Pruitt’s play key for team success

By Jeremy Werner

Coming into this season, the Illini basketball team had plenty of questions: How would Brian Randle come back physically and mentally from a rash of injuries? How could the Illini overcome the lack of an outside shooting threat? And how quickly could the Illini newcomers make an impact? But the one certainty for the Illini entering the year seemed to be Shaun Pruitt.

Six games in, Pruitt does not seem to be the rock the Illini need.

SP struggled again Wednesday night at Maryland, scoring 10 points on a paltry 4-of-16 shooting as the Illini fell to the Terrapins 69-61.

Coming into the Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup versus the Terrapins, Pruitt had converted on 22-of-47 field goals for a shooting percentage of 46.8 percent, down from last year’s 54.9 percent rate.

The Illini simply need Pruitt to be more effective. Pruitt is definitely one of the best post players in the Big Ten and is deserving of his preseason All-Big Ten recognition, but his play so far this year is as frustrating as it is baffling.

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Pruitt has shown the footwork and post moves to position himself for success, but he has struggled to finish around the basket. Pruitt still seems to favor his left hand. Defenders have started to recognize this and it has forced poor shot attempts.

Also, opponents are double-teaming and sometimes triple-teaming Pruitt. Normally this would open up the offense for the rest of the Illini, but the Illinois guards have continued to struggle from the field, converting on 9-of-29 three-point field goal attempts against the Terrapins.

Although Illinois threw up as many three-point attempts against Maryland as the 2004-05 version of the Orange and Blue normally would, the team still ran the offense through the usually reliable Pruitt all the way to the end. But Pruitt could not deliver, including missing a contested dunk with less than a minute left in the game.

Pruitt seemed to be getting frustrated from the extra attention and contact he has received on offense, which is a bad sign for the Illini. He seems to be losing confidence in his shot, which is the last thing a sloppy Illini offense needs.

Calvin Brock has played inspired and again made a big impact for the Illini, leading Illinois with 13 points. But relying on “Chitown’s Finest” as the top offensive threat does not spell success for Illinois.

Also, Brian Randle, hampered by a bruised nerve in his leg, seemed to slip back to his timid nature on offense that Illini fans saw a lot of last year, creating an even bigger need for Pruitt to step up his game.

With the concoction of players on the Illini roster, Illinois will never be an elite offensive team.

But even with a defense that makes opponents’ offenses look as sloppy as their own, Illinois needs to find a way to score more than 65 points consistently.

Although Randle still needs to be more aggressive and stay out of foul trouble, Shaun Pruitt is the key to offensive success. The Illini will continue to struggle against quality opponents like Maryland if their once-perceived rock converts on only 25 percent of his field goal attempts.

If Pruitt’s struggles continue, the Illini’s season could begin to crack and crumble a lot faster than anyone thought.

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