Home > Illinois basketball > Demetri McCamey’s slump affecting other Illini

Demetri McCamey’s slump affecting other Illini

Everyone is offering a band-aid for the Illinois basketball team’s open wound.

“Bench a senior,” we’ve heard from one contingent of fans.

Or go a step further with, “Complete youth movement!”

“Play a zone defense,” “full-court press,” or “Go with a small lineup,” are some other suggestions.

Such is life on the bubble following a stretch of five losses – including road losses to three teams with a conference record below-.500 – in seven games.

Sophomore guard D.J. Richardson offered a simpler fix for the Illini (15-8, 5-5 Big Ten) heading into Thursday’s road tilt with Minnesota (16-7, 5-6).

“If we can switch Demetri’s switch then I think we’ll be good as a team,” sophomore guard D.J. Richardson said. “… I think that’s our main switch. If we can get Demetri to go, then the whole team will go.”

McCamey was headed toward a certain All-Big Ten first team selection and possible All-American consideration after leading the Illini to a 13-3 start. And while he’s still a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation’s top point guard – though his candidacy is debated because Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor was inexplicably left off the list – the ever-consistent Illini senior has hit a wall.

Illini coach Bruce Weber, who has constantly battled to keep McCamey motivated during the last three-and-a-half seasons, said the Bellwood native hasn’t had the same intensity that helped quickly catapulted his draft stock during the final six months of 2010.

“This is our team as a whole over the last two years: when we have success, we have a tendency to get casual … and Demetri is one of those people,” Weber said. “He had a great run, and everybody was talking about him and he got a little complacent. Now, he’s trying to turn it back on, but he let some things slip a little bit.”

During his unprecedented seven-game slump, McCamey shot 32.8 percent from the field and scored in single digits in three straight games for the first time since early in his sophomore season.

The Illini are 13-0 when McCamey has seven or more assists. He’s only achieved or exceeded that mark once during the Illini’s recent 2-5 stretch, an 11-assist performance during a 71-62 win over Michigan State.

Of course, McCamey’s assist totals rely on his teammates ability to convert, and his team is shooting just 41.8 percent over the last seven games. But open looks have been tougher to come by in Weber’s motion offense because of McCamey’s hesitancy to attack defenses – he had one free-throw attempt during a three-game stretch against Ohio State, Indiana and Penn State.

Seldom seen recently is the pick-and-pop move that makes Mike Tisdale dangerous. As a result, Tisdale’s performance has floundered and his flaws – lack of strength in the post and slow feet on defense – have been more pronounced.

The 7-foot-1 center is shooting 43.6 percent over the last six games. He is attempting 2.3 less shots per game during that same stretch compared to the first 17 games.

“It makes it tough,” Tisdale said, “but everyone happens to have a slump. Me and Demetri are in one together. I think we’ll both pick it up. We know this is the last chance we have, so we’re going to go and do our best with what we got.”

Richardson’s shooting struggles (11 of 40 over his last seven games after shooting 47.5 during the first 16 games) also coincide with McCamey’s slump.

“We depend on him so much to score,” said forward Mike Davis, one of the few Illini to play well during McCamey’s slump. “We need him to make plays for us as well as himself. It’s hard on him too.”

The most glaring statistics during McCamey’s slump of course are the Illini’s five L’s over the last seven games.

Illinois rides McCamey, by far the most talented player of a mediocre senior class. With no juniors on the roster and underclassmen that are still playing like, well, underclassmen, the pressure to make the plays necessary to make the NCAA Tournament falls almost squarely on McCamey’s broad shoulders.

Maybe unfairly.

But for Illinois to avoid another sweaty, stressful Selection Sunday, McCamey must flip the switch and return his early-season, All-America form.

“Hopefully he’ll come out of it soon,” Davis said, “because we need him. He’s our best player.”

Jeremy Werner is co-host of the “Tay and J Show,” which airs on 93.5, 95.3 ConnectFM and on www.myconnectfm.com. Post your comments below or e-mail Jeremy at jeremy@myconnectfm.com.

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