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The Illini staff obviously took umbrage at the 56 points Clemson scored in the paint Tuesday night. Of course, the decisive points were scored by diminutive slasher Demontez Stitt, who’s very name is short and fast. But coaches don’t let facts get in the way of some good psychological motivation. They spent Thursday’s practice instilling not the fear of god, but the fear of really enormous dudes, into the heads of the Illinois frontcourt.


As team managers pelted the Illini with blocking dummies, coaches warned their bigs that Georgia has two guys “built like aircraft carriers.” Put another way, “they’re C.J.’s brothers, only two inches taller.” At the same time, the bigs were told to play low-post defense like there’s no help coming. After successfully post-trapping opponents with dynamic big men, the Illini evidently became too reliant on each other. That’s especially bad when a team spreads out the D.

Georgia really isn’t very good. They’ve lost twice to teams which may be underrated (Loyola, and especially Western Kentucky, whom you may recall from last year’s Sweet Sixteen and this year’s victory over #3 Louisville), but have won five times against teams which seriously blow.

But that’s an even better reason to be scared of them. Illinois almost lost to a Kent State team that is now seeming not very good (3-3), then barely beat a Tulsa squad that underwhelmed in a 12-point loss to the Ohio Bobcats. (Wrowl!) Worse, what had seemed like a great victory at Vanderbilt now pales in comparison to the whooping UIC’s Flames laid on the Commodores, also in Nashville.

Georgia’s two best players are freshman reserves. If the Bulldogs contend for anything this year, it will be because head coach Dennis Felton will progress the freshman into starters minutes as soon as possible. As it is, guard Travis Leslie and forward Trey Thompkins get 17 and 19 minutes, respectively, per contest. For Thompkins, inexperience has been buttressed by a high ankle sprain. Illinois will be much better off if it’s still sore at 11 a.m. Saturday, in Chicago’s United Center (ESPNU). Speaking of sore, Chester Frazier and his bruised thigh are considered to be “probable” for Saturday’s game.

Until Georgia’s freshmen are healed and up-to-speed, the team’s main threat is 6-foot-7 senior swingman Terrance Woodbury. Averaging 13 and 5 might seem respectable for a wing, but Woodbury hits only 35% of his shots from the field. That he hits almost 90% from the line suggests that he’s easily manhandled. Unfortunately for the Illini, they have no manhandlers that match-up well with Woodbury. Perhaps for that reason, the Illinois coaching staff considers him the biggest threat Saturday.

But it’s also possible that Georgia’s hefty front line will beat the Illini frontcourt into submission, while Woodbury roams the perimeter, waiting for his heavy infantry to clear a path to the basket. That would be best for him, as he hits only a quarter of his attempts from the arc.

It hardly matters whether the Georgia bigs have basketball skills. Four of them top 250 pounds. They don’t need to put the ball in the basket. They can simply eat the Illini for lunch — like a bucket of chicken wings, king crab legs, ribs or any other analogous food which is long, thin, and made mostly of bones.

It figures to be another bad match-up for Mike Tisdale, unless he can figure out a way to outquick the Bulldogs. But being beaten by team managers with pads only helps Tisdale fight stronger opponents. It doesn’t help him develop his skills against opponents who are strong and have hands. So far, it’s people with hands who have given Tisdale fits.