Categories
Illini Basketball

HexFinity

The last time Illinois visited College Park was also the last game before The Ayo Era truly began. Like a lot of games against Maryland, it ended stupidly.

You’ve tried to forget Anthony Cowan’s 35-footer, and in part, you’ve been successful: You still remember it, but you think it won the game.

It didn’t. It tied the game.

Then things got stupider.

Illinois had this game in its pocket, until it didn’t.

The Illini had a chance to win in regulation. Or just kill the clock.

Instead, Cowan & Sticks Smith tackled Andres Feliz, stole his ball, and ran to the other end. One free-throw and one intentional miss later, Maryland had capped off yet another improbable defeat of Illinois.

Illinois led 57-48 with 4:12 remaining. Closing a game on a 1-11 run was the only way they could manage to lose, so that’s what they did.

It was arguably even stupider than the statistically impossible Terrapin comeback in Brad Underwood’s first year, when Da’Monte Williams had not yet become the unshakablest Illini.

After the December Debacle, Quam Dosunmu (the elder) was possessed by frustration. He hadn’t steered his son to the Illinois program to watch Andres Feliz get ripped in crunch time. His family hadn’t traveled to Washington to witness ignominious defeat.

Quam’s rant went on for quite some time, and I probably wasn’t the only one who listened to it. I was however, the only one present while he was ranting to me.

I never asked Quam’s permission to share his words, and I didn’t record them, or even make notes afterward. But none of that matters. Once The Legend of Ayo became a matter of record, the Dosunmu family no longer needed to campaign.

It wasn’t unreasonable to put the ball in Andre Feliz’s hands. After all, he’d closed the first half of that same game effectively.

But obviously, Illinois needed to ensure, from that point on, that Ayo Dosunmu had the ball when the game was on the line.

The rest is history.

Brad Underwood remembers the violence and the non-call, but he doesn’t remember the Xfinity Center as the place where he realized that, going forward, Illinois basketball would look to Ayo Dosunmu to close the door.

Or at least he’s not saying it.

Presumably, Quam shared his thoughts with Brad, too. The Dosunmus had an access that most families don’t enjoy. Was that part of the deal? Your guess is as good as mine.

Underwood probably wouldn’t like to develop a reputation for heeding the demands of disgruntled parents, because all parents are disgruntled at some point, and many carry a low intensity grudge throughout their son’s eligibility.

All we know is that after the game at Maryland, Things Changed.

Underwood is not the kind of guy who’s put off by a grudge, of course. He thrives on them. You noticed, as the team prepared for its first B1G road trip of this season, that winless at Carver-Hawkeye was made known to everyone. It’s a chip that Underwood carries. He carries that chip for the Xfinity Center, too.

Because Maryland is bad this year, Illinois has a good chance to get Brad his first College Park roadkill. And the truth is, this is a must win for the Illini. They can’t expect to compete for a B1G title if they lose to the last place teams.

Maryland is 1-6 in conference, and 9-9 overall. Their coach quit before the angry mob arrived. Interim coach Danny Manning has already been drummed out of P5 basketball. After getting Tulsa to the dance in his second year, he went 78–111 at Wake Forest.

But he’s 1-and-1 versus Underwood. And Brad knows that, too.

Categories
Illini basketball

Edeyfication

Yesterday’s thesis — that only Illinois could beat Illinois in a match-up with Purdue — did not account for the Carstensen-Boroski-Dorsey triumvirate.

They weren’t the only reason Illinois lost, but a series of bizarre calls and non-calls probably made the difference in a game that was tied at the end, twice

Bo Boroski, Brian Dorsey & DJ Carstensen

Illini Report has no personal enmity for any of these individuals. Boroski is a friendly guy. Carstensen is earnest & nerdy. Dorsey did a good job of ignoring a tirade from Nagash Cockburn.

But officiating really did hurt Illinois and help Purdue yesterday. Even Matt Painter said as much.

A sellout SFC crowd noticed, too. Every time these refs botched a call, the clever SFC production team posted a slow-motion replay on the hall’s giant video screens. Illini fans howled in outrage, their frustration growing louder with each successive injustice.

Maybe the worst calls were non-contact “fouls” that went against Illinois. But Kofi Cockburn might argue that Carstensen’s lenience toward Zach Edey’s elbows was the major problem. Cockburn repeatedly gestured to Carstensen that he’d been hooked. Carstensen offered no response or acknowledgment.

Kofi tried to get DJ’s attention.

The Illini defensive strategy mirrored its recent experience, in which Big Ten teams opted against double-teaming Kofi. The Illinois coaching staff obviously thought Kofi could guard Edey by himself. Or perhaps the staff was (reasonably) terrified by all the 40% marksmen waiting on the arc if & when the defense collapsed to help in the paint.

When Carstensen decided that Edey would have full use of his elbows, the plan crumbled. On to strategy #2: Deny Edey the ball.

That didn’t work either.

Edey scored against Cockburn at will. He scored behind Omar Payne. If Painter had allowed Edey to keep going, rather than substituting Trevion Williams at regular intervals, Edey would have converted 10 lay-ups by halftime. He made six in eleven minutes.

But the other half of the strategy was working. Purdue missed its first six attempts from the arc, and Sasha Stefanovic finished the half 0-2 on threes. Illinois had picked its poison, and the poison was killing them.

Illinois’s second half poison wasn’t as much of a choice as a necessity. They held Edey to three FGs in 13 minutes, but denying his opportunities allowed Stefanovic to go wild from the arc. Sasha drained 4-of-5 in those 20 minutes.

If Andre Curbelo hadn’t made a surprise comeback, Illinois would have lost by double-digits, in regulation.

Curbelo’s return now forces Brad Underwood to choose which starter won’t get as much tick as he’d been getting. Jacob Grandison sat for almost nine minutes in the first half against Purdue, and more than five of the second.

Da’Monte Williams played about 17:30 for each half, and every minute of overtime. Trent Frazier played even more, including all of both OTs.

Because Alfonso Plummer has been cold in B1G play, and because his defense is regarded as the worst among the starting perimeter players; he seems like the obvious choice to sit more. But he buried 6-of-12 against Purdue and remains Illinois’s second-leading scorer. Without him, Purdue wins in regulation.

Andre Curbelo started giving instructions as soon as he entered the game.

It’s always a good problem to have, or so the saying goes. But because Illinois is competing for a championship, this personnel question takes on an importance John Groce never had to contemplate, even when he repeated that a single addition changes the entire team.

Different line-ups might be capable of defeating the B1G’s top 10 teams. But the question now is whether Illinois can beat the Badgers on Groundhog’s Day, or arrive in West Lafayette, on February 10th, with a better plan of action.

Categories
Illini basketball

The Skeptic

Matt Painter stands alone among B1G coaches in a category that should be as important to you as it is to me: He explains basketball comprehensibly, comprehensively & eloquently.

John Beilein and Bo Ryan are gone. Paint is now in a league of his own in this capacity.

He’s also known for developing bigs. Even more so than Tom Izzo, whose reputation always begins & ends with the word “rebounding.”

During Illinois basketball’s 40 years in the desert (2007-2019), a lot of Purdue’s bigs ate our lunch. As did their guards. And wings.

Their cheerleaders ate our lunch. Even their pre-game hype video ate our lunch.

But you’ll have noticed that Things Changed when Brad Underwood established himself in Champaign. Purdue was 2x guaranteed losses for a while, there. That’s no longer the case.

2022 is a weird & disappointing year for the Boilermakers. Pre-season darlings, they’ve struggled to win the games they’ve won versus legit competition. Is North Carolina good this year? Is Villanova?

NC State is not, and nor is Butler. Florida State might get better.

These are the teams Purdue beat, sometimes in chinny chin chin fashion.

Somebody needs to fill the rankings, and Carolina and Villanova are media darlings. So they were ranked.

Fine.

More important is what Purdue’s done in conference, which includes a close game with Penn State, a last second home win over Iowa, and a home loss to Wisconsin.

And the Ron Harper moment.

The Robbie Hummel-JaJuan Johnson-E’Twaun Moore class bought Painter a credibility that his Keady Tree roots couldn’t give him at a time when Bruce Weber was killing Illini basketball and Steve Lavin was between jobs.

Painter’s divorce scandal and flirtation with other programs sent a ripple of doubt through the faithful. And then he rebirthed himself. He’s one of the few major college basketball coaches whose job is not in question.

But is his current team any good?

Offensively, they’re amazing, and their offensive prowess stems from the same pick-your-poison 1-2 punch that Illinois likes to employ.

First get the ball to Trevion Williams, then watch him dunk it

Trevion Williams

… or kick it to the wing, where Purdue converts forty-percent of its three-pointers as a team.

Brad Underwood calls them the best offense in the country.

It’s the other end that’s been a problem, and Underwood says the Boilers used the Christmas Break (December 18 to January 10) to shore up a defense that’s let them down in those too-close games.

With Jaden Ivey feeding Williams, and with Williams subsequently finding Ivey on the wing; you’d expect them to be pretty good on that side of the ball. And then there’s the sasquatch Zach Edey, who can be hard to get around at the other end.

But it’s the surrounding cast that should make the difference for the Boilers. Will Sasha Stefanovic finally have a good game against the Illini?

What about this Mason Gillis kid who’s connecting on 55% of his three-pointers? After redshirting as a freshman, he made almost no impact on last year’s game. He got a late start this season after serving a four game suspension for DWI in June. (He played against ‘Nova, not against UNC.)

Which of those guys will exploit Alfonso Plummer? Who will Da’Monte and Jake shut down? Or will Coleman Hawkins again check the beefy 6’6″ shooter?

Mason Gillis scored 2 points in last season’s only match-up between Illinois & Purdue

If Illinois brings its A-game, they’ll beat these guys.

Trent Frazier doesn’t want Ivey to give Fox viewers anything to talk about. Kofi Cockburn will want to show NBA scouts what he can do to a dynamic big man like Williams. And then there’s Omar, whose game seems designed specifically to shut Trevion down.

Kofi’s been great with finding open shooters on the wings, so the only problem of late is that Illinois can’t hit from the arc. If they’re 6-of-24 from deep today, Purdue will win.

Categories
Illini basketball

Inexperience

As Juwan Howard stood to leave the postgame press conference, a youthful visiting reporter turned to another youthful visiting reporter and began verbalizing, at full volume, his talking points.

This cub didn’t notice, a moment later, when Kofi Cockburn & Trent Frazier strode silently into the room, and sat down on the rasied platform. He didn’t hear Kent Brown call for questions. He didn’t hear a question coming from the aide of the room. He just kept talking.

You can hear it in the Room Audio version of the postgame video.

Inexperience.

This youngster knows that when Juwan Howard stands up and leaves the room, the press conference is over. That’s when everyone starts talking. He failed to foresee that procedures might differ outside of Crisler Arena.

A moment later, he finally noticed the snapping fingers and glanced to his left, where Brad Sturdy, Jeremy Werner, your humble servant and perhaps a few other more experienced reporters were dagger-eyeing him to STFU.

He STFUed.

DeVante Jones took Da’Monte’s ball

Inexperience bared its ass throughout Friday’s festivities. Michigan’s inexperienced freshmen played their 14th game, and they have a long way to go before acclimating to the realities of B1G basketball.

Caleb Houstan hasn’t competed against defenders of Illinois’ competence, and it showed. Moussa Diabate hasn’t defended 290 lbs. of pure muscle, and it showed.

When confronted with Omar Payne, Caleb Houstan forgot about Da’Monte Williams

DeVante’ Jones is playing his fifth season of college basketball, and it showed.

Jones’s defense against Trent Frazier was a joy to watch, and Trent not exploding in frustration was even more fun.

Kelly Pfeifer was forced to blow his whistle when Jones pushed Frazier over the line.

Less fun was watching Jones abuse Da’Monte Williams. Five years into his college career, Da’Monte should not be susceptible to pickpocketing, or wrestling. But Jones straight up took Da’Monte’s ball.

Yes, ‘Monte is a small forward playing point by necessity. It’s unreasonable to expect him to execute the PG role at the highest P5 level. But as long as Andre Curbelo is out, ‘Monte will handle the ball. His inexperience is morphing into a practiced understanding of the position. But it would be nice to get Belo back.

Experience doomed the Wolverines, eventually.

The Illini coaching staff was certainly aware that Moussa Diabate is a fouling machine. It’s common for a freshman big.

The triple-team was unsustainable.

Without Hunter Dickinson’s five fouls, without Brandon Johns’s five fouls, and with Jaron Faulds (a guy who’d averaged 5 minutes per game going into Friday night’s match-up against the nation’s most dominant interior beast) the remaining option in the paint, Michigan was in grave danger of going small by process of elimination.

Trent Frazier recognized that Diabate simply couldn’t afford to defend his drives. So Trent drove. And Diabate got out of the way.

By this point, the writing was on the wall for the Wolverines. Had Johns and Dicksinson been available, things might have been different.

And so Michigan dropped to 7-7 on the season. They’ll be good when Illinois visits Crisler on the last weekend in February. They’ll be better still by the Big Ten Tournament.

Eli Brooks popped the ball out of Kofi’s hands. That requires strength.

It was kind of stupid for voting media to anoint a youthful Michigan team in the pre-season, especially because its best defender was also new to Ann Arbor.

But a lot of those guys are recruiting analysts. They’re not wrong in thinking Houston and Diabate are going to be pretty fun, eventually.

The Wolverine faithful thinks Juwan Howard is over his head. But Juwan Howard knew he’d be outmatched by the likes of Tom Izzo, Greg Gard, Mark Turgeon and Fran McCaffery. That’s why he hired Phil Martelli, a guy with decades of head coaching experience.

Juwan isn’t an idiot, but he’s inexperienced. Having Martelli gives him a second set of eyes, and 24 years of institutional memory. They’ll be a pain in the ass in March.

Categories
COVID-19 Illini basketball

The Dodgers

As Kentucky’s 8th-seeded runners-up proved in 2014, a young team can lose a lot of games before hitting its stride. That’s the problem facing Illinois tonight: When will this talented, underperforming Michigan team click?

The Hunter Dickinson-Kofi Cockburn match-up is more media hype than reality. They like each other well enough, and as Coleman Hawkins said Thursday, Kofi’s better.

More intriguing for Illini fans who enjoy worrying : Caleb Houstan. The five-star recruit has started every game at the wing, but he’s shooting just 31% from the arc. In 32 minutes per game, he’s averaging 9.5 points and 4.5 rebounds. His 21-28 assist-to-turnover ratio isn’t terrible for a 6’8″ freshman. But it’s not great.

Another five-star, Francophone freshman Moussa Diabaté has started six games. Basically, journeyman Brandon Johns kept his seat warm while Diabaté got acclimated. Johns has returned to his role as spot filler. Diabaté’s minutes have gone up steadily.

MOO-suh DEE-yuh-BAH-tay

A 6’11” PF, he’s the Wolverines’ second-leading rebounder with 6.1/game in just under 21 minutes per contest.

His 25 personal fouls is the same as Houstan’s, and just 6 fewer than Dickinson’s, despite playing a total of 250 minutes to their 400. Look for him to be disqualified. Coleman Hawkins will try his damndest to make that happen.

Grad transfer DeVante’ Jones came over from Coastal Carolina to replace Mike Smith in the one year PG role. He leads the team in assists (50 total, 3.8/game) and personal fouls (36) in 27 minutes per game.

He’s also the most accurate shooter from three at 46%, but he’s attempted only 24 on the season. That’s fourth-place on the team, with the center Dickinson not far behind at 17. Houstan has 64 attempts. Super-senior Eli Brooks has launched 65.

Brooks is the last Wolverine of note. At 44 years old, he’s one of those guys who’s “shown flashes” throughout his career. Also a guy who’s earned the trust of two head coaches, because he understands what they want him to do defensively.

Brooks is hitting 37% of his three-pointers this season. It’ll be interesting to see which of Michigan’s guards gets Trent Frazier. Brooks is the more experienced, but disrupting Jones might cause worse outcomes for every Wolverine possession.

Another freshman, SG Kobe Bufkin was B1G Co-Freshman of the Week (with Nebraska’s Bryce McGowens) in mid-December, but pummeling Southern Utah doesn’t prove much. (Tevian Jones scored 4 points in 22 minutes, shot 0-4 from the arc and 2-8 overall. One rebound. Two turnovers.)

The 8 points Bufkin scored against Central Florida might seem more impressive, but Michigan got slaughtered (85-71), so it’s hard to praise anything about that performance.

Bufkin has played in 10 of 13 games, averaging 11 minutes. On the season, he’s made 4-of-14 shots from deep (28.6%). A whole lotta meh.

In short, it’s impossible to predict tonight’s outcome. You just never know when freshman phenoms will have that “breakthrough” game.

Also, we don’t know who’ll suit up, if anyone.

Categories
Illini Basketball

Omar – The Perfect Addition

When college basketball finally ends — giving way to Twitch, or similar things you’ve never heard of* — clever analysts and their publishers may finally have the opportunity to figure out what happened.

Why was college basketball so popular? So lucrative? Why did people invest so much of their time & emotions in college basketball?

To this point, we’re all kinda wondering.

Historians probably won’t question why Brad Underwood brought Omar Payne to Illinois. But that’s one of those subjective details that makes college basketball so fascinating.

Omar Payne was 4-for-4 from the line at Nebraska

Omar Payne might forever remain the least appreciated Illini recruit.

Lousy on offense (without Andre Curbelo to feed him dunkable lobs) and a defensive menace, he’s a liability to those who see value only on the former end of the court.

For a few months, social media geniuses have been asking each other why Illinois recruited Payne, whose 9:47 of tick at Nebraska bumped his average to 8.3 minutes per game. Is it his 1.9 points or his 1.9 rebounds?

The man who’s paid $3.5 million to make these decisions has maintained, throughout, that Omar Payne’s performance has been nearly flawless. Measured in the way Underwood’s staff grades defense, Omar is an A student.

That’s just in games. Omar’s major contributions have always been off the court (he’s a scholar, and a glue guy) and most significantly, in practice.

Omar is the pain-in-the-ass defensive presence that Kofi Cockburn needed. They’re great friends and mortal combatants. The former aspect is important, although not necessary. Omar would be making Kofi better if they hated each other. But it’s nicer when guys can be friends after they’ve had their showers and cooled off.

Omar isn’t the only reason Illinois beat Nebraska on Tuesday. Of course not. But the game was a great example of getting enough from the pieces you have. Guys fulfilled their roles.

Omar’s role expanded a bit when Kofi got his fourth foul. He added scoring to his rim protection and rebounding.

Jacob Grandison’s four assists and 12 points will disappear from public consciousness by the time you finish this sentence. Trent Frazier’s dominant offensive effort (mostly as a dribble-driver, not a spot-up shooter) will likely provoke more questions than satisfaction. Where has this been all these years?

But Trent’s performance was an excellent example of his discipline. He took what the defense gave him. He recognized the openings, and followed the path they presented to him.

They gave him his right hand. He used his right hand.
AND one

Omar said as much about Nebraska’s choice to hedge rather than ice. He knew what opportunities that strategy would open in the paint.

Although closer than you might have expected, the outcome at Nebraska was perfect for an Illini team that wants to learn. The fact that it won Omar some plaudits, finally, is gravy. The best thing that happened is that Illinois was challenged, and it overcame.

*because you’re not 18-24/male and therefore not a market worth exploiting

Categories
COVID-19 Illini basketball

Cakewalk Continued

The Illini men’s basketball team will likely face a good opponent during the 2022 B1G season. But not tonight.

Nebraska is winless in conference play, and 6-10 overall. Losses include the Western Illinois Leathernecks, a team that’s 1-3 in the Summit League so far this season. WIU beat Denver before losing to Omaha, St. Thomas and Oral Roberts in league play.

Lat Mayen and Illini Zach Griffith, who got the start on Senior Day

What, you ask, is St. Thomas?

Good question. Evidently it’s a basketball school in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and evidently it became a member of the Summit League after some less obscure basketball team departed for the greener pastures of MVC, or MAC or something. Probably.

Transitive property, that’s how bad Nebraska is.

But Lat Mayen is still in Lincoln. He led the Huskers in scoring during last years overtime “thriller” against Ayo (31 pts) and Kofi (21). Brad Underwood says Nebraska is even better at rim protection this year, so Illinois better find its shooting rhythm from the arc.

Injured guard/bulldog Trey McGowens was the Huskers’ top scorer in the return game, an 86-70 Illini win in Champaign. He scored 16 in that game, and 15 the first time around. Some regarded him as the Huskers best player last season. This year, it’s his kid brother, the first five-star recruit in program history. Bryce McGowens is a lanky scorer

Derrick Walker is also back, and still beefy in the middle. He was Nebraska’s other interior defender last year, but caused the Illini few problems. In the first game, he’d just returned from a major suspension. In the second game, he had foul trouble.

The remaining Husker of interest is Alonzo Verge, whose career has had a lot of ups and downs since the days when John Groce was recruiting him.

This should be a snoozer. Let’s hope you find it restful.

Categories
COVID-19 Illini basketball

Down Time

Brad Underwood walked into the locker room after watching a 14-point lead devolve into a 4-point deficit. He knew what he needed to say.

But Da’Monte Williams beat him to it: “Coach, we already talked about that. We’re good.”

Loose ball collector from Peoria

“When you don’t have to coach ’em — and they’re coaching themselves because they know — you’re in a good place.”

Let’s hope NIL money keeps Kofi Cockburn and Slim Jake in school next year. Because Trent and Da’Monte are gone, and without them, the future looks bleak from a defensive perspective, from a toughness perspective, and because there’s nothing more valuable than experience.

Get old and stay old only works if guys like Coleman Hawkins and RJ Melendez acquire oldness, and that means more than just practice. They must acclimate to the bright lights and the hostile crowds. But as long as this ’22 Illinois squad is in the running for a B1G championship, you can expect to see the same amount of tick for RJ (00:00) and Coleman (12:16) as they got against Maryland.

Illinois won because old, experienced guys decided they would win. They decided not to lose. They knew what to do to ensure the proper outcome.

It’s terrible for future purposes, but because nobody’s really sure whether the world will exist next week, that dire viewpoint is immaterial. This Illinois team is positioned to win a B1G championship, and possibly more. Yeah, Ayo’s gone. But so is Luka. So is Bo Ryan. So is John Beilein.

2022 is the best chance Illinois has had since 2005. Seriously. And you can love it because while Kofi and Plummer bring the glam, ‘Monte and Trent are bringing the dirt.

And with those roles assigned, nobody even notices Jake’s quiet 15 & 5.

Brad Underwood stopped Kofi & Trent in the landing, just outside the Media Room, after they’d answered our questions about the game. We could hear him saying something to Kofi about his reasons for keeping the National Player of the Year candidate on the bench for the majority of the first half.

Somehow, nobody asked exactly what was said in that moment. Underwood talked about his 2-foul philosophy, and added that he’d strayed from it. He talked about Maryland’s strategy versus Kofi, and how Minnesota had changed its entire defense to stymie Illini shooters while not even trying to contain the Jamaican Menace.

The truth about Thursday is that Maryland missed a lot of shots in the second half, even though they got a lot of open looks.

That’s not necessarily an indictment of Illinois strategy. Illinois sicced Da’Monte on Donta Scott, and Donta managed just 1-of-5 shots in the second half.

Sometimes it’s easier to identify the scoring threats, and contain them, rather than trying to defend an entire five-man unit.

Maryland’s scorers were known before tip-off, and while Eric Ayala and Hakim Hart got theirs, the Terps as a group were silenced for the last twelve minute of the game.

ROAD WARRIORS

As Underwood left the media room Thursday, he poked fun at the regulars for not attending Wednesday’s pre-game presser. It was jest.

Nico, Bret, Doug, your humble servant and the new H&R guy Anderson Kimball were the lone attendees. It’s a combination of COVID and cold. The airlines cancelled thousands of flights. Thousands of others were delayed.

Dos & Doz

Turns out, Richey’s return flight was cancelled, and he got a lift with Piper and Joey, whose lack of progress across the frozen north was chronicled on Twitter. Illini Report looked at the weather forecast, and more particularly at the flights situation, and pocketed the postponement vouchers from United and Southwest rather than rebooking after the Sunday game was pushed to Tuesday. (Hotels.com did not offer a cancellation or credit for two unspent nights at The Graduate-Dinkytown)

Tyler (Walkon) told us that Robert’s return on Amtrak was delayed 12 hours. That seems about right for Amtrak. Illini Report also enjoys the train, and expects it to never be on time.

If you like reading about Illini sports, these are the people who bring you the material. We try to show up. Sometimes, in the dead of winter, it’s a challenge. But it’s especially hard during a plague.

That being said …

TECH UPDATE

Illini Report has sussed the audio problem with livestreaming on YouTube. Maybe it will continue to work. It’s hard to tell.

Both audio and video were great during the Kofi/Trent portion of the Maryland postgame press conference. Then, for some reason, the video quality degraded after the players left.

So the Brad portion of the Maryland postgame looks bad. I assume it’s a bandwidth issue.

I further assume it became bad because photogs began transmitting enormous ZIP files to wire services, newspapers and websites. eating up available WiFi bandwidth.

Andre Curbelo said words to Eric Ayala during a time-out.

At SFC, photographers work in the sole Media Room. Many B1G and pro sports venues have a separate workroom for photographers. SFC won’t ever have such a room, because we’ve already had our renovation, and every bit of space already has a purpose. SFC already had its big WiFi upgrade, too. So the only remaining hope is that the Media Room gets hardwired for Ethernet at all the workstations that line the outer walls.

Point is, lots of time & thought (and wiring) have gone into the ongoing attempt to bring HQ HD A/V to you, in real time.

But here’s what I noticed the last couple of days: My friends at Illini Inquirer grabbed the DIA’s upload of the Maryland pre-game and postgame from Box.com (DIA’s choice of file sharing tech, some B1Gs use Google Drive instead) and those got more views than the videos created by conference attendees.

It’s certainly fair game. The Terrapins Zooms you’re seeing at Illini Report were gathered the same way, as were much of last year’s material.

Because Illini Inquirer is now the dominant force in local sports reporting, Jeremy Werner and Co. can get a thousand clicks for a video published six hours later than the same material published elsewhere.

Bully for them. Jeremy is the best reporter on the beat, and he’s done an amazing job in building his multi-media group from the days when Illinois Scout was a punching bag.

But if they can get more views for a press conference that none of them attended, it makes the rest of us wonder why we bother. That’s bad news for Rivals. Loyalty the new Illini Guys and the websites attached to all the remaining newspapers covering Illinois sports.

So while remembering that Jeremy (and Joey and Piper) are bringing you the most complete coverage, and are all very nice people to boot, click on the rest of us now and then, just to keep things interesting.

Categories
COVID-19 Illini basketball

Manning the Post

The Maryland game might not, when it’s all said & done, prove to be a Battle of the Bigs.

Maybe Eric Ayala will go off from three. Maybe every Illini perimeter player will do the same. But it feels like this game should be decided down low, and that Kofi Cockburn should be The Decider.

Maryland has a legendary Big at the helm. Maryland has an excellent Big at the 4 spot.

Qudus Wahab launches a baby hook versus Brown. (Maryland Athletics)

But the guys who’ll defend Kofi Cockburn are not Donta Scott. It would be a waste of fouls to put the Terps’ 6’8″ scorer on Illinois’s 7’0″ double-doubler.

Interim coach Danny Manning says 6’9″ freshman JuJu Reese will participate in the Kofi defense. And, you know, good luck to him.

Julian Reese (Maryland Athletics)

If he’s successful, that means Manning wasn’t just coachspeaking about all his players getting better. (Manning also addressed coachspeaking in his pre-game availablity.)

Mostly, it’ll be Georgetown transfer Qudus Wahab defending the #B1G’s pre-season POTY. That Wahab left Patrick Ewing to play for Danny Manning says something about Wahab’s personality: Manning is nicer than Ewing. Wahab has probably never heard of Leo Durocher.

If the Terrapins weren’t arguably awful, the talking point wouldn’t be Mark Turgeon’s negotiated departure. Democrats of Prince George’s & Anne Arundel Counties might not even care that Darryl Morsell chose to live in Em-Efffing Wisconsin rather than continue to toil on their behalf.

The talking point would be balanced scoring.

It’s hard to defend when all five guys can burn you. Maryland’s starters average double-figures. 6’8″ wing Hakim Hart barely makes the cut-off with 9.5/game, but he’s the Turtle to Fear.

A disruptive defender with a 2:1 ATO, he’s also a 52% shooter. His only problem in Champaign will be Da’Monte Williams, until it’s Jacob Grandison.

It’s an eight-man rotation, and six of them are there to put a ball through a hoop. Only Xavier Green and Ian Martinez play for primarily defensive purposes.

Grad-transfer Green made plain that he doesn’t expect anyone to guard Kofi one-on-one, and that’s the correct response. Kofi becomes vulnerable when Smalls join Bigs in defending him. Adding active hands, especially below the waist, causes problems for Kofi.

Kofi’s spin move (from elbow to block) at The Barn was intriguing to watch because it was sui generis.

It didn’t work.

Kofi has not reached that rare level of sophistication where the big man sees the short corner while his back is turned. Ideally, he’ll return for Year 4 to figure that out. On Tuesday, he got his pocket picked.

That’s the video clip that Xavier Green is visualizing when he talks about helping against Kofi.

Illini fans can satisfy their worrying habit by contemplating how these 8-and-5 Terps got to 8-and-5: They lost by only five points at Iowa, and Iowa is pretty good-ish, yes?

Maryland lost to George Mason by only five points, and George Mason almost beat James Madison in its subsequent contest!

Maryland lost to Louisville, lost to Virginia Tech, lost to Northwestern. Then they beat #20 Florida. Double you, tee eff?

Maryland beat Hofstra by 2, and HOFSTRA BEAT ARKANSAS!

They seem small, but that doesn’t mean they lost.

Yes, the all-caps is necessary because Illinois couldn’t even get to the Arkansas game in Kansas City.

Sure, a lot has changed since then. Coleman Hawkins has a new role. Andre Curbelo decided to get well instead of faking it. Alfonso Plummer bloomed.

Until Illinois can beat Maryland consistently, you’ll need to regard this as a trap game. The Illini should win, but Maryland has shown flashes kinda thing. Terps assistant coach Matt Brady has the Illini scout, and he’s one of those intellectual analysts that can rape a team of all its advantages just by explaining details. Loyola did it, so can they.

But because Darryl Morsell left for pastures, you’ll want to know whether Fatts Russell (whose name is actually “Daron”) can tandem with Eric Ayala to impose the kind of defensive pervasiveness that stops otherwise capable shooters, dribblers, passers & penetrators from enjoying Mr. Naismith’s winter exercise.

There’s no reason to believe he can. There’s less reason to believe that Maryland will win on Thursday. If they do, you can make spring break plans.

Brad Underwood already lost to a terrible Danny Manning team in his Illini career. If you think he’s forgotten about that, thanks for checking out IlliniReport dot info. I’ll assume this is your first time here.

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COVID-19 Illini basketball

Paper Tigers

Illinois proved one thing last night in Minneapolis: You shouldn’t trust anyone’s opinion about college basketball until mid-February at the earliest.

Jacob Grandison guards Eylijah Stephens (GopherSports)

Everyone said Minnesota would suck. Okay, they were right about that. There’s zero reason to analyze Tuesday’s cakewalk.

But everyone said Michigan State would be pretty lousy, too. Okay, they’re probably right about that, as well. It depends on whether Max Christie proves to be the kind of dynamo who can carry an entire team.

Everyone said Michigan would be awesome, and I still can’t figure out why they said that. Especially because “everyone” is a smallish group of wonky sportswriters. I stood among them at B1G Media Days, as we all tried to provoke Hunter Dickinson to say something scurrilous, for cheap thrills. The other player-made-available was Eli Brooks, which should have told you something.

Eli Brooks is fine. But he’s a role player. (pic – Kelsea Ansfield)

The 2022 B1G championship seemed likely to be determined by COVID policy rather than on-court competition. That changed last week, when governance entities both federal & sportsy recognized that vaccines work, that COVID is endemic, and that reality-based people can continue intermingling whether or not they have active coronaviruses living in their nasal passageways.

Just like 2019.

Now that 2019 is back, and a fully vaccinated Illini team has just added 10x natural immunities, the path to a B1G championship looks so easy that you hate & curse yourself for even thinking that it looks easy.

It’s possible that Kur Kuath and Darryl Morsell will be the best defensive duo the Illini face this season.

In truth, this B1G is a lousy B1G. It makes one admire Greg Gard and the entire Wisconsin juggernaut, which seems to have survived (again) rumors of its demise. Johnny Davis and a guy named Chucky Hepburn didn’t attend B1G Media Days, which certainly confused those wonky writers, who were easily fooled into thinking that Brad Davison was the only remaining Badger.

Brad Davison is the last Badger you’ve heard of. You’ll soon hear about the new ones.

This Badger reload should remind everyone that our national recruiting hype-machine depends on networks of communication, and that college coaches will not necessarily tell the Rivals & 247 dudes that they’ve found an unmentioned gem.

247Sports ranked Davis the 28th best Shooting Guard in his class. It will be interesting to see if the NBA draft rates him at a lower number.

Hepburn got a #19 at Point Guard, good for 125th overall in his class. You can imagine that if a guy survives high school while named Chucky Hepburn, he ain’t gonna give two shits about your so-called “stars.”

This picture is not relevant to today’s story. But it was right there, on GopherSports.com.

Wisconsin’s win at Purdue doesn’t necessarily tell us that the Badgers are a contender. It does tell us that Purdue is not a contender.

That’s likely to be the most interesting story of the ’22 B1G: What happened to Matt Painter?

Trevion Williams has a lot to think about.

Trevion Williams can be purty good at executing offensively, and he’s a coachable player playing for a coach who’s developed a reputation for producing Bigs. The Hype Machine loves Jaden Ivey. Purdue has a reputation as “a program” that instills values and instincts.

So why does it suck so much?

You won’t get an answer. Nobody cares. Outside of Kentland & Waynesboro, Purdue’s failure is a blip on the screen. The Boilermakers are historically the best program in the B1G, but only for conference purposes. Nobody on the national stage is interested in Purdue’s history.

Alan Griffin is gone. But Purdue hasn’t recovered.

Because Illinois won at Iowa in early December, and beat Rutgers handily at home, it’s hard to think of a B1G opponent who poses a threat to the Illini in their quest for a conference championship.

But Izzo is still there. And Wisconsin has somehow remained Wisconsin, a full six years after Bo Ryan stepped aside.

Mark Turgeon is not still there, and that’s the immediate concern. But the remainder of this season should be fun.