Next for Illini: ‘We have to grow up’
Until further notice, Illinois has lowered the basketball bar.
After four blowout home victories pumped up expectations, the Illini came back to earth with two disappointing losses that provided a glimpse of how far they must come. The Illini have plenty of work to get done in December before anyone talks about March.
After Bradley dumped Illinois 72-68 and Utah stunned the Illini 60-58 in the Las Vegas Invitational, a red flag replaced the orange.
“It doesn’t get any easier,’’ Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “A lot of things can happen. We have to grow up.’’
No. 20 Illinois (4-2) plays Wednesday night at No. 19 Clemson (6-1) in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
Q: Is Illinois behind the 8-ball?
A: As the football coach says, it’s not time to push the panic button, but Illinois faces a repair job to its nonconference season. With tough games remaining against Clemson, Vanderbilt, Missouri and Gonzaga, the Illini lost their cushion.
Losing to teams predicted to finish mid-pack in the Missouri Valley and Mountain West conferences doesn’t bode well. The Big Ten is regarded as one of the nation’s top two leagues.
“It’s early,’’ Illinois junior Mike Davis said. “We’re 4-2. We’re fine. We have to steal two that we’re not supposed to win. We have to keep playing hard and stay together.’’
Q: What did we learn?
A: The Illini lack on-court leadership. With freshmen D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul experiencing growing pains against real competition, juniors Mike Davis, Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale must carry the load. The four opponents to start the season didn’t provide an accurate read on Illinois’ weaknesses.
One loss down the stretch is one thing. Blowing leads in the final minutes in two successive games makes it a trend.
Q: Who gained and lost when it comes to playing time?
A: Obviously, junior guard Jeff Jordan is a valuable piece. After quitting the team in June and returning in October, he played his way into the rotation by serving as a capable backup point guard. When Weber pulled junior Demetri McCamey after early turnovers vs. Bradley, Jordan provided a steady hand.
If guard Alex Legion doesn’t make shots, he contributes little else. Freshman forward Tyler Griffey played a total of three minutes in the two games in Vegas.
Q: What is happening in recruiting?
A: St. Louis Chaminade junior shooting guard Brad Beal will announce his college choice at 10 a.m. Monday. Beal is considering Illinois, Kansas, Florida and Missouri. If he turns down Illinois, other players could jump at the opening. Illinois also is interested in Rock Island’s Chasson Randle and Devin Langford from Huntsville, Ala.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.