No apology for Tisdale: Confidence needs work

By Ryan Dixon

I was midway through my apology letter to Mike Tisdale on Tuesday evening. After all, the big man dominated Kent State and Tulsa at the South Padre Invitational last week, and I was beginning to feel like my early season criticisms of the Illini’s starting center were too harsh.

Then the Illinois-Clemson game happened.

In 10 minutes on the floor, Tisdale didn’t attempt a single shot, collected zero points or rebounds and committed two turnovers – a stark contrast from his combined 32 points and 14 boards in the two games at South Padre Island, Texas.

Unfortunately for Illini fans, Tisdale digressed when undefeated Clemson rolled into Champaign. And if the Orange and Blue want to see the postseason, they’ll need their 7-foot-1 center to step it up for the big games.

Clemson’s Raymond Sykes (6-foot-9, 220 pounds) and Trevor Booker (6-foot-7, 240 pounds) owned the post Tuesday night. The two Tigers combined for 30 points. Clemson dropped 56 easy points in the paint (Illinois only had 26).

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    For most of the second half, Illinois had to work its tail off to generate scoring chances. Meanwhile, Clemson seemed to always answer with an easy bucket.

    The Clemson game showed fans that the Illini can do a bunch of things right and still lose a close ball game. Mike Davis poured it on offensively and Chester Frazier was relentless defensively. But Weber still needs Tisdale to kick it into another gear. Illinois could also stand not turning the ball over so much … but that’s a different column.

    I’d rather see Mike Tisdale foul out in the first half because he’s hustling up and down the court, diving after every loose ball and bodying up on opposing big men while fighting for a rebound. Instead, we’re still seeing a sophomore who isn’t sure of himself sometimes.

    A confident and tenacious Tisdale will be a more productive Tisdale. And I think he has it in him.

    But if Tisdale’s inconsistency persists throughout the season, expect to see what Weber did Tuesday night more often – increased play for Richard Semrau. No. 50 played 27 minutes against Clemson and snagged eight rebounds. Nothing stellar, but Semrau looks hungrier right now than Tisdale under the basket.

    Another possible solution to the Illini’s inconsistency in the post might be Dominique Keller. The 6-foot-7 forward was 4-of-4 from the field against Clemson, but Weber isn’t confident enough in his defensive skills yet.

    Worst case scenario … be skeptical. Assume minimal post production and a weak frontcourt defense heading into every Illini basketball game this season. That way, any stretches of consistent, confident play by Tisdale (like last week) will come as pleasant surprises.

    And maybe these pleasant surprises can transform into the norm.

    Meanwhile, expect the Illini to have to grind out most of their victories via their backcourt play. Hope that Demetri McCamey and Trent Meacham can be leaders for Illinois. Otherwise, keep praying that Mike Davis keeps up his torrid offensive stats – he’s been a scoring machine.

    I do plan on finishing my Tisdale apology letter, but only if I can get a consistent string of production.

    P.S. My prediction of the Big Ten’s first ACC/Big Ten Challenge victory would have held true if Illinois beat Clemson. So close. I hate the ACC.

    Ryan Dixon is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]