Weber unsure of Illini starters

By Jeremy Werner

Bruce Weber was looking closely. Sometimes he probably wanted to turn his eyes away from the turnover-laden, airball-filled exhibition victory against the Kentucky Wesleyan College Panthers, but couldn’t.

Weber has three given starters in Shaun Pruitt, Brian Randle and Chester Frazier. But two other players have to start with them, and Weber has to choose from a collection of athletes that really doesn’t leave opponents shaking in their sneakers.

But Tuesday night, Weber was looking for something, anything to help set his lineup for Sunday night’s regular season opener against Northeastern. Weber didn’t get much help from his players.

“I wish I had answers,” Weber said following the win. “It’s a difficult situation. I think we have a lot of players that give us different things, some different looks.”

Weber said he told Champaign natives Trent Meacham and Steve Holdren that the open guard position was theirs to lose. If I were a betting man, I’d put $10 on Meacham even though Holdren started the second half.

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Meacham was one of the only Illini players who looked poised and confident running Bruce Weber’s motion offense. Meacham led the Illini with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting, while Holdren scored three points on 1-of-4 shooting.

Granted, it was only an exhibition game, but it was against a school with eight NCAA Championships. OK, they are Division II championships, but, regardless, Meacham is the likely starter headed into Sunday.

Meacham knows how to effectively run the motion offense Weber has not seen run well since a certain trio of guards graced the floor of Assembly Hall in 2004-05. Meacham also showed his ability to attack the basket and shoot the outside jumper against the Panthers.

It remains to be seen whether Holdren can control the ball and run the point like Meacham can. Holdren also does not have the year of Big Ten experience Meacham has, bumping bodies with the beasts of the conference. Holdren is taller and matches up better with bigger guards on defense, but he is better suited coming off the bench for Meacham as a scoring lift.

There you go, Bruce; there’s one down for you. But wait, this last open frontcourt spot could be an even harder choice.

Junior Rodney Alexander started the second half for the Illini with Pruitt, Randle, Frazier and Holdren, so that could be telling. Teaming Alexander with Randle would give the Illini two gazelles running the floor. Randle has already said he enjoys playing alongside Alexander.

Alexander has a fairly nice shot. He connected on a three-pointer at the start of the second half that hit nothing but the back of the net. But Alexander still needs to prove that he will work consistently hard on the defensive end in order to keep a starting job on a Weber-coached team.

Freshman Mike Davis did not equal his impressive debut against Quincy on Tuesday. He did show he has the wherewithal to help guide him through the offense. He is just too inexperienced to start opposite a player like Indiana’s D.J. White.

An interesting option for Weber is to go to a three-guard starting lineup with Frazier, Meacham and Calvin Brock. Brock filled in nicely last year when Randle was hurt and could be a nice running mate with Randle. Brock played limited minutes against Kentucky Wesleyan but has the athleticism, long arms and hustle to be a defensive hound for the Illini. He also showed flashes of a nice mid-range jumper last year along the baseline. Starting Brock at the other forward spot would give the Illini an advantage in speed and athleticism but would also put the team at a disadvantage against bigger offenses.

Bruce, the decision is up to you. You have a few days of practice to think about it. But as for me, I’m going with Frazier, Meacham, Randle, Alexander and Pruitt.

But fans, allow Bruce and me to take our erasers out frequently this year to make a few changes.

Jeremy Werner is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected].