The problem with all this -- aside from, y'know, its looking really, really stupid -- is that it creates an aesthetic connection between the mismatched-sleeve schools, so they all look as though they're playing for Team Nike instead of for themselves (just like all the teams that wear the wraparound rear bib, another Nike "innovation"). This not only waters down and cheapens the individual schools' visual identities but also perpetuates Nike's patently bogus notion that its own brand is more important than the teams' brands. Memo to Phil Knight: The swoosh draws its legitimacy from the teams that wear it, not the other way around.Now that I have that off my chest, it's about seven months too late, but the Illini finally beat North Carolina. This is really the first game I've seen this year, so here are my impressions of the 2005-2006 Illini:
- Sean Pruitt is a big dude. He really looks like he's bulked up since last season. Also, he gives them versatility by allowing them to move Augie to PF and Randle to small forward if they want to go big.
- Randle is indeed a freak. Terrific athletic ability, but he can also shoot. He hit two big threes in the second half, and if he can step out and stroke it, they can field a small lineup of Brown, Jamar Smith, McBride, and Randle, giving them four shooter on the floor. Damn, I wish we'd had him last season.
- Marcus Arnold didn't get a lot of time, but I think he looked pretty good in the first half. More front court depth. That's going to be very important at some point this season. Mark my words, at some point, a couple of Pruitt, Augie, and Randall will foul out, and Arnold will make a big shot to win a game.
- Once again, it looks like the guy that everyone is touting as the best player will be overshadowed. Last year it was Dee who was outplayed by Deron. This year it looks like Augie is going to rise above Dee's hype, which is fine by me. They need his rebounding and scoring inside, and so far he's providing it.
- McBride looks a lot more active this season, and he shot the ball pretty well tonight. I'm not really worried about him, but he needs to play a big role this season.
Still, it's weird not having the same level of intensity watching this team compared to last year. Even when we weren't #1 last year, every game was so important. I remember living and dying with every possession in the Wake Forest game last year knowing that a #1 ranking could be on the line, and that stayed around all season. We're ranked fairly high this year, but no one in their right mind believes the Illini can do anything close to what they did last season. I'm able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the game. That, of course, will all change once conference season begins.
In Westwood, I fortunately changed the channel and watched some of the Simpsons (the episode where Homer goes to space) instead of watching the last few minutes of the first half. Albany went on a 14 point run in that span to tighten the game at the end of the half, and UCLA never pulled away until a lucky possession ended in a Luc Richard Mbah-A Mute offensive rebound and basket that more or less sealed the game. Just another in a long line of lackluster non-conference performances by the Bruins against weak opponents.
The big news, of course, is that Jordan Farmar could miss up to six weeks with a stress fracture. Darren Collison will get big minutes in his absence, which ultimately will be a good thing. It can only help his development. But this will be a very different team at the end of the year, as Farmar, Josh Shipp, and Alfred Aboya return to full health.
Speaking of full health, I've been impressed, yet not surprised, with what Ced Bozeman has given the Bruins this season. Over the first three years, the guy couldn't shoot. That's a problem when you're the point guard, because teams don't have to defend you on the perimeter. Also, he couldn't shoot free throws, which means putting the ball in his hands at the end of the game was a questionable strategy. The only way to improve one's shooting is through volume. You just have to get in the gym and shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. If there's one thing you can do while recovering from a knee injury, it's shoot. It looks like he worked very hard on it over the course of his recovery. In addition to his excellent ballhandling and athletic ability, he's become an outside threat, and a solid performer at the line. This is a major addition to the Bruins' versatility, and by the end of the season, he may be the most valuable, if not necessarily the best, player on the team.
The bad news is that we'll have to wait until February to really see this team at full strength. The good news is that they could very well be at top form for March.