Those of us bemoaning the beginning of another long year for the Illini basketball team need to stop reading Ken Pomeroy’s scouting report for Illinois — which tells us a host of things we already know about this team, and a few we don’t — and start listening to Kenny Battle. Why? Because former Flyin’ Illini Kenny Battle, who called the Weber St. game for the Big Ten Network, may be the worst color analyst in basketball. Listening to him call a game can be painful, yet relieving. His blather has the power to distract Illini Nation from what we already know about this Illini team: It doesn’t get to the line often enough; when it does get to the line it can’t make its free throws at anything close to an acceptable clip (58.8%); it shoots too many three-pointers after wasting away the shot clock; and its personnel has a tendency to make poor decisions and play submissively on offense, especially when facing a zone defense. Collectively, these are things we already knew going into this season. (See: season 2006–07. Or season 2005–06.)
Against a man-to-man defense, as in the Arizona game, the player movement in the motion offense is much more effective, and generally players do a better job of staying aggressive and taking higher-percentage shots (converting them is another issue). But against a zone, this team often resembles a passive bunch of third-grade YMCA ballers. They dribble-pass the ball around the perimeter without purpose and ignore anyone cutting to the free-throw line or posting up with good position. Twenty-four seconds later, Chester Frazier launches a rainbow three-pointer from two steps behind the arc as Loren Tate screams from his sideline seat in a super-slo-mo, “NOOOOOOOO!” Then we repeat the fun next time down the floor.
The solution isn’t as easy as removing an offensive liability like Frazier, because Frazier’s defense is necessary against quick, athletic guards like Arizona’s Jerryd Bayless. However, I’d like to see Frazier relieved of his point guard responsibilities when a score is necessary. Frazier should not be bringing the ball up the floor in a crucial offensive situation where time is a factor. His suspect decision-making and inability to create his own worthwhile shot are too potentially damaging to our chances of scoring. The person in such a situation needs to be the walk-on that’s leading our guards in scoring, Trent Meacham. Not only is he superior at taking care of the ball this season (3.7 assist/turnover ratio), but he’s the team’s lone offensive threat from the perimeter. If anyone is going to force up a 20-footer, it should be him.
This offense could be catapulted to above-average in the Big Ten — which is not saying much — with this sort of subtle tweaking. Prior to the Arizona game (19 turnovers) the Illini had been doing an outstanding job of holding onto the ball. And we continue to crash the offensive boards and gather the rebound at a superlative rate. On the downside, part of the reason we’re not turning the ball over more often is that we’re often not aggressive on offense; we settle instead of forcing the issue. So that stat is a bit misleading.
We’re 5–3 now and we’ll probably be 9–6 entering Big Ten play, with a loss to Missouri quite possible. (I’m giving us the benefit of the doubt against a talented Miami of Ohio team solely because it’s at the Hall.) A 9–6 mark is something Illinois fans should live with, considering the offensive make-up of this club. This is one fan base that doesn’t need a reminder of the fact that things could be worse: At least our players have remained out of the police blotter this year, and no one has been caught on camera eating boogers or urinating into towels in front of the bench.
What’s the only thing worse than Kenny Battle’s in-game analysis? Ding ding ding: Gene Keady’s in-studio analysis for the Big Ten Network. I’ve never seen anyone fail so miserably at reading his prepared answers to “live” questions from a teleprompter.
ROSES ARE RED, VIOLETS ARE BLUE . . .
The football Illini are going to Pasadena, but the Tigers and Rainbows got screwed. I’m not going to pile on too heavily concerning the obviously flawed BCS and its selection process, which King Kaufman accurately described as “the system of having monkeys fling their poo at pictures of NCAA logos.” I’ll admit to not being a college football fanatic. Still, this season tried awfully hard to convert me. How could I not become enthralled by a season that spit out Upset Saturdays like it had a bad case of the hiccups? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. Do you smell that poo, too?