Categories
Illini basketball

What’s wrong with Illinois’ offense?

What happened to Kendrick Nunn? Who kidnapped Malcolm Hill and replaced him with a lifeless clone? Has Rayvonte Rice ruined team chemistry by returning to the court?

What happened at Wisconsin? And Iowa?

What happened to Illinois’ offense? Why, all of a sudden,  does it suck?

The Illini men have eclipsed 70 points three times in 2015. Over the last ten games, Illinois averaged 61 points scored. Over the last five games, that stat drops to 54.6 points.

At Wisconsin, the Illini followed my formula for success to great effect. Rice drew the defense to his himself, then kicked out to Austin Colbert for a wide-open three. Then Rice connected on a three of his own, and Malcolm hit a pair from the arc. The Rice three came in transition. Malcolm’s first three came from the top of the key, following an Illini offensive rebound. His second three connected when he ran a route along the baseline, and Wisconsin switched on defense. His new defender slipped and fell to the ground, giving Malcolm an open look.

All these opportunities came when Illinois moved the ball and themselves without hesitation or caution.  The Illini connected on zero threes from that point on. So that killed their chances of capitalizing on my plan. But they attempted only five threes in the second half, which suggests they weren’t trying to exploit Wisconsin’s tendencies. Illinois did not make extensive use the pick n’ pop. Nnanna Egwu attempted exactly zero shots from distance.

Against Iowa, play from the point featured more dribbling, and probably too much reading of defenses. The Hawkeyes were allowed to get set, so Illinois found fewer holes to exploit. But also, the drive-and-kick didn’t work. Rice had the same opportunity to assist Colbert on a wide-open three, but he didn’t look for Colbert.

Nunn drove to the hole and passed the ball directly into a crowd of Hawkeyes. Perhaps Nunn was expecting Nnanna Egwu to drop down from his high-ball screen, finding himself in the middle of the lane. Sometimes Nnanna does move toward the basket. Sometimes he doesn’t. But if Nnanna pops from his pick, there needs to be an open man in the corner, to provide the driver a kick-out option.

John Groce was known as the “offensive coordinator” at Ohio State.  At Illinois, his offensive schemes generate as much angst as they do joy. Last year the pain and stress derived from visions (first on TV, later in nightmares) of Rice and Tracy Abrams driving against threesomes of taller opponents, not kicking out, and not scoring.

Last year, Groce never said last year’s offense was bad.  At the opening of this season, he called last year’s team the worst offensive team he’s coached.  He told the local media on Media Day, and repeated it for national publications.

Groce claimed the offense would be much, much better this year.  Friday afternoon, in response to a question from AP’s David Mercer, Groce rejected the idea that this year’s offense isn’t better.

Groce is a numbers guy. The numbers support his claim.

Mercer is a reporter’s reporter. Former U of I trustee David Dorris once called Mercer the best (and in fact, the only good) journalist covering Illini sports.

Mercer knows Illinois isn’t scoring many points, isn’t shooting at high percentage, and isn’t winning enough games for NCAA Tournament consideration.

Groce knows that, going into tonight’s game against Northwestern, Illinois is scoring more (69.8/game thanks to a couple of century mark performances against an ever-weakening line-up of early season patsies) shooting better (41.8 to 38.1%) winning more (no eight game losing streak this year) and also committing fewer turnovers (9.9/game rather than 10.6) and assisting more field goals (12.3 now, 9.1 last year).

For some fans, these numbers hold meaning and value. Those fans don’t matter. They obsess about Illini basketball. Their fealty and subscription is assured.  If there were 17,000 of these people, selling tickets would not be a problem.

Whatever Groce thinks of the offense this year, he’ll tell us next October, presumably. Maybe he agrees with Mercer’s thesis, but doesn’t want to insult his team. On the other hand, he disparaged his team plenty after the Iowa game. Ahmad Starks, Nunn and Hill all got the the finger in his post-game remarks. Starks scored 19 points, but his 0/6 assist-to-turnover ratio prompted Groce to wax historical about winning versus losing, Midwestern style. Hill and Nunn simply didn’t execute, according to Groce.

Five years ago last month, my analysis of Illinois basketball adopted a particular theme:  How effectively does the coaching staff communicate its methods? How good are they at teaching?

Groce forbids media access to practices. His predecessor, Bruce Weber, allowed (extremely limited) access to practice — until the media began speculating about, and calling for, Weber’s firing.

John Groce’s contempt for the media will never help him win the PR game. But while Bruce Weber’s accessibility probably bought him a couple extra years, it certainly contributed to his downfall. Given that fact, it’s  hard to blame Groce for keeping a lid on his practices.

But that also makes it hard to be sure whether Groce’s instructions are clear, and whether his teams go into contests prepared for their opponents’ tendencies.

My analysis of the Weber administration was that Jerrance Howard provided the clearest, most concise scouting reports & walk-throughs. I found Weber’s language too riddled with the obscure mumbo-jumbo that featured prominently in his public comments. Further, Weber’s passive-aggressive style, and tendency to speak exclusively in the second person, made it (as a matter of syntax) hard to determine who was expected to do what to whom.

On Friday, Groce didn’t give away his playbook. But he did provide a concise response to my question about how his team failed to execute. This makes me think his instructions in practice are also fairly concise.

Groce is now coaching a single-elimination season. Barring a B1G Tournament championship — or a tourney win over the Badgers — the next loss effectively ends the season, excluding those extra practice sessions known formally as “The NIT.”

 

Categories
Illini basketball

It’s not the end of the world. That’s next week.

People don’t click links after losses. They don’t want to re-live the sorrow.

So I’ll just mention a couple of things you might not have known from watching the Michigan State game on TV. And if you learn something worthwhile, you can tell your friends. This article features no traumatic rehashing of what might have been.

Jaylon Tate played Sunday’s game with a 100°+ fever. It was higher Sunday morning, and higher still on Saturday. There was a contingency plan to have him hospitalized if the medical staff hadn’t been able to bring it down. So it’s surprising that he played at all, and astonishing that he played a full 19 minutes.

It’s not surprising that Jaylon missed all his shots from the floor, failed to assist a single bucket, and committed four fouls. But Illinois didn’t lose because of Jaylon. They lost for the simplest of basketball reasons: Ball not go in bucket.

Open this image in a new tab to see Malcolm Hill’s pained expression at missing yet another shot.

Illinois shot <29% from the floor.

It happens.

You move on. Ideally to a post-season tournament that begins with N but does not end with T.

BOOM!

I’d wager you’ve seen the last of the pre-game fireworks. They left a terrible amount of smoke in the arena, for the Indiana and Michigan games. The DIA recognized as much.

The DIA then consulted with the pyrotechnicians in charge, and changed the combination of explosives. So this time, the smoke went straight up to the catwalk.

But then, about five minutes into the game, it descended into the arena. By that point, I’d already congratulated Mike Thomas on the smoke fix. At halftime, I asked his wife Jeni to retract the compliment.

Hey, they tried.

1984

I spied Bruce Douglas, Doug Altenberger and Anthony Welch in attendance on Sunday. I assumed there must be some kind of reunion.

During Tuesday’s Hall of Fame nomination press conference, Lou Henson was asked about the Flyin’ Illini. That makes sense. They were his Final Four team at Illinois. (He had one at New Mexico State, as well.)

Lou chose to speak about his 1984 team, instead. He thought that team had a shot at a national championship. And of course, they did. They got jobbed at Kentucky, which forced the NCAA to change its entire tournament, eliminating home court advantage. (Illinois more recently prompted the video review policy in the tourney, after getting jobbed in Austin, TX.)

I recently discovered a full 1984 Illini game on YouTube. They beat Len Bias and Maryland in the Sweet Sixteen. Those were the days, yo.

I tried to find out about future NCAA plans for YouTube distribution.  Last week’s game at Wisconsin, for example, went up immediately, because it’s a CBS property. (CBS and NCAA are thick as thieves, as you know.)

Would other Illini games follow?

NCAA media specialist Cameron Schuh referred me to NCAA specialerist Nate Flannery, who asked me which game I was talking about, and whether I could share a link. Then he asked me for a link to the Wisconsin game I’d referenced. I haven’t heard from him since. So I suggest you EagleGet those games before something happens to them. (UPDATE: as of Monday noon, Flannery responds that the NCAA does not control the above linked YouTube channel. He did not yet respond to my query about future plans for distribution of full game videos.)

Welch said there was no reunion, just coincidence. He added that he came to see a great basketball game, noting that he’s a Michigan native (Grand Rapids).

Larry Smith and Kenny Battle sat together for a second consecutive game. Afterward, they visited with Byron Irvin, of the Irvin Family. Mac Irvin Fire coach Mike Irvin was also expected for the MSU game, but I didn’t actually see him.

IZZO AND WEBER

After dispatching his media responsibilities, Tom Izzo hung out in the #SFC tunnel, visiting with Paris Parham and a handful of non-coaching persons. Michigan State continues to offer the only open locker room in the Big Ten, and Izzo himself is accessible, and personable.

He was thankful (i.e. he said thanks) when I asked about his 2012-era support of Bruce Weber, and whether he’s stayed in touch with Weber during this most recent trying time (Kansas State is now 13-15 on the year).

NOISE NUISANCE

That super annoying whoop-whoop sound you heard as Illinois shot free-throws? Kinda like a cartoon parody of an American Indian war call? That was Gavin Schilling’s mom, Lisa.

I complained about it to my fellow cesspoolers while watching MSU @ Michigan on Tuesday. It was so annoying I had to mute the TV. When I heard it at #SFC, I realized it was coming from the MSU family section. From that point, I kept an eye on them. And despite the fact that I sit at the opposite end of the court, I recognized Lisa. I met her when Jay Price brought Gavin for an unofficial visit.

This visit may have been overlooked because it occurred on the same day Mike LaTulip verballed to Illinois. I broke that story, and it seemed to cause some amount of sensation. But the REALLY astounding thing about that day (and the article it produced) is that there are multiple pictures of Jalen Coleman-Lands sitting with Jerrance Howard, Gavin Schilling, Mike LaTulip, Mike Shaw, etc.

I had no idea.

I didn’t even ask for Jalen’s name that day, because he was obviously very young.  (I don’t pick on  recruits before junior year, unless they’re presented to me by the people who want to publicize them.*) So I have only now, by searching for that article, discovered that Price had him on campus as well. Bravo Jay Price.

Anyway, I remembered really liking Lisa. She was a strong woman, smart and determined. I told Jason Lener as much when I recommended that she be banned from the State Farm Center.

I didn’t find the sound nearly as annoying on Sunday, in person. I know where the visiting families sit at Crisler Arena, so I suspect Lisa was directly behind ESPN’s play-by-play and color team. Their microphones amplified the experience.

Still, it was pretty annoying.

I hope Lisa and I can remain friends, even though I recommended her banishment. I expect we can. After all, I’m great friends with Kathi LaTulip, whatever the Internet thinks.

*I’ll never forget the time Kevin Farrell Sr.  persuaded me to take a picture of his son. I had no idea who “Yogi” was. I’m pretty obtuse about these things, frankly.

Categories
Illini basketball

Kohl Center: Illinois’ Other Home Away From Home

Supposedly, Wisconsin’s Kohl Center is one of those Mecca-like centers of college basketball, where visiting teams simply don’t win.

That’s crap.

Illinois wins there a lot. And now that the program is back on track, it’s time to start winning at Kohl again.

The formula for beating Wisconsin, since Bo Ryan took over the program, has remained relatively simple. The fact that Bo Ryan is now regarded as an elite coach, and Wisconsin the top program in the B1G, tells you that beating Wisconsin is hard to do.

Does that dichotomy seem weird?

It shouldn’t. The basis for Ryan’s legend is his understanding of numbers. He recruits players who can replicate those numbers. It has to do with shooting percentages, especially among his bigs. It has to do with posting abilities, especially among his smalls. But it also has to do with a defense that prioritizes spacing and percentages over guarding opponents.

Bo Ryan’s defense may be good at defending the arc. It may be good at switching. I don’t subscribe to KenPom, and I’m probably not smart enough to understand the metrics.

I do know how Illinois beat Bo at Kohl in 2005, 2006 and 2010. Every time, it was jump-shooting that beat the Badgers.

2005

2005 may have been Bo’s best team. Unfortunately for the Badgers, Illinois was super that year. Even so, the Illini needed long-range magic to hold off the Badgers, both at Kohl and in Champaign.

At Kohl it was Jack Ingram. In Champaign it was Dee Brown.

Yes, Luther Head was the top scorer in both 2005 games. But it was the X-factor of Jack Ingram’s unscouted range that sealed a close win.  In Champaign, Dee connected on 4-of-6 from downtown Tolono.  Bo’s defense was great that afternoon, but Bo’s defense didn’t follow Dee off campus. They may have protected the arc, but Dee was shooting from NBA range. Bo just kinda shook his head, and threw his hands in the air. How, really, can you guard that?

2006

Rich McBride’s greatest Illini moment may have been a statistically middling game in which he played exceptional defense, and did the little things. Nobody remembers that game. From the fans’ persepctive, the 2006 game at Kohl was Rich McBride’s shining hour.

Illinois Continues Recent Mastery of Badgers was the headline from the Washington Post.

2010

The 2010 win was thoroughly unexpected, and a cake walk.

Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale ran a pick-n-pop to which Wisconsin never acclimated, because Bo Ryan’s defense can’t do something as simple as adjust to two dudes making short passes and hand-offs at the top of the key.

Tisdale finished 8-of-11 from the floor. McCamey was 3-of-4 from three, and 11-of-17 overall. Wisconsin picked its poison on every occasion. It killed them.

The Badgers just flexed in their stances, and waited, as Tisdale and McCamey dropped bombs. When a defender challenged McCamey, he dumped to Tisdale for a jump-shot. When the defender stayed home, McCamey busted a three. It was textbook easy. All those two Illini had to do was make their shots.

I didn’t use The Maginot Line as a title for another couple of years, but it would have been perfect for that win at Kohl. Bo never adjusted, and the faithful didn’t even seem to notice.  As McCamey’s threes, and Tisdale’s long twos rained down, they sat frozen as if they were as systemically locked as their coach.

That’s Bo’s way. He plays his system, and it usually works.

Before the three-point line, long range shooting was more of an art. Pete Maravich may be the most obvious example, historically, of a player who destroyed great defensive schemes simply by launching shots far beyond the outer periphery of a defense’s war zone. Eddie Johnson and Mark Smith shot long twos for Illinois. So did Anthony Welch. It’s always been a useful tool, and now you get an extra point for it.

2015

Illinois is not a great three-point shooting team, but they’re better than the Badgers. They’re better than their opponents combined. They won’t have Aaron Cosby sandbagging the numbers at Kohl.

Some pick-n-pop from Nnanna Egwu and Ahmad Starks would be fun to watch. Kendrick Nunn has become an excellent passer. He could play that game, too. The question mark is Rayvonte Rice. He was hitting over 48% from deep when he broke his hand. He air-balled his lone attempt on Thursday. Can he find the range?

Defensively, Sam Dekker is vulnerable to physical play. It wouldn’t take a lot of Leron Black to get in Dekker’s head.

But despite all his hype, Dekker is the weak link among Wisconsin’s starters.  Frank Kaminsky gets all the press, and he’s got numbers to justify that praise. But it’s Nigel Hayes that you’ve got to watch for.

I’ve never been as excited to learn about an opponent’s under-hyped star-to-be as I was about Hayes, when I first saw him in person. He’s an incarnation of fundamental basketball. he makes it look so simple: Evade your man, then shoot from 10-to-14 feet out, and the ball automatically goes in. Nigel Hayes is the embodiment of the mid-range game in America.

On the bright side for Illinois fans: Leron Black could probably get in his head as well.

Leron Black didn’t play much against Michigan. He shouldn’t play much versus Wisconsin. Rather, he should play as long as it takes him to earn five fouls.

If you can take Dekker and Hayes out of the game, mentally, the rest is a matter of Frank Kaminsky’s and Josh Gasser’s shooting. If they have a bad afternoon (and if Illini defense can help them have a bad afternoon) The Illini have a chance.

Wisconsin is not a monolith. They’ve had plenty of close games. Purdue came close at Kohl, on a night when the Badgers shot 3-of-14 from deep. The Boilers connected on 51% of their shots that night, but attempted an astonishingly low five attempts from the arc (they connected on two). Great shooting won the ACC-B1G game for Duke, at Kohl. But the Blue Devils took few shots from three. They hit 65% on FGs. It’s not easily replicated, unless you’re good at hitting 65% of your shots.

The Badgers overtime win at Michigan provides an excellent statistical representation of their season, it its outcomes. The Badgers were slightly under their average for FGs, 3FGs and FTs, and it nearly cost them.

A close victory over Georgetown at Thanksgiving also demonstrates that an opponents’ good shooting is the Badgers weakness.

That should seem an obvious statement on its face, right? Of course good shooting wins games.

But if a team can open the floor against the Badgers, it’s pretty easy to beat them. The one snag for Georgetown was not getting to the free-throw line, and not making enough when they did get there. The Hoyas were 9-of-13 on the night. Luther Head was 12-of-13 in the home game of 2005.

IN PRAISE OF LARRY SCIROTTO

The officiating crew of Chris Beaver, Terry Oglesby and Larry Scirotto did not get absolutely every call right on Thursday. There were a few over-the-back calls that should have been made, and some that shouldn’t.  They awarded Michigan the ball on a play when Nnanna Egwu distinctly did not touch it last.

But given the opportunity to make a game-changing call, Scirotto et al took a pass. Rayvonte Rice made a brilliant play, extremely smart, when he attempted a shot 91 feet from the basket with 3.4 seconds remaining. Ray campaigned for a ruling. So did John Groce. Frankly, it would have been the correct call, technically.

But unlike the mentally overmatched crew at Breslin, these guys understood the stakes.

THANK GOD/THE SPAGHETTI MONSTER FOR FANS

#25 Southern Methodist beat Houston on Friday, in front of one fan. The official attendance was a paltry 3K, but you can see from the photo gallery that only a single attendee watched that game. Illini fans seee some gray spots in our crowd, but for the most part, State Farm Center presents a solid wall of orange.

Categories
Illini basketball

Whew.

Illinois NCAA Tournament chances took a huge hit when Illinois’ NCAA Tournament aspirations remain alive today, after a gutty defensive war in which Our Side wore down Their Side by sheer numbers.

Ahmad Starks saved the day for the second consecutive game. In both instances, he provided the level head. He was the guy who’s seen it all, good and (mostly, at Oregon State) bad. Once again, Starks was the unflappable assassin, almost disinterested. He played as if he were already dead, and you couldn’t hurt him anymore.

If Michigan had more players, Michigan wins. Our roster is depleted, bad. Their roster is depleted worse.

Spike Albrecht and Zak Irvin were awesome on defense. John Beilein’s offense was splendid to see. It’s just a pleasure to watch his teams — whether they play five future pros or a band of Rudies.

Albrecht seemed like a Rudy during his coming out party in the 2013 National Championship Game. But he’s not a one trick pony. His defense stifled Illinois’ perimeter for 38 1/2 minutes.

Max Bielfeldt did Peoria proud in his final State Farm Center appearance. His 12 points and 7 rebounds nearly cost Illinois athletics a basketball season. Oh, the irony.

Michigan’s communications staff didn’t make either player available to media after the game, instead offering Andrew Dakich as team spokesman.* Wolverine SID Tom Wywrot couldn’t make the trip due to a sinus infection. His deputies may not have realized the significance of this game for Bielfeldt.

It’s possible that Spike simply didn’t want to talk. John Beilein said Albrecht took the loss hard, and personally.

I say bully for Spike Albrecht. He’s exactly the kind of guy you’d want on your team.

I thought most of the Michigan team played with exceptional poise, for much of the night. The lone exception may be Aubrey Dawkins. He was targeted & pilloried by the Orange Krush, and he wilted.  The adult beat writers from Michigan’s traveling media pool did not notice. Their student reporters could talk about nothing else. I guess it’s a generational thing.

It worked out for Illinois. If you’re into bad sportsmanship, celebrate.

Elsewhere in the student section, one dweeb kept shouting at Spike Albrecht even as Kendrick Nunn walked to the line to shoot crucial late game free-throws. And yes, just as Kendrick tensed to release the ball, that dweeb shouted “SPIKE!”

That was Kendrick’s lone charity miss of the night. It nearly cost Illinois the game.

Fortunately, the only thing Illinois had to do to win: never give up. They simply wore the Woverines out.

John Groce wouldn’t say it in his post-game presser, but the reason Illinois won is the same reason that U.S. Grant beat Robert E. Lee: In the end, there weren’t enough bodies on the rebel side.

That’s fine by me. Whatever it takes.

Losing to Michigan last night = N.I.T. The Illini resume simply isn’t that strong.

Winning, on the other hand, put them inarguably into the NCAA conversation.

Speaking of Dakiches, I had a funny moment with Leroy William Rice prior to the game, and Dan Dakich might want to know about it. Ray’s grandfather had some choice words for Dakich, who’d referred to Rayvonte as “stupid” and “idiot” according to the Rice entourage.

Leroy walks with a cane. He gripped that cane tightly as he spoke his venom. I couldn’t quite make out all the words, but the idea was that Dan Dakich will need new knees if he comes within Leroy’s range.

I don’t doubt it.

Leroy’s grandson beat Michigan’s ass in the final showdown. He wasn’t as gimpy as his wizened relative, but he was a lot gimpier than the Ray you’ve known.

The previous entry on these pages suggested that Ray might not be 100% Ray on his return. It also posited that Kendrick Nunn will cut you, without compunction. Both proved true against the Wolverines.

Ray was not in sync, offensively. Not even with himself.

But where he could make a difference, Ray made a difference. In the end, Ray won the game for Illinois. It was almost like a Harry Potter story. You knew what was coming.

Ray and Kendrick were badgers. They displayed the anti-social tenacity of the wolverine. They were Spartan warriors with hawk eyes. In a buckeyeshell, they looked like all-conference performers. Kendrick from halftime on, and Ray during the endgame.

As hard as Michigan played on defense, Kendrick and Ray fought for this game as well.

That goes for Nnanna Egwu, too.  Egwu didn’t score until overtime, but he was everywhere in overtime. It’s important to consider those two points jointly, together.

The point is that he never stopped trying. He never gave up.

Nnanna Egwu has been asked about his “April” quote a lot. It was probably based on a genuine Egwu quote, but has now devolved, in the cynical world of promotions & marketing, into a PR stunt. But the fact is that Egwu plays that way, all the time, regardless of promotions & marketing people.

 

*Andrew Dakich played only five minutes, all in the first half. I didn’t stick around to hear what he had to say. I don’t blame him for his dad, but I wouldn’t rely on his insight either.

Categories
Illini basketball

The Return of King Nunn

The game at Breslin felt like the first time Kendrick Nunn was truly back. His knee may have been physically 100% for weeks, or months.  But once healed, it took longer for his neurotransmitters to adapt to its fitness. You could call that a “mental” thing, or distinguish “mind” from “brain” if you want. It doesn’t matter.

The reason it took Kendrick longer to mentally recover his aggressive game is that the brain is so good at learning habits, and protecting the body from harm. When you discover a sensitive tooth on the left jaw, you’ll begin chewing on the right, without giving much thought to it.

I talked to Nick Anderson about Kendrick Nunn. I followed up by talking to Melvin Nunn about Kendrick Nunn. And Kendrick himself. That’s all below.

On this day, when Illini fans see the return of two injured players, I want to draw attention to the non-physical aspect of returning from an injury.

I read a lot of popular neuroscience. There’s Malcolm Gladwell, of course. Everyone knows him, right? Steven Johnson is a personal favorite. I totally recommend  Incognito by David Eagleman.  The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is another winner.

They’ll all tell you the hippocampus is great at rerouting neural signals, based on stored information. Kendrick’s hippocampus signaled that his knee was wonky, even when it was healed, because it had learned to be cautious about that knee.

John Groce kinda understood that point when, on Wednesday, he said that Kendrick had been 100% for a while now, except maybe for the confidence.

When Rayvonte Rice steps on the court against Michigan, it will be interesting to see whether he demonstrates any hesitancy in deference to his left hand. On Wednesday, Malcolm Hill said Ray has practiced just like the Ray of old. Malcolm detects no reluctance, on Ray’s part, to dice competitors.

That makes sense, because Ray plays without a conscience.  Or maybe it’s “Ray plays unconscious.” That’s the brain/mind thing again.

Ray will rip your intestines from your belly if you’re standing between him and the rim, but he’s soft-spoken and genteel if you’re not on a basketball court, impeding his progress.

I live in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.  After five to six years experience, I’ve learned to avoid underestimating Ray. Maybe he’ll be Ray against Michigan. But I wouldn’t hold it against him if it took a while for him to become Ray again.

I believe Kendrick has a similar mindset to Ray:  He will kill people with his bare hands. That’s how I see Kendrick Nunn. He will cut them up, and eat their remains.

So to my mind, it was odd that the word “confidence” came up re: Kendrick Nunn. But I think I understand it now.

In the December game at Miami, I talked to Nick Anderson about Kendrick. He talked about “confidence.” It was an open-ended conversation.  I wanted his general impression. I knew he would have something to say, because Nick played at Simeon with Kendrick’s dad Melvin, who is now a dean and assistant coach at Simeon. They’ve maintained a friendship for three decades.

Frankly, I was surprised to hear what Nick had to say.

CONVERSATION WITH NICK ANDERSON, DECEMBER 2, 2014

When did you first meet Kendrick Nunn?

Through his dad, when he was a little fella. I’ve known him for a while.

As far as his development, I watched him throughout high school at Simeon, and I think he’s come a long way. There’re still some things that need to be worked on.  He has a pretty jump-shot. I’d like to see him get to the basket a little more. Play with a little more confidence.

Sometimes he looks like he’s a little bit shaken/don’t know what to do at times.

Just play basketball. Let the game come to you. But I think his development has come a long way.

Were you watching him last year?

Yeah. I watched him last year. I seen the growth. It’s shown here.

But I want consistency to that jump-shot, that confidence. When you play with confidence, the game is much easier. Sometimes I think he doesn’t play with confidence.

You know, if you miss a shot, guys have a tendency to hang the head. Just play!

How about his defensive footwork?

He’s an excellent defender. He reminds me of a kid – from Chicago – who played for the Magic and a few other teams – DeAndre Liggins.

When it comes to defense, I think he’s a good defender, and you can make your living as a defender, too. But he also has offensive skills. If he can put both of those together, he can be a pretty good ball player.

Last question: We want some dirt about Melvin Nunn. Some stories that he doesn’t want known.

(Laughs) Well, you know you have to ask him about his nickname “Slope.”

I texted him about that and he said he might have to charge me for using that name. He said “It’s old school.”

(Laughs) But no, he’s a good guy. Always a funny kid on the (Simeon High) team. We just had a lot of fun being around him. Great teammate, great friend, you know?

What’s more special about it, you know, some twenty years later we still keep in touch.

You see Ben Wilson’s number (25) on his son’s back – how does that make you feel?

You know, it just shows that Ben Wilson is gone but he’s not forgotten. And I think, not only the players at Simeon – but Chicago players in general – we’re gonna carry his legacy on.

He will never be forgotten.

MELVIN NUNN ON KENDRICK NUNN, PART 2

I would never have guessed that Kendrick Nunn would be described as lacking confidence. To me, he looks like a street fighter. He plays with an aggression that’s tempered only by guile.

But Nick Anderson has forgotten more about basketball than I’ll ever know.

For a second opinion, I asked Nick’s old friend Melvin Nunn. You’ll recall that Melvin has experience at being Kendrick’s dad as well as his coach.

Tuesday night, I asked Slope um, Melvin, if he agreed with his old friend about his son’s game.

I think his confidence is there. He’s been pretty much consistent. He’s had maybe one or two bad shooting days, but you know, you’re going to get those.

But his confidence after his knee? You know, he always had the confidence. It’s just that he had to get back in the rhythm after the knee, and the other injuries he had.

He’s never lost the confidence. But now since he’s got in the starting line-up, getting more touches and getting more reps; now his confidence has grown. Because now he has confidence not only with the jump-shot but also with his drive.

Did it surprise you that Nick Anderson thought it was a matter of confidence?

Well, yeah … because Nick ain’t really seen him play a lot in the Illinois uniform. So I guess he saw him in that game (at Miami) — and I don’t remember if Kendrick started in that game or not (he did not) — but maybe he didn’t look like he was confident in a couple of possessions. Maybe that caught Nick’s eye.

But he (Kendrick) was just getting back in rhythm during that time. You know, that was early in the season so he was really just getting back in rhythm.

You saw the Michigan State game, right?

Yes, I saw the Michigan State game.

That was the first time that Kendrick really started driving it to the hoop all season. Would you agree with that?

Right.

Yeah, he was driving ’em because once you get a second game where the jump-shot is not going in; you’ve got to dig deep inside yourself and say ‘”let me start driving the basketball.” and then he was driving the basketball against players that was his size or a little bit smaller. So he took advantage of that. He used his natural strength to create space, and he did well with that during that time of the game.

Did you hear what Dan Dakich said about playing organized ball versus playing pick-up?

Yeah. Dan Dakich was giving Kendrick a lot of praise on the way he was playing.

I always said that about Kendrick anyway, that he don’t try to press what he’s trying to do. He don’t do too much to get what he wants. You know, if it’s there, it’s there. If it’s not, it’s not.

But the things he was doing — and Dakich was commenting on — is that Kendrick was being patient in what he wanted to do. He looked at the defense. He held his dribble. And then when he saw an opportunity he took it. It wasn’t like he was trying to bogart over four or five players: He took his time.

Do you have any updates on Kezo (Brown) and Zach (Norvell) for Illini fans watching the recruiting trail?

Well Kezo is young, so he has a lot of growth (to do) on how to play the game at a certain level. He pretty much hasn’t been in that situation as a freshman. You know he’s been playing varsity but he still hasn’t been in that position to see what kind of player he’s really going to be.

He’s got a lot of time. As he goes on and develops, he just gotta keep people out of his ear, and let the Simeon coaches coach him, and he’s going to be like the Kendrick Nunns, the Jabari Parkers, the Kendall Pollards, the Jaylon Tates — you know, all those guys who are still playing good basketball, that are still only 18 or 19 years old. But they’re playing like they’re juniors and seniors right now.

And with Zach, Zach is growing. He’s starting to understand how to play the game the same way all the time. You know at first, Zach got lazy. He didn’t play hard defense. But now as he’s growing, he plays hard all the time.

He wants to win. He plays hard. He’s a dog on the court. He doesn’t care who’s on the court, he’s going to give it 100% of the time. And that’s what we (Simeon coaches) like about Zach in his growth compared to what it was as a freshman and sophomore.

How’s his passing?

Zach can pass.

Zach can pass off the drive. He reverses the ball — he’s not a “ball stopper.” He can shoot the deep three. He’s a nice lefty. He just maybe needs to work a little on his defense. He’s not a bad defender. He just needs to be a consistent defender.

I notice that Kendrick and Malcolm have been kicking out more when they drive. They’ve been developing that capability, better.

You know what, those two guys know how to play basketball.

Neither one of them really takes bad shots. They play and take what the defense gives them. Malcolm is a smart basketball player. When he’s driving, he knows how to get those guys to make contact with him, when he’s got the ball.

I know those guys be scouting him. When he picks up his dribble, he throws a shot fake. But he gets it every time.

So when you’re out on the basketball court, and you’ve got to think about all that, it’s not going to work. Because basketball instinct is — when somebody throws a shot fake at you — you’re going to jump.

So Malcolm does that great. And he knows how to create space to be a 6’5″-6’6″/235 lb. player.

You think Zach can follow in that mold?

Well Zach is not a 3-4 (small forward-power forward). Zach is more of a 2-1.

Really?

Yeah, Zach is more of a 2-1. He’s a combo.

Could he play point for John Groce?

Yeah, he can play some point. Because h’e 6’4″ and he can handle the ball. He’s an exceptional ball-handler. We played him at the point last year, as a sophomore. But since our senior point guard pretty much developed, we’ve played Zach more off-the-ball now.

That’s why our team looks a lot better. Because Zach is playing off-the-ball now instead of having the ball in his hands all the time.

Does that mean they’re going to be backing of of Marcus LoVett?

No, not really. Because you’ve gotta think. Jaylon will be a senior when … if Zach comes. Jaylon will be a senior. LoVett will be a sophomore.

So, when you’ve got a freshman and a sophomore that can play — you know Zach can play multiple positions, he can play the two or he can play the one — LoVett is only a one. He can’t play off-the-ball. So having Zach who can play two positions, you could use him at either. So that’s a good fit.

LOVETT STILL INTERESTED?

Following my conversation with Melvin Nunn, I texted Marcus LoVett Sr., having read about his rumored infatuation with Queens, NY.  I asked if he’d like to update his son’s recruitment status.

I received no reply.

KENDRICK ON “CONFIDENCE”

I get it that, in the lexicon of basketball, the word “confidence” gets overworked. It’s the go-to noun for describing wildly different states of mind.

In his pre-Michigan media availability, Kendrick used the word “confidence” once, and the word “confident” another time.

I asked him afterward what he meant by employing that word.

I was using “confidence” in general, to describe anybody.

Confidence is a big factor in playing basketball. If you have confidence you can perform at a high level. If you don’t, that’s when you go toward down.

It’s just a certain level of confidence that you need to have. And if you’re feeling really high about yourself, if you think you can do it, then you’ll go out and do it.

You seem confident to me, generally

Yeah.

I have confidence in what I do. Not trying to do too much.

MICHIGAN WOLVERINES. 2/12/15

So as far as Kendrick’s concerned, it’s a go. Ray is another story, and one that we’ll all be extremely interested in watching, I’m sure.

Because even Ray doesn’t realize that his hippocampus is looking out for him. And it doesn’t give a damn about Illini basketball.

Categories
Illini basketball

Why the referees were wrong at Breslin

Ah the Breslin Student Events Center, our home away from home.

Illinois “didn’t do enough to win” on Saturday in East Lansing. Luckily, Michigan State ‘didn’t do enough to win” worse.

Illinois shot a measly* 29.4% from the arc, and missed a quarter of their free-throws, including two straight misses by Ahmad Starks as the game went to the wire.

Three crazed blind referees tried but failed to steal the game for the Spartans, but MSU refused to grab victory from the jaws of defeat. They missed so many free-throws that their home crowd jumped to a standing ovation when Bryn Forbes connected on two straight.

By game’s end, Forbes would join Travis Trice as goat, incapable of converting. So the most outrageous screw job since Jim Bain won’t generate much more than an entertaining online pissing match.

You can read about that below. First, here are three reasons Illinois did win Saturday at Breslin.

NNANNA EGWU: BANGER

People like to complain about Nnanna Egwu for all kinds of reasons.

  • He hedges too high on double-teams.
  • He shoots threes, and generally loiters around the high post.
  • He grabs fewer rebounds than some people expect from the center position.

On Saturday, Egwu’s high hedges were especially effective at stymieing Denzel Valentine — the only Spartan who seemed able to generate offense. (The MSU sports info people assign photogs to each team’s offensive end, for each half. Otherwise I’d have some good shots of Egwu hedging Valentine.)

On Saturday, Egwu buried 2-of-3 3FGs, which he launched when open, in the natural flow of the offense.

On Saturday, Egwu grabbed 9 rebounds (3 offensive) against a team — or in fact, a program — that’s considered untouchable on the boards.  He led all players in this category, keeping Illinois within one carom of a dead heat (35-34).

Nnanna appeared to be an entirely different player on Saturday.  But it’s not because he doesn’t have that aggressor in him. It’s because he does what he’s told to do, without question.

John Groce phrased it as “never complains.” But Groce seemed to be recognizing, even as he said it, that Egwu could be a violent rebounding force if he (Groce) simply gave the directive.

Matt Costello, Gavin Schilling and Branden Dawson are not subtle about grabbing boards (or opponents’ jerseys for that matter). Egwu roughed them up.

Maverick Morgan played alongside Egwu once again. Morgan’s low-post presence frees Egwu to do all the perimeter stuff people hate so much. Unfortunately for Mav, the low-post was once again a bizarro version of Bozo’s Grand Prize Game, in which Mav is unable to lay the ball in the bucket from a foot away.

AHMAD STARKS: MOMENTUM CHANGER

Tom Izzo was so pissed at his team, he couldn’t even recognize the thorn in their collective side. Or maybe he just didn’t remember the first ten minutes of the first half. In my seven years experience of covering college basketball, I’ve learned that coaches usually remember exactly the moment you’re asking about. But sometimes they think you’re asking a different question entirely. And sometimes they don’t want to give a direct answer, for whatever reason.

I asked Izzo about the first ten minutes. MSU jumped all over Illinois, and then lay supine as Illinois didn’t quite jump all over them, back.

What happened to change that momentum?

Izzo didn’t have an answer apart from the old stand-by “making shots.”

A 10-2 Michigan State lead slowly devolved (from their perspective, but also kinda from our perspective as well) into 11-11.

The guy who changed the momentum was Ahmad Starks. His unfazed demeanor corrupted the Spartan’s aggression-oriented defensive scheme. His shooting forced them to alter defensive rotations. His size and speed played mouse to their transition elephant.

“If I were wearing green, I’d be really pissed right now,” I said to IPHD’s Jason Marry, sitting to my left, as Leron Black gave Illinois its first lead, 12 minutes into a blowout-turned-grudge-match.

Then I asked Graham Couch, sitting behind us on press row, what was wrong with MSU today? He said they’d been this way all year. No interior offense, no perimeter offense. If they ain’t got transition offense, they got nada.

KENDRICK NUNN REDUX

He’s back.

KNunn has been gone, or partially present, all year. On Saturday, his persistent drives to the basket demonstrated that his knee is fixed, physically and mentally.

Nunn and Malcolm Hill found a weakness in the Spartan’s defensive line. It was basically the same weakness that Malcolm exploited for the game-winner against Penn State.

When starting from the top of the key, both Malcolm and KNunn have figured out that their perimeter defender will push them out but not up, and cheat slightly toward the left (to block the lane and the right-hander’s dominant hand). The low-post help defender will push down, but not out (to protect the rim), and also cheat left.

Malcolm uses his left well, and Kendrick is left-handed (except when signing autographs).

KNunn also used a floater, and his mad hops, to exploit the Spartans in the low-post.

TERRY WYMER, TED VALENTINE, RAY PERONE – A PERMANENT STAIN

I don’t know how Jaylon Tate’s box-out non-foul looked on live TV. What you may not have seen was the extent to which Spartans Travis Trice, Matt Costello, Gavin Schilling, the Izzone etc. biased persons campaigned for some kind of call.

It was all an act, a pantomime, a feint. It was pretense. And it was, in person, so obviously pretense. It’s unconscionable that this hamming nearly stole a win for the home team.

The officiating crew ruled that Jaylon had committed a dead ball foul against Travis Trice. They gave MSU (Forbes) a pair of extra free-throws that might have changed a deficit into a lead, with less than a minute to go.

It was probably Trice’s acting that made the three men — all of whom probably have testes if not cojones — sympathize.

After the game, they probably realized they’d screwed up.  But refs never admit a mistake. So to double-down on their bad judgment, they released a statement about the ruling.

Nobody misinterpreted the rule. The rule was inapplicable to the situation.  Jaylon Tate’s box-out was thoroughly unremarkable, completely ordinary.

Yes, Jaylon Tate’s movements are a bit herky-jerky, as I’ve written here before.  Earlier in that very game, Tate hit himself in the crotch while playing with his typical abandon. Did the referees think that contact was intentional?

Here’s why the call was wrong: The ball was not dead.

There are two ways the ball could have been a “dead ball,” and for Jaylon Tate’s “foul” to be a “dead ball foul.”  If the ball had gone through the hoop, as the Wymer statement claims, it would have been a “dead ball.” If the free-throw had been the first of two, rather than a one-and-one, the ball would have been “dead.”

Tate’s contact  occurred before the ball went through the hoop. That much is plain from the replay. Wymer, Valentine and  Perone made an error of fact.

Because it was a one-and-one, Tate was boxing-out his man. This error should have been seen and reversed on review. Slow-motion makes it clear to see, as millions now have.

Of course, this was not the first time a referee has botched an obvious call.

But most botched calls don’t take place in the final minute. Those that do are subject to video review. The remarkable quality of this botch is that the officiating crew reviewed the play, and then fabricated a defense to justify a clearly erroneous ruling.

My hunch is that one of the referees blew his whistle in the grip of a senior moment, forgetting that rules for lane violation changed years ago.

For absolute beginners, here’s a pedantic explanation of rules known to every basketball player and referee, from 3rd grade up.

When Ahmad Starks fouled Travis Trice with 33.2 seconds remaining in the game, that foul was Illinois’ 8th “team foul” of the second half. A team’s 7th foul in either half triggers a free-throw for the other team. If the other team makes the first free-throw, it’s awarded a second free-throw. This battery in potentia is known as the “one-and-one.”

A team’s 10th foul of either half triggers two foul shots — another term for “free-throws.”

The other way to trigger two foul shots is to foul one’s opponent in the act of shooting. And if one fouls one’s opponent in the act of shooting a three-point shot, that shooter is awarded three free-throws (unless the shot attempt is successful).

It was not a shooting foul. i.e. Starks did not foul Trice in the act of shooting. Per NCAA rules, then, when Travis Trice stepped to the free-throw line, he was shooting the “front end” of a “one-and-one.”

Here’s a screen shot of, and a link to (.pdf), the NCAA rule on lane violations.

The call would have been correct, by both rule and fact, if the contact were of the “unnecessary, unacceptable and excessive” manner (all three, mind you) required by the cited rule and the lane violation rule were different, as it once was.

Under the old rules, players could not enter the lane until the ball hit the rim. The state of Maine still used this rule for high school basketball, right up through last season.

Here’s rule 10-3.1

The ruling was based on a sequence of events that never occurred. The evidence is demonstrable.

So if the refs whistled Jaylon because his man crumpled at the crotch, here’s the question for that officiating crew, Rick Boyages and Jim Delaney: If contact is deemed “unnecessary, unacceptable and excessive” based on the reaction of the contacted player; shouldn’t someone from Indiana’s Hoosiers be permanently disqualified for knocking Aaron Cosby’s eyeball out?

I mean, he was actually injured.

JOCKITCH – IN WHICH A FAILED COACH TWEETS ABOUT HIS LARGE APPENDAGE

Over the years, I’ve written on message boards (under my own name, as always) that Dan Dakich is awful. I’ve never seen the need to tell him in person. And now, I don’t have to.  Everybody knows it.

Presumably Canadian whisky influenced Dakich’s online argument with noted sports fan Don Gerard. (I presume not only that Dakich was drunk, but that he prefers awful forms of drink.)

The Dakich-Gerard e-fracas may help keep the botched call in the public’s memory. The botched call may help remind the public how awful Dan Dakich is. It’s a win-win.

Dakich has experience at cheering for terrible officiating which seeks to steal a win for the home team, but fails. In the 2008 B1G Tournament, Dakich watched from the sidelines of Indianapolis’s Canseco Fieldhouse as Ted Hillary, Zelton Steed & Sid Rodeheffer awarded Indiana’s Hoosiers three extra attempts at a winning basket.

The Hoosiers, like the Spartans on Saturday, were able to connect on just one of those three.  And amazingly, as with MSU on Saturday, the Hoosiers lost despite all the help.

You’ll remember that Dakich wasn’t hired to be Indiana’s coach. They brought him in as a schoolmarm, to be the (hopefully?) guileless, ruly killjoy that would, ostensibly, check Cellvin Samsung’s incorrigible urge to cheat.

Dakich became interim head when Sampson volunteered to leave town in exchange for money. As interim head, Dakich delivered a 3-4 record, losing Indiana’s opening games in both B1G and NCAA tournaments.

The only time Dakich was hired to be a head coach was when Jim Larrañaga left Bowling Green. Larrañaga had done so well building that program that he was hired away by George Mason. He did so well at George Mason that he was hired away by Miami.

Dakich did well enough with Larrañaga’s recruits, but he couldn’t sustain the program. Perhaps that’s the reason he says Illini fans should rue the day they fired Bruce Weber.

The year after Larrañaga took George Mason to the Final Four, Dakich was fired. His record over the final two years was 22-39, 8-26 in the MAC.

Weber’s Kansas State team is about to lose its 13th game of the year. K-State’s fans don’t expect to win a 13th game.

 

*I hope it’s OK with Jenny McCarthy that I employ the epithet “measly.”  I assume she’s immune to criticism.

Categories
Illini basketball

Rumors & Conjecture

The “story” from the Rutgers game, if there is one, must be the obvious point-shaving. There’s no other explanation for the Scarlet Knights’ dribbling out the clock, down eight points, with 1:20 to go.

The spread was 11 points. Rutgers lost by 12.

Now, let’s talk about the non-controversial stuff

MARIJUANA

Darius Paul was driven to drink by the NCAA. He tested positive for a substance that’s known for its non-toxic medicinal properties. Given a dire warning to stay away from this natural, herbal tonic, he took to a poison that’s legal and toxic. How does that make sense?

I’m not an advocate of marijuana. I’ve tried it. It makes me paranoid, dizzy, uncomfortable.

It works much better for my brother-in-law, who’s 12 years into his multiple sclerosis diagnosis. He gets it legally, by prescription. It helps with pain and muscle tension.

Marijuana, and the stupid laws restricting it, have made a huge impact here in C-U, just recently.

If you don’t live in Champaign-Urbana, you may not know the news that gripped campus over the last few days. A student named Vicente Mundo was shot in the back of the head, and killed. His body was dumped north of Tolono. A vigil — and a massive effort to locate him, in the days preceding the discovery of his body — were the talk of the town.

On Tuesday, news broke that two men had been arrested & arraigned for first-degree murder.

Vicente Mundo was murdered for a small amount of marijuana, and a small amount of money. If marijuana sales were legal in Illinois, he’d be alive.

New Governor Bruce Rauner is doing what he can to facilitate sales & distribution of marijuana in Illinois. The general assembly voted medical marijuana legal last year. Urbana (and Ann Arbor and Madison) decriminalized marijuana long ago, reducing harsh penalties to wrist-slaps that cost users less than a craft beer or premium cocktail.

Having charged the alleged killers, and after joining a press conference featuring all the local law-enforcement agencies involved in the investigation; State’s Attorney Julia Rietz attended the Rutgers game, and said it was the perfect way to cap a long day. (Perhaps she meant sleep-inducing. The game was like marijuana, in that sense.)

Given all this tumult, it seemed like a good time to speak up about marijuana and the student-athlete.

There’s conjecture that Rayvonte Rice and Aaron Cosby were suspended for using marijuana. If they had, they’d be typical college students. They’d also be typical medical patients, recovering from injuries.

But in fact, Ray and Cos were not smoking doobies. Their suspension has nothing to do with illegal drugs. They enjoyed some nightlife at a time when they were expected to set a good example for their younger teammates, by staying in, perhaps watching some scouting materials, and getting a great night’s sleep.

Neither Rice nor Cosby had any possibility of seeing action in a game at the time of the “infraction,” so perhaps a bit of R&R felt to them like a harmless change of pace.

If you read the Steve Bardo book on 1989’s Flyin’ Illini, you’ll know that some of the guys on that team decided to go out partying in East Lansing, the night before a game. They were hungover the next day, according to Bardo, and got pummeled by a well-rested Spartans team.

It’s comparing apples to orange basketballs. Staying up all night and getting drunk may not lead to great athletic performance. But it’s had negligible impact on athletes’ ability to sit on a bench.

John Groce got a freebie for Message Sending purposes, because the duration of the “indefinite suspension” will fit nicely with the recovery time for each player’s injury. By the time John Beilein brings his Caris LeVert-less Woverines to town for a bit of revenge, you can expect Ray and Cos to be part of that ass whoopin’.

COULDN’T BE HAPPIER FOR KENNY BATTLE

Bardo’s Flyin’ Illini teammate Kenny Battle (whose individual flyin’ led to the moniker, let’s be honest) was on hand Tuesday.

Battle is famous for his effort. A yearly award is given, in his name, to the Illini player who displays the greatest hustle. True to that nature, Battle has kept working on his latest cause. It’s his daughter, Ty. He wants you all to know how proud he is of Ty, now a sophomore in Joliet.

You’ll remember, he was adamant about this subject last year as well.

Ty’s dad says she’s averaging a double-double, and has her choice of an all-expenses-paid college education. “Everybody wants her.”

I was thrilled to capture a picture of Battle and Rayvonte Rice together. They are kindred Illini. Perhaps the best players of their era, both started as under-appreciated, thought to be undersized mid-majors. Battle at NIU of the MAC, and Rice at Drake of the Valley.

NOW, ABOUT THAT BORING GAME

The reason BTN2GO stuck you with a 9:30 p.m. slot on a Tuesday night, dear Rutgers basketball fan, is that you don’t exist.

The reason you, Illinois fan, were stuck with a late Tuesday game is that you fall into two categories. You will either do anything to see the Illini play, or you are waiting for Illinois to return to relevance. They’ve got you either way.

Tens, possibly dozens of you descended upon the State Farm Center on Tuesday. Hundreds more watched the game on TV.

They saw a balanced scoring attack, a future NBA project, Gene Steratore making friendly with the Orange Krush, and Austin Colbert.

Ahmad Starks took fewer off-balance shots. He made more shots.

Leron Black collected the garbage. He connected on 5-of-6 shots, for 12 points. Intriguingly, he grabbed only two rebounds in 21 minutes.

Kendrick Nunn grabbed six rebounds. He was the alpha and the omega of this game, converting all his free-throws, and adding four assists (five if you count the beautiful post-entry pass that Nnanna Egwu kicked).

Nnanna, by the way, played through an injury that required special attention from trainer Paul Schmidt. It happened on the defensive possession that (unfairly) resulted in Nnanna’s second foul (when a Scarlet Knight tripped over Nnanna’s prone body).

Categories
Illini basketball

Glenn Mayborg Finds His Whistle

The Big Ten never penalized Pat Chambers for criticizing the officiating in Penn State’s loss at East Lansing on January 22. Maybe that encouraged Chambers to complain some more.

He hated Glenn Mayborg’s game-changing whistle, which came with 33 seconds remaining  in a tied game, which took the ball (and the win) from Penn State, which handed the ball (and the win) to Illinois.

Chambers said the game should be decided by the players, not the refs.

But that’s unfair to the Illini. The truth is that Glenn Mayborg (and Earl Walton and Rob Riley) had been deciding the game for all of the first 39 and a half minutes, too.

Mayborg and Riley were especially responsible for allowing Penn State’s bigs to wrestle and batter the Illini on the interior. Chambers should be thanking them effusively for keeping his team in the game. It certainly abetted The Nittany style of play.

On the other hand, Mayborg et al decided early on that every ticky-tack touch was a foul.

And this choice also benefited the Nittany Lions. e.g. not only did Nnanna Egwu spend 12 minutes on the pine (especially after his 4th “foul” with 12:29 to play) but when Austin Colbert checked in to spell Egwu; Donovon Jack, Julian Moore and Jordan Dickerson were given carte blanche to toss Colbert around the lane like a rubber chicken. (That said, Colbert stood his ground pretty well.)

I have not seen a more brutal game, perhaps ever.

The good (frankly fantastic) news abut Austin Colbert is that John Groce, spurred by the Mother of Invention, has figured out how to use him. Groce thinks Colbert is too weak to hold his own in the pivot. (Colbert is a lithe and lengthy small forward, but he’s been asked to play center for some reason.)

When Bruce Weber had Mike Tisdale and Richard Semrau on the roster, he never played them together. It could have been a great combination, but only if Weber could use zone defense effectively, to hide Tisdale’s slowness as a small forward. Groce figured it out. He used Colbert in combination with both Egwu and Maverick Morgan, hiding Austin in the zone.

Mike Basgier loves to talk about Austin Colbert, and point out that Austin works out more often than the rest of the team.

Basgier likes to point out that Austin is near the top of the charts in certain statistical categories (behind Rayvonte Rice).  Yet the concern for Groce & staff is Colbert’s strength in the post. Squats and bench-press equal keeping a B1G big off the glass.

AHMAD STARKS ON FIRE

Heather went to dinner & movie with a girlfirend while I stayed home editing pictures and audio. She reports that Ahmad Starks was at Savoy 16 “surrounded by girls.”

Good for him.

Starks shot 3-of-4 3FGs against PSU. He grabbed two rebounds, one of which dropped in his lap when Kendrick Nunn boxed every mofo who dared charge the lane. Starks also boxed mofos on behalf of his teammates.

ABOUT GLENN MAYBORG

A cursory search told me that I’ve written about him twice before. Once was an article about great officiating (which Jim Schipper really liked.) The other praises Mayborg for his patience.

Glenn Mayborg’s baseline activity is unlike any official I’ve seen. He moves constantly, which is frustrating for photographers, who all sit along the baseline. But it means he’s trying to get the best angle on every aspect of every movement.

In this day and age, plenty of digital recording renders each B1G basketball game as a searchable document. The data may prove me and 14,597 fans wrong. But we all thought there was something weird, incongruent, disjointed about the officiating.

Pat Chambers should be Nittany Lionized not only for his game plan, but for his manipulation of the conference and the media. He’s doing everything he can to maximize the potential of his team. Good for him. And great for Illinois that he didn’t get away with it.

A WEEK OFF

At least two of the lads used their free time to obtain a haircut. Leron Black opted for a fade, now resembling Kid n’ Play circa 1991. Kendrick Nunn got it all chopped off, now resembling Kendrick Nunn circa 2013.

DJ RICHARDSON RETURNS

Dietrich Richardson says he had a great time playing pro-ball in Finland.  He learned about the jet stream: It wasn’t as cold there, despite being way farther north. He also learned about jet lag. The flight home threw him for a loop, especially because he’s been living on three hours of sunlight per day.

D.J.’s agent advised him to get back to the states last week, because the folks in Finland were having a hard time finding their wallet. It’s a familiar story with pro-ball overseas.

He’s not sure where he’ll be balling next, but added that he should find out within ten days to two weeks.

ZACH NORVELL OFFERED

John Groce takes longer in getting to his postgame presser than any major conference coach I’ve observed in seven years of covering college basketball.  A week ago in Minneapolis, Groce’s dilatory attitude to media seemed to be the story among the twin cities’ beat writers.

What is he doing? we all wonder. We see the locker room speeches via the TNT series on YouTube. We hear his radio interview with Brian & Jerry (which today didn’t start until Penn State was practically on board its return flight). Neither of those postgame duties accounts for a full ten minutes. So when 40 minutes have passed,  we become curious.

Saturday afternoon, we got one inkling of Groce’s postgame, behind-the-scenes.

I tried to interview Zach Norvell during a media timeout, early in the second half. He was sitting with Saieed Ivey, about four feet behind me. Plenty easy to access.

Way too close to the pep band.

I could hear him fine, but it’s not good for microphones. I knew the sound quality would be terrible if I pressed “record.” One thing that I did hear him say clearly is that he did not have a scholarship offer from Illinois.

That seemed strange to me. Yes, the Illini team is composed purely of wings, and Zach is a wing; but Norvell seemed like an Illini target, not just a plan B.

Well,  it turns out that John Groce spends his post-locker room, pre-media room time offering scholarships to Simeon standouts. By the time Groce showed up for his postgame session, Zach Norvell was the proud recipient of an official offer.

By the time Groce finished his press conference, Norvell was still in the building only because his Simeon assistant coach Melvin Nunn is media savvy.  A pair of pleading texts kept the Simeon contingent around for the duration.


There are many reasons that Simeon’s coaching staff finds scholarships for all their guys. One of them is knowing how to play the game.  Another is knowing how to play the games.

“You owe me one,” said Melvin.

But it’s not true. I owe him many.

As for Saieed Ivey, he’s currently a freshman playing point guard at Governors State University in Will County.

BRENDA COLBERT ATTENDS

I was worried that I’d seen the last of the Colbert family. It had been long enough since I’d seen their son, who was once upon a time a basketball player at the University of Illinois.

But Saturday, Brenda Colbert showed up for the first time in ages. And Austin played meaningful minutes for the first time in ages. “Did you get a tip that he might be getting some real PT?” I asked at halftime.

“Nope. I just came on faith,” she replied.

Austin Colbert is a personal favorite of mine.  I freely admit I’m biased in his favor.  He’s simply a very warm, positive, funny and smart guy.

SUSPENDING TWO GUYS WHO WEREN’T GOING TO PLAY ANYWAY

Let’s just bookmark this moment. It’s brilliant, or it’s idiotic, or it reflects an actual moment of marijuana smoking.

Why would John Groce suspend two guys who can’t play? Did he do it from a sense of justice & rightness? Is he playing mind games with opposing coaching staves?

For purposes of the PSU game, it doesn’t matter. Neither of those two dudes would have played.

Is it an insult to the players themselves? Yes, it is. That’s why Groce didn’t elaborate on their purported malfeasance.

Is it all a farce? Probably not, but that would certainly be the coolest purpose for the suspensions.