Categories
COVID-19 Illini Basketball

We Are All Rutgers Fans

It’s almost 2 pm in New York. Michigan/Wisconsin just reached halftime, tied at 31. I know, because I turned on the 19” Philips TV to channel 2.1, on a hunch.

If yesterday’s Illini game hadn’t been moved forward in time – a rescheduling prompted by COVID postponements in other league programs – it would have been broadcast on Fox rather than ESPN. I could have watched it on this tiny TV.

The antenna, between window & screen, gets 30+ over-air channels.

Yes, I’m still in New York. I’ve been in two ice-related accidents as an Illini basketball reporter. The totaled Dodge hemi wasn’t mine, and nobody was killed, so walking away after climbing up & out through the driver’s side window felt slightly triumphant. The other slip-n-slide broke a tie-rod, cost $600 and featured no spectacular flips and rolls. Not as exciting.

Point is, I don’t mess with ice storms anymore. Winter Storm Miles moved through Illinois, so Midway closed. Then Miles moved to Michigan, so I couldn’t go directly there. Then Miles came here, and the storm squalls have been howling for two days.

At least I have old TV shows. Star Trek TOS is on six nights a week, on channel 9.4. Then every other Star Trek brand runs until 2 AM. (I’d never even heard of Enterprise.) Yesterday, a Six Million Dollar Man marathon on Cozi prompted me to wonder how John Groce is faring in the MAC this year. All boys born in 1971 owned a Steve Austin action figure, with arm skin that could be rolled back to reveal the bionics inside.

But now I want to watch basketball. The B1Gest game of the year tips off at 4:30 CT, and it’s not on broadcast TV. It’s on FS1. I won’t be able to see it unless I go down to the lobby and watch online. (The apartment has been vacant since 2018. There’s no internet.)

I might go.

Perching a Surface is cumbersome, and a 6” Android screen is not ideal. But I watched Illini @ Minnesota there, the last time a snowstorm stopped me from leaving New York, two years ago. Of course, there was no mask requirement in the lobby back then.

I might go down. I want to watch Rutgers/Purdue. I really hope Ron Harper’s finger is healed.

The ball just landed wrong, I guess.

He seemed to jam it on a rebound. The quizzical grimace didn’t change, it’s always plastered across his face. But could it now mean “what just happened, and why does it hurt so much?”

It’s easy to root for Rutgers. Harper is a likeable chubster. You remember him from college. The funny, big-boned guy who keeps the girls amused but isn’t really competition. Paul Mulcahy is also unlikely to steal your girlfriend, but he’s tremendous threat to steal your basketball, because he never stops trying. You like to root for that guy, too (when it’s not your team opposing him).

And you have to appreciate, as a basketball fan, what Steve Pikiell did for a program that has a single season to remember, and decreasing numbers of people alive to remember it. I can’t recall the name of the elderly 1976er honored during a media timeout on Wednesday. I didn’t recognize his name at the time, either.

Imagine trying to recruit to a program that hasn’t seen success since Jimmy Carter was a maverick pipedream.

I wanna know what they talked about.

Pikiell makes his team play defense. His personal humility allows him to ask 100% effort from his players. They know they can’t outwork him, and they know he’s doing it for them. So they’ll sprint to Jacob Grandison in the corner. They’ll stay in front of Alfonso Plummer. They’ll hack-a-Kofi until B1G officials decide that whistle-hesitancy has become too obvious.

Illinois is not easy to defend. It takes a lot of hard work and effort. But there’s a formula, and anyone can do it.

Grandison spent a lot of RAC pre-game time practicing his shot from the arc. Grad assistant Marcus Anderson counted off his makes. When Jake got five in a row from the top of the key, he could move to the wing, and hit another five in a row. Then move to the corner.

Presumably, Jake did something similar six hours later, in Champaign. But his 3 AM workout with team managers was equally effective at prepping him for B1G defenses as was running a Princeton offense for Bill Carmody: Not at all.

Watching Jake shoot alone, you begin to understand the mechanics. He looks like your grandmother on TV. It’s almost a set shot. The low delivery makes it easy to block, and that’s something B1G opponents have noticed.

If RJ not kicking out has been preying on your mind, stop worrying. He probably couldn’t see Trent.
He doesn’t have a lot of experience with defenders as aggressive as Mulcahy & Caleb McConnell.

But it looks really smooth when he’s shooting uncontested. There’s a slight curveball action to his mechanics. It’s like watching a slider break over the inside corner. Jake can make 75% of his shots when defenders aren’t closing in. Same for Fonz. Maybe more.

When Illini media, social and traditional, cried out for Brad Underwood to shake-up the rotation, it’s this scoutability that prompted a call for change. What once surprised opponents no longer surprises opponents.

It’s not the starters’ fault, and replacing them isn’t the answer. Underwood needs to introduce some new actions, so opponents can’t call out the plays, like Trent does to them.

Tom Izzo was unable to motivate his players to defend Jake effectively. But MSU doesn’t match-up as well, either. Smaller guards, slower forwards. So Jake made 6-of-10 in East Lansing. That’s why Illinois won there. It’s why they lost at the RAC.

Purdue was successful against Illinois because it brought the effort on the wings, and DJ Carstensen called both games. Hack-a-Kofi was allowed.

Props to Cliff Omoruyi, tho. This block was clean.

I like Matt Painter. I don’t blame him for taking advantage. He gets paid to win basketball games. You use the tools available.

I like Steve Pikiell, too. I’d heard about Pikiell greeting & thanking everyone in the room after his RAC pressers finish, but I’d never seen it before Wednesday. We’re typically outside the Illini locker room while he’s speaking.

Kofi’s family was in town that night, so we cut that interview short. Hence, I was able to get back to the media room in time for Pikiell’s closing remarks. He came around and shook our hands. He knows we’re getting the word out: There’s a basketball program in Piscataway.

Today, we’ll all be rooting for Pikiell. Not just people in Champaign and New Brunswick. Everybody.

The Badgers and Wolverines have concluded with a brawl, which is apt given their respective mascots. The Wolverines proved more vicious, and the Badgers more cunning. It figures.

I’m in the elevator now. The lobby has good WiFi.

New Yorkers have cable and satellite options, and those providers are now paying the BTN because, according to both Uncle Jim’s logic and NJ Transit timetables, Rutgers is part of the New York metropolitan area. At 4:30 pm, dozens if not hundreds of tri-state sets will be tuned to FS1,assuming there’s not an Islanders game, or LaCrosse on a different channel.

Go Knights.

Categories
Illini Basketball

Games Notes @ RAC ’22

It feels presumptuous to write a pre-game essay in mid-February. By this point, you know the Scarlet Knights as well as they know themselves. Not only did you see this Rutgers team play Illinois already, you’ve seen at least five of their games since then,* because what else were you going to do?

The Purdue finish was amazing. Basketball nerds might argue that the tOSU finish was even more amazing. And nobody bet against Wisconsin.

So why is Illinois favored to win at Submarine SandwichDome?

Steve Pikiell’s job at Rutgers should, and probably will, result in the publication of books. However great Tommy Lloyd does at Arizona, he was handed an amazing job. Pikiell took over a never-ran has, shockingly, established itself in the upper-half of the #B1G. i.e. the Tourney half.

Simultaneously, the Rutgers SID staff has upped its game, and organized itself into a first-rate organization. Hence, we already know who’s refereeing tonight’s game (Szelc, Ek, Wells).

They’ve built a new media workroom (the old one was fine). Their arena, still smallish by P5 standards, was built for watching basketball, and it’s loud. (And has frequent shuttle buses because the Boston-Washington corridor is civilized.)

For our purposes (you and me both), this info will help us figure out whom to follow on Twitter tonight. The best information actually does come from the color & play-by-play teams, because they have the best access, instant stats reports, and courtside view.

But there’s always something going on elsewhere, in the stands and on the sidelines. It’s good to know who’s watching it.

*Those of us who remember The Old Times are still amazed that we can watch every game, anywhere.*

Categories
Illini basketball

Dogfighting

Three B1G teams stink. Losing to any of those three teams should embarrass you, the fan. Northwestern is not one of those teams.

On the other hand, Illinois already lost to Maryland, one of the icky three. And yet, here remain the Illini, alone in first place.

It’s a brutal league, and the Wildcats compete with everyone. They’re especially tough defensively. And that’s why Illini fans can feel good about Sunday’s dogfight.

Kofi might have nightmares about Robbie Beran (+3) and Ryan Young (-3)

Ryan Young’s offense is the reason NU is under .500 in league play, but his defense is terrific. Robbie Beran is worse at the former, and even better at the latter. That’s why he’s remained a mainstay of the Chris Collins era, despite averaging 6 & 4.

These two defenders and their coach calculated that hacking Kofi Cockburn for 40 minutes might give them a chance to win. Adding Elyjah Williams’s five fouls to their arsenal, the Wildcats probably figured they could finish regulation with one big undisqualified.

Williams expended one of his fouls on Papi’s noggin.

Of course, that strategy required some hacking from the wings, too. And Chase Audige obliged. He and Beran fouled out. Young and Williams finished with three PFs apiece.

Bert Smith, Keith Kimble and Lewis Garrison reported 22 Northwestern fouls to the official scorekeeper. The Illini committed, as far as those three were concerned, just 14.

Keith Kimble explains the rules of basketball to Ryan Young.

Kofi officially drew 11 fouls, and unofficially drew two or three per possession.

That NU’s free-throw attempts lagged the Illini just 18 to 19 demonstrates that the ‘Cats did a lot of hacking in non-shooting situations. That Illinois reached 20 turnovers for just the second time this season (Marquette, 26) shows that the hacking worked.

Expect more hacking. Paul Mulcahy will certainly bruise Kofi’s forearms on Wednesday. Caleb McConnell will be the triple-teamer who forces held-balls.

Kofi is among the most emotionally balanced players ever to feel the bright lights, elbows & fingernails descend upon him. That’s the reason Illinois fans can hope for some success in the NCAA Tournament this year, regardless of their B1G Championship aspirations.

The B1G has clearly decided that its referees won’t stop play every time someone hacks-a-Kofi. But as James Augustine can tell you, it’s different in the post-season.

Ramses Melendez (+11) whips a pass to Coleman Hawkins (+17)

Sunday’s 73-66 verdict demonstrated a championship-caliber persistence in an Illini team whose stars have been saddled by ever-developing scouting report information. Grandison and Plummer surprised some people early in the season.

Chase: “How about this?” RJ: “Not today.”

There are no surprises in February. Not among foes whose budgets afford top salaries for human scouting, plus plenty $$ remaining for proprietary analytics.

On the other hand, the tendencies of Casey Simmons and RJ Melendez haven’t been compiled to the point that dribbles right on 97 % of ball screens at the top of the key can be deduced from previous performances.

Casey Simmons (+8) was a thorn.

And, of course, they’re both surprisingly bouncy.

Simmons was fantastic for the Wildcats, mostly on defense. Perhaps because, as a freshman, he hasn’t learned to play conservatively. He gambled and won time and again, most obviously when he intercepted Illini passes, and returned them for touchdowns.

RJ’s play, offensively, was the same thing he’s shown at every opportunity this season. It’s the reason Illini social media clamors for additional Ramses every time he gets tick. As Geoff Alexander promised in the pre-season, “he’s exciting.”

Whether RJ’s defense was any good in November, it wasn’t as good as Da’Monte’s defense. Whether RJ’s defense is better in February … still maybe not the point. Melendez minutes don’t require RJ to displace a veteran. As legs tire, as the gauntlet of a 20 game conference season reaches its trench warfare phase, RJ’s minutes will, ideally, provide exactly the kind of difference-making spark that beat Northwestern Sunday.

As Belo keeps Trent fresh, and provides a disorientingly unTrent-ish vibe on offense, so RJ can disrupt opponents simply by being unpredictable.

The weird thing about both these Puerto Ricans, however, is how cool they remain under pressure, despite their manic offensive explosiveness.

And if RJ remains as unflappable as he’s seemed throughout his brief Illini tenure, you can feel good about putting the ball in his hands at crunch time. For a guy who won’t be able to buy beer legally for another 10 months, that’s a remarkable quality.

RJ made 6-of-6 free throws in the last three minutes.

Brad Underwood deviated from a standard 9-man rotation only to the extent that Ben Verdonk played two extremely meaningful minutes, keeping Kofi from committing a third foul before halftime.

That Luke Goode is sometimes the ninth man, that Coleman Hawkins sometimes doesn’t play meaningful minutes: These are indications that Brad is balancing PT based on match-ups, and doing his best to keep everyone involved.

“No”-mar Payne

It doesn’t mean that 10 or 11 guys will see meaningful tick in any game. It means that Podz will be ready the next time Trent hurts his knee. It means Coleman will be available to extend a packed defense.

It’s a great time to be a fan.

Categories
Illini basketball

The Championship Game

Concussing Kofi Cockburn was a clever strategy for the first Purdue game. A stunned Kofi couldn’t maintain his footwork defensively, and the mammoth Zach Edey scored 14 points in the first half as the Boilers steamed to a 37-26 advantage.

Kofi complained to referee DJ Carstensen about the Edey Elbow. Carstensen ignored him.

Zach Edey’s uncalled Flagrant 1 knocked Kofi’s head backward.

But as #B1G officiating became the subject of social media ridicule, the conference offices realized they needed to get better. Even Matt Painter said the Illini didn’t get “a good whistle” during the teams’ first go-round.

Kofi thrust his elbow a few times, trying to get Carstensen’s attention

Brad Underwood didn’t show his hand about the #B1G’s operations, which include referee evaluation and interviews with the teams and coaches. Jacob Grandison didn’t offer a lot of information about the process either, saying he leaves that stuff to the coaches.

But a blind squirrel could find this nut: Knocking your conference preseason POY out for a number of games is bad for TV ratings. It cost the Illini a game at Maryland, too, and that ain’t right.

Edey’s improvement has been a story in itself, but he’s unlikely to get the same leeway in West Lafayette that he enjoyed in Champaign. Looking the other way while players suffer neurological issues has been deemed bad.

Hunter Dickinson scored 28 points against the Boilers in their last game. That performance demonstrates that a mobile big can do damage against 40 minutes of Edey/Trevion Williams. In that game, which Purdue won 82-76 at Mackey on Saturday, the minutes breakdown was 17/23, a deviation from Edey’s recent overtaking of the elder Williams’s playing time.

But Edey gathered three fouls against Dickinson, while Williams played the entire game without a personal foul. Dickinson stretches a defense in a way that Kofi would probably enjoy, but so far, hasn’t: the Michigan big man shot three attempts from the arc, and made a pair of them.

Mr. Cockburn did not enjoy his spectator role in game 1.

This game is Illinois’s to win. The battling bigs probably won’t be the decisive factor, just like it wasn’t at Indiana. Instead, Purdue’s #1 KenPom adjusted offense versus Illinois’s #17 KenPom adjusted defense might see Sasha Stefanovic return to form. He’s generally had a bad time against the Illini. In the first meeting, he made 5-of-8 threes.

Jaden Ivey got all the whistle in Champaign, and converted 13-of-15 from the stripe to get his 19. Three-of-ten from the floor looks less impressive, and that’s the problem that Trent Frazier inflicts on people.

The KenPom numbers strongly favor the Illini at the other end of the floor. Purdue is AdjD #106, awhile the Illini Adjusted Offense is 21st nationally. Basically, if Trent Frazier had made 3-of-9 from the arc in that first contest, rather than 2-of-9, maybe Illinois wouldn’t have needed a second overtime to beat the visitors. Trent’s increasing reliance on penetration worked against the Boiler bigs, especially Edey, who is not “cat quick.”

Against Indiana, an excellent defensive team, the Illini made 43% of their shots from the arc. Luke Goode, Jake and Da’Monte Williams should have an easier time getting looks against the Boilers. Alfonso Plummer might not. His 6-of-12 performance last time might have Painter scheming to shut him down from the arc.

Maybe the most important factor in Tuesday’s game is that Kofi and the gang like playing at Mackey, the site of his first career long-two. He also converted all six of his free-throws in the last game where the Paint Crew was there to heckle.

Illinois won.

Thing is, the #EveryDayGuys enjoy the harassment. They all fielded a lot of questions about hostile crowds since shutting up 17,000 Indianans on Saturday. Kofi in particular could not prevent himself from breaking a wide grin about the enormous BOOOOOO! he got from Hoosiers fans during team introductions.

I wouldn’t bet against them.

Categories
Illini Basketball

The Emptiest of Feelings

Ask an objective observer who’s visited every basketball arena in the B1G, and you’re likely to get a unanimous response. Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall is tops. The best, bar none. It’s a purpose-built basketball emporium.

It’s not necessarily the best place to see a game. It’s the best place to experience a game.

For a team like the Illinois Fighting Illini, Assembly Hall II presents a magnificent opportunity for cruelty. 17,222 people — with perhaps 500 Illini fans sprinkled among them — means 16,722 despondent Hoosiers.

Saturday’s Illini performance took a scalpel to the beating, live heart of Indiana basketball, and harvested the organ.

Crushing the hopes of typical Indianans provides a cheap thrill. Brad’s lads did something far more perverse. Ripping the will from their opponents’ very souls, Da’Monte/Trent imposed long-term psychological damage on a group of nice guys who won’t finish last, but might (now that their souls have been ripped out) lose their next four straight, beginning with the Fuck You Miller Kopp, You Human Mediocrity festivities at Welsh-Ryan, Tuesday, 8pm CT, BTN (in case you don’t have anything else to do at 8 pm on Tuesday).

Saturday’s performance was workmanlike, a piecemeal performance-by-committee. Different dudes stepping up. A flash of Grandison to change fortunes. Alfonso extending the pain. Kofi converting at the worst possible moment for the locals. Trent finding his bag of nails, and putting a hammer to their coffin. The flashy moments buttressed by attention to details that always matter: ballhandling, defense & rebounding.

But until March, maybe April, we won’t be able to credibly say whether the Indiana outcome (like the Wisconsin outcome) was caused by the Illini.

Did Illinois convert 10-of-23 three-pointers because they set superior screens and threw better passes? Did Indiana miss 10 of its 13 arc attempts because the Illini consistently forced Indiana to rush their shots?

Ball Don’t Lie is predicated on individual outcomes, but championships are embedded in statistics. Wisconsin and Indiana converting three total attempts from the arc? That’s a coincidence, until it becomes a pattern.

For Illinois’s purposes, you want the Hoosiers to lose at Northwestern and MSU, which got pantsed Saturday at Rutgers. You then want the Hoosiers to beat tOSU on February 19.

As any competent dictator knows, its important to keep the victims demoralized.

As for schadenfreude, Indiana deserves every bit of bad karma it gets, as a collective. There’s a global pandemic afoot, and too many Hoosiers think it’s Fake News.

The SSAH public address announcer kept reminding Indiana fans that mask-wearing could keep crowds at The Skjodt. Those crowds invariably booed the message.

Lots of aerosols

Brad Underwood delivered his postgame Q & A in a room full of aerosols, and two Q-Anon followers on the Twit poked fun at me for mentioning it.

Here’s the thing, assholes: Whether you believe in science or not, Fran McCaffery is away from his team right now, with COVID. If Brad or Brad’s Lads experience a symptomatic infection, they’ll be pulled from action as well, like Belo last week.

Do you want Illinois Basketball to compete for a title? Then stop listening to car salesmen and wrestlers for medical advice. The Illini don’t need a quarantined coach, a quarantined Kofi, a quarantined Trent.

Categories
COVID-19 Illini Basketball Illini basketball

High Noon

Trayce Jackson-Davis has three names, but Brad Underwood used only one during his pre-game Zoom. “Trayce” needs no introduction. You know who he is.

An hour later and 167.7 miles east-by-southeast, new Hoosiers coach Mike Woodson conferred the same respect on “Kofi.”

Kofi Cockburn & Trayce Jackson-Davis

This feels like a fight where the top billing, Godzilla versus King Kong, might not determine the outcome. It oughta be entertaining. But you get the feeling that it’ll be someone else who puts his team on top.

Against Purdue, that other person was Rob Phinisee. Trayce needed only 12 minutes to collect four fouls. It worked out okay for the Hoosiers, because Trevion Williams was ineffective in his 15 of the #BoilerBigs 40 minutes, and Zach Edey got only six shots in his 25.

How did Indiana hold Purdue’s Power Duo to 10 FGA? It’s something to worry about.

Perhaps he was unable to hit them in the face?

The Hoosiers committed THREE total turnovers in that game, and Trayce had two of them. Phinisee came off the bench (as usual) for twenty points, four rebounds and four steals in 26 minutes. That’s a lot of steals. Purdue had none. It’s the product of different defensive philosophies. Woodson’s Hoosiers are doing something more akin to Underwood’s Pokes (and early Illini teams), less pack-line-ish.

But Phinsee won’t pick any pockets tomorrow. Plantar Fasciitis will keep him on the bench.

This won’t happen in Bloomington.

If you looked at early Hoosier results and thought meh, consider three factors.

  1. A new coach/style
  2. Many newcomers playing significant minutes
  3. Trey Galloway’s broken wrist
Galloway is the shaggy one.

Galloway broke his wrist in mid-November. Indiana missed his irritating peppiness for almost two months. He’ll be a pain.

What about Khristian Lander, the heralded super-recruit who arrived in Bloomington and then …

He’s played nine games, starting none. He missed eight straight with a leg injury. Indiana fans still believe in him. They think he’ll be the determining force in Saturday’s contretemps. He’s a turnover machine, and he fouls a lot. We’ll see how that works out.

Xavier Johnson, Parker Stewart and Miller Kopp are the new blood. The Transfer Portal was good to Indiana is how Underwood phrased it. Johnson and Stewart started at Pitt. Stewart left to play for his dad at UT-Martin. His dad died. He left Martin.

Xavier Johnson (IU Athletics)

Johnson arrived at Pitt after Stewart’s lone season, and stayed for three years. Now running the offense in Bloomington, he’s tallied 95 assists for the Hoosiers (and 48 turnovers). Compare Trent Frazier’s 72 (39) and top-ranked Auburn’s Wendell Green’s 110 (47).

The Frazier/Johnson match-up should be as fun to watch as the Bigs Battle, especially for Illini fans.

Stewart is the shooting guard, and he converts 45% from the arc. But he’s attempted only 87 of them. Alfonso Plummer has attempted 160. Frazier’s launched 130. Jacob Grandison 95.

Jake leads Illinois at 43.2% from downtown.

Indiana has attempted 390 3FGs on the year, and their opponents 481. The Illini are up to 537.

Miller Kopp is just as boring for Indiana as he was for Northwestern. Statistically speaking, he does almost nothing but not take away opportunities from his teammates, which is something. Not touted as a defensive stopper, and a proven disappointment as a rebounder, this is the guy you want on the floor to get RJ Melendez some highlight reel.

CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE

Covering an early game in (the other) Bloomington poses some obstacles to an Illini media pool still digging out from a foot of snow.

Sure, one could drive over on Friday evening, once the day’s pre-game availabilities have been edited, transcribed, uploaded. If one survived the snow drifts and howling winds while wending the hollers, one could get a room at The Graduate for just $499. Or Hyatt Place for just $439!

Thing is, Hoosiers basketball remains insanely popular in those hollers. Cityfolk like it too! And rather than get up early and drive, these folks have chosen to drive and drink. They’ll be boozing maskless in downtown Hoosierville ten hours before tip-off. The ones who get to bed before midnight will start again before the game.

So, much to Joey’s consternation, we’ll all get up at 5:30 am, lose an hour crossing the border, and hope that Indiana’s DOT plowed the tiny roads, too.

Your trusted sources, among others.

Illini Report will not have an assigned photography spot at The Skjodt. In fact, among Illini media, only WCIA gets a spot on the floor. COVID and big donors have eaten into floor space.

Instead, Illini Report will enjoy something it hasn’t done since the Indiana blowout of 2019 — watching a basketball game. (Illini Report got so depressed during that game, that it had to walk to the very top of the real Assembly Hall’s bowl to watch Archie Miller — remember him? — rip Andres Feliz’s heart out.)

Illini Report will provide postgame coverage from both media rooms at The Skjodt. Being all fancy about basketball, IU has two of them. The opponent’s room is actually an administrative office for IU softball, and it’s never set up until after the game. No A/V equipment, though. Just chairs.

But because the Illini media pool is so butch, and travels well, IU Athletics Communications made an 11th hour decision, on Friday afternoon, to move our postgame to Suite 1820 of The Skjodt.

If we can find that vending machine, we will communicate Brad’s thoughts about the big win.

Or so we can hope.

This game has, since the schedule came out, seemed like the linchpin of Illinois’s quest for a ’22 championship. A win at Bloomington would define the season.

People who forgot how good this IU team is, perhaps because their coach got fired, need only recall the UI-IU contests of the past three years.

We’ve always known that these particular Hoosiers are dangerous. We knew it when Illinois barely beat them last year, and we knew it when Illinois barely beat them the year before that.

See you bright and early.

Categories
COVID-19 Illini basketball

Covidton, Indiana

Bloomington, Indiana is a blue dot in Confederate red Trump country. That’s true of 10 B1G campuses, including Illinois. Our bumpkins might not be as invested in the Lost Cause, but culturally they’re as tribe-conscious as a 13 year-old girl, trying to figure out what the cool kids are wearing.

Indiana stands out among our conference’s Oasis schools because Hoosierland was the world’s hotspot for infections during the hand-off from Delta to Omicron. It gets extra credit for being one of the B1G’s least reputable academic institutions (there’s certainly a causal relationship there) and for worshipping a man who blazed a White Grievance trail decades before complaining about absolutely every fucking thing was cool.

Arguably a bad person. Demonstrably one of the greatest coaches.

If you’re counting; Rutgers, Maryland and Northwestern’s campuses are sited in areas too wealthy and educated to harbor a burning animosity toward the wealthy & educated. Plenty of basketball-loving Republicans live near those campuses, but they tend to be descendants of other Republicans, the kind who worried about Russian aggression, and championed fiscal responsibility.

Michigan’s campus sits on the edge of the Detroit metroplex. Minneapolis might be too ginormous to be called a blue dot. They get half a point each, hence the 10-of-14 calculus.

Inhaling deeply, Andre Curbelo turns the corner versus Wisconsin.

Omicron ripped its way through all these towns over the last month. In Bloomington, a symptomatic media member worked the Purdue game, infecting at least 8 other working media. That news came from Indiana’s sports information department, which emphasized that Illini media should not show up if feeling bad. (A separate, private email between Illini Report and IU Athletics Communications revealed that IU staff was also infected. “These fucking people” was not communicated verbatim, but merely implied.)

Illinois media had a super-spreader event, too. Maybe it was the Meyers Leonard visit. That’s the hunch of one infected member. It seems like half of us got it.

I say “us” only to evoke a brotherhood. My N95 worked. #3xPfizer.

You can probably guess who did get sick because they kinda disappeared for a few days of coverage.

These Fucking People, cropped from the above image.

Meanwhile, Illini fans from the sticks continue to show up maskless at the SFC. They can change a serpentine belt, ergo they know more about viral pathology than your average respiratory therapist.

We know these idiots won’t lift a pinky toward the kind of altruistic self-sacrifice that stopped Hitler. But would they wear a mask, or even get vaccinated, if they learned that their choices might determine the 2022 Big Ten MBB Champion?

Ha-ha. No. Of course not.

Belo got COVID

Only one Illini game was rescheduled thus far because of COVID, but it’s certainly arguable that COVID cost Illinois a hugely important win. Andre Curbelo was feverish at College Park. Those of us who saw it in person could see, with every stoppage, that he was out-of-sorts, winded.

Trent was terrible that game, too. Was he battling something other than Terrapins? He’s had three airballs in the last two games, is that brain fog? Trent’s defense since Maryland has been solid, with Tuesday’s Brad Davison performance among his unawarded trophy collection. But what happened to his depth perception?

IUBB says it’s enforcing masking at Saturday’s game. I expect 15% compliance among the mouthbreathing fandom.

Race Thompson and Trayce Jackson-Davis will romp, perhaps effectively. IU guards will have a tough day against Trent and Da’Monte. Omicron will waft over thousands of would-be insurrectionists.

Illini Report encourages those of you who think it’s not real to continue thinking it’s not real.

Thanks. Bye.

Categories
COVID-19 Illini Baseball

The Off Night

KenPom says Wisconsin leads the B1G in “luck.” By a lot.

In fact, the next luckiest B1G team is Michigan State, which checks in at #86. Stanford and Washington are the only other P5 teams in the Top 20. (Illinois is 125, which seems incredibly high given the injuries, illness & Kofi’s $uspenSion.)

Well, the Badgers returned to the mean.

Greg Gard turned to his SID Patrick Herb (their Derrick Burson) to query the Brad Davison 50%-from-three streak. It was 10 games. Davison is a career 36.6% shooter from deep. Pretty good, not great. Kinda normal.

Against Trent, he was 0-for-6.

After a season that saw our All-American sit for a quarter of the games, while our other All-American was just plain out for two months, it’s nice that the other team had bad luck.

Brad Underwood wants you to believe that his team had something to do with the Badgers 3-of-24 performance. That could be true. For example, if Badger shooters were plum tuckered from dodging defenders when they launched those wide-open threes …

Illinois didn’t shoot well from the arc, too. As a team, the Illini were 7-for-22.

But oh boy were they good from a foot away. Wisconsin’s non-fouling policy didn’t work in either sense. The Badgers were called for 10 fouls while guarding Kofi, and they also played Kofi so softly that he was frequently able to convert shots from within double-teams.

Lose-lose.

Andre Curbelo returned from COVID protocol and played eleven minutes (11:29), scoring seven points, dishing two assists and committing two turnovers.

All-Big Ten candidate Johnny Davis led the Badgers with 22 points and 14 rebounds, but he needed 19 shots to get those 22 points. He converted 5-of-19 from the floor, 1-of-5 from three-point range and 11-of-14 from the free-throw line.

Tyler Wahl was Wisconsin’s other double-digit scorer. He scored 12 points in the first half, but only two in the second. Underwood said Illini halftime adjustments made it harder for Wahl to receive the ball in a good position to score.

You probably won’t see Greg Gard make this mistake in the B1G Tournament. Sorry to be a downer.

But hey, FIRST PLACE.

Categories
Illini Basketball

Getting the Word Out

Brad Underwood got up and walked out of the Dennis and Katharine Swanson Media Room, just like he always does after the last answer to the last question of a live, pre-game press conference.

And then he turned around and walked back in, reminded that this Snowmaggedon Wisconsin tilt would feature an extra element of excitement: meteorology.

“Where do you want me?” he asked Courtney Bay, the new-ish Illini Director of Branding and Creative Media. They made a brief video, in which he implored Illini fans to sell or donate their tickets to other Illini fans, who might be able to get through mountains of snow and ice by 8 PM tonight.

It seemed kinda weird, but perhaps only if you’d been in the room forty minutes earlier, trying to prod official spokespersons into offering official statements about parking, snow removal, etc. Perhaps they’d been advised against such statements, for liability purposes.

It appears that there will be a game tonight, and that Johnny Davis, Tyler Wahl and Brad Davison will be a part of it, as will Andre Curbelo & Kofi Cockburn.

The outcome might figure prominently in National Player of the Year voting.

It might also determine the 2022 B1G basketball champion. That’s worth trudging through the snow, isn’t it?

But it made me wonder just how effective a Twitter message might be, compared to traditional media. And then I “fell down the rabbit hole” as people liked to say in 2021.

IlliniMBB has enough followers on Twitter that retweeting the @CoachUnderwood video might. effectively, get the message out. And most of them will likely understand the Prince & the Revolution-esque wording.

But just for the record, Illinois has the seventh-most followers among B1G schools.

  • Indiana – five national championships – 1M Followers
  • Michigan State – Flintstones national champions – 454.5K Followers
  • Michigan – 1989 national champions … grrrrrr – 343K Followers
  • Wisconsin – a scrappy group, with moxie – 307.7K Followers
  • Iowa – ineffective champions, 1980 Final Four – 167.7K Followers
  • Maryland – 1 national championship – 154.3K Followers
  • Illinois – Sean Higgins, Sean May – 143.6K Followers
  • Ohio State – 1 natty (black people included) – 139.7K Followers
  • Purdue – most championships in B1G history – 127.8K Followers
  • Nebraska – Eric Piatkowski, Wally Szczerbiak – 115K Followers
  • MN – vacated 1997 season still better than recent years – 57.3K Followers
  • Penn State – we’re across the street at the skating rink – 36.1K Followers
  • Rutgers – still played in the Atlantic 10 in 1995 – 30.1K Followers
  • Northwestern – they beat Rutgers! – 20.4K Followers
Categories
Illini basketball

Notes from NUrdland

Staying old requires getting old, and RJ Melendez got older in Evanston. So did Podz.

RJ demonstrated an understanding of geometry that older Illini teammates might wish to study. He used the glass to score a much-needed bucket from an unfortunate angle, and within a pack of Wildcats.

Brad Underwood said he’d planned to play RJ against Michigan State, but somehow the match-ups weren’t right. After Saturday’s win, Underwood was unable to refrain from describing RJ as “bouncy,” which sounds cute and Tigger-ish, but also describes one of RJ’s most important functions: He can rebound without having worked himself into position. i.e. he jumps over people.

RJ is instant offense, and he’s unafraid to throw himself into the mix. For a team that’s run heartburn-inducing offense in recent games, RJ is the Rolaids.

Podz for three

The Podz substitution was obviously a response to Alfonso Plummer’s fourth foul. Would Underwood have inserted him otherwise?

It doesn’t matter. When his number was called, Podz was ready. He scored a lay-up on the next possession.

The box score shows no rebounds, steals or blocked shots for Brandin. But if statisticians tracked floor burns, he would have been team leader. Coaches track floor burns. They track hockey assists, and box-outs.

Brandin acquitted himself in those crucial six minutes and 19 seconds, when the Illini turned a deficit into victory.

That reliability means Underwood can trust him again in the future. It didn’t go unnoticed that Podz, like Da’Monte, can defend multiple positions.

Podz checks Pete Nance

CONCUSSED

Kofi Cockburn confirmed (after the Northwestern game) that he appealed (during the Purdue game) to referee DJ Carstensen about Zach Edey’s elbow.

When that elbow whiplashed Kofi’s head, none of Carstensen, Bo Boroski or Brian Dorsey saw any problems. It might have been ruled a flagrant foul. They saw it as incidental contact. Or maybe they didn’t see it at all.

Ed Hightower watched the game at Northwestern

The Big Ten knows its officiating hasn’t been up to snuff lately. That’s why Dr. Ed Hightower sat on the aisle, about ten rows up from the Wildcats bench. He was there, he said, on behalf of the commissioner.

Hightower wore a conference issued All-Access pass. He was in the locker rooms before the game, talking to coaches from both teams. He said he’d have follow-up conversations after the game as well.

“We will get better,” he promised.

THE MAN OF THE HOUR

Da’Monte Williams really does love defense. Unflappable as usual, he emoted not at all about his game-saving heroics in Evanston. But as a matter of analysis, he was perfectly willing to engage the topic of Da’Monte Williams All-Time Highlights. Was it that block against Minnesota? How about last year’s three-point daggers against the Buckeyes?

He picked Minnesota, dryly noting that he didn’t get a lot of tick in that game. (Maybe that’s why Richard Pitino didn’t know who we were talking about.)