Illini basketball

Purdue review – just a coupla thoughts

I love this new gig, where I can choose when & whether to publish.

I know people don’t like reading about losses. They’re not as fun to write about either — unless it’s time to fire the coach. Then they’re fun.

It’s not time to fire the coach. Settle down.

Now that the sting has worn off, I want to share just a few tidbits about Saturday’s game at Mackey Arena. These are things that wouldn’t have come across on TV.


In a game decided by five points, every possession is crucial. The Illini got jobbed out of at least two possessions at Mackey, perhaps because referees are susceptible to psychology, just like the rest of us.

In both cases, referees couldn’t or didn’t see the play. In both cases Bill Ek and Donnie Eppley signaled to each other for help in rendering a ruling. Each appeal for help resulted in a dramatic, emphatic ruling for Purdue. I saw both plays clearly, from my seat on the baseline. Both times, Purdue knocked the ball out of bounds.

The first time, it was Rapheal Davis who scooped the ball from a prone Rayvonte Rice, but lost control.

The second time came in the closing minutes, when Illinois furiously clawed its way back to a two possession game.

Austin Colbert was the baseline defender. Dakota Mathias was the inbound guy. An errant/risky Mathias pass, batted out of bounds by its intended recipient, never came close to touching anyone in orange.

Colbert was so shocked by the ruling that he covered his face with his jersey, to prevent himself from an assessed technical foul. But he campaigned for a reversal throughout the succeeding inbound play.

Illinois’ jobbing in Austin (March 2013) resulted in a rule change. Replay video may be used in the final two minutes of games. Why not use replay video to determine calls on plays that refs can’t see?

I don’t doubt that Ek and Eppley ruled for Purdue because Matt Painter rode their asses for forty minutes, and they simply wore down. Painter is 6’4″ and intimidating.

John Groce will never get the calls Painter gets.  He’s too short.

Refs will laugh at pipsqueaky Pat Chambers, and run his Nittany teams out of the gym on bad, perhaps even biased calls. But they won’t fuck with Painter. He’s too intimidating. It’s simple human nature. They’re scared of him.

That’s probably the reason Painter’s teams continue to get away with incessant hand-checking, in the year that everyone else in college ball opted for zone defense to comply with the “new emphasis” on hand-checking violations.

Lamont Simpson has been around for a while. He didn’t seem to cave to Painter.


I wasn’t alive when Bob Starnes’s full court shot beat Northwestern. There are probably some other great moments from the pre-video era. I was on hand to see Efrem Winters windmill dunk against Minnesota, and it was as amazing as its legend suggests.

I was also on hand for Matt Heldman’s half-court lob to Awvee Storey. I saw two entire years of Kenny Battle. Those are all amazing memories.

Visit Furniture Lounge for vintage St Patty’s Day gear.


You all saw the Rayvonte Rice dunk Saturday. But you probably didn’t hear it. The crashing sound on the steel rim hurt my ears. Moreover, the camera angle fails to convey the improbable physics of the play. Kendrick Nunn threw the ball. He didn’t toss it. The ball was traveling at speed.

The ball was still going up when Ray corralled it. Ray had to get eleven to twelve feet into the air to grab that ball.  The rest was a matter of gravity, but it happened really fast. That is, the time elapsed between Ray attaining possession and the crashing sound was barely visible.

Even slo-mo doesn’t really capture the feat. IlliniProductionsHD photographer Jason Marry said “that should be a crime” or “Ray should be charged with a crime” or something along those lines.  We all laughed.


I don’t.  I just hate this one particular guy.

The people who work at Mackey Arena are friendly. Their 2nd year SID is running the best, most accessible media operation in the conference. They always give us a lot of Puccini’s Smiling Teeth pizza.

I like Lafayette. Heather and I had a great blackened salmon and excellent escargot at Bistro 501 after the game. The campus looks just like ours, and they even have a Krannert building. Great engineering school. They hate the Hoosiers. What’s not to like?

Well, there’s this one guy. Thanks to the First Amendment, I can present him to you for your vilification and identification. Frankly, he brought it on himself.

A seasoned cameraman (I’ll leave his name out) said “Purdue has the angriest fans in the Big Ten. They’re just really angry.” Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s a trickle-down effect from the Keady years.  Gene Keady had anger issues. Maybe Painter does, too although I really like his thoughtful demeanor in postgame.

I think the cameraman’s remark was influenced by that one guy. I think that one guy has held the same season ticket, in the same spot, for some time. And he’s spewed hatred ever since he arrived.

On Saturday, as the final seconds trickled away, this asshole yelled “NIT Ray Rice! Have fun in the NIT!”

Ray is a great player, a great entertainer, a good student, a guy who defied consistent and continual underestimation.

If you’re a good person, and a good sportsman, you have to love Ray.

It makes me glad to see, at the end of every college basketball event, the opposing players and their families socializing. It happens after fans have been booted from the venues, while game-day staff are sweeping aisles and folding chairs.

There’s no hatred. It’s not just good sportsmanship. These people are friends. They know each other from high school, from AAU, from carpools and team camps.

I wish the fans could behave as well. Why couldn’t the Mackey Asshole simply savor the victory?

Rayvonte Rice will end a great career without an NCAA Tournament appearance. That sucks for Ray. As a college basketball fan, of any team, is that something you really want to rub in his face?


Illini basketball

One Down, One To Go

Once upon a time, Illinois basketball ws incompetent in the face of zone defense. Now that everyone’s zoning all the time, the Illini have become zone busters.

It’s man-to-man defense that freaks them out.

Against a 13-16 Nebraska team, losers of seven straight and winless in B1G road games, the Illini managed only 9 assists. Illinois opened each half with a major cold-streak, the ball sticking to Ahmad Starks’s hands as if glued there. All that nifty passing we saw against Northwestern reverted to reluctance. Nebraska jumped to a 9-3 lead in the first half, and scored the first 11 points of the second.

On the bright side, Illinois converted on 43.8% of its three-point attempts. Rayvonte Rice was 4-7 from the arc, bringing him to 46.5% for the season, and adding weight to the notion that his nine game absence didn’t affect his rhythm. Illinois’ overall shooting was, once again, less accurate than its long-distance marksmanship, at 42.9%. Converting 20 of 23 free-throws = 87% from the stripe.

The difference in the game was Terran Petteway’s 1-of-9 incompetence from the arc. Petteay shoots only 31% from three, but you can imagine how different the final minute would have been if he’d connected on those other two. We’d not have seen Ryan Schmidt.

Cornhusker big man Leslee Smith enjoyed a career night against the Illini. His nifty post moves continually fooled Illinois’ defense. He finished with season highs of 8 points and 9 rebounds.

Fortunately, he’s a senior, so he’ll not likely haunt the Illini in the future. The reason you don’t remember him from previous games is that he’s normally a sub, and a JUCO transfer at that. Starter Walter Pitchford didn’t make the trip, after injuring a hip in practice on Monday.


So, here we are. It’s March, the final week of the season, and we still don’t know whether Illinois will play in the NCAA Tournament. It’s an unsettling feeling.

We got rid of Bruce Weber because we were bored with this feeling. But if you’re tiring of John Groce, remember that it’s Year Three. The Illini have a great opportunity at Mackey Arena on Saturday, and whatever people say about Purdue’s resurgence, the Illini match up with the Boilers better than any team in the B1G.

The Boilers aren’t even a paper tiger. Their paper looks lousy. Their best win in conference was Iowa, at home. They also nipped OSU 60-58 at Mackey. But Rutgers gave t hem a game there. They lost all the games they were expected to lose, and achieved zero surprise wins, unless you think beating Indiana at Bloomington is an accomplishment.

Purdue’s embarrassing losses include Kansas State, Gardner-Webb, Vanderbilt and something called North Florida. (What’s the point of North Florida? Humidity and bugs?) The Ospreys other big win this season was Elon. In fairness, they did win the Atlantic Sun conference, despite a loss to South Carolina Upstate.

Purdue lacks the fire in the belly that previous Boilermaker teams displayed. There’s no Lewis Jackson to punch you in the mouth. They don’t even have a Ryne Smith. PG Jon Octeus might be their best match-up against Illinois, when going position by position. Rapheal Davis is a success story for them, but you’d rather have Malcolm Hill.

Yes, Isaac Haas is huge, but he didn’t seem to adapt well to Illinois’ dribble-penetration last time. AJ Hammons continues to confound Purdue fans, who feel less confident about the game than Illini fans, for good reason. Matt Painter won’t go big with twin towers, which would stymie Illinois (a team that fares poorly among the trees). Painter is also philosophically opposed to switching defenses within a possession, which is the sort of thing that confuses the Illini.

Purdue definitely has more to lose on Saturday, and they know it.


Melvin Nunn had to work in the morning, and D.J. Williams had to school in the morning. But they came down for the season finale anyhow.

Nunn met Piankhi Lands for the first time. Lands attended his first ever Illini game in Champaign, as did elder son Jalen Coleman-Lands. (Their first ever Illini game was January 3rd, in Columbus.)

Nunn told Lands to be prepared, as a father, for the mental turmoil his son will endure as a freshman. Learning college defensive schemes, Nunn said, is a trial for all freshman, no matter how talented and experienced. Lands understood that there would be a learning curve for basketball. He seemed more leery of the forthcoming media onslaught.

“Get used to it,” advised Nunn Sr.

Piankhi Lands is an amiable guy, who chose to forgo a college basketball career of his own. But he’s bullish about his sons careers. (Younger son Isaiah, a point guard at LaLumiere, and daughter Sincere joined the family trip to Champaign. Both Isaiah and Jalen are on Spring Break until March 11.)

Lands Sr. says LaLumiere expects to compete for a national championship, to be played in New York City this spring. He also expects Jalen to compete for the nation’s high school three-point shooting title, which competition will occur over Final Four week in Indianapolis.

Before making my way to the media room, to cover John Groce’s post-game remarks, I introduced Lands Sr. to Kenny Battle, whom Lands recalls from his Flyin’ days. Lands told Battle that his son was a hard worker, and Battle says he hopes Jalen will compete for the Kenny Battle Award.

I thought that was hilarious. It also reminded me how fortunate I am to have this gig. It’s an honor to talk about basketball with that man.

Illini basketball

Just in time: The Game of the Year

Kiwane Garris, Jack Ingram & Roger Powell saw nothing unusual in Illinois’ 86-60 beatdown of Northwestern. For them, a 26 point win over the Wildcats is the norm. That’s how Northwestern games should go.

Maybe this was the one game of the 2015 season that resembled John Groce’s vision of the 2015 season. The Illini connected on 48% of their 3FGs and 47.4% from two. They assisted 15 of 27 made field goals. The offense clicked, the defense stuck together as if it had been glued.

There’s not much more to say. It was pretty. So I’ll say it with pictures. If you want to see Alex Austin’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle socks, you’ll have to look at all of them.