The AP reporter who addressed Trent as “Ayo” can be forgiven. Illini basketball has been irrelevant for a dozen years, and non-217s couldn’t care less who plays for this ex-newsworthy program.
But she also raised a great (if not original) point, in a different question to Alan Griffin: This team is young.
They don’t know they’re young, because they’re young. They take umbrage at being told they’re young because they’re young.
Last night’s Wisconsin game was, objectively, pretty bad. Dumb fouls. Execution failures. On the bright side, it reminded us again about the value of executing the plan. It’s the difference between winning and losing.
Illinois didn’t execute on Wednesday. Not until the end. And then they did, and then they won.
Because the Dick Bennett/Bo Ryan standard has not yet been undermined by its own fans; it felt especially impressive.
Brad Underwood dismissed the idea that a team’s defense is aided when its entire bench is calling out actions from the bench, as the Badgers did Wednesday. But he also acknowledged a massive improvement in field goal percentage, and 3FG% in the second half (62% and 71%). Perhaps the Illini got better looks because there weren’t as many Badgers waiting in their spots?
Certainly being alone on the court allowed the visitors to communicate among themselves. The Illini broke huddle before the hosts, just about every time. In the second half, that left them alone on the court’s south end. Alan and Ayo communicated about the play Underwood had just drawn. A moment later, Alan drained the tying three.
After the next huddle break, Ayo spotted Kofi Cockburn out of place. He directed Kofi to the correct spot, then lobbed the ball there a few seconds later.
Kofi is frequently in the wrong spot, and if you listen closely, you’ll likely hear Underwood yelling as much.
It’s not because Kofi’s stupid. It’s because he’s young and inexperienced. Get old and stay old is Matt Painter’s mantra for running a successful program.
A few days ago, Ayo rejected the notion that Illini execution problems were a symptom of youth. He doesn’t know, because he’s young.
The good news here is that last night at Kohl, Illini fans saw (finally!) what Brad Underwood’s program can look like when things start clicking.
Will it all come together by March, like it did for Kentucky’s recent 9-seed champions? Will you have to wait for next year before the team seems to be consistently moving downhill?
Right now, you’re pretty psyched that there’s another game in a couple of days. So maybe it doesn’t matter. Just enjoy the ride.