The Illini will take on the Seawolves of Stony Brook
University of New York. For those baffled as to why Illinois must
travel rather than play in the friendly confines of the Assembly
Hall, one must only look at the Hall's schedule for this week. The
Cirque du Soleil is in town, which pre-empts Illinois sports. Don't
even get me started on that topic!
Stony Brook was established in
1957 and has a total enrollment of 24,692, with over 20,000 of
those students on its main campus, located in Long Island, N.Y.
Educationally, the school is rated in the top 1 percent of
universities and ranks 127 out of 12,000 schools.
As for their hoops team, they finished first at 22-9 in the
American East. They were 12-1 at home and have won 11 of their last
13 contests. The 'Wolves are led by the league player of the year,
Muhammad El-Amin, who averaged 16.7 points per game. Stony Brook
also features second-leading scorer Bryan Dougher, with 13.6 points
per game, and Tommy Brenton, 9.8 rebounds per game.
This game will tip at 8 on Wednesday night. It is scheduled to be
televised by ESPNU.
Revisiting the Big Ten tourney
Once again the Illini brought a lot of excitement to the Big Ten
tourney. I was most pleased by the intensity and focus they brought
to the court. As you know, I haven't been able to attend nearly as
many games as I did in the past, so sometimes it's hard to report.
You don't want to make generalizations that could easily be refuted
if you had seen the games before or after your observations. That
withstanding, I thought Illinois played as well this past weekend as
they have all season.
Here's what I observed... I saw our guys diving on the floor for
loose balls. I saw them putting body checks on guys to haul down big
rebound after big rebound. And perhaps the most pleasing thing from
my view (and if you've known me long, you might be surprised to read
this) was the tenacity of our defense. I am being won over all the
time regarding the emphasis on D. That's especially the case if
games are going to continue to be called the way they are being
Don't worry; this will not turn into a piece crying about the
officials or the calls. All I will say is that it appears that the
finesse aspect of basketball has no place in today's game.
Unfortunately for Illinois, we have a few guys who would benefit
greatly IF finesse was valued and honored. I just think that the
game has evolved into a rugged mosh pit experience, where rugby,
wrestling and bludgeoning have become acceptable. I realize that I
am really old school, but where did the game of basketball go? It
appears to this writer that the game is way past the point of no
return and that physical, rough play is now the name of the game.
While I'm all for manning up and all that kind of stuff, I also like
it when the little guy has a chance... and that is all I'm asking
for. At one point the 3-point line and the shot clock seemed to help
bring the little man back to the game. Now they are removing so many
of the subtle nuances and just letting guys be bulls in the china
shop. I don't like it... I think it is sad, but it is probably too
far gone to get back to where it once was.
But give the Illinois kids credit, especially you bashers who
have been on them all season. They came to play this weekend... and
deserved a better fate. I for one was proud of their effort. They
brought hustle, desire and energy to the table. And it wasn't just
one guy, it appeared to be the whole team. The Illini were balanced
from top to bottom.
Going into the tournament I did not see the Illini winning a
game. I told Greg Taylor, let's go out take our loss, get it over
with and get back home. It was so surprising and inspiring to see
the guys elevate their level of play.
We really got after those Badgers on the defensive end. In fact,
the only time they looked like themselves was when they were in
utter desperation mode, jacking up 3s from every corner of the
court. About the only thing I would've maybe considered was to start
fouling them and only give them the potential for two points instead
of three. However, the book says to never let a trailing team score
points while the clock is stopped... so there you go. Not really
much to complain about there. Someone said that Bucky has had the
upper hand on us the last two to three years, so anytime you can
take two out of three from those jokers, you take it! The
cheeseheads were not very happy about it.
That brings us to the Ohio State game. I thought the Fighting
Illini were terrific in that battle and outplayed the Buckeyes
everywhere but on the scoreboard. Sometimes I'd rather get outplayed
and still take home a winner, and that was one of those days. We had
an answer for them until the last few minutes of double overtime,
and even then we sent fear down their weaselly spines. And yes, you
read that correctly, and no, I will not comment further on that
except to say this: This weekend I lost what little respect I had
for their program.
Demetri McCamey made the all-tourney team (and deservedly so) and
showed the Big Ten fans exactly why he was an all-league first-team
choice. Mike Tisdale came up big even while hobbled and getting
extended breaks from the action. D.J. Richardson hit some big shots
on the perimeter and continued to play solid, smart defense. It was
also good to see the old Mike Davis on the court. To say that he had
some big rebounds would be an understatement.
Brandon Paul also played well. I love his fired-up play and the
way he exerts his will in a game. Jeff Jordan also had some good
minutes and hit a huge free throw to close out Wisky. But perhaps
the most pleasing player on the roster over the weekend was freshman
Tyler Griffey. I know that the haters have questioned his playing
time, but Tyler himself says that he is just now figuring out how to
play our defense. I think that says it all and gives you all you
need to know about that. At any rate, I felt like he really stuck
his nose into the street fight, especially against the Bucks. As a
bonus he knocked down some big shots. All things considered, he may
have been the player of the game.
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I could go on and give you lots more details, but I fear that it
could confuse you more than it would provide good detailed insight.
How is that possible when you are an eye-witness a few feet away
from the scene of the crime? That is the beauty of sports. The
incomparable Jack Buck may have said it best: "I don't believe what
I just saw!"
However, I can tell you what I do believe... and that is this.
For at least the weekend, the Illini figured it out. They came out
with their hair on fire. They took no prisoners. They got after
it... and looked to me like not only one of the best 64-65 teams in
the country but maybe one of the top 15-20 in all the land.
Unfortunately, the committee didn't think so. IF you can get me a
seat on that committee, please call me or e-mail me. Then they send
us packing on a road trip to New York as a No. 1 seed in the other
tournament... and you think this is not a nightmare? You just might
be the person I can sell a house to!
Brushes with greatness
We don't always have the best or easiest access when we're at
events. For some silly reason, LDN does not seem to command the same
type of respect that, say, an ESPN or a CBS reporter might get. But
we do bring a little charm and charisma along the way, at least
sometimes. This was one of those weekends when it paid off for us.
First off, I got to speak to Northwestern coach Bill Carmody
after his Wildcats defeated the Indiana Hoosiers. Though he has
taken some heat from some of his fans, you have to respect the job
he did this year after losing two players by the end of opening
night. The Cats won 20 games. Not just a good season, but for the
first time in school history! Maybe it's just me, but I think that
is a heckuv an accomplishment. And I told him so. He was walking
through the tunnel down the hall to his locker room. He stopped dead
in his tracks, and I thought I was in trouble. He turned around,
walked up to me, stuck out his hand and thanked me for the
compliment! I simply told him that he deserved it. I said that I
have been around the game most of my life and it is one of best
accomplishments that I have seen. He smiled, thanked me again and
entered a raucous locker room.
The next day I somehow found myself as the only media guy in the
arena while the Michigan State Spartans were conducting their
pre-tourney shootaround. Now, I have met coach Tom Izzo before on a
couple of occasions, but he has no reason to remember me. He walked
off the court and came over to shake my hand. I'm pretty sure he
didn't know my name, but he remembered that I was a friend of their
former head coach, Jud Heathcoat. He told me that Heathcoat is way
too big-time for the Big 10 tourney and that he won't show his face
until the Big Dance. The other coaches at the bench all started
One of the Spartan assistants or administrators recognized the
pullover I was wearing from a coaches convention a few years back.
He said, do you know how that windbreaker dates you? I said that I
did and we commiserated together on how the NABC has stopped giving
the coaches good stuff at the annual convention. The coaches then
let me stay for their shootaround, and I always think it is better
viewing than even the actual games sometimes.
Saturday during Illinois' game with Ohio State we had the
opportunity to be seated next to one of Purdue's broadcasters, Ralph
Taylor, and one of Minnesota's assistant coaches, Saul Smith, head
coach Tubby Smith's son. You really learn a lot sitting next to the
coaches, and you realize that most of them have forgotten more about
the game than you will ever know.
Ralph Taylor gave us lots of great insights on our game and on the
league as a whole. I had mentioned to him that the TV guys always
talk about the matchups, but that I always say that how the game is
whistled is a better determining factor. We were surprised how much
he concurred with us on that point. He said that it has become more
like that of late. He gave the Illini lots of props and said that is
always the way they come out against Purdue.
Greg Taylor asked Saul Smith if the Gophers were in the NCAA
tournament with a win over Purdue. His response, "I wish." Turns
out... he got his wish. Oh, how I would've liked to have gotten
At post time I didn't think that the LDN was likely to send us to
New York (unless they held a campaign to send us one-way) for the
Stony Brook contest, but if the Illini can overcome disappointment
and capture the win, we'll try to bring you some coverage next week.
If not, we've enjoyed bringing you a few glimpses this season inside
the huddles, inside the locker rooms and from the sidelines of the
arenas. Our LDN readers and fans are the best in the business, and
we just want to say thanks for reading, thanks for encouraging us
and thanks for your friendship! Make it a great one, everybody!
[By JEFF MAYFIELD]
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