Smile Politely

Why Georgia? Why?

The National Invitation Tournament is one of life’s neato, quirky sporting events. You get an extra home game or two, and then a weekend in New York! So why the long faces?

For those of you who don’t get ESPNU — and among that group, I include those who have access but have never cared enough to determine which channel it’s on — Illinois got beat last night, both in the frontcourt and the backcourt. They got beat on the boards. They may have been outhustled.

Pesky peckerwood Ricky McPhee disrupted Illini ball “movement” with three first half steals for transition buckets. Georgia’s big guys enjoyed a predictably friction-free glide to the glass, scoring lay-ups when they felt like it.

Richard Semrau played no minutes. I didn’t even bother to ask why. I’d feel silly if Coach Weber responded “who?” Besides, his press conference was depressing enough.

Weber has forgotten Semrau again. And because he coaches from a position that’s between three and 10 feet out on the court, he can’t even see Semrau on the bench. That’s unfortunate, because seeing Semrau might remind Weber that he has a bulky option in the middle.

Instead of bothering Weber about it (again) I asked Georgia’s Trey Thompkins (21 points, seven rebounds) about his freestyle dance in the lane. He applauded the Illinois approach, as one would after having smeared Illinois all over the glass.

Scouts from the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto Raptors and Oklahoma City Whatchamacallits were on hand to watch Thompkins, Albert Jackson (3 offensive + 5 defensive = 8 rebounds) and Jeremy Price (3+3=6) neutralize Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale in the paint.

I’ll continue to not blame Davis and Tisdale for being tall/thin small forwards. They’re both very good at being tall/thin small forwards. It’s what they do best. Neither has the frame to play center against serious college competition, and no one should expect it of them.

Bruce Weber can get away with this strategy against similarly small or thin teams (Purdue) but it’s not productive to “impose” that style of play on teams against whom it poses no threat.

Tyler Griffey moved the Bulldogs around for 4 minutes.

Still, if the Illini had hit 50% of their shots, they’d have won. This team doesn’t live and die by the three. It lives and dies by the jumper.

It also dies on the defensive end, which is what happens when Chester Frazier’s minutes go to two freshmen.

Illinois did try a 2–3 zone (at last!) but it featured Dominique Keller in the middle and Alex Legion on the strong-side wing. Unless they get more PT in the future, the experiment won’t teach anyone anything.


The crowd, announced at 4008, favored Illinois. Because it was such an intimate group, I was able to chat with all of them. Smile Politely regular Dan Flannel sat with recently erstwhile trustee Dave Dorris, who enjoyed most of his 266th consecutive game.

Mike Davis’ great aunt Shelia Brown came with her husband Michael, and their son Corey. We decided Corey is Mike’s second cousins twice removed, although I have not yet verified this on my Table of Consanguinity.

Henry and Joanna Jones

Former Illini pro-bowler Henry Jones is now coaching 8th grade at Greater Atlanta Christian. His wife Joanna distinguishes her company, J Marie Interiors of Atlanta, from the one in Moline. I assured her that Illini fans need show now fealty to Moline (Acie Earl). But we sure do love Rock Island, Chasson.

Keeping up with the Joneses were fellow Illini/NFL D-back Chris Green and his wife Tanya, a radiologist at Atlanta’s Northside Hospital. Their bundle of joy, Carys, is now 7 months old.

Behind the wives, CNN Sports anchor Larry Smith — a longtime Illini fan and Mattoon native — watched the game with his wife Rita, daughter Jaylen (8) and son Elijah (6). regular IStillLikeHarv trekked down south with Mrs. IStillLikeHarv. She’s French.

Illini wheelchair basketball letter winners Scot Hollonbeck and Steve von Nordheim had great seats, and remained sunny and optimistic even after the game clock expired.

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