Illini compete with partial lineup

Adam Babcock The Daily Illini Illinois forward Warren Carter, far right, drives to the basket during the game against Lewis University, Wedesday, November 1, 2006. Carter contributed 13 points and had four rebounds. Illinois beat Lewis 83-58.

By Erin Foley

Senior writer

With four games in seven days next week, it would be easy for the Illinois men’s basketball team to overlook its final exhibition contest against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville tonight at 7 p.m. at the Assembly Hall. But head coach Bruce Weber is cautioning the Illini against such a thing, especially because of SIU-E’s experience. The Cougar’s made it to the Division II Elite Eight last season and are ranked No. 3 in the division’s preseason poll.

“It you’re not focused from the get-go, anything can happen,” Weber said. “You have to expect a tough game.”

Combine the way head coach Marty Simmons directs his team, along with the style of basketball SIU-E plays, the Cougars have a chance to win, Weber said.

“They’re going to run pure motion, the five-man motion, and they’re going to flare you to death – just very solid, good basketball,” Weber said. “So we’re going to have to guard a big team.”

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For the second consecutive game, the Illini will be without junior forward Brian Randle, who is sitting out with a strained groin. Weber said he hopes to have Randle back “doing things” by Friday.

Making matters worse for the Illini is sophomore guard Chester Frazier’s bruised left quad muscle, which he injured during Saturday’s practice. During a routine ball screen, Frazier collided with one of his teammates and took a knee to his quad. Although Frazier practiced Monday and Weber said Tuesday he could potentially play, he also said it was more important for him to be healthy, rather than play against SIU-E.

Without Randle, Frazier and senior guard Rich McBride, who is serving a six-game suspension, Illinois continues to face a number of lineup issues.

“It’s horrible, it puts us in a bind,” Weber said. “Usually if you have four or five guards, that’s all you’re going to play anyway. In this case, with Rich’s situation and Brian, it shows you that you need bodies; it’s just a dilemma we’ve got to deal with now. Obviously, I want to win and play well but at the same time, I’ve got to worry about next week, that’s the most important thing.”

Weber, though, said he hopes this situation will afford more playing time for Calvin Brock and Trent Meacham.

“In the long run, I hope it helps us, if (we) can survive,” Weber said.

Meacham, who played 29 minutes in last Wednesday’s exhibition game against Lewis, said he is still “getting his feet wet, getting in the flow,” after sitting out last season. But he thinks some of the Illini, including himself, will have to step up because of the players they are missing.

“Guys that are healthy, guys that are able to play, you’ve got to step up,” Meacham said. It should help our team in the long run, just to get myself and some other guys some extra playing time and confidence out there.

Although Meacham said the Illini’s defensive ball pressure was good against Lewis, he said there are a number of things the Illini will need to improve on tonight.

“Offensively we’ve got to move the ball much better, cut better; just play smart,” Meacham said. “We rushed it a lot last week, we could get easy shots right away, but I think we’ve got to be a little more patient and move better.”

Preseason Poll

On Monday, the first editions of this year’s Coaches and AP polls were released. Illinois, who, in recent years was a mainstay in the Top 25, did not make the list. Both polls listed Florida, last year’s national champion, North Carolina and Kansas as the nation’s top three teams, in descending order. In the AP poll, Ohio State received a No. 7 ranking, while Wisconsin was rated No. 9. Illinois received 31 votes. Not being in the Top 25 poll was something Weber said he expected.

“We lost five guys to the NBA over the last two years; you really don’t have established guys,” Weber said. “I thought (we would be ranked) somewhere (between) 30 to 40, just hopefully on tradition and the few guys that we have back. But we’ll see, the big thing is where you finish up, that’s what really matters.”