COVID-19 Illini Basketball

Read & React

There’s a moment from Saturday’s Embarrassment in Columbia which will likely stick with me for a while, as dozens (hundreds?) of Illini basketball moments have stuck over the last … Jesus … forty years. (Holy shit.)

Mitchell Smith doesn’t know and doesn’t care. You’ve been removed from this set.

You know some of them, too.

  • Harper’s three* over Randy Breuer et al, to clinch a tourney berth.
  • Douglas ooping Winters
  • Nick’s The Shot
  • Frank over Scoonie
  • Efrem’s Windmill
  • (DJ’s undersung 8 points that led to) Tyler’s lay-up (on Brandon’s underappreciated feed).
  • That fat guy from Austin Peay burying ANOTHER THREE

Some are obscure. Jim Rowinski setting a screen endures. Craig Tucker connecting from the left elbow. Eddie Johnson hitting from the short corner (but against Indiana State, not Michigan State — I only saw that on highlight reels).

On Saturday, Adam Miller took a pass on the right wing and dribbled toward the middle of the lane. Three Nameless Facelesses rotated in what should be called a Mini-Pac — i.e. a pack-line that bursts forth from the No Charge arc rather than the other, better advertised arc.

This is not a picture of that moment. But because Andy Katz fucked up the coin toss, this is the photo you get. Thank Mike Slive.

It was fantastic defense, perfectly timed. People called it “man with zone principles” ten years ago, but there’s probably a fancier, tech-ier name for it now. My good friend Brad Sturdy is the guy to read if you want these sets dissected into contemporary lingo.

Whatevs. The name is unimportant. Tracy Abrams reduced man-help-_Bob_Knight\lL0pht/ rush-hold read & react to a single word: “Trust.”

This is not the drive you’re reading about, obviously.

You’ve got to believe that your teammates know how to read the offense, micro-second by micro-second. You’ve got to believe that they’ll react appropriately when you hold your stance -or- continue to pursue an active offensive threat whether/not he controls the ball. Then you rotate, renewing your stance and seeking/adopting a new primary assignment, while maintaining a vigilant outlook for any penetration toward your zone.

Tracy Abrams disapproves

Adam Miller saw that defense, read it correctly, and did nothing. His Attempt at Bucket was foiled, over before it began. He looked for an available teammate, and returned the ball to zero-threat position.

This is the sequence which will remain with me: Nothing happened (statistically speaking).

I don’t blame Adam for avoiding those Nameless Facelesses. He’s been coached. He knows what not to do.

His team lost.

By the same token, and for the same reason, his team won at Duke. The reason Adam’s team won, then lost, is Experience. Illinois had more experience playing together than Duke. Missouri had more experience, as a unit, than Illinois.

The Missouri defense rotated effectively, forcing Illinois to move the ball away from the basket.

The Illini looked crap in Columbia because Mizzou got old together. As John Groce told you, every time you add a new member to the team, it changes the entire team. Illinois of December ’20 is nothing like Illinois of February ’20. Furthermore, the Illini of February ’20 were just learning to put it together. They’d been a reliably unreliable team to that point. Cf. Braggin’ Rights 2019.

I never understood why people thought/expected the Illini to make a deep tourney run in March. On the other hand, the Illini continually surprised, impressed and — here’s the key — improved as the 2019-20 season unfolded.

The subject of this photo is Andres Feliz, who won.

The reason Illinois is favored to beat Minnesota tonight is unknown to me. I’ve never understood or researched gambling. The reason Illinois should beat Minnesota tonight is that same reason they beat Duke and lost to Mizzou and Baylor. The Gophers haven’t played together, as a unit, for more than a scant few covidy months. They don’t have the instincts that Missouri displayed Saturday, and Illinois grew into last year.

*It was an experimental, conference-based rule that year. The ACC had it too, but their three-point arc didn’t even stretch to the top of the key because they are pussies.