Monday, December 19, 2011

State Journal-Register (Springfield) Previews/Predicts Cornell at Illinois


CHAMPAIGN — There’s little time for the United Center hangover to wear off for No. 19 Illinois.

The Illini host Cornell tonight at Assembly Hall, then face No. 10 Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights game Thursday in St. Louis. So here are the hot topics heading into the week.

1.) Sophomore center Meyers Leonard showed marked improvement over the season’s first month, but coach Bruce Weber said talk of Leonard’s NBA future clouded his thinking.

While Leonard is projected as a mid-first rounder in NBA draft mock projections, Weber and his staff will meet with him over Christmas break about his level of performance and the future.

“We’ve talked a lot about it since last year,’’ Weber said Sunday. “It was the talk last year. That bothered him early last year. He just thought, ‘He’s a pro,’ so you’re going to be a pro. You have to work at it.

“I don’t think there’s a doubt the chatter has worked on his head. Instead of worrying about today and each possession and getting better, there are too many people. He doesn’t have the maturity to deal with some of that.’’

During the meeting, Weber said he will determine “here’s where you’re at, here’s where you need to go. What we need to do is see what his thoughts are and how we can control it.’’

Weber had the same meeting with Deron Williams and Dee Brown years ago, he said.
Leonard scored seven points on 3-of-8 shooting (he was just 1 of 6 from the free throw line) in the 64-48 loss to UNLV on Saturday.

2.) Against athletic guards who switched, fought over screens, overplayed the passing lanes and choked off the Illini sets, Illinois’ offense came to a screeching halt vs. UNLV.
The Illini shot 22.9 percent in the second half, attempted too many 3-pointers (making 7 of 25) and threw up eight airballs. With nine other shots blocked, that’s 17 attempts that never made it to the rim.

“We just stand too much,’’ said guard Sam Maniscalco. “After we run our initial action, we catch ourselves standing a lot, watching the ball. We’re not moving, keeping them on their toes.’’

The Illini guards, Weber said, aren’t cutting and “they don’t make the extra read. (UNLV) made us play basketball and react. Sam kept looking at me for calls. There were no calls. Once they took a play away or an action away, now you have to go make plays.

“We have to go play. We have to get better. Everybody does. There’s no doubt about it.’’

3.) If the confidence isn’t shaken in the locker room, it’s shattered among the ticket holders, even though the Illini are 10-1. The United Center crowd turned on them. The boo birds were loud with 2 minutes remaining, when the folks started heading for the exits.

In one afternoon, fan sentiment went from guarded optimism to concern over an NCAA tournament bid. Generally speaking, it’s never as good or as bad as it looks.

“The best thing is it’s a long season,’’ Weber said. “I don’t think anyone expected 10-0. We did, but the biggest thing was UNLV is a good team.’’

A victory over Missouri would boost morale, improve Illinois’ tournament resume and generate momentum, but the Illini will be underdogs in St. Louis.

“The thing about basketball is you don’t have to sit and dwell on the difficult loss or performance that didn’t live up to your expectations,’’ Weber said. “We have a quick turnaround. We have Cornell coming in Monday night.’’

John Supinie can be reached at 377-1977. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie.

***

No. 19 Illinois (10-1) vs. Cornell (4-4)

7 p.m. Monday
Assembly Hall, Champaign
(no TV, Illini Sports Network)

ILLINOIS (10-1) ppg rpg
F Tyler Griffey 6-8 Jr. 7.4 4.7
C Meyers Leonard 7-1 So. 12.8 7.1
G Brandon Paul 6-4 Jr. 10.3 3.9
G D.J. Richardson 6-3 Jr. 14.2 3.0
G Sam Maniscalco 6-0 Sr. 11.5 2.5

CORNELL (4-4) ppg rpg
F Josh Figini 6-9 Jr. 9.1 4.1
F Shonn Miller 6-7 Fr. 8.6 6.0
G Chris Wroblewski 6-0 Sr. 9.0 4.3
G Miles Asafo-Adjei 6-2 Jr. 3.8 1.3
G Drew Ferry 6-2 Sr. 14.6 2.5

Noteworthy: The Illini are 3-1 all-time against Cornell, losing the last meeting in Champaign in 1961. . . The game can be seen on the Internet at espn3.com. . . Cornell was picked to finish sixth in the eight-team Ivy League. . . Wroblewski, of Highland Park, was a second-team all-Ivy League pick last season and a former Ivy League rookie of the year. . .

Key for Illini: Move the ball and create some easy scoring opportunities.

Key for Big Red: Use your heads. You’re from the Ivy League, right?

Key quote: “It’s a chance to recover and get a little of confidence back at home. We have to play well. They’re definitely a team that’s not going to back down.’’ — Illinois coach Bruce Weber.

Prediction: Illinois 72, Cornell 55

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