FAMILIAR FOE - Kent State and Illinois had the chance to meet up during the 2008-09 season at the South Padre Island Invitational in Texas with Illinois escaping with a 69-63 overtime win. The game featured 10 ties and seven leading changes. The Flashes held a six point lead with 6:40 left on the clock. Illinois head coach Bruce Weber thinks that meeting last year will help his team as they prepare for Monday's second round NIT game.
"I think for our kids' sake, I think it's good we played them," he said. "We had to fight to win the game. It was a battle down to the end. I think a little bit of a fear factor for our guys, they remember that. They really took it to us. It was a very intense game. I think it will definitely help us that we've played them."
KSU bench boss Geno Ford also remembers the game but knows his team will really have to play a good game to stay with the Big Ten's Illini.
"Illinois is probably a little better this year," he said. "We have to be up to play, and it might not be good enough. They've got a great team. They're probably better in a lot of areas than we are, and we can be ready to play and that still might not be good enough. We need to be ready to play and execute at a high level to have a chance, and our kids understand that."
Kent State returns 36 points from last year's game (Singletary 15, Simpson 10) while Illinois returns 51 points (Mike Tisdale 20, Mike Davis 17, Demetri McCamey 9).
FORD ON ILLINOIS - "These guys are an execution team. They run a lot of motion offense. They’re a great screening and movement team and a great shooting team. So they just play a different style that lends itself…they’re very cerebral."
PLAY HARD, PLAY WELL - Kent State is excited to play on Monday night, there is no doubt about it. Three Golden Flashes are from Illinois and will be anxious to play in front of some friends and family. The game will be nationally televised on ESPNU. But Ford and his staff knows it will take more than excitement and energy to beat Illinois.
"I know that we’ll play hard, but it’s a two part problem when you play teams as good as Illinois," Ford said. "I’m watching them in the Big Ten tournament and thinking how well they’re playing and how much better they are now then they were earlier in the year, figuring they were an NCAA tournament team and then they end up being a one seed in the NIT. When you go into games like this it’s great that you want to play, that’s fine and dandy but now you better play really well. It’s not like just because we show up and feel like playing that all of a sudden Demetri McCamey, who almost had a triple double the other night, I don’t think he’s going to be too scared. So we’ve got to go over there and not only want to play, but we’ve got to execute."
MORE ON McCAMEY - Ford had more to say on Illinois' 6-3 junior guard from Bellwood, Illinois. "McCamey, he’s the calming force of their team. He does for them what Singletary does for us. He seems to be the one guy that…a lot of their guys put up numbers but in the possessions where something really needs to happen, McCamey wants the ball and McCamey usually delivers."
BEATING THE BIG BOYS - Kent State has not won a game against a program from the Big Ten since the 2001 NCAA tournament when they defeated Indiana. The Golden Flashes are 0-3 against the Big Ten since that time, losing to Indiana in the 2002 tournament, Ohio State in 2006 and Illinois last season. Kent State is 6-38 all time against the Big Ten.
“We haven’t beaten a Big Ten school in a decade," Ford said. "We hadn’t won a post-season game in eight years, so we kind of got that monkey off our back and now we’re trying to sell them on we haven’t been able to beat a Big Ten team in a decade. That’s a long time. So I think our kids are focused on the tournament probably much more so then they were a week ago when we’re having practices and there’s not even a bracket out, you don’t know who you’re playing or when and now you’ve won a game and you got Illinois and you know if you’re fortunate enough to somehow upset them then you’re heading to Dayton or Cincinnati."
EMBRACING THE NIT - If Kent State's win over Tulsa on Wednesday night was any indication, Ford and his staff have really done a great job of getting his players to embrace the opportunity to play in the NIT and extend their season.
"The thing that gets lost in the midst of the NIT is that you have to be realistic about where you are and what you're about," Ford said. "We have a good program, but we're not in position to take the NIT lightly. There are good teams in this field and if you don't show up ready to play, you will be embarrassed."
It's not everyday a program gets to go play in a post-season tournament at Illinois and get it televised nationally.
"We haven't had an at-large bid out of our league in 12 years," Ford said. "We think the NIT is a great opportunity for us to play some great teams. It's part of an experience for our kids. Big games, they mean a lot, and to play somebody with the history of Illinois – they were playing for a national title just a few of years ago – it's going to be a lot of fun and a great challenge."
SINGLETARY WITH MORE ASSISTS - Chris Singletary has had a great season and has really been a great story for Kent State University and its Athletic Department. Ford had even more kind words on Singletary during his teleconference on Friday afternoon.
"Two weeks ago, we had a home game and our arena in the front, it’s got stairs that lead up to it and for whatever reason someone did not use the ramp and Chris was carrying the wheelchair with the guy in it up the steps two hours before the game. That’s the type of kid Chris is. Chris has done things like that his entire four years here. Those are the types of things that always get back because we get letters to Laing or me, about Chris Singletary came over and spent time with these kids or Singletary did this or Chris Singletary did that and so we know that side of Chris and at the heart of it all Chris is really an unbelievably high character, great kid. Has he made a couple bad choices? Absolutely, but above and beyond all that, for every one thing he did that would be labeled as foolish, there would be twenty examples I could give you of things that he did that we’ve never had guys in our program do that were positive.
In the end he’s going to end up leaving here in the four years with a degree on time and being a first team all league player and he won a championship his senior year so you can’t really do any better than that on your way out the door."
The Chicago Tribune profiles Singletary today.
GAINES WINS ILLINOIS STATE CHAMPIONSHIP - Speaking of a Illinois native wing player that is about to suit up for the Blue and Gold, KSU recruit Eric Gaines led his Hillcrest team to an Illinois 3A State Championship on Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile Massillon Jackson and Mark Henniger are moving on and in the surprise of the night, Satch Sullinger's Columbus Northland team were upset in the Regional Final by Gahanna Lincoln.
NOTES - Jeffrey Jordan, son of NBA legend Michael Jordan, is a junior guard for Illinois. Jordan has appeared in 31 out of 34 games this season and is averaging 14 minutes per game. Jeffrey did not play in Monday's NIT win over Stony Brook while serving a suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Jordan is expected to return for Monday's game with KSU...It will be a double header at Assembly Hall in Illinois on Monday evening. The Illinois women's team will host Marquette in a WNIT game at 5:00 p.m. Eastern...It's spring break at the University of Illinois and they are expecting between 7,000 and 10,000 fans for Monday's game...Dave Carducci checks in today with some news and notes, including Kent State's Brandon Parks with some NFL try outs scheduled after the basketball season ends...Carducci also says expect Kent State to be in the gold uniforms on Monday. Should they win, their game on Wednesday against Cincinnati/Dayton would be on ESPN2.