Originally posted on The Sports Bank  |  Last updated 12/23/11

If you’re an Illini basketball fan, you’ve got to feel much better about this loss 78-74 to #9 12-0 Missouri Tigers team than you do about the last three wins.

I’ll repeat and explain because I know it’s a very odd sounding sentence. You’ve got to feel much better about this Illinois game tonight when they were down double digits to an undefeated, top ten team yet clawed their way back to take the lead, a few times than: needing Brandon Paul to bail them out in the final minutes at home to a mediocre St. Bonaventure team, failing to close out Coppin St. until late in the second half, and barely escaping by 4 points at home to a .500 Ivy League team (Cornell).

I guess we do their identity now: a team that plays up and down to its competition. Which means they’ll fit right in in this wide open Big Ten.

Interesting read from Dave Wischnowsky at CBS Sports Chicago

anyone who didn’t think that this Illini squad wouldn’t experience its ups and downs just wasn’t being rational. And, right now, the downs for those rookies – as well as for inexperienced reserves Crandall Head and Joe Bertrand – are definitely outnumbering the ups.

During the last four games, for example, the Illini bench has combined to make just 5 of 36 shots (that’s 13.9 percent for those scoring at home), providing scant production. Now, whether those youngsters break through this wintertime wall or get completely stopped by it as standout sophomore center Meyers Leonard did as a freshman last season remains to be seen.

Indeed entering this game, the Illini bench has been outscored 42-3 in the past two games. Syracuse they’re not (The ‘Cuse leads all of college basketball at 37 bench ppg, not referring to the child molestation allegations)

Joseph Bertrand came off the bench and had a career-high 19 points on 9-for-9 shooting for Illinois (11-2). His 28 minutes were a lot more than he’s used to playing. I’m guessing he’s going to get a lot more PT from now on. Brandon Paul added 19 points and nine rebounds, and Meyers Leonard had 14 points and 13 rebounds. If you followed the discussion of the game on Twitter, you noticed that a lot of people criticized Leonard for not playing to his height. He played too much of a perimeter game, didn’t bang down low enough. And I understand where they’re coming from, I saw a little too much of that tonight.

But on the other hand, he finished with a double double- again! And he did most of his scoring from the post. I think some of the criticism for Leonard, and with it Head Coach Bruce Weber for supposedly enabling this behavior, stems from Mike Tisdale residue. If you’re an Illini fan, you know how aggravating it was to watch Tisdale spend most of his college basketball career as a 7-foot-1 shooting guard. Leonard is not Tisdale- realize this! In fact the reason Leonard is considered a potential NBA lottery pick is because he’s not Mike Tisdale.

And then there’s Mizzou. The Tigers have won three straight in the series and they’re 12-0 for the first time since a 19-0 start in 1981-82. This was by far the biggest challenge Mizzou has faced this season, as the Illini were up with 2:01 to play. Granted “M-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-O-U-R-I who you know do it better?” (sorry about channeling my inner Nelly, this game was played in St. Louis hasn’t played that tough a schedule, but there are undefeated nonetheless. They slaughtered a really bad Notre Dame team, Villanova and a Cal squad ranked #20 at the time. But none of their previous opponents gave them a fight like the Illini.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site that generates millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports

A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio shows all across the world. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.

 

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