Illini basketball


You never doubted these Illini, right?

As football scores of 14-3 and 20-7 conjured unpleasant memories of Tim Beckman; you never for one moment hoped that Brad Underwood was, indeed, looking for property near Manhattan, KS.

Defense wins championships. Defense travels. D-D-D-Defense.

When you read accounts of this game, a 54-53 slog, scribes will tell you Lamont Paris apprenticed under Bo Ryan and Greg Gard, which is why Chattanooga plays slow.

Thus, Dick Bennett’s legend continues to infect the uninvolved. Wisconsin’s 21st century teams score plenty. The reason Illinois & Chattanooga scored only 107 total points is all about Illinois.

Illinois is really, really good at defense.

“Brad Underwood assembled a team that’s deadly inside & out.” Or that’s the rap, anyhow. And that’s all anybody talks about. But Illinois wins because Trent Frazier & Da’Monte Williams get in your business and force you to shoot 4-of-20 from the floor.

You will always enjoy beatdowns like the Wake Forest game in December 2004. But the games that live in legend are awful. The Arizona Game was awful. ’89 Bloomington was awful.

Yes, we all want 40 minutes of highlight reel, including six or seven dunks and about 15-for-19 from the arc. Cross your fingers, and the next five games might be like that.

But probably not.

Illinois survived, and moved on. In doing so, the Illini advanced the cause of Brad to KSU. But it also helped Lamont Paris, who should be strongly considered for any open P5 job. IN fact, let me launch the Lamont Paris to KSU meme right here. We need to get this guy away from B1G openings.

Sunday’s early lunch involves a more traditional Illini nemesis, and possibly the best coach in college basketball history.

Cellvin Samsung is like Bruce Pearl: Irritatingly good at coaching, regardless of whether he’s destroying the NCAA’s Rulebook. You should feel less great, after the Chattanooga performance, to know that Houston doesn’t compete in a lot of Q1 games.

They’re favored to win, and will probably win.


Illini Basketball

One & Done

Trayce Jackson-Davis is a great ambassador for college basketball. I’m happy that he’ll finally play in the NCAA Tournament. That it took an Illinois loss to get him there? That doesn’t bother me either.

The Illini need a weekend off. You got the feeling that they were willing to win another B1G Tourney if that’s how the chips fell. But they made it clear that their sights are scoping a different tourney.

Trayce Jackson-Davis is a good guy. It’s hard to root against him.

Their ability to win six in a row hasn’t changed because of Friday’s umpteenth consecutive uncomfortable performance. They still have the defense & rebounding. It’s much more likely that non-B1G opponents won’t have sussed Plummer, won’t comprehend — even after watching a boatload of videos — the intensity and (sorry to say) violence required to stymie Kofi in the low-post.

Brad Underwood was funny, but not joking, when he said he’s tired of playing this league. He should be. Giving Micah Shrewberry a three-month head start on scouting Illinois demonstrated just how effective B1G scouting can be.

The key with Kofi is to push his face. Meanwhile, Larry dreams of protein shakes.

So how great is it, from an Illini fan’s perspective, that if Illinois had to lose a game during this stretch, that it wasn’t one of the next six, nor one of the last three? Beating Michigan, Penn State and Iowa damn near killed you, so aggravating and trying were those games. But in the end, you got a shiny trophy. Win the next six, you get another trophy.

Lose Friday, and you get a weekend off to heal. Even the guys not recovering from a sprained shoulder will benefit.

We all wish Andre Curbelo were 100%, and that a 100% Belo will someday launch the type of unexpected 8-foot floaters that won him B1GS1Xth last year. He’s still launching unexpected floaters, and they still catch defenses offguard. But because they travel only 6 feet beefore landing, defenses aren’t as bothered.

The 100% Belo probably won’t emerge this year. And maybe not during his time at Illinois. But it feels too soon to say, given that we’re still just weeks from his hibernation. With every practice and game, he gets closer to his groove.

Thing is, Belo cares. If you think he’s just enjoying the circus, don’t.

After his game-winning drive that didn’t, Belo collapsed in horror, hands to cheeks, and crouched in disbelief on the baseline.

Nobody noticed. The camera pulled away to follow live action. If he hadn’t sat there in my lap for a solid 30 seconds, I mightn’t have noticed either.

#ISupportBelo remains an important concept because, as the young man recovers from an unexpectedly serious neurological problem, he’s also trying to figure out whether he can still basketball, and why all his tricks are broken.

Basketball got him off the island, and holds the potential for enormous riches. But if he can’t trust muscle memory and well-honed instincts to function at crunch time, his past stops being prologue. He’s just a kid who payed basketball when he was younger. Like us.

Your buddies, Bo & Donnie. They wear regular clothes, too.

Coleman Hawkins got out of his Coleman Hawkins funk, so we know it can be done. And the fact that last Sunday happened, that all the stars aligned, shows that it can happen to Illinois (despite what seems like a Goat-shaped curse).

You’ll probably root for Illinois in the tourney, andyou’ll probably invest some amount of your emotional health in their performance.

That’s fine.

It’s just possible that this team has all the tools. So aren’t you glad that they took this loss, and can now focus on the goal?

COVID-19 Illini basketball

Don’t be so anxious

As confetti streamed downward from Honored Jerseys to Lou Henson Court, priority recruits joined (their future fellow?) students at the center I, jamming together in a mass of humanity that constituted by far the best super-spreader event of the COVID years, as far as Illini basketball is concerned.

Stoic, taciturn Adam Fletcher, known to you all as “Fletch,” literally danced on the baseline and smiled while doing it. Brad Underwood found Fran McCaffery through the crowd, and congratulated him on a game well fought.

Sarah & Chester, a love story.

Chester Frazier ran around the entire crowd, along the edge of the SFC bowl, navigating the least obstructed path to Sarah, his wife. He called to her over the crowd. Somehow, she heard him. And despite carrying a toddler on her hip, she too navigated the crowd to meet him at the final balustrade/cattle fence.

It’s a good lesson: Remember what’s important. Prioritize. Accentuate the positive.

Illini basketball had just frustrated all its fans en route to an incredibly lucky, mathematically improbable #B1G championship.

Now, five days later, Illini fans will sweat through morning coffee until the ’22 Illini tip off against the B1G’s least predictable team. OR, if you’re in Indianapolis and connected to the DIA, perhaps you’ll be drunk by tip time.

The B1G’s hottest team, Iowa, continued its offensive romp on Thursday, dropping 112 points on Chris Collins’s purty good Northwestern defense.

Iowa had won five in a row before stubbing its toe on Coleman Hawkins, a seven-footer guarding the perimeter, a crazy Puerto Rican whose passes seemed wild as his defense was sound.

And Trent.

When not playing Illinois, Iowa is pretty great. They were pretty great against Illinois, too. At the end, Illinois had more points. Despite everything.

Defense wins championships. On Sunday last, defense won a championship. It certainly wasn’t Belo’s passing or ‘Monte’s free-throws. But those two were instrumental in the lockdown, and ‘Monte again saved the game with an offensive rebound that drove the Hawkeyes Radio Network crew crazy.

Friday morning, Illinois will play a team that lacks confidence. As Trayce Jackson-Davis said after Indiana overcame an error-prone Michigan team, he’s never played on the #B1GTourney Friday before.

Indiana could win, and it wouldn’t matter. Brad would like “back-to-back on something,” and #B1GTourney championships are his best opportunity. We’d all prefer it.

But the pressure is off here. Winning any games in Indianapolis is unlikely to affect Illinois’s seed in the dance. Losing won’t help or hurt in that regard.

The team can play for the enjoyment of the game, and to work on coverages, and to implement sets that haven’t been scouted.

It’s a great opportunity. So enjoy it.

Illini Basketball

Tipoff Kids

Six patients from Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent (PMCH) have been selected as the Honorary Tipoff Kids for the 2022 Big Ten Conference Women’s and Men’s Basketball Tournaments.

Ashlyn Eldridge, Austin Fuquay, Parker Gossett, Elsa Ham, CJ Harris and Violet Rich were chosen by the children’s hospital’s care team to serve as the honorary tipoff kids for the tournaments. This year’s Honorary Tipoff Kids received a Big Ten gift bag and will be featured on the video board during the semifinal and championship games at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Eleven-year-old Ashlyn Eldridge was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent. After she completes four rounds of chemotherapy, Ashlyn will have additional scans to determine if the treatment has worked. Ashlyn enjoys Anime, coloring, drawing, dining out, watching movies, tennis, and making slime.

Austin Fuquay is 12 years old and was born missing part of his DNA. Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) doctors and nurses stated they were surprised he was even alive. His first year of life was wrought with challenges, from seizures to new surgeries, new diagnoses and numerous medications. Starting his second year and continuing until he was around 4 years old, Austin was challenged with a rotation of pneumonia, life-threatening GI infections and challenges that left doctors scratching their heads. Austin and his family continued to push through all of Austin’s therapies, knowing that the only way he would live was to get stronger, be able to sit upright and eventually be able to walk. At age 5, Austin was strong enough that he was no longer battling pneumonia and other secondary diseases whenever he got a common cold. It was a long journey with huge medical and physical setbacks. Austin loves people and being part of anything exciting. He has an infectious laugh and everyone he meets falls in love with him. In the summer of 2020, at the age of 11, Austin overcame the challenges and started walking with the least supportive walker and pushing it all on his own. Austin continues to receive new diagnoses, but the teams at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent are dedicated to providing him with the best medical care possible for a child with complex health challenges.

Twelve-year-old Parker Gossett was diagnosed with amniotic band syndrome shortly after birth. Born without her right foot, Parker received her first prosthetic at 10 months old and was walking by 14 months. When Parker was two-and-a-half years old, she started to have unknown fevers, and doctors discovered a mass on her stomach. Care teams at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent, led by Pediatric Surgeon Evan Kokoska, MD, removed her right kidney along with a two-pound tumor which turned out to be cancerous. Parker then began radiation and chemotherapy led by Bassem Razzouk, MD, and the Pediatric Oncology team at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital. During the cancer treatments, it was discovered that Parker was having issues with bone growth that were causing pain with her prosthetic. Parker was then referred to Jonathan Wilhite, MD, a Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital, where she has successfully undergone multiple bone revision surgeries. On October 22, 2013, Parker celebrated being cancer free.

Elsa Ham developed acute onset of left-sided weakness, vomiting, lethargy and fever on February 15, 2019. A head CT showed acute hemorrhage in her right thalamus. She was intubated due to declining mental status and was airlifted to Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent Hospital for emergency surgery performed by Dr. Jodi Smith. Pathology showed she had a low-grade glioma consistent with pilocytic astrocytoma. She was in the hospital for almost two months as she required inpatient therapies to try to regain some of the neurologic function she lost. Repeat imaging after she came home from the hospital showed the tumor increased in size, so Elsa began outpatient chemotherapy approximately once a week for 14 months. Elsa had her last chemotherapy treatment in oncology clinic on November 13, 2020, and she rang the bell signaling the end of treatment. She continues in outpatient occupational and physical therapies at Ascension St. Vincent Fishers and has made great progress. Elsa was selected for her strength and bravery, perseverance in the most challenging of times, and ability to bring a smile to the face of everyone that she meets.

CJ Harris woke up one night in November 2016 and knew something was wrong. When his mother brought him to the Emergency Room, doctors found that he had pneumonia, one of his lungs had collapsed, and he also had a high fever. CJ was quickly moved to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent Hospital. CJ remembers the doctors and nurses bringing him LEGO bricks and puzzles to make him feel more comfortable. His favorite memory of his experience was when his ER nurse came to visit him in the PICU, which made him feel more at home during his stay. Because of the toys that CJ received during his stay, he decided to fundraise and has purchased various toys for the patients at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent Hospital. CJ was selected for his philanthropic spirit and continued dedication to giving back and making a difference for other kids. CJ is still under the care of a pulmonologist, makes monthly visits to his pediatrician and sees an immunologist. CJ is doing much better with controlling his asthma attacks and has not had another as severe as the one when he was hospitalized in 2016. CJ plays football, participates in track and is currently playing on an elite travel football team. He enjoys spending time with his family, friends and his first pet, Rico, a hypoallergenic toy poodle. CJ is also in the band and plays the saxophone. He is looking forward to starting high school at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School this fall.

Eleven-year-old Violet Rich enjoys art, music, reading, playing with her friends, is a very talented storyteller and especially enjoys writing scary stories. In April of 2019, Violet was diagnosed with t-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She was immediately admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent. During her hospitalization, former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning stopped by her room for a visit. It is one of her fondest memories during that time. Over the next few months, Violet continued her treatment at home. In August, 2019, she was hospitalized again. One month later, an MRI revealed a mass had grown on her brain and she underwent several surgeries. After 54 days in the hospital, Violet went home and continued to improve while continuing her chemotherapy treatment for two years. The team at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital selected Violet for this opportunity because of her positive attitude and fun-loving spirit.

For more information on the Big Ten Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments, visit Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent (PMCH) is a full service, dedicated children’s medical center, providing the highest quality, family-centered care to children and adolescents in the state of Indiana and beyond. PMCH has more than 160 licensed beds, which includes a 23-bed pediatric intensive care unit, 17-bed Pediatric Emergency Department and a 97-bed Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) – the largest Level IV NICU in Indiana, providing the highest level of acute care, as established by the American Academy of Pediatrics. PMCH treats patients from all over the state, providing safe and streamlined critical care transport by ambulance and air. The hospital offers 24-hour on-site coverage by pediatric hospitalists, intensivists, neonatologists, and board-certified emergency physicians. PMCH is staffed by more than 100 experienced pediatric sub-specialists along with pediatric nurses, social workers, child life specialists, chaplains, and other health professionals with a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to family-focused care. PMCH is part of Ascension, one of the nation’s leading non-profit and Catholic health systems. Visit

Illini basketball

Defense, travels

What a stupid way to win a championship. Aaaaaaaand we’ll take it, AMIRITE?!?!?

First, the #LuckyBadgers find they’ve spent all their tokens. Then, the Murray Twins can’t buy a free-throw, while Belo spends twenty minutes throwing the ball away. And when the dust settles, a trophy.

As your hangover recedes, you’re already forgetting how the game unfolded. Twenty years from now, you’ll have no idea.

It doesn’t matter.


Andre Curbelo regrets that pass

The feeling you had throughout the championship-winning game was probably something like “BELO WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!?” or perhaps “COLEMAN WHY DID YOU SHOOT THAT?!?!?”

Honestly, this game felt like a lifetime. And most of the time, you felt like you were dying.

And then, at the other end of the court, Joe Toussaint moved his feet too much while trying to find a passing lane.

Defense. Travels. It was the theme of the game. And Illinois won it, and a championship.

Everything matters. Every single thing.

We remember the Derek Harper three that got Illinois into the 1983 tourney, but we have no idea what the ’84 Illini did to tie Purdue for the conference championship.

*consults internet*

Ah, yes. They lost at Mackey.

I mean, that’s one way to look at it. You could also sayIllinois beat B1G doormat Wisconsin to clinch the deal.

Or don’t worry about it. It doesn’t matter.

Illinois was in position, Saturday, to win a Big Ten Championship on Sunday. It didn’t seem likely, but fundamentally, it’s the putting yourself in position that matters.

Coleman Hawkins says no.

The 2002 Illini championship (or 2001? … nah, not even finna Google this time) had a similar less than triumphant, come-from-behind, all dominoes must collapse in this order feel to it. And that’s how those dominoes fell. I think there was an unlikely Wisconsin loss there too, but I ain’t lookin’ it up.


Brad Underwood said something important in the PSU postgame, which was about four nights and a lifetime ago. He said he told his team they’d have four or five games in the NCAA Tournament that were like that.

Scrap, scrape, bang, bend. Don’t break.

Don’t brake.

There’s a lot of pressure on this guy, all the time.

It’s been alarming and unnerving to watch Illini basketball these past two months, and yet here you are, celebrating a championship. How should you feel about that? How should you feel about their tourney chances?

1989 was a lot more fun. 2005 felt too easy. 1998 was five wastrels against the Big Bad Izzoes, a genuine David/Goliath story.

2001 was a tragedy, but maybe it helped the Big Ten’s front office recognize that referees should penalize players for fouling other players.

The gritty 2022 championship-winning Illini men’s basketball team feels like an offhand remark that’s been weighted down by the gravity of situation: If it keeps scrapping, it might win a championship. You know, like it just did last night.

“I told them they’d have four or five games like this in the NCAA Tournament” became “I’d like to play nine more.”

That was Brad’s postgame observation about his time with Trent and Da’Monte.

You’re smart. Do the math.

Illini basketball

The Hottest Team

It’s hard to see how Illinois wins on Senior Night ’22.

Iowa’s win streak is the best in the B1G (equaling Wisconsin). The Hawkeyes can’t miss from three. They’ve got the best pro prospect in the league* and they’ve finally, in Fran’s 12th season, learned how to play defense.

Andre Curbelo has a lot of untested theories about breaking Iowa’s press.

But if Illinois does win, you couldn’t have a better launch to the postseason. It would be like 2020, when Illinois pulled off an impossible win over Iowa, on Senior Day, against the odds.

The reason it might happen is explained in Life, the Universe and Everything: Distraction.

Illini players, maybe even their coach, will be so overwhelmed by their emotions that their basketball game won’t get overthought. They’ll be on autopilot.

That’s good. They know what to do instinctively, so at this point, thinking would counterproductive.

Just sayin’ is all.

Is it foolhardy to suggest #EveryDayGuys will be distracted by their emotions? Brad Underwood was pretty adamant after the Penn State game that, yes, he gets nervous in those last minute situations. Were you expecting that answer, or the conviction and forthrightness with which he proclaimed it? (If no, how great is it to be surprised by your head coach after all these years?)

Underwood’s pre-Iowa presser continued in that direction: “I wear my emotions on my sleeve, as you guys know,” said Brad. And yeah, I’d say we (the dozen-ish people who spend half an hour with him 4x/week during the season) do know it.

He cries on Senior Day. We’ve seen it.

Everybody was loose during Saturday’s media availability. Yes, we talked about Iowa, but mostly the focus was on culture and growth and vomiting and gaining maturity and learning from experience, including vomiting.

Life lessons.

Brad opened his presser eating an apple, which he didn’t bring into camera view on the direction of DIA media handlers. They also seem to have turned off his microphone while he talked about the Harry & David fruit box he receives every month from a friend at Stephen F. Austin, whom he described as a business partner with whom he still does business.

Hence the 50 seconds of silence right after he walked within mic range , here:

Was it the “business partner” aspect that spooked them? Do they not like pears? Piper and Doug also captured videos, but I already checked: The Harry & David portion isn’t there.

Well, we can form conspiracy theories if we want to. The important point is that the team was loose, and its coach was relating at a personal level. Just like human beings.

At this point of the season, @IlliniMBB knows everything about basketball that #EveryDayGuys can be taught. They’ll need to bring a defensive intensity if they want to win against the B1G’s hottest team. Maybe that’s innate now, too. Who knows.

What we do know is that defense wins championships, until said mantra is properly rejected as horseshit. It’s actually the team that scores the most points. Iowa is good at scoring points.

First one to 90 wins.

*This accolade varies depending on Illinois’s opponent. The best player in the Big Ten on Sunday, March 6, is Iowa’s Keegan Murray; because Illinois plays Iowa on Sunday.

Illini basketball

Classic Trap Game

Penn State stinks, right? They have a losing record. Micah Shrewsberry has 26 games worth of head-coaching experience. Dozens of fans attend their homes games

Illinois should win this game for the same reason they won at Michigan and lost to Ohio State: John Harrar won’t get a lot of help in the post.

John Harrar has good footwork

In the 2/8 game against Michigan, PSU rarely doubled Hunter Dickinson. Hunter isn’t necessarily a good comp for Kofi, because he spends so much time in the high-post. But when he played low-post, PSU gave no special effort to collapse on him defensively. That could/should change given the amount of video evidence that Kofi’s worst performances occur when he’s the subject of active triple-teamers.

But will it? Is Shrewberry trying to win games or build a culture?

HAIR-uh is a coach’s favorite, correctly regarded as a diligent and talented bright spot for a team that doesn’t win frequently. That’s true of Dickinson, too. Shrewsberry and Juwan Howard (and Phil Martelli) are accustomed to competing favorably at the 5-spot. They throw their bigs at opponents, and assume good outcomes.

Against Illinois, that’ll cost ya. Kofi Cockburn likes a good one-on-one.

A bad outcome. (Depending on your perspective.)

So again, you’d have to ask yourself whether PSU is looking for short term solutions. They could win this game, but do they care to try?

Nine cats average meaningful minutes for Shrewsberry. That includes Canisius transfer Jalanni White, a fifth-year guy who’ll play 11 of the minutes that HAIR-uh (phonetic pronunciation) doesn’t play. It’s possible that 10th man Jevonnie Scott, a JUCO transfer, will also see limited action against Cockburn.

Penn State’s guards are more familiar. Myles Dread is another #B1G stalwart whose career, in your memory, began in the Obama Administration. The first one.

You know about Sam Sessoms too, and perhaps recognize him as the Vinnie Johnson of State College. He’s their Instant Offense, but also one of the smaller guys who might help on Kofi in the paint.

Jalen Pickett is their new guy. A 2021 Lou Henson Award watchlistee at Siena, he’s compiled a 110-45 A/TO for the Lions. Not a great shooter (30% 3FG, 40% FG) he’s probably the reason PSU is 12-14 rather that 16-10.

The problem for Illinois, assuming Kofi does well with PSU’s standard defense, would be be that all the Lions go off from three while none of the Illini do. It’s possible. Sessoms is a 44% guy, and he plays about the same minutes as Dread. (27-ish. Sam has 10 starts in PSU’s 26 games while Dread started 18 of 16. They both played in every game.)

Dallion Johnson is a 43% bomber for the Lions. That’s significantly better than Seth Lundy, whose 26 starts are not necessarily a product of his offensive capabilities. But Lundy, Sessoms, Harrar and Pickett are the four Lions averaging double-figures. Pickett scores the most at 12.8/game.

Illini Report does not make predictions, and that won’t matter if Illinois loses this game, because you will be focused on acquiring a new television and beer mug (having thrown the latter through the former).