by Joe Kutsunis
The Fighting Illini seemed like a lock for the NCAA tournament
right out of the gate this season, starting out ranked in the top 20
and bringing back a roster loaded with seniors. An overtime loss to
Texas in Madison Square Garden, a blow out over Gonzaga in Seattle and
a solid win against North Carolina at home vaulted the Illini into the
top 15 and made them a real contender for the Big Ten Title and a very
favorable seeding in the tournament. Things started to unravel for the
Illini toward the end of the non conference schedule and they suffered
losses to low RPI teams Illinois-Chicago, Indiana, and Northwestern.
After starting 13-3, the Illini won just six of their last sixteen
games. Bruce Weber’s team suffered a similar swoon down the stretch
last season, and the Illini ended up playing in the NIT after being
left out on Selection Sunday.
This year, the Illini, led my senior point guard Demetri
McCamey and forward Mike Davis, seem to have done enough to
prevent being left out again this year. Relying on a strong schedule
and RPI, along with now very valuable home wins against the Badgers
and the Tar Heels.
Record: 19-13, 9-10
Key Wins: North Carolina, November 30, Champaign, Illinois, 79-67. The Illini shot the nets off of the basket against the Tar Heels in
the Big Ten ACC Challenge. Shooting 8-12 from three and getting double
figures from five different players. Mike Davis had 20 points and 10
rebounds against a UNC front line that was dogged by foul trouble all
night. At the time this win was a good one for Illinois, but no where
near as important as it is now, as North Carolina has righted the ship
and soared to an ACC championship, while Illinois ended at just 9-9 in
Wisconsin, January 2, Champaign, Illinois, 69-61.The Illini once again rode a very high percentage shooting night to
a fairly easy win over the Badgers at home. Early in the year, Demetri
McCamey looked much more the best point guard in the conference as he
tallied 21 points and 7 against Jordan
Taylor. When the Illini are shooting and defending this well, they
are tough to beat.
Key Losses: UIC Flames, December 18, Chicago, Illinois, 57-54. As good as the Illini can look when they are shooting the ball
well, they look awful when the shots aren’t falling. Case in point,
the Illini shot just 32.7 from the field against the Flames, and
allowed way too many open looks to the Flames from three. The loss is
by far the worst of the season for the Illini. From that point on the
Flames lost nine in a row, and the win over Illinois would be only one
of seven they would have all year.
Hoosiers, January 27, Bloomington, Indiana, 52-49. A carbon copy it seems for the Illini in this loss. Another game
shooting below 33 percent from the field and another in which the Illini settled for too
many jumpers. Indiana, like UIC, points to Illinois as their marquee
win for 2010-11, and would only get three total conference wins this
season. Given the blow out the Illini gave to the Hoosiers on March
5, this game is even more perplexing.
Key players: Demetri McCamey is the team’s leading scorer with 15 points per
game and six assists per game, the team’s success is almost entirely
predicated on him playing well.
Mike Davis, the senior power forward is averaging seven rebounds per
game and 12 points per game. Throughout the season, Davis has been the
most reliable producer and a constant threat with his mid range