I guess my view differs from the mainstream reaction to Illinois’ 89-69 win over hapless Detroit Mercy. The typical fan, it seems, thought the Bigs played badly. The head coach thought so as well. (The players presser was more fun, with Brandon Paul joining the Illini media pool.)
I thought they were great.
Sure, Michael Finke had an off-night shooting, and Maverick Morgan didn’t grab a rebound. I’m okay with that.
Finke is a great shooter, and Morgan sets a lot of high ball screens. On Friday, he frequently defended counterpart Jaleel Hogan in the high-post.
Those two things kept him away from the basket.
When Maverick did find himself under the basket, the ball seemed to ricochet to the weak side, where Jalen Coleman-Lands or Tracy Abrams benefited from the long carom (combining for ten boards).
But what I’m really excited about was Mike Thorne’s 180° pivot in the pivot. Instead of flinging the ball haphazardly, as if he were over-matched by bigger, stronger defenders; Mike Thorne used the glass, and maneuvered his way toward the basket, employing actual big-man moves of the sort befitting an actual big man.
He made 5-of-5 shots. Four of them counted, and three of those (if I recall correctly) were banked off the glass.
The one that didn’t count should have counted. Mike was called for traveling on a jump-stop, one of basketball’s most confusing exceptions to a rule. (Here, let me Google that for you.)
Here it is in extremely slo-mo.
So maybe he got screwed. Either way, I’m thrilled that he used a single dribble and some footwork to get a better shot than the type he’s settled for recently.
John Groce wasn’t as happy about Bo dribbling. But in my opinion, there’s a difference between a big man dribbling in a crowd of quick-handed guards, and a big man using his body to protect the ball from a single defender. I don’t like the former situation, either.
In another of exciting display of Big Bo 2.0, Thorne drove the entire lane, from the arc to the bucket, for a lay up off the glass!
This is a complete departure from last game, and most of Thorne’s Illini tenure, when he’s eschewed the backboard in favor of low-percentage shots. As I wrote, with no small amount of expletives, Thorne’s shot selection is likely to cost Illinois a win (or more) in close games this year.
But if Mike Thorne 2.0 continues to show up, that analysis becomes null and void.
A few other observations, in picture form (and beginning with football recruiting):