Saturday, December 31, 2005

Two Games

Both the Illini and the Wildcats were in action last night in rare Friday night games. Both games were microcosms of the respective seasons these two have been having.

The Illini took on Tennessee-Martin at the Hall. After 5 minutes it was 17-0 and the game was already over -- hey, that's pretty much the story of every Illini football game this season, only in reverse.

That opening stretch featured three threes by Rich McBride, who finished up with 21 points on 7 treys.

The Illini pounded the hapless Skyhawks every way imaginable in the first half, taking a 47-15 lead(!) into the locker room.

This has been one of the m.o.'s of the Illini all season -- lure a marginal opponent into the Hall and cudgel them senseless. Of course the other m.o. has been to take on decent teams (North Carolina, Oregon, Georgetown, Xavier) in whatever environment (road, road neutral, home, home neutral, respectively) and pummel the hell out of them, too.

I'm not sure where Missouri fits into this -- a major conference team that plays like an OVC team. I'm not sure if Quin has decided what to do with his hair yet this season, but I am sure that his team SUCKS!

Anyway, all of this adds up to a 14-0 start heading into the Big Ten, with an average margin of victory of 20 points. I suppose that the question is, having not played a ranked opponent yet, can we really be sure of anything with this group?

Well, the one thing we can be sure of is that if Jamar Smith gets an open look he is incapable of missing.

The Cats have been another story.

Tested again last night by a solid mid-major, they gutted out a 71-63 win over Ohio in a game where they didn't lead in the second half until 2:32 was left.

The bad news is that they looked lost on offense again for the first 28 minutes of the game. The worse news is that they looked lost on defense for much of that stretch as well.

The good news is that they rallied at crunch time and gutted the Bobcats 26-9 over the last 12 minutes. The better news is that they were led by a resurgent Joe Crawford, who had 23 points and some serious crunch-time takes.

A small but vocal minority of mopes on the UK fan message boards certainly don't like it, but this is the type of December game that can help in the long run. I remain convinced (all evidence to the contrary) that this team will find some offensive flow eventually, and that a gut-check win like this will give them something to draw on when they run into a tight but meaningful game in March. I still see a lot of upside for this team, and JC is going to have to continue to be a big part of bringing that to fruition.

JC as savior. Has a ring to it.


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