Illini Basketball has Three Achilles Heels

bruce weber demetri mccamey

It's certainly nice that Illini basketball has started 2-0 in Big Ten play. It's a lot better than  0-2.

Their win yesterday
over Wisconsin was just the second time they've beaten a ranked
opponent in '10-'11. (Gonzaga, exactly like the Badgers, were ranked #24
in the coaches poll, receiving votes in the AP). It was a good win, and
the Illini do have a couple decent wins this season, but their overall
body of college basketball work has still revealed three red flags which could lead to big trouble.

One issue is internal, the other a natural part of the game and the
third a strategy their opponents may choose to implement against them.


bruce weber-upset

Highway to the Danger Zone

UIC Head Coach Howard Moore served as an assistant under Bo Ryan at wisconsin-badgers/">Wisconsin,
where he faced the Illini on numerous occasions in Big Ten play, and
he had a "curve ball" waiting for the Illini last month, a 1-3-1 zone
that led to a shocking upset at the United Center. A really poor UIC team pulled an unthinkable upset.

"Just remembering how Northwestern
had some success versus Illinois in their 1-3-1, Minnesota gave them
trouble with their 1-3-1. Obviously under Bo Ryan, he doesn't believe
in zone, but if you're gonna play it, you gotta force everyone to the
middle. Just keep those shooters identified and you'll be fine. It's a
great zone because it has man principles in it. But if you're not good
at man, you can't throw in a 1-3-1," Moore said.

"It was pretty effective, it got them frustrated and put them in a
position where they weren't sure what to do and how to get shots," Moore

Of course, if every Illini opponent from here on out wants to play zone, Weber is ready.

"We have a zone offense, I wouldn't say we've done extended time.
Once we realized it (in the UIC game), we got into our scheme. We had
shots but we didn't make the plays. We had some easy little baskets, but
you gotta finish," he said.

Not Comfortable being Comfortable

Bruce Weber is great in press conferences because he tells it like it
is. In a world of sanitized corporatespeak and coaching platitudes, he
pulls no punches. I'll let him describe this team's struggle with

"I learned something myself, and it's that I can't let up on these
guys," Weber said. "I have to throw chairs, I have to yell at them, and
do stupid stuff. I don't hate that, but...I learned you can't be nice to
them. You guys can tell me that I'm not nice to Demetri, but you can't
be. He just doesn't deal with it very well.

"I think our whole team, I think they think we arrived after Gonzaga,
and they didn't want to listen," Weber continued. "I was just hoping
that it would pass, but it didn't pass -- It got worse. Then I think,
obviously, there was a disturbing loss and then a hard loss, and they
just started listening better. And I learned something too on just how
you have too deal with this just learn about your guys."


Lining up in the Neutral Zone

Last season, the Illini went 1-7 on neutral courts, 20-8 on all
others. This year, they are 2-3 so far, 10-0 everywhere else. Yes, all
three Illini losses this year have been at neutral sites. This is a bit
troubling because all conference tournament games and NCAA Tournament
games are played on neutral courts.

To be fair, the win at Seattle over the Zags was a de facto road
game. But on the flip side, the United Center is their second home, and
they've lost their last two there.

Weber discussed the last two UC defeats. "We talked last year about
coming out versus Gonzaga very unmotivated. We thought we would have
some energy today with the opportunity, but obviously we didn't. I don't
know why. It's disappointing cuz it's a great opportunity no matter
who you play here, in a great venue with tradition and history."

Till the postseason, they can focus on holding court at home. "That's
how you win championships in the Big Ten, you got to win your home
games. Michigan State has done it the last couple of years- they've dominated at home," Illini senior forward Bill Cole said.

Again, March Madness plays itself out on neutral courts so they'll
have to get the neutral court swagger back in order to make this season a

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports , a Midwest webzine. He's also a regular contributor to the Tribune's Chicago Now network, Walter, Yardbarker Network, and Fox

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank


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