Illini Basketball

Brad Underwood: The Anti-Bennett

The fives of you who engage me in social media know I was not pleased by the thought of watching a Tony Bennett coached team for the next 20 years — not that that was ever going to happen.

You five also know that I wanted no part of Cuonzo Martin. Cuonzo’s teams play slow, but they also lose a lot. I remember when the pitchfork mob ran him out of Knoxville. Evidently, everyone else has a memory that goes back hours, possibly weeks — certainly not years.

For posterity, I’m going to write the following sentence: Some Illini fans were worried about our coaching search after Mizzou hired Cuonzo Martin.

Defense porn lovers can watch Bennett’s Cavaliers hold otherwise exciting teams to 43 points.  Virginia will be on ESPN for years to come.

At the State Farm Center, Illini fans can enjoy high-scoring teams that win. To basketball novices like me, that’s a lot more fun. Basketball coaches like watching great defense and low-scoring games. Basketball fans like watching teams that score a lot and win. That’s what Brad Underwood brings to Champaign-Urbana.

I did not feel an actual sexual thrill when Underwood explained that statistical analysis proves teams are best off launching a shot within the first seven seconds of a possession.

I was not physically turned on when he said that his teams have mastered that skill, have gotten good at it.

But maybe that’s because I’m forty-six years old.

When I was a virile 25, Lon Kruger got the Illinois job. His offense was such a treat to watch. When people ask me who was the best Illini coach, in my opinion, it’s an easy answer for me. I like to be entertained.

Underwood’s OK State team is ranked #1 in KenPom’s offensive efficiency ratings, according to people who subscribe to that sort of thing.

Josh Whitman enunciated, above,  the usual platitudes about scholarship and community relations, and I expect we can all believe that Underwood will fulfill those functions. Jessica Goerke has the team’s attention, academically. The Rebounders Club is an easy audience.

The reason to applaud Whitman’s recruitment is because Bradsketball is fun to watch. Josh said so himself.

With this choice, Whitman displayed a fundamental understanding of basketball as it relates to the state of Illinois: We are not Indiana. We have advantages that can and should be exploited, when it comes to recruiting.

It’s great that Indiana has a million hard-nosed Joe Hillmans, ready to take a charge and set a screen. We, on the other hand,  love our hard-nosed Illini legends because they chose to play aggressive defense. They had other skills, but they knew defense was important. They chose to play defense because competing & winning is fun for competitors and winners.

Derek Harper. Bruce Douglas. Doug Altenberger. Kenny Battle. Kendall Gill. Matt Heldman. Dee Brown. Rayvonte Rice.

These Illini loved to punk their opponents on defense. They were exquisite to watch on offense. That’s what blue state Illinois offers that red state Indiana doesn’t. We’re open-minded about how we’ll beat you down.

Yes, we’ll turn you over. Yes, we’ll pick your pocket.  But we’re going to beat you because we’re going to score more points than you. And our scoring will keep the five thousand people who aren’t coaches and don’t care all that much about basketball but like a good show and buy tickets when we’re ranked, entertained.

Tony Bennett is losing a second-round NCAA game, badly, as I type. His defense is good. But UVa can’t score.

I wish Tony Bennett no ill will. His dad’s Wisconsin teams were painful to watch. I’d rather not watch that brand of basketball again.

As for Mizzou, #WeWillWin.