When Illinois hosts Eastern Michigan on Sunday before starting conference play at Purdue on Tuesday, the Illini can't get single-minded, warned coach Bruce Weber. There's more to the game than offense.
As advertised, making shots hasn't been so difficult for Illinois.
But when Illinois hosts Eastern Michigan on Sunday before starting conference play at Purdue on Tuesday, the Illini can't get single-minded, warned coach Bruce Weber. There's more to the game than offense.
The Illini overwhelmed No. 25 Missouri during a 16-point Braggin' Rights win Tuesday with crisp passing (22 assists) and hot shooting (56.9 percent). With another win, Illinois could sneak into the top 25 for the first time since the end of the 2005-06 season.
"The biggest thing is we can't get too offensive-minded,'' Weber said. "We have to still make sure we defend and rebound. That's the No. 1 thing. When we hit that little stretch where we weren't really happy with them, especially the rebounding part, some of the guys justified to themselves that 'we're making shots; I don't have to go rebound and some other things,' whether it was the big guys with rebounding or the guards with playing hard or defense.''
After shooting 43.5 percent to finish seventh in the Big Ten last season, Illinois leads the conference by shooting 49.3 percent. Illinois shot 53.4 percent over the last six games and 46.5 percent from the 3-point line over the last five games. Yet Weber still remembers the night when Illinois lost the rebounding battle 43-14 to Hawaii and the loss to Clemson, when the Tigers shot 57.9 percent.
"We have to figure out ways to get people open,'' Weber said. "Somebody has to sacrifice and screen and get the hot guy or the open guy at the right time. They've been unselfish. They seem to want to pass the ball. If they continue with that attitude and unselfishness, we'll be fine. Our biggest thing is screening and getting people open.''
Illinois ranks fifth in rebound margin (2.2) in the Big Ten, and Weber still pushes sophomore guard Demetri McCamey to play a full game without coasting (McCamey scored 18 of his 20 points vs. Missouri in the first half). Otherwise, the Illini still need to play unselfishly with the ball and within the offense, Weber said.
"It's night and day from our team last year to this year,'' said Illini guard Trent Meacham. "We've got a lot of guys who can make shots. We have to keep our heads up and keep improving. It's going to get tough.''
Illinois guard Alex Legion logged no points in just 6 minutes against Missouri and will likely get more time vs. Eastern Michigan while trying to work his way into the rotation. Legion still looked unsettled on the court against the Tigers.
Eastern Michigan serves as Illinois' final warmup before starting the Big Ten with games at Purdue on Tuesday and Michigan on Jan. 4. This is no time to relax.
"If you want a chance to get into the top 25, you have to make sure you beat Eastern Michigan,'' Weber said. "We use that as a carrot out there. Right around the corner, we have to be ready for Purdue.
"They're the favorite or one of the top two in the Big Ten. If we're not ready to play we're going into a pretty hostile place where they'll play as physical and aggressive as anybody in the country. I hope they understand what's ahead of them.''
Eastern Michigan began the season picked to finish second in the Mid-American Conference west division, but a season-ending foot injury to senior guard Carlos Medlock sent the Eagles into a tailspin. Medlock averaged 14.8 points and finished in the top nine in five categories in the MAC to earn honorable mention all-conference in his third season as a starter. He was a preseason all-MAC selection.
Eastern Michigan's only wins came against NAIA Marygrove and Division II Wayne State. Eastern Michigan already lost at Purdue (87-58) and Michigan (91-60).
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.
Illinois (11-1) vs. Eastern Michigan (2-9)
1 p.m., Assembly Hall (16,618), Champaign (Big Ten Network, Illini Radio Network)
ILLINOIS (11-1) ppg rpg
C Mike Tisdale So. 7-1 10.5 4.8
F Mike Davis So. 6-9 13.0 8.3
G Demetri McCamey So. 6-3 13.0 3.1
G Trent Meacham Sr. 6-2 11.9 2.1
G Chester Frazier Sr. 6-2 6.6 4.0
EASTERN MICHIGAN (2-9)
F Branden Harrison Fr. 6-8 4.9 2.8
F Brandon Bowdry So. 6-6 15.4 6.7
F Justin Dobbins Jr. 6-8 11.7 4.9
G Solomon Farris So. 6-4 8.1 4.3
G L.J. Frazier Fr. 5-10 7.9 3.0
Noteworthy: Illinois and Eastern Michigan meet for the first time. . . Illinois moved into the ESPN power rankings at No. 25. . . Rich Semrau, Alex Legion, Dominique Keller and C.J. Jackson were temporarily delayed by weather on their return from the short Christmas break. . . Illinois had six different players lead the team in scoring in the first 12 games. . . Illinois hasn't trailed yet at halftime. . . Frazier (82), Meacham (71) and McCamey (56) are the leaders for the Matto Award. Points are given for hustle plays on defense. The award is named after Matt Heldman, the former Illinois guard who died in a car wreck in 1999. . .
Key for Illini: Don't get caught looking back to Missouri or looking ahead to Purdue. This is another chance to improve.
Key for Eagles: Create some opportunities for Bowdry and Dobbins, by far their two best players.
Key quote: "It's another good game on Sunday to get him more minutes. I told him he has to be patient. He's got to blend himself into the team.'' -- Illinois coach Bruce Weber on Alex Legion.
Prediction: Illinois 82, Eastern Michigan 55