Last Night’s Dueling 14-Point Comebacks
- The Comeback
Minnesota comes back from 14 down to force the game to OT and beat Wisconsin. 29 points on 16 FG attempts for Lawrence Westbrook.
- Escape from Evanston
Purdue takes advantage of missed free throws to mount their comeback from 14 down and nip Northwestern. I’d wager we won’t see another win in conference play this year by a team with a 33.8% TO%.
Illinois Game Preview
4:00 Saturday. The Breslin Center. ESPN.
In a conference in which almost every team has improved from last season, the Illini have improved the most. They enter this game with an overall record comparable to ours: 15-2. Their only losses were a home game against (a still-undefeated) Clemson and a road game against Michigan. They’ve been very solid in conference play to date, beating Purdue on the road and taking care of business against Indiana and Michigan at home. (What’s the deal with playing two games against the same team within your first four conference games? What was wrong with the old out-and-back conference scheduling model?) The Illini and Gophers are now the only two one-loss teams nipping at MSU’s heels in the conference standings.
Last year’s Illinois team went just 5-13 in conference play, despite a pretty solid statistical profile, which included a #21 national ranking in adjusted defensive efficiency. This year, their defense has gotten even better, currently ranking 10th best in the country. Meanwhile, they’ve improved dramatically on offense, going from 83rd nationally to 33rd.
The biggest improvement on offense has been in the shooting department. The Illini’s 3-point shooting percentage has increased from 31.9% to 39.2%, and their free throw percentage has increased from 60.8% to 73.2% (partially due to the graduation of Shaun Pruitt). They’ve reduced their turnovers somewhat, as well.
Offensive rebounding, meanwhile, has become a weakness; Pruitt’s graduation probably has something do with that, as well. And, while the Illini are making a higher percentage of their free throws, they’re not getting to the line very often. Their free throw rate ranks in the bottom ten among all Division 1 teams.
As the Big Ten Geeks have noted several times, Illinois seems be a very rare bird on offense: a perimeter-oriented team that doesn’t shoot many 3-pointers (3FGA/FGA=27.6%). Instead, they rely on mid-range jump shooting from 7’1″ Mike Tisdale (51.0% 2pt%), 6’10” Mike Davis (53.6%), and 6’3″ Demetri McCamey (55.0%).
The starting guards for Illinois both have very well-defined roles: Chester Frazier distributes the ball and plays defense ala Travis Walton (5.9 assists but only 5.4 points per game) and Trent Meachem shoots the three (12.2 points/game, 47.6% 3pt%). Davis and Tisdale are versatile big men who can play both away from and near the basket (11.9 and 11.4 points per game, respectively).
Demetri McCamey is the wildcard (12.3 points/game). When everything’s going right, McCamey looks like an NBA lottery pick. He has a wide body, smooth ball-handling skills, and a quick-release jumpshot that’s unstoppable when he’s hot. When things aren’t going well, though, McCamey can become erratic and unreliable on offense; Bruce Weber actually pulled him down the stretch in their win against Purdue in favor of the must less gifted Calvin Brock. Travis Walton will do everything he can to try to stop McCamey from getting on a roll.
Beyond that, I think the key to stopping Illinois on offense is forcing them to beat you one-on-one. They rank first in the entire country in the percentage of their made field goals that are assisted (71.6%). The switching and hedging on picks will need to be crisp to avoid letting Davis and Tisdale (who’s coming off a 24-point performance against Michigan) get free for open mid-range looks. Beyond McCamey, none of the Illini players are going to create offense on their own. The MSU defense has to be disciplined enough to try to force them into making moves they’re not comfortable making.
Defensively, Illinois does almost everything well: they create turnovers, force tough shots, and don’t foul a lot. But they’re a mediocre defensive rebounding team, allowing their opponents to pull down 33.1% of missed field goals. That should be a major advantage for MSU, given the way we’ve rebounded the ball in recent games. Tisdale is a pretty good offensive rebounder, but he doesn’t rebound nearly as well on defense, forcing Mike Davis (7.5 rebounds/game) to do most of the work. Expect Goran Suton or Delvon Roe, whichever player Bruce Weber assigns Tisdale to guard, to attack the glass very effecitvely on offense.
The match-up between Raymar Morgan and McCamey will be an interesting one. Both would seem to have an advantage over the other on offense (Morgan’s height, McCamey’s quickness).
I expect this game to be a dogfight. The Illini are disciplined and scrappy–and now they’re efficient offensively to boot. Our Spartans will need to play with intensity and cohesiveness on both ends of the court for 40 minutes to earn their second conference home win.
Kenpom predicts a 67-65 MSU win in a 65-possession game. The winner of this game becomes the de facto leader in the conference title race through five games.
Coffee Talk: In honor of Morris Peterson’s jersey retirement on Saturday (be sure to get to Breslin by 3:40), let’s hear people’s MoPete memories. My top three plays, off the top of my head:
3. A monstrous dunk on the fast break over 7’0″ Ohio State center Ken Johnson. Johnson was in danger of having his wrist broken on the rim.
2. The 3-pointer with a hand in his face (blocking his view of the basket, as far as I could tell from my seat directly behind the shot) to beat Indiana at home in 2000.
1. The alley-oop that turned the tide against Iowa State in the 2000 NCAA regional final. (Of course.)