Ten minutes of unsustainable bliss. Twenty-five minutes of hell. One moment of recognition.
The championship-squelching loss to Ohio State was the best & most important game of the 2021-22 Illini basketball season. Best because it featured amazing performances by future NBA players, plus a scrappy comeback by Every Day Guys. Most important because it allowed the Illini coaching staff, finally, to see what they need to do.
Brad Underwood’s perspective changed when his view changed. Maybe he’d already thought about giving opponents a different look. But it wasn’t until he’d been ejected, and Kofi fouled out, that Illinois basketball actually tried something different.
Instead of Kofi + threes, it was …
Actually, the alternative doesn’t matter. Anything different does & will ruin opponents’ scouting reports and strategies.
Was it Underwood’s decision to go small? He said he was still coaching in the locker room. Does that mean he was texting Zach Hamer or Bobby Gikas with ideas? Did Chester, Tim or Geoff finally get his way while Big Mean Boss Man was sequestered?
Probably not. Illinois had to go small. Kofi fouled out, and Omar Payne can’t score. When you’re down by 14 with a couple of minutes left, you’re not thinking about rim protection.
But again, it didn’t really matter what Illinois did differently. It just mattered that they did something different. Underwood said they’d worked on their 5-out offense a lot in the early part of the season. That’s important. They were ready to employ it.
The thing that I’ve always liked about Brad Underwood is his quest. He’s never satisfied. He’s certainly not hidebound. He doesn’t sleep, and he loves a challenge.
And he drinks wine, which makes people creative. Especially late at night, when they can’t sleep.
The offense that worked against Mizzou stopped working by February, when #B1G opponents compiled enough scouting materials to scientifically, systematically shut down Kofi + threes.
So Illinois won’t win a B1G this year. Intriguingly, it’s never been a goal. Kofi talked about a national championship during a recent-ish availability. Trent mentioned it in the tOSU postgame. Even Brad, who generally reserves his word x 4 pronouncements to “elite” said it Thursday night: “March, March, March, March.”
After Thursday’s loss, Underwood said he’s asked his assistants to identify his team’s vulnerabilities in preparation for the NCAA Tournament. He didn’t say they’re working on new actions/different sets to render well-trained teams defenseless. But if they aren’t studying different looks, they should all be shitcanned. Illinois’s obvious vulnerability is the facility with which its offense is scouted and stymied by opponents.
But that’s only true of #B1G opponents, and that’s why Illinois is much likelier to win the NCAA than the B1G.
Not all the #B1G foes scouted the ’22 Illini effectively, of course, Some of them don’t work as hard. Some aren’t as smart as others. Some probably figured it out and explained it well to their players, but the players didn’t execute. Some probably aren’t as good at explaining.
If a pattern emerges, it’s that Matt Brady (Maryland) and Ryan Pedon (Ohio State) are pretty good at scouting, explaining, and getting their players to adhere to the scouting report.
Other teams have had success against Kofi, but that’s because #B1G officials have decided, seemingly, to ignore most of the hard fouls that prevent him from scoring.
DJ Carstensen can’t see, and Lewis Garrison holds a grudge. Or maybe I’m imagining that. I don’t know how else to explain the B1G’s inability to officiate games.
Carstensen seemed oblivious to elbows until Kyle Young lost consciousness, or maybe just his footing (?) while defending Kofi on Thursday.
Despite Cockburn pleading for Carstensen’s personal attention, while actually concussed during the first Purdue game, Carstensen took no notice of #EdeyElbows during that game. Nor the second.
SHOUT OUT TO KEVIN WARREN
The Hightower Commission has failed.
Or maybe it’s a long-term study, designed to root-out the bad referees by 2025. I didn’t ask Dr. Hightower those specifics. Alls I know is that Ed Hightower, a retired schools superintendent and top-notch referee was commissioned (by the commissioner, who commissions things) to fix a problem that the Big Ten conference recognized.
It probably won’t help Kofi in 2022. Not in conference play, anyhow. But now that Illinois is dropping to 4+ seed territory, it won’t necessarily face B1G referees in the tourney.
Losing to Ohio State wasn’t fun. But at this point, the Illini could lose all their remaining games in the regular season. It doesn’t matter. The system was rigged against them, whether it’s officiating or scheduling.
But they don’t seem to care. They won the B1G last year. They have different goals now.