assist midway through the first half. Then he resumed his cautious ball-clinging. Why?

It’s hard to argue with the Illini guards’ turnover numbers, but you’ve got to score sometime.

Demetri McCamey and Davis have more turnovers, but they also make exciting, quick passes. It’s fun to watch. More importantly, it results in buckets.


Claude Lorrain’s “The Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba” recalls an earlier point of the season, in that it is not painful to look at.



Whether it’s McCamey driving and dishing, or McCamey driving and laying it in, guard penetration creates points. Davis attacked the rim too, and it worked. Even Legion scored a point by taking the ball to the hole!

Davis, getting bored with flashing to the basket, began flashing toward the top of the key, where the guards could see him. That worked, too. They passed the ball to him.

He finished with his fifth double-double of the season. Hooray. And Frazier pulled down 13 rebounds. Yippee.


I’ve often been frustrated by Bruce Weber’s insistence on using the same starting line-up, as if all opponents were the same. Why not mix it up, based on match-ups? Wouldn’t that make us harder to scout?

We have lots of players who can play. They have different skill sets. Sometimes those skill sets are useless against a particular opponent.

For example, last night: why did Meacham and Mike Tisdale come back? There was just over 12 minutes to go, and Illinois hadn’t closed the gap. They’d drawn to within ten, then stalled. Throwing in the towel, Coach Weber reinserted the two guys whose contributions on either end had been the least effective.

It’s not an insult to those two guys. You don’t put ketchup on Frosted Flakes, either. Some match-ups just don’t work.


We know that Bruce Weber is willing to make adjustments. But sometimes it seems as though he’s the last to identify needed changes. Everyone else has figured out that certain things aren’t working.

Perhaps Weber has begun to notice the same thing that every single other goddamn Illini watcher on the planet knows. And maybe that’s why we saw Bill Cole on the floor against Wisconsin. I mean, what’s the harm in trying? And why not Richard Semrau for that matter? Weber barely left Semrau on the court long enough to pick up a foul. A little confidence and a little rhythm (arrived at by the expedient of a little game experience) might bring out the best in either of those guys.

And Calvin Brock, by the way, is good.


Who doesn’t like a striptease? It might make you forget about an ugly basketball game. These lovelies, from Peter Paul Rubens, are collectively known as “Judgment of Paris.” Ooh la la.

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