Thursday, March 19, 2009

No disrespect, but Illini simply not good enough

Thursday's final four:

1. Illinois wasn't a fashionable pick as an upset victim only because it was being "disrespected" (as the Illini and their supporters loved to claim). Nor was it simply that Illinois was the No. 5 seed in the dreaded 5/12 matchup. No, those of us who have seen the Fighting Illini a lot this season knew how flawed they were - and that was with leader Chester Frazier, who was injured and unavailable for the NCAAs. 

Sure enough, as predicted, the Illini were beaten Thursday night by Western Kentucky. It wasn't an out-of-left-field pick. The Hilltoppers probably were too good to be seeded 12th, and Illinois had no business being a No. 5.

The Illini played hard at the end to make it close, but all too often, they were feeling sorry for themselves, getting beaten to the ball and playing foolishly. 

Why didn't Mike Davis - the best matchup advantage they had - have more touches down low? Why was Demetri McCamey seemingly going through the motions? Where was Mike Tisdale? Why did Frazier spend most of the night pouting, looking frustrated and burying his head in his hands when his teammates needed him to lift their spirits? 

In many ways, Bruce Weber did his best coaching job this season. In the end, however, several years of less-than-stellar recruiting caught up with Weber and his lads. For example, with Frazier out, Weber had to give former walk-on Jeff Jordan major minutes. 

Help is on the way, as Weber has landed several big-time recruits. The Illini exceeded expectations all season. That won't be easy to do next year, when expectations will be significantly higher.

2. It's patently unfair that the selection committee let Villanova play its first two games in its home town of Philadelphia. This wasn't the same as letting Illinois play in Chicago back in 2005; it was more like letting Illinois play NCAA tourney games in Urbana. Even though I picked 'Nova to advance, I found myself rooting for its plucky opponent, American. The Eagles controlled most of the game before wilting at the end. Too bad.

3. Note to media mopes covering the tournament: Stop taking the microphone at press conferences and addressing a coach or an athlete by saying: "Talk about ... " Don't be lazy, for cripe's sake. Think of an intelligent question and ask it.

4. Both the Big Ten and the NCAA tournament are better when Michigan is good. It's almost impossible to believe it had been more than a decade since the Wolverines last qualified for the tourney. They aren't quite experienced enough to make serious noise this time around, but John Beilein is an excellent coach and Thursday's opening victory over Clemson shows that the program is on the way back. Michigan might make it all the way back next season if Manny Harris, truly an NBA talent, means it when he says he'll return.

(I went 15-1 as a prognosticator on Day 1, missing only on my Mississippi State over Washington upset shot. I'd happily take 1-15 on Day 2 - as long as the 1 is my Marquette Golden Warrior Eagles! Back at you Friday.)


  1. holy moely - i know you detest gambling...but if you would have bet the wouldn't need a job...15-1 is astounding..

  2. I agree Mike, 6 months ago anyone who would have predicted the Illini even getting a bid would have been a laughing stock. The youngsters from Chambana should be proud of the season as a total. 3 of the starting 5 were sophmores so the next 2 years show promise.