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.