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Behind Enemy Lines: Illinois

On the eve of Big Ten play, I talked with Joe Kutsunis of the SB nation Illinois blog, Hail to the Orange. My questions are in bold.

Illinois has had some good wins in non-conference play but some bad losses as well. Is that about what you expected with a young team, or are the 4 losses a big disappointment?

The losses are very much a disappointment, especially given the quality of the teams that the losses have come to. In hindsight maybe we should have seen an inconsistent and generally defensively weak team coming, given that the team lost its best two defenders from last season, and is now very much reliant on freshmen for a lot of scoring. This team is trying to make the tournament, and these losses may come back to haunt them later on.

Looking at the Illini roster, there are 5 guys averaging double figure points but no one over 14 a game. Does any one player need to step up and be the go to guy down the stretch, or is the balanced attack the way to go?

The Illini have never really had a go-to scorer on the best Bruce Weber teams, and have always been very balanced in terms of scoring. Our big men can score, but they are not dominant take over the game types, and our guards can explode for 20+ one game and go silent the next. At this point the Illini need to focus most on defense, both inside and out, rather than outscoring all of their opponents.

How has Bruce Weber done incorporating a talented freshman class into a solid core of returning players?

I guess that is a question we may have to reassess. They certainly have had great games in the Assembly Hall, but leave the comfort of home and they are unreliable. The have had their troubles on perimeter defense for sure, but up until recently their scoring has well outweighed that liability. Considering the benefits of switching them out of the line up for the next two guards, Bill Cole and Jeff Jordan, you would get a major increase in perimeter defense. On the other hand these players just plain don't score. The freshmen are good, but Illini fans could not help perhaps putting too much hope in what they could do in their first year. There is a reason O.J. Mayo and John Wall don't come around every year.
Bruce has tried to push them as best as he could to shore up the weaknesses in their game, and hopefully they will only get better as the season goes on.

What kind of game do you expect Wednesday night? 

High scoring. Even in the games the Illini win now it seems that we are giving up lots of points. I expect a good game from Demetri McCamey, who was the hero of last years game (along with the now gone Trent Meacham.) Also I think Tisdale should have a pretty good game inside, who hopefully has finally started to assert himself around the rim. We will see. After the Georgia and Missouri, I can't see how the Illini can be favored to win. But I also believe that they are not as bad a team as those losses indicate.

Good stuff, thanks again Joe. I may or may not be appearing on Hail to the Orange in the near future, so check that out too.