Saturday, February 9, 2008

Thoughts on Indiana - Illinois 2-7-08

I didn't have time yesterday to write about the boofest in Champaign, so I just put up the HD box score. Don said in his comments to that post that it was appropriate not to comment.  While that's kind of amusing, I'm finally getting around to it now. 

All in all, I'd say that was a good game. Both teams played hard and reasonably well. I mean, how often does your team play in, much less win, a double OT contest.  Mine doesn't do it very often. As far as the Illini vs. Eric Gordon subplot went, there were few surprises there.  The atmosphere and fan animosity clearly (at least to me) affected Gordon. Granted, he's had poor shooting nights before, and he's prone to turnovers, but he seemed like he wanted to shut them up or show them through most of the first half.  Still, the amazing thing about Gordon is that he can have a bad shooting night and still get you 19 points. I thought he played pretty well in the second half and the overtimes, especially, since the Hoosiers ran pretty much one play on O for the last 20 minutes of the game, and it always started with Gordon having the ball up top near half court.  Granted, that 10 second call he got was both egregious and expected.  The Girl and I were yelling at him to hurry up and get over half court for several possessions before that call.  I'll take it, though. 

I kept thinking during the closing stretches that lots of people were coming up big for the Hoosiers. I tossed out several goodonyas to White and Gordon, to Bassett and Ellis and Crawford. That's the whole starting five. I also tossed out a large huzzah for Kyle Taber when he got that offensive stick-back. He gave the team some solid minutes off the bench again. DJ White and Eric Gordon were significantly less efficient than normal, but still very valuable, of course.  Interestingly, both DJ and EJ had inefficient offensive games, with Eric putting up a quite low for him 82.8 rating while using an enormous 37% of Hoosier possessions.  DJ was also quite low, posting a 91.9 rating on 23% of the team's possessions.  What that tells me is that those guys were -- appropriately -- the focus of the Illini D, and that D was quite good.  However, the rest of the team picked up the slack. Ellis didn't have an incredibly efficient offensive game, but he had 3 steals and 10 defensive boards. And that's just his defense that actually shows up in the box score. His +/- of +10 points to how much he helped the team. Also high on the +/- list was Jordan Crawford at +9. He hit some huge shots, going 4-6 from beyond the arc, and posted an impressive 124.6 offensive rating while using a go-to guy-like 26% of the team's possessions while he was on the floor.  When he shoots with his feet under him and doesn't dribble into his shot, he's deadly.  [Aside: In the category of scoring odd plays, with 1:52 left in the first overtime, when Gordon dribbled off his foot, the ball rolled over to Crawford, who picked it up and calmly canned a 3, the Girl and I immediately started wondering if Gordon got an assist for that play. For the record, he did.] Lance Stemler did his normal solid job of using only half a player's share of possessions, but being quite efficient with those he does use, hitting another big 3 in a pressure situation, among other things. And then there was Armon Bassett, who hit a couple of big 3's and 8 of 8 free throws down the stretch. I might be crazy, but I sometimes view him as the most important player on this team. Another thing I rarely see is this: DJ White, Gordon, Bassett, and Ellis all played more than 40 minutes.  That's more than an entire game for each of them, DJ sat out less than 2 minutes. I'm sure they all slept well. 

So that's a lot of positives for Indiana.  I don't have a ton to say about Illinois' specifics, but I would think they are thrilled with the possible portent of Detetri McCamey's stellar play. McCamey went 7 for 13 from deep, which is hugely impressive. Of course, that means that the rest of the team went 4 for 17, but it was overall a good shooting night for them from beyond the arc.

The only partial negative I'm going to offer is about Chester Frazier. ESPN showed over and over again Frazier giving Eric Gordon a little bump/shove during the pregame introductions, and the print media talked about it a lot the next day.  I thought it was unnecessary or uncalled for or unusual or un-something, but I didn't think it was that big of a deal. The Girl, on the other hand, didn't like it one bit. Later, when Frazier freakishly landed on his own foot and twisted his ankle, she said in a sing-songy kind of voice, "Kaaaaarrrrrrrrmmmmmmmaaaaaaa." Interesting point. Earl Hickey might have had some observations to make on the situation.

The reason I'm dealing in positives here is that this is a big win for Indiana. Despite their poor record, Illinois is a good team, and a road win in an incredibly hostile environment can't be anything but good for this team. I don't know that I predicted it correctly, but it all came down to free throws. Yes, Indiana did a good job of hitting theirs (save twice missing both ends of two-shot trips in the first overtime), but the real story was Illinois not hitting theirs. They hit only 2 of 6 in OT, and I genuinely felt bad for Shaun Pruitt, who had an atrocious night from the line. I can't remember feeling much worse for a player than I did for him the other night.  He had three chances to give his team a one-point victory (a one-and-one with 4 seconds left in regulation and two shots with 2 seconds left in the first OT) and summarily clanged all of them. It was almost like the basketball gods giving him the finger when he finally hit the second of two in the second OT, with Illinois trailing by 3. 

If the Hoosiers can get another one on the road at Ohio State, that would be huge. But it's nice to have won the first when you know you need to get one of two.

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