Friday, March 12, 2010

The “Almost” Comeback

With Illinois leading by 13 against Wisconsin, the announcer said, “You just don’t get the feeling Wisconsin is going to get hot and make 6 of 7 here.” I totally disagreed. I kept thinking how there was no way Wisconsin was going to end the game shooting 20%.

So of course Trevon Hughes caught fire and begin to cut into the Illinois lead. In the Illinois game at Wisconsin, I criticized Wisconsin for not taking the ball inside and extending the game. But in this game, the all three-pointer strategy worked because Hughes got hot.

The comeback also worked because of Wisconsin’s smart defensive strategy. Instead of waiting until the final minute, Wisconsin implemented its comeback defense with about 2 minutes to go in the game. But the goal of the defense wasn’t just to foul. It was to force turnovers. Illinois kept in-bounding the ball and Wisconsin would try to trap and get a jump ball or back-court violation. (Bo Ryan’s frustration when a jump ball call was overturned showed how key the turnover was to the comeback plan.)

Only once did Illinois break the press and try to take the ball to the basket. And that two pointer (and one) was arguably the deciding margin. But it was also almost a charge call on the Illini’s Mike Davis.

Eventually Wisconsin’s three pointer barrage came to an end, but not because Illinois did anything differently. It ended because Trevon Hughes fouled out of the game.

-Are cameras too intrusive? I feel bad for all the interactions they catch on camera these days. In this game it was Senior Dominique Keller who was subbed out of a game after a poor defensive rotation. Bruce Weber sat down next to him with a clipboard to go through what went wrong and Keller refused to look at him. Keller never returned to the game. It’s tough to be the lone senior on a team looking to build for next year, but I don’t think it is fair to show that type of thing on national TV when the players aren’t getting paid.

-For the first time this year, I’ve actually started to believe Mike Tisdale could play in the NBA. He may never have the strength to defend the post, but his ability to run the pick and pop, and knock down the pop is off the charts. If all he does is weight-train for the next year, his soft touch should translate nicely.

-I think Illinois is kind of Wisconsin’s kryptonite. Wisconsin’s biggest advantage is that they don’t foul. But Illinois never draws fouls. So nothing Wisconsin does takes the Illini out of their offense.

-Can we stop showing Michael Jordan? Whatever rub his son was supposed to give the Illini program is clearly violated by the fact that he can’t stand Big Ten games. He looks at a defensive Illinois-Wisconsin battle and seems to be wishing he’s at the ACC tournament.

-As bad as Wisconsin shot in this one, and 29% is just horrible, I think this game is exactly an advertisement why the stats love Wisconsin. The offensive rebounds and lack of turnovers gave the Badgers 23 more shots than the Illini. And over the course of the season, that contributes to winning.

-But this does nothing to shake Wisconsin’s national reputation as failing the “eye” test. If all it takes is a tall team to get Wisconsin to abandon scoring in the paint, that’s bad news based on some of the tall teams they’ll face in the NCAA tournament.

-Today’s game looked like someone was playing on the Xbox and reduced the setting from All-Star to Rookie. Some of Demetri McCamey’s shots today simply should not have gone in. I’m not sure whether his spin-move in the lane or crazy three-pointer late was more unbelievable. But with his ridiculous shots and Wisconsin’s total inability to make any shot, this was clearly the Illini’s day.