You’d want to know who this Illini team thinks it is.
You’d want to know what the coaching staff has been drilling in practice.
You’d want to know when Trent Frazier & Da’Monte Williams forgot how to shoot.
You’d want to know where Andre Curbelo thought he was headed when he barrelled into pairs & threes of taller defenders.
You’d want to know why this team looks so uninspired, and how Brad Underwood lost control of them.
This is one of those articles that nobody will read, because you don’t want to think about Illini basketball right now. Maybe, in a few months, Illini basketball will have rekindled your interest, and you’ll be scrolling the web, trying to find as much content as possible. Let’s hope so. You’ll be happier, and all of us who report on Illini basketball will earn some money from your clicks.
Right now, every upcoming opponent is studying video from the Bearcats’ Trouncing. They’ll see how Kofi Cockburn dominated the game for the first eight minutes, and what adjustments Wes Miller made at the Under-12 timeout.
A lot of the upcoming job Brad Underwood has in front of him — a job which could, ideally, result in those familiar His Best Coaching Job accolades that TV commentators gush during conference tournaments — involves Reining Wild Horses.
Andre Curbelo and Coleman Hawkins have All-American potential. Each is exactly the kind of player that gets fans excited to watch. And together, especially in the form of a perfect half-court lob to two-handed slam, basketball cannot get more fun.
But both Curbelo and Hawkins are out-of-control right now. Belo did better with Kofi in the line-up, but he’s nowhere near solid enough to be a starting PG in the B1G. His sixth-man role worked last year because he introduced an element of chaos into the game. You can’t rely on chaos for 36 minutes. It giveth and taketh away. Right now, taketh is winning.
Both Hawkins and Curbelo are becoming the focus of refereeing, which industry is attempting, per NCAA direction, to clean up the ungentlemanly aspects of the college game. That’s why Belo and ColeHawk get technicals for taunting.
Underwood looked calm when he called a time-out from the Illini bench. But as soon as he’d disappeared into the huddle, he exploded. “We told you this was coming!” or some variant on that theme was the most coherent of the phrases, which could be heard, if not intelligibly, in the upper deck.
It seems the team — and Coleman in particular — hadn’t followed the scouting report, or wasn’t prepared for the ferocity of Cincinnati’s defensive pressure.
This point, after a week of post-Marquette practices, should discourage the reader. On the other hand, it’s difficult to replicate Darryl Morsell and David DeJulius in practice. Not until they’re picking your pocket does one understand how intense their defensive prowess can be.
On the bright side, both of those guys might still be playing for B1G teams, and they’re not. Instead, they’re helping Illinois to understand what’s coming before conference play starts.
Thus, Coleman got 22 minutes of tick. Da’Monte got 27, shoring up the defense, but keeping the offensively spectacular Hawkins on the bench.
Brad’s coaching was not all top-down on Monday. It wasn’t all rage-filled. He also shared a beautiful moment with Kofi, when they discussed low-post strategy and movement.
Kofi has a way to go before he understands the center position in a way that, say, Moses Malone did. But his demeanor doesn’t need a complete rebuild. Curbelo and Hawkins shouldn’t be completely robbed of their wildness. That would make them easier to scout, and less exciting to watch.
But that fine-tuning, finding the sweet-spot in between wild and controlled, is Underwood’s daunting task. You should hope that those TV commentators are talking about it in March.