Hello Illini fan. I need your help. It won’t cost you anything.
To keep receiving videos of pre-game interviews, post-game press conferences, and ridiculous Media Day compilations, I need 506 of you to subscribe to YouTube.com/IlliniReport
Since the start of this basketball season, YouTube has been doing odd things with the videos you watch.
It began after the very first scrimmage, when I discovered that Google thinks Brad Underwood is a jihadi, or possibly a pornstar.
That dollar symbol should be green. Why is it yellow? I wondered. So I tapped it, and got the following message.
When I visited Creator Studio on my computer (you can actually do it from mobile, if you ask for Desktop View) I learned that YouTube’s robots deemed the video inappropriate for advertisers. There was a link to a page which explained what “inappropriate” means.
Basically, violence and Adult Themes.
Brad Underwood’s postgame talks can, I suppose, feature a little bit of either (if he’s especially angry about the outcome, or his team’s performance). But for the most part, it’s a family-friendly presentation.
The de-monetization problem persisted.
Nearly all of my videos were flagged. That forced me to manually request a review for each of them, which is as much of a pain in the ass as you’d imagine.
And now, it’s worse.
Google has announced that channels with fewer than 1,000 subscribers will no longer be eligible for Partnership. That’s why I need you to subscribe.
You can still access videos via Twitter, IllinoisLoyalty.com or wherever you normally find them. But if IlliniReport doesn’t reach 1,000 subscribers, there will be no more videos.
There’s also a viewership threshold, but each of these videos gets 1,500 to 15,000 views, so that’s not a problem.
Everybody associated with Illini basketball seems pretty happy these days. Was it the long road trip where they increased their conference losing streak to four games, puked a lot, and shuttled around in temperatures that hovered around 0° the entire time?
Something about the new coach, the new system, the improvement they see in themselves and each other — all of that seems to buck them up. Wednesday afternoon, after prepping for Iowa, everybody seemed pretty enthusiastic.
The coach is sanguine, too. After Saturday’s loss, Bret Beherns asked whether Brad Underwood planned to make major changes, like he did after an 0-6 start in the Big 12 last year.
Maybe we should all be glad that Brad has this team loose after an 0-4 conference start. He’ll need to keep these players committed. He’ll need them emotionally available. He’ll need their attention.
Underwood talks about “listening” a lot. He knows when guys are doing it (Williams, always) and when they’re not (Kipper, sometimes).
Underwood is not so Old School that he can’t see the value in a guy like Kipper, whose basketball “faults” are aspects of a genial personality.
You could reduce Kipper to a cold-blooded killer via techniques employed by the 20th century’s most ruthless armies, but your end goal wouldn’t be worth the sacrifice.
Kipper is a warm, smart, funny guy. We need more of those, not fewer.
Brad’s challenge is to bring out the killer in Kipper while he’s on the court, without damaging Kipper’s inner Smoove B.
After losing a game that didn’t seem competitive in the second half, Kipper boarded the team bus with a hot, fresh pizza box in his hand. He got to choose his toppings, chicken & peppers.
Kipper was in a good mood. His mom & grandma were there, which is not unusual. They travel a lot. But Kipper had just tallied game highs in points and rebounds, and that hadn’t happened much lately.
Underwood had a pizza as well, but he didn’t know what was on it. “Whatever Joey (Biggs) got me. I’ll eat anything, Rob.”
The post-game feed is as much of a tradition as the shootaround, or the halftime speech. Fortunately, it seems more susceptible to evolution than those two strictures. Thus, when Greg Eboigbodin decided he didn’t want pizza, he was allowed to choose a pasta dish instead.
Of course, Greg had plenty of reasons to be cheerful. He’d just shattered all expectations for his college career by playing two straight games of … is dominant too strong a word?
Chin Coleman bridled, in his introductory interview, at the notion that he’d be recruiting a different level of player to UIUC than he’d been recruiting to UIC. Chin might be right. Greg appears ready for prime time.
Greg still makes a lot of common Big Man mistakes, usually the consequence of being hit in the hands by a pass.
But he recovers so quickly from his mistakes that they sometimes don’t have a chance to be charted. Underwood mentions his speed and quickness every time someone asks about Greg.
But the other factor, the thing that allows him to play, is his mindset. Greg is either oblivious to the millions of people watching him, or he’s built of iron and nails. I think it’s the former, and hope it’s both. (Contrast Matic Vesel, who’s way too aware that he’s landed at a Big Time basketball program.)
For the record, it’s not fair to use Greg as an example of athletes who are cheerful despite …
Greg might experience moments of gloom, bad moods, even severe depression. If so, he hides it well. He seems, perhaps more so than any major college athlete I’ve met, to be Living The Dream. (He’s also the only Illini I’ve known who rides a bicycle to practice, as do I. So I’m biased.)
’tis the season for PT constriction. This time of year, coaches are generally slashing minutes, tightening the rotation. The youngsters don’t see much floor time. Experimental big men return to project status.
Not here in east central Illinois. The minutes were damn near socialist Saturday. Everybody got the same. Da’Monte Williams tallied a near-bourgeois 27 segments of tick while nobody else exceeded 22.
The veterans aren’t completely washed up, though. Leron Black and Mark Alstork were felled by a Norovirus. Michael Finke had to leave the team for a day because his grampa died.
There are no column-inch restrictions here at Illini Report, so let’s take a moment to remember David Langendorf.
His name was David Langendorf, born in Highland, Illinois and was married to my mom’s mom, Barbara. His birthday was March 30, 1953. He died on December 24, 2017. He served in Vietnam and then was a police officer in Champaign for a number of years. He was currently “retired” but he was always staying busy. Loved doing yard work for people. Mowed all of his neighbors yards and was always lending a helping hand to whoever needed it. He loved fishing and was always wanting to take me and my siblings out to fish. He and Mike Thorne actually got really close over the couple of years Mike was here. They went fishing all the time, just the two of them. He was a guy that cared about others. Put other people before himself all the time. A really selfless guy.
So while you’re steaming about the 0-for-2 road trip, keep in mind that these young men have Things Going On that you may not have considered.
And despite all that, they played pretty well (for stretches).
If you’ve been frustrated by Illini basketball lately, whether you’re throwing your remote at your screen, or throwing your screen remotely, you’ll be delighted, possibly stunned to know that Michael Finke is averaging about the same number of rebounds-per-game as Leron Black (5.4 to 5.7).
You might also be delighted to know that Black is smoking Finke on threes, .444 to .317, because it bodes well for Leron’s future as a long-distance shooter.
Aaron Jordan has cooled to a near-normal 53% from the arc, and it’s just about time for Brad Underwood to talk with AJ about mechanics. Where Underwood fixed Trent Frazier’s FT tendencies, he might be able to straighten AJ’s Spinning Globe.
Old School by nature, Brad will probably wait until Aaron’s percentage drops below 50 before interceding. That’s fine. But Brad is also a long-holdout-cum-believer in Analytics. At his disposal, he’s got the best proprietary analytics money can buy. Those data, plus the video collected, incessantly & tirelessly by DIA staff, will determine whether AJ’s shot has changed during these last weeks.
An Argument for Cheerfulness Re: Illini basketball
Basketball will need to change if it hopes to keep the attention of people who are now 30 and under. The fact that Brad Underwood is the Illini coach, and Bruce Weber is not, should demonstrate that someone has recognized a tectonic shift in the human attention span. We can’t stand to watch methodical basketball. Like our social media addiction, we need basketball to enhance our experience at an ultra high refresh rate.
Bruce Weber didn’t compete for offensive rebounds, nor did John Groce. Brad Underwood wants to compete all the time. Hence, every moment of Illini basketball is suddenly more interesting to watch. If the NCAA eliminated the Alternate Possession rule, you can imagine an Underwood team gaining a win per year, simply because he wants to contest everything.
Overall, Underwood’s relaxed demeanor throughout the Michigan game and afterword reminded this Illini observer that Michigan Curbstomping Illinois is not a tradition to him. Brad doesn’t know that Michigan surpassed Illinois in 2009, after a lovely pair of decades in which the Wolverines simply couldn’t solve Illini riddles.
We’ll concede football to them. Irksomely, Michigan also holds the title deed to Illini basketball. It’s less egregious than Ed DeChellis’s ownership of your favorite team. Michigan is a storied program, with a banner. (Grrr.)
John Beilein beat Brad by four points last year, if you exclude that last second prayer (as I do). As far as Brad knows, he’s competitive with Michigan. But for both coaches, there’s another significant factor responsible for their sanguinity: After years of toil, they Made It.
Like Beilein, Brad’s peace-of-mind is age-based. After years of getting by, and more recently making money that could put his kids through college, Brad Underwood is a multi-millionaire.
You can imagine him at 43, having enjoyed greater success as a JUCO coach in Florida than he had as a JUCO coach in Kansas, thinking I might be able to make ends meet.
The weather is better too you can also imagine him thinking.
If Bob Huggins hadn’t called, he might still be in Florida. Brad said as much. One phone call changed everything.
If Huggins hadn’t called, Brad’s mortgage situation would be different. He’d be driving a car that he owns, and it would have significantly more miles than the late model he’s driving now. His daughter’s cracked iPhone screen would be something he perhaps couldn’t afford to replace, rather than a teachable moment.
You can see why Brad Underwood isn’t at his wits’ end. Everything has come together for him.
For the young people, this is only the beginning. There’s no reason to think it’s not the beginning of something good.
Brad Underwood has said it all along. It doesn’t matter who starts.
During crunch time Saturday, Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams were on the floor. Practice rotations have never suggested that Brad Underwood planned to move them into the starting line-up. And yet, it’s never been more clear that these two are finishers. Especially Williams.
Frazier was the social media darling of Christmas week, and Underwood wants everyone to know that Trent noticed. It went to his head. Underwood said the team worked all week on a specific ball-screen action, and Trent blew it three or four times during the game.
The coaching staff had determined that this particular ball-screen action would draw GCU’s defense in such a way that the Illini wing would be ignored in the weak-side corner. They were right. It worked. But Trent failed to convert the opportunity.
So the really interesting thing about Underwood’s observation is that he put the ball in Trent Frazier’s hands in crunch time, despite Trent’s repeated failure to read and react.
Here’s what happened.
Sure enough, after Leron set the ball screen, Trent found his wing. Da’Monte snapped the net, and Illinois held on to beat a team that played, frankly, much better than the Illini did.
Disappearing Illini , A/K/A The Players You Hate
Mark Smith is still putting it all together, defensively. I can relate.
I’m a life-long slow learner. I needed to see everything on a systemic level, and that need always set me behind kids who could compartmentalize tasks. Eventually I’d pass them, because understanding systems is complete knowledge. It’s why engineers get paid more than machinists.
Consequently, I have no doubts about Mark Smith. I’m not even worried about him. And at the same time, I understand why he’s a starter and not a finisher.
Mark Smith is learning his defensive positioning errors on a systemic level, with each mistake building his knowledge base. He knows it. The staff knows it.
During the GCU game, the most interesting thing that happened to Mark Smith was a foul call. He boxed out, and earned a foul. Brad Underwood thought it was a crazy call, too. So he probably can’t learn anything from that particular experience.
But there’s no doubt that right now, Mark Smith is the second-most-likely Illini to find himself out-of-position on defense, and Matic Vesel doesn’t play at all.
Maybe, having typed the full Mark Smith seven times now, I’ll start referring to him simplay as Mark. There’s another Mark on the team, of course, But everyone calls him Mookie. Maybe I’ll do that.
Matic had family was in town for the holidays, BTW. His mother and a sister got to see him watch a basketball game in front of 14,000 people. I hope they’re as patient as he is. Vesel has the highest ceiling of any player on the team. His court vision and passing continue to stun observers at Illini practices. And yet, you can see why he’s not playing at all.
Mookie Alstork does continue to play, and he continues to start and finish. If you listen to the WDWS postgame, or read message boards, you’d think Alstork would have been benched by now.
But head coaches really like rebounding. They LOVE guys who expend all their energy on defense.
Whether Alstork is trying to get into The League by playing defense, or has simply been coached at the college level for four years; he’s kicking ass at Things Coaches Want.
What the coaches wanted to do against GCU was force them to drive. “No middle!” they yelled, meaning keep the ball out of the paint.
Illinois’ pressure defense is designed to keep the ball out of the lane, so they didn’t have to learn anything new. Brad Underwood’s goal was to force a dribble-drive, and he succeeded.
Kipper Nichols’ new mop-top makes him look like a Beatle and/or a mop.
Unfortunately, it’s killed his game. Where Aaron Jordan’s haircut revived his career, Kipper’s barberism quashed all momentum. GCU was his worst game as an Illini, posterizing him at both ends of the court.
REFS ARE “LETTING THEM PLAY”
If the NCAA were a government agency rather than a pretend government agency, they’d be susceptible to FOIA, sunshine laws, etc.
Unfortunately, we can’t ask them why they do what they do, and they won’t tell us.
Illinois seems to be the progenitor of rules improving the regulation of college basketball. The Kentucky Rule (1984) deemed that NCAA tournament games should not afford a home-court advantage. The Miami Rule (2013) allowed for review of bullshit officiating rulings that cost teams a trip to the Sweet 16.
Now, here comes the Malcolm Hill Rule.
Watch for it.
And now a digression.
Speaking of the WDWS postgame show: My friend Michael Kiser fielded an anti-Lucas phone call after the Grand Canyon game. He defended Te’Jon by making a comparison to Jaylon Tate. He said Jaylon couldn’t penetrate.
Jaylon Tate had limitations to be sure. Driving was not one of them.
Jay’s grandmother texted recently to share some good news.
Those of you who aren’t THaters will appreciate knowing that Jaylon is finding success at the professional level.