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COVID-19 Illini Basketball

The Must Win

If you bet on the ’22 Illini to win a #B1G championship, you’re already suffering indigestion from Tuesday’s game in Minneapolis. And you still have hours of sweating palms to go.

Your discomfort began when the Gophers, the pre-season’s unanimous pick for last place, beat Michigan.

Jamison Battle, who is not Talor Battle, shoots with his left hand.

But is Minnesota, currently Receiving Votes and formerly, briefly Ranked, good?

Eh. Maybe.

It doesn’t matter. Your quest is the Illini quest. The Illini quest is to win the B1G. Winning the B1G means winning at Minnesota. It’s a proven fact.

The 1984 Illini did it, and they won the B1G. The ’89 team lost its first game of the season in Minneapolis (after Kendall Gill went down with the greenstick fracture in his foot) and finished second to the Indiana team that it beat twice.

Lon Kruger’s scrappy 98ers didn’t have to go to Mpls. They beat Izzo in Champaign, and thus tied MSU for a conference title.

The 2001 champs beat a lowly Gophers team at Williams. The 2002 Illini clinched a B1G championship with that frenzied finish that you still watch on YouTube when you’re drunk, even though it’s low-def and blurry.

WHO THEY DON’T HAVE

If addition-by-subtraction had a poster, it would be the 2021 Golden Gophers. They all bailed, making their ex-program better.

Gabe Kalscheur is raining buckets in Ames, second only to ex-Penn State Izaiah Brockington in leading TJ Otzelberger’s miracle turnaround. Brandon Johnson, who gave Illinois fits last year, joined Paris Parham in their mutual hometown. (Rob Judson is there, too!)

Jamal Mashburn Jr. followed Richard Pitino to Albuquerque. Both Gach transferred to Utah. Liam Robbins went to Vanderbilt.

Marcus Carr just dropped 20 on Bob Huggins, having moved from 80s music hot spot Minneapolis to 90s music hotspot Austin.

What is it with the Gold & Maroon?

WHO THEY HAVE

Payton Willis left Minnesota. Payton Willis returned to Minnesota.

After a vacation year at College of Charleston, this erstwhile trumpeted Gopher is, again, a trumpeted Gopher. You can understand why he didn’t want to compete with Kalscheur & Carr for PT, but he might be better than either of them.

With an ATO of 45-to-21, shooting 46% from the arc and 50% overall, you’d like to think that his weak point is defense.* Unfortunately, dudes seem to get better at defense as they mature. Payton was born at the front end of 1998. He played at Vanderbilt for his first two seasons, and Vanderbilt is uppity about admitting dummies.

Minnesota’s other threat is Jamison Battle, whom Brad identified as “Talor Battle” in Monday’s presser. So you know it’s bad news. Talor Battle haunted the B1G from an underdog spot. That was ten years ago. Brad’s still recovering, and he wasn’t even a B1G coach back then.

Jamison Battle scores and rebounds. He’s a “tough guard” as the kids like to say, because he can post up and hit from three (36%).

6’7″ and 225 lbs., motivated, chip on his shoulder for having to leave town (two years at GW Colonials) before coming home to play for the team he’d always wanted to lead, this kid is trouble.

OVERSOLD STAT

In the pre-game presser, Minnesota’s three-point defense was a point of emphasis among the Askers. Brad Underwood said Michigan connected on 9 of them and MSU on ten. The latter stat is correct. MSU was 10-for-21 from the arc. The Wolverines managed 3-of-18.

It’s immaterial.

There’s no evidence that this Minnesota team can compete with legitimate squads. Beating Illinois would help their cause, but the Illini aren’t a proven commodity either. If you’re prepared to reject The Myth of Juwan Howard (and I know you want to) the Gophers’ only win over a quasi-legit team was beating Ben Howland in Starkville.

But Mississippi State is 10-3. They beat Arkansas on December 29, and that’s their only good win. (The previously mentioned MSU’s Rocket Watts is now in Starkville, and played 8 minutes in that game. He’s averging 13.6/game. Tom Izzo once had great hopes for him.)

They lost to Louisville and Colorado State. They needed overtime to top Richmond. (I know you think Richmond is a mid-major super-power, but they haven’t made the tourney since Jereme Richmond was skipping class.)

*LIKE* BEN JOHNSON

Unless you’re playing against him, and until further notice, you want Minnesota’s new coach to succeed, for all kinds of reasons. But certainly, the best part is that he faced the lowest expectations, acknowledged them, and then kept on keeping on.

*His weakness is free-throws.

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COVID-19 Illini Basketball

Actually, Don’t Show Me

Midway through his postgame press conference, Cuonzo Martin got his Bret Beherns Moment. From the back of the room, a reporter asked what Cuonzo would say to fans after being blown out in both rivalry games (102-65 in Lawrence on December 11th).

His response was much better than John Groce’s “goodness gracious, Bret. What kind of question is that?”

Cuonzo said “stay the course. We will continue to get better. We will continue to grow.” Trouble is, he didn’t just lose to Kansas. He lost to Kansas City, too. And Liberty. Moreover, Cuonzo is not a course-stayer. He’s developed a talent for getting out of town.

On the brink of getting fired at Tennessee, he parlayed two lucky weekends into a Pac-12 job in Berkeley. First, he beat a Brad Underwood-less South Carolina team in the SEC Tournament (before losing to top-ranked Florida). That moved him into the NCAA First Four (beating out, for example, John Groce’s second Illini squad) where he conquered The Frans in overtime. His Volunteers handled 6-seed Massachusetts. But Duke and Coach K awaited.

Or not! Mercer gave their all to beat the Blue Devils, and thus spent, had nothing left for UT. Hence, Cuonzo made it to the second weekend. He knew the temperature of his seat in Knoxville, and he got OUT.

Mizzou must be an awful job. Since Norm Stewart retired, no one can manage it. Or if they keep afloat, they get out. Remember Frank Haith? He made a lateral (?) move to Tulsa. Mike Anderson, their best coach of the century, jumped to Arkansas. Quin Snyder’s career was almost ruined in Columbia. Kim Anderson enjoyed three D-II Final Fours, including a championship, before killing his career in Columbia.

If Cuonzo isn’t looking elsewhere, he’s lost his edge.

On the other hand, kudos to him for starting freshman Trevon Brazile, who’d previously played in a total of 3 games, against Kofi Cockburn. Brazile earned Brad Underwood’s praise in the postgame cameras on/microphones live session, but Andre Curbelo jumped off the bench *during* the game and yelled “Kofi, go at him. LOOK AT HIM!”

He (23) is pretty skinny.

There’s really not much to report about the actual Braggin’ Rights game. It featured one team on the rise, and another in a death spiral. The crowd wasn’t 50-50, but perhaps 80-20. By the time Illinois had a 30 point lead, all the yellow shirts were missing, and orange people had moved from the nosebleeds to take their seats. Apart from the assistant football coaches (sitting on the court), this reporter didn’t spy celebrities. The courtside spot generally reserved for recruits featured only Belo.

Also, Marlee’s moving to Grand Rapids

Illini alums were sparse as well. Steve Bardo was there because he was working. Drew Cayce and Bubba Chisholm were the only former players I spotted. Oh, and Nate Mast providing play-by-play with Brian Barnhart, because Deon and Doug were unavailable.

It was fun, but it wasn’t Braggin’ Rights.

The best part was watching Mark Jones honored for 33 years of photography (and insolence). He’s a gem.

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COVID-19 Illini Basketball

Mizzou preview 2021

Last year, Illini fans expected a cakewalk in the non-Braggin’ Rights game at Mizzou. But karma chose otherwise.

From the tedious Coin Flip Show which determined that Columbia, not Champaign would host the contest; to the listless performance by an eventual #1 seed: Everything sucked for Illini fans.

Mizzou guard Mark Smith (13). Mizzou Tigers vs. Illinois Illini at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo. on Saturday, December 12, 2020. Hunter Dyke/Mizzou Athletics

Ironically, because Mizzou is crap this year, the pressure is again on the Illini this year. Favored by fifteen points, Illinois simply can’t lose to a Tigers team that’s already lost to UMKC, Liberty and Wichita State.

Mark Smith is gone. Mitchell Smith is gone. Dru Smith is gone. Jeremiah Tilmon is gone.

Brad Underwood identified point-forward Kobe Brown and Illini nemesis Javon Pickett as the Tigers to watch for.

Brown is hitting 56% from the floor, and leading Mizzou with 15 points per game. He’s listed at 6’8″ and 250 lbs., thus making him one of the few Tigers that could offer any resistance to Kofi Cockburn. Underwood expects Mizzou to throw multiple defenders at Kofi.

Illinois forward Kofi Cockburn (21). Mizzou Tigers vs. Illinois Illini at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo. on Saturday, December 12, 2020. Hunter Dyke/Mizzou Athletics

So maybe you can expect a defense-by-irritant approach against Kofi. It worked well for Marquette and Arizona. But it also gives Kofi the opportunity to improve his passing game, which is the most amazing aspect of this young Illini season in my arrogant opinion.

Mizzou lacks size, and the guys with size lack experience. De Smet Jesuit grad Yaya Keita, a 6’9″ 240 lb. freshman, will spell the veterans, but you cab expect Cuonzo Martin to throw him at BBV and Omar Payne, while Kofi’s getting a breather.

Coach Tim Anderson counsels Kofi Cockburn.

Apart from Brown, the Tigers can’t shoot. They’re abysmal from the arc, connecting on 25% to 27% among those that have launced more than five attempts on the season. Brown leads the way at 27.3%. Pickett is 21% for the year.

Naturally, they’ll have career nights against the Illini, right?

Other Tigers to watch for are DaJuan Gordon, whose initial defensive instruction came from Chris Lowery and Bruce Weber. Those dudes can teach defense (if nothing else). K-State traded Gordon for Mark Smith during the off-season, and despite how also-ran Smith has been for the Wildcatters, it’s hard to argue that Gordon is better. The 15/17 assist-to-turnover ratio is telling. He has 13 steals on the year, second on the team only to Brown (19). He’s 35% from the floor, and 26% from the arc.

Cuonzo Martin was exasperated by Illini freshman Trent Frazier (Vashoune Russell)

Nine Tigers play, and six Tigers play 30 minutes. It’s exactly the rotation paradigm you’d expect from the Keady Tree. Sophomore swingman Ronnie DeGray seems like the kind of match-up nightmare that Underwood likes to moan about. The 6’6″ sophomore is averagind 9 points and 6 rebounds per game. He’s played in all 11 for the 6-5 Tigers, starting three. You see his role expanding as the season develops, and you fear him having his break-out game against Illinois.

But that’s because you’re an Illini fan. Fear is home to you. It’s practically your safe space.

Also, if Illinois doesn’t win tonight, shut it all down.

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COVID-19 Illini Basketball

Jacob’s Ladder

During the first half of Saturday’s 106-48 blowout, a Da’Monte Williams three glanced off SFC’s south rim, and caromed into the hands of Jacob Grandison, strangely alone on the low post’s near side.

I turned to Nico Haeflinger, sitting beside me on the north baseline. “He’s always in the right place at the right time.” I think I said.

“He’s got an old man game,” Nico agreed, and added that highlights of Slim Jake rarely make his game reel, because Grandison is so rarely spectacular. You barely notice him scoring 20 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. He moves like a cat.

This was pretty spectacular, but the ref’s ass blocked Nico’s view.

Jake’s stat line, 11 games into the season, is instructive. It tells you about the other people on the team.

Compared to Omar, Coleman and even Da’Monte, Jake doesn’t accrue personal fouls or turnovers. His three-point delivery looks a bit awkward. It’s almost like a set shot. But so far, he’s made half of them. The Fonz is only 43.8% by comparison.

You can see why Omar’s minutes have been reduced to relieving Kofi’s panting. There’s no room at the 4, and Kofi will only be out to the extent that he needs to be out. (That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be intrigued by the Kofi/Omar twin towers set, which finally made its debut, which the coaching staff continues to dream about, and which threatens any team that relies on interior scoring.)

The re-emergence of Jacob Grandison drives home a stark reality about the future of Illini basketball: Oh shit, what happens when the olds are gone. Brad keeps pointing it out, because he knows that losing all those guys undercuts the foundation, everything he’s built.

If Coleman doesn’t figure it out real quick, Underwood’s get old, stay old plan might require an infusion of JUCO or transfer olds.

Luke Goode and Benjamin-Bosmans-Verdonk are interested in rebounding.

Getting old got a little easier against St. Francis, with Luke Goode earning almost 14 minutes of tick. He made 2-of-3 threes, assisted on Alfonso Plummer’s trey in the Five Pass Possession and grabbed three rebounds.

Luke provides the same team leadership, intelligence, grit and rebounding that Jake provides. He’s 10-of-23 (43.5%) from the floor, and 8-18 (44.4%) from the arc this year. Fine numbers, but not on par with Jake’s 46-of-85 (54.1%) and 23-of-46.

It’s no secret that he’s ahead of his fellow freshmen, but is it enough to slide into a 30 minute roll in 2023?

SUPERTRENT

The StFrPa game offered Trent Frazier another fantastic opportunity to demonstrate Brad Underwood’s proclamation that SuperTrent is the best defender in the US.

Trent Frazier checks Ramiir Dixon-Conover

Brad always characterizes this argument by pointing out that Trent doesn’t garner flashy defensive data (blocks, steals) to buttress his standing among elite, elite defenders. Trent simply renders one’s existence intolerable.

Trent Frazier is a hands-on defender.

Ramiir Dixon-Conover scored 10 points against Illinois. He was 3-of-11 from the floor. Trent’s harassment took its toll on him as the game progressed. Those first three possessions were fantastic for the Red Flashes, with Dixon-Conover draining a three in the opening set, then kicking out from a double-team on the third.

Trent Frazier is a legs-on defender.
And if you get past Trent, there’s this guy.

From that point on, St. F-PA was 13-of-58 from the floor.

It’s not just the physical harassment that wears opponents down. Trent Frazier is an unabashed trash talker. He’ll tell you how bad you are while making you worse.

He doesn’t care who’s listening.

Dixon-Conover is a career 72% free-throw shooter, and entered the Illinois game at 73% this season. He converted 2-of-5 against the Illini.

He was rattled.

FRESH MEN

RJ Melendez continued building his highlight reel against Saint Francis. Although he’s a persistent rebounder, his game is not a mirror of Jacob Grandison. RJ is flashy. He’s already becoming a fan favorite thanks to his leaping, fancy passes, windmill dunks, and 67% shooting from the arc.

RJ drives to the bucket.

That last stat probably won’t survive another ten attempts. He’s 4-of-6 on the season.

To my utter shame, I didn’t capture an image of the Podz dunk in Saturday’s game. I’d just captured a few images of SFU freshman Brendan Scanlon, and had set my camera down so I could ask Twitter if it remembered the last time a 12 year-old competed in a regular-season Illini basketball game.

Maybe 10?

The answer, of course, is Little Lick. There’s no better way to get fired from a D-1 job than to give playing time to your own pudgy 5’8″ kid. It just looks bad, even in Iowa.

ENJOYING THEMSELVES

It’s been a harrowing season, and we still haven’t reached Christmas. The Saint Francis game offered every Illini a chance to let his hair down, get his stats up, and just have fun.

The bench shares a laugh after a Brandon Lieb dunk.

The biggest laugh for the team was a Brandon Lieb dunk. The dunk itself wasn’t funny, and the team wasn’t laughing at Brandon, who’s one of those guys that works hard in practice and gets little opportunity in games.

Brandon Lieb dunks against Saint Francis-PA

This was a laugh of relief, of having worked hard and got the job done right. This was a thank god the Flashes aren’t another Marquette, or Loyola.

The crowd’s biggest laugh came when Kofi mistook Da’Monte for an opponent, and ripped a defensive rebound from his smaller teammate’s grasp.

Monte thought it was funnier than anyone, and couldn’t help but laugh all the way down court as the Illini set up their offense.

Kofi’s biggest laugh was at himself. He executed a typical Kofi-esque low-post move, shifting toward the center of the cleared-out lane, dribbling with his right hand, pinning his man with the left.

He rose up for a right-handed baby hook, but missed from 30 inches away.

Kofi Cockburn clears some space with his left elbow

Kofi got his own rebound, power-dribbled, pushed a pair of St, Francis defenders away from the basket with his big old butt and left elbow, then brought the ball up with both hands for a bank into the bucket and-1.

Whether it was the miss from point blank, or the ease with which he moved two gnats from his path, Kofi thought it was hilarious.

Coleman Hawkins got back in the groove, and that might be a turning point for the entire Illini season.

Coach Underwood said he has more confidence in Coleman than Coleman has in Coleman. It’s a quirk of Illinois’s cockiest player. But given an opportunity to score against an inferior opponent, Coleman made it easy on himself by starting with a simple drive & lay-up.

Seeing the ball go through the net opened things up for Coleman, and he later drained a pair of threes from the corner.

Underwood’s management of Coleman will inevitably be a talking point when this season is deconstructed.

FIVE PASS POSSESSION

The coach’s favorite moment of the game was, of course, the five pass sequence that ended with an open three for Alfonso Plummer.

It began with Fonz dribbling to the baseline, then dumping to Kofi in the paint. Eventually, the ball made it all around the horn, and back to Fona, who ran back to the corner immediately upon releasing his pass.

Plummer to Cockburn
Cockburn to Frazier, Plummer runs back to corner
Frazier to Willams
Williams to Goode
Goode to Plummer
Fonz drains a three
Brad jumped up and ran to half court, cheering and pumping his fists.

THE OMICRON DELTA

So, it’s nice that the Illini got to enjoy this final game of their season.

Or maybe they’ll play in Braggin’ Rights Wednesday, as scheduled. Perhaps even after that.

As the Omicron variant swarms New York City, Midwestern know-nothings continue their Covid is Over behavior. Shopping at Champaign’s home improvement stores on Sunday, it was easy to identify the Faux News & Trump voters. The camo clothing and F-150s are often a sign, but their unmasked faces are the giveaway.

The team modeled mask-wearing more than ever.

Omicron is less susceptible to the immune response generated by mRNA vaccines. Just today, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced that he’s positive despite being triple-vaxxed. My vaxxed niece in NYC got it by sharing a meal with co-workers in a break room. An NYU sophomore on winter break, she’s already spread it to ten people, and is suffering through Day 6 of feeling like shit.

Another niece in California got the contact tracing text on Friday. She’d joined her fellow teaching staff in the school’s faculty holiday party. Someone brought The Vid.

Delta continues to rage in the United States. But as the US passed 800,000 deaths, the anti-science cohort — those who never participated in abatement measures while complaining about abatement measures, and seem to think that knowing how to install a serpentine belt gives equal/better understanding of viral pathology than a medical degree — continue their tribal resistance to simple measures.

Before Saturday’s tip-off, the major donors (many of whom do abide COVID protocols) were moved two feet back from Lou Henson Court. Perhaps the thinking holds that these 24 extra inches will provide a total of six feet distance from the players. Campus, like check-out lanes at grocery stores, boasts a bunch of six-foot markers.

But the aerosols generated by 15-thousand people, in one confined space, will not stop at six feet. So far, few of the attendees at Illini home games have abided the mask rule, and the DIA/SFC staff doesn’t enforce it.

Underwood declined the opportunity to offer a potentially controversial statement about his fans ennui with COVID precautions. Meanwhile, the medical community predicts a million new cases tomorrow, and exponential spread through the holidays.

I’m glad my Zoom room has a fireplace. I’m just sitting here, enjoying the warmth, and waiting for the Braggin’ Rights cancellation email.

Merry Giftsmas.

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Illini Basketball

St Fran PA preview

If you’re a Chief Illiniwek stalwart, perhaps you’d want to open an SFU preview with “What the hell is a Red Flash?” Otherwise, “balanced scoring” is the obvious place to begin.

Four guys average between 11.3 and 14.4 points. Three guys play 30+ minutes per game, and that includes leading scorer Ramiir Dixon-Conover, who’s about to go through a Trent Frazier-shaped hell.

Ramiir Dixon-Conover

Dixon-Conover is a Criminal Justice major, so he’ll probably understand the restraints Frazier employs, and the reason Trent employs them. He’s listed at 6’3″, shorter than Dalen Terry, whom Trent checked in the Arizona game.

Admittedly, this is not a photo of Trent checking Dalen Terry.

The low post might be a problem for SFU. Redshirt sophomore Josh Cohen is steadily eating up the minutes that might otherwise go to redshirt senior Mark Flagg. Neither of them will be able to defend Kofi Cockburn.

Maxwell Land is SFU’s most frequent launcher of threes. He’s 12 of 32 on the season. As a 6’4″ swingman, he’s likely to see Da’Monte Williams in his grill. It’s not a pleasant prospect for anyone, so let’s sympathize with him.

Da’Monte Williams swats the ball from Minnesota’s Alihan Demir on the would-be game tying shot, sealing the win

Myles Thompson is another swingman for the Red Whatevers, and so far their best volume shooter. He’s at 42.3% on 26 attempts. He’s started every game for SFU, but plays on 25 minutes per game. Marlon Hargis is the final outside threat for the visitors. He’s the best overall shooter, but with a small sample size, and getting just 14 minutes/game, it’s hard to predict what he might do against the Illini.

Coleman Hawkins and Jacob Grandison will rotate against these two. Coleman presents more problems from a trash talking perspective, but either Illini is capable of perimeter defense.

Jake, by the way, has three stitches in his head, and plays the violin. These two facts are not necessarily related.

That leaves toreador Alfonso Plummer to check SFU’s second leading scorer, Ronell Giles.

Just a sophomore, Giles takes the most shots of any Red Guy, and he’s more of a slasher than a spot-up threat.

Ronell Giles Jr.

Plummer’s red cape might take some abuse here. On the other hand, The Fonz was uncommonly bold in dismissing a Red Threat. (Obviously the communications staff failed to warn him against downplaying opponents.)

Tip time is noon Saturday on the BTN.

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COVID-19 Illini Basketball

The Season on a Brink

Michigan stinks. Minnesota’s good.

Eric Hutcherson, who flew from SoCal to Champaign every few days in November, has a lot of flights to unbook.

Coleman Hawkins, the only #Illini to start every game, appears hesitant on offense. Da’Monte Williams can’t buy a three, again (26.3%).

Alfonso Plummer joined the team as an undersized three-point specialist. Now he’s playing an oversized role, sometimes manning the point, and driving for buckets.

This is not the 2022 you expected. So what is it?

Seriously, what’s going on here?

“Did you have fun?” asked Bret Beherns, as he and Andy Olson exited the State Farm Center after last Saturday’s Arizona game.

I did. It was an exciting atmosphere.

He still hasn’t missed from the line.

Illinois basketball can now host legit contenders with the added possibility of beating them. After a decade in the wilderness of irrelevance, it’s good to be here.

As the abortive 2021-22 dream evolves to a December reality, your interest in Illinois basketball might diminish. I find it fascinating. I think The Jacob Grandison story, alone, is worth a season’s worth of literary deconstruction.

He’s shooting 48% from the arc, but that hasn’t stopped him from driving.

I think the Curbelo story is fascinating, and I can’t help but love the fact that Andre Curbelo has chosen to be the fourth assistant coach on this team, even while I try to understand (as do you, as does he) the neurological problems that keep him off the court.

I love watching the Brad Underwood story play out. And I recognize that threes, possibly fives of you are wondering why I haven’t published a column about Underwood trashing his players, which he certainly did after the Arizona game.

If there’s anything I’ve accomplished as a quirky sportswriter, it’s getting after a coach for trashing his players.

Once in a while, people ask me what I do. After I tell them, and if they ask for more information; I always send them this column, where I got after a coach for trashing his players.

(I can’t, now that I’m old, remember any other columns that I liked. I remember I wrote one titled “DJ is a helicopter” and another titled “8” which had to be configured manually within the CMS, so thanks to SP’s managing editor Patrick Singer for that. But I can’t remember whether I liked them.)

Brad Underwood doesn’t like ball-taking.

Point is, I turned on Bruce Weber when he turned on his players. Why am I not writing that column about Brad Underwood?

I guess the difference between Bruce Weber trashing his Illini players and Brad Underwood trashing his Illini players is that Underwood exudes toughness, while Weber is a whiny, lisping dork.

As a sensitive new-age man, I’m not allowed to say things like that in polite company. But you’re sports fans. You have no such sensibilities.

Basketball is violent, yet artful.

Underwood continues to remind me of Wayne Mammen, the best coach I ever had. That guy abused us left and right, but like Underwood, it was clear that he cared. We knew he was building us up while he tore us down.

Weber couldn’t instill that confidence because he was so visibly insecure himself.

It’s subjective. I can’t prove the point with data. But Underwood’s promise of “consequences” and challenging practices doesn’t rub me the wrong way.

Persistence.

WHEN THEY’VE GOT YOU BY THE BALL

That said, it was a little unfair for Underwood to rant about Arizona’s persistent ball-thieving when his biggest, baddest brute tried mightily, within the rules, to prevent ball theft.

Kofi got no help from his teammates (passes to his shoelaces) nor the stripey shirt guys.

Jake’s pass got to Kofi. So there’s that.

Lewis Garrison has officiated a few Illini games lately, and a pattern has emerged. He treats Kofi Cockburn differently.

I don’t think it’s intentional or malicious. After being clobbered by Kofi, I think Garrison suffers unconscious post-traumatic effects.

Lewis Garrison & Tommy Lloyd

The consequence, against Arizona, was that Garrison allowed the Wildcats to molest Kxng_Alpha rather violently. The theory goes like this: Kofi is superhuman, therefore these wasps & gnats will merely irritate him.

What would you do with this pass?

If Garrison treated Kofi like a normal person, he’d probably assess fouls against those wasps & gnats. It’s something to keep an eye on, if the B1G continues to assign Garrison to Illini games.

Kofi is kind and sensitive. Garrison is a little nerdy, and if not quite effeminate, then at least scholarly. These two should get along like a house on fire. Let’s hope they do in the future.

Kofi had his worst game against Arizona, but he continued to kick the ball to the wing effectively. If Garrison hadn’t treated him as a superhuman force, Kofi’s stats would have regressed to the superb.

I wonder whether average Illini fans feel the same way I do about Kofi. He’s so impressive as a physical specimen/athletic freak that I sometimes forget how freakishly athletic and physical he is.

And also that he developed a jumpshot, and the ability to pass.

It’s a remarkable basketball story, and must be underscored by the hundreds of enormous people you’ve watched over the years, thrust into basketball because of their size, and despite their lack of agility, work ethic & dexterity.

“I think not” – Kxng_Alpha

Just watching the Kofi story unfold is reason enough to invest yourself in this Illini team (unless they lose to Cuonzo’s awful Mizzou team, in which case you’re allowed to cut bait and move on, emotionally, to MLB spring training).

It’s been a few days since the thrilling melodrama with Tommy Lloyd’s lithe internationals, and like you, I’m getting itchy to see what happens next with the ’22 Illini. I especially want to watch the Plummer story’s next chapter.

I’m excited to see what happens to Coleman Hawkins. His flashes of potential hold the promise of stardom and/or Kris Wilkes-ish disappointment.

But because he’s a thinker, you shouldn’t be surprised that he’s suffering exactly the setback that he’s suffering right now, while he crunches everything.

Sometimes Coleman seems like a face in the crowd. But he’ll be special.

Smart, analytical people need extra time. (You’d think it was the opposite, right?) Given that time, it’ll all look different to Coleman. And then he’ll be the most entertaining & dangerous Illini.

I can’t wait.

And then there are all these new kids to be excited about. So yeah, it stinks that Illini basketball has three losses and continually changing circumstances, but after a distinctly depressing era of incompetence, you should have the feeling that it’s going places.

*I don’t actually care what their sex organs look like, or how they identify. It’s the toughness that matters.

Categories
Illini Basketball

Audio – Why Does it Sound so …

(NOTE: I began writing this column a month ago. For today’s Arizona postgame, I’ll have Line audio and a 1080i webcam.)

I care about audio. Really, a lot.

This week, another two people complained about audio. I feel the need to respond & explain.

Old Edgy is right to be angry.

First, you’ve been conditioned. Last year’s all-Zoom presentation spoiled you. You’ve forgotten the flaws of real-world videography.

On Loyalty, user Old Edgy complained about the audio in my St. Francis Preview videos. “For a university that prides itself on its engineering skills, I can’t understand WHY these presser’s have such poor quality audio… I don’t get it…”

Old Edgy should know that it’s not the university’s video, but also that their videos have bad audio, too. We’re all trying to get it right.

On the Illini Report channel, a supportive user opined thus:

I spent three days boosting audio levels for Meet the ’22 Illini before I even started editing the video clips.

You can still spot some dropped audio, like when Omar asks Coleman what he’s going to do with his Sports Management degree. You can infer the question, but barely hear it. It’s because Omar turned his face away from both Illini Report recording devices, as one would when posing a question to someone else.

Omar behaved naturally, which doesn’t always make for good audio.

Since I began covering Illini sports, I’ve been conscious of the audio problems. Even professional sports leagues publish video (post-game Q&A, for example) where the Q part is completely incomprehensible. That never made sense to me. Without the Q, how can you interpret the A?

For years, I’ve provided shaky video content because pointing a camera toward people is the only way to improve audio content. I’d prefer that all the constituent parts are excellent. But when recording conversations, I’ll always choose good audio over good video.

I’m a radio person. I’m a musician & recording artist. I get my TV news from the TuneIn app.

I know it’s all about the audio.

Last month, I spent an hour boosting the gain (turning up the volume) on each Bret Bielema press conference. A hundred of you watched the improved “AMPLIFIED” video. Thank you! *

A few of you watched the Amplified videos. Not enough, though.

Football pressers (and everything conducted in the Memorial Stadium press box) are mic’ed in two ways. There’s the condenser mic at the lectern, and there’s a shotgun mic for media questions.

The shotgun mic is a cool technology, but it requires a human to point it toward the face of the talking person. You’ll invariably lose the first couple of words while the handler identifies the talker. If the question comes from Scott Beatty, who stands in the back (by the audio board), he’ll be quieter than Joey, who’s closer to the front.

Joey’s been getting a lot of complaints about his audio, too. It sounds just like it did in 2019, but that’s not good enough anymore. Zoom spoiled you.

Basketball interviews can be audible, but it depends on the location, how many media show up, who’s talking, etc.

If the interview occurs in a gym, the acoustics will suck, guaranteed. Comparable to a train crossing, or an artillery bombardment. Thus, the State Farm Center is better than the Ubben. But both are bad, because invariably someone will be dribbling a basketball nearby.

Bouncing basketballs spike the sine wave in a sound editor.

As basketball season unfolded, I began using various tech to try and combine great audio with great video. It’s hard.

Yes, you can have both tomorrow. But you want it now, and that’s the tricky part. Combining board audio with a live HD camera and then streaming it instantaneously is just barely possible. But so far I haven’t figured out how to zoom on the faces. There’s software that purports to do it. But it diminishes the video quality. You saw that yesterday.

Webcam software didn’t help.

SFC has two regular sound guys who work the media room. So far, only Tracy has been able to output broadcast quality audio at Mic level. Doug insists that you really want it at Line level. That might be optimal for most tech (TV cameras) and my Marantz audio recorder features both options. But my Olympus doesn’t. Mic level is the standard for laptops, too. You can trick your soundcard into processing a Line In signal, but it takes work.

And that’s the other problem with trying to provide good A/V in this gig. There’s never any time to double-check the tech. Everything happens all at once, and you’ve got to have it right on the first try. Your lifelong concertgoing experience would be significantly diminished if Sound Check didn’t exist.

That’s what’s happening with Illini press conferences. (You might think they could just leave the settings as is, once they’d got everything right. But evidently that’s not an option.)

We’re all trying to bring you good material. It’s a work in progress.

*I think it might be worthwhile to spend an hour making a hundred people happy, but Illini Football is always a source of diminishing returns. And life got busy for me. Thus, a couple hours per week for audio editing got axed from the Time Budget. Perhaps 30 of you were still interested in hearing Bret Bielema, and more particularly, the questions for Bret Bielema. I’m sorry.

Categories
COVID-19 Illini Basketball

An Iowa Moment

A single moment, deconstructed, can be a great vessel for storytelling. Dealey Plaza, for example.

Illini fans will want to remember the 87-83 win at Carver-Hawkeye. They’ll enjoy the outrageous moments of injustice. The 21-2 run won’t bother them, nor the final moments when a 15 point lead disappeared.

The orange team won. That makes all of it enjoyable.

Here’s the moment I’ll deconstruct.

Before I deconstruct the moment, I’ll share some others. It was a frustrating game for the Illini, and the fact that maintained their composure is the reason they won. That’s why Brad Underwood talked about Jacob Grandison in his postgame comments.

Composure.

Kofi Cockburn should also get credit. And Da’Monte Williams. And Trent Frazier.

Eric Curry and Da’Monte Williams

Watching replays and looking at photos, I feel bad for DJ Carstensen. He’s an earnest person, a little nerdy, not an egomaniac. He wants to be a good referee.

He was responsible for most of the outrageously bad officiating on Monday. But when you analyze all the calls he got wrong, you can see that he had bad angles on the action. He couldn’t see Alfonso Plummer pushed to the ground.

He couldn’t see Jordan Bohannon molest Trent Frazier.

The latter play happened at the other end of the moment captured above. It started when Plummer left his feet (bad) which prompted Joe Toussaint to make a terrible pass (worse).

Trent got the steal, and headed downcourt, where Bohannon hacked him. Because Trent moves at near Dee Brown speed, you can understand why Carstensen wasn’t in position to see the hack.

There were plenty of bad calls, and plenty of bad non-calls. In general, DJ, Eric Curry and Lewis Garrison allowed Hawkeyes to batter Kofi. On the other hand, Kofi was the victim of a phantom foul call, among other injustices.

Lewis Garrison saw contact here. In his defense, he’s probably still having nightmares about Kofi.

But the thing that made Kofi mad wasn’t the hacking. He got really mad when DJ missed an out-of-bounds call. Kofi is a mild-mannered person, and he’s learned not to dwell on things (as Brad Underwood pointed out in the postgame press conference), but he was really mad in the moment. Probably because it began with yet another uncalled foul, but not one that hindered him. He’s sensitive to injustices against others.

After Gunman was hammered, the injustice was compounded when Keegan Murray batted the ball out of bounds, and DJ Carstensen awarded posession to the Hawkeyes.

Nevertheless, once his protest was logged, Kofi got back on D.

Now, back to the Frazier steal. The thing I like about the picture is that it tells many different stories, depending on how it’s cropped.

Both Joe Toussaint and the bespectacled fan were horrified by his pass.
COVID is a hoax to Iowa’s whiteys.
Matthew Crasko wasn’t the only one.
So nice to see them disappointed.

A BIT MORE ABOUT CARVER-HAWKEYE

Following @TylerCott’s lead in writing about media access at various #B1G and non-conference venues, I’ll revise & extend my remarks about Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Carver-Hawkeye is arguably the best place in the #B1G for a photographer to shoot a game. It’s also the worst place for media overall. The photography is good because the place is well lit, folding step stools are provided (the #B1G tournament is the only other place I’ve seen this handy accessory offered), and both home and away benches are immediately adjacent to the assigned photography spots, so one can get great pictures of the coaches and players on the bench.

One can’t hear most of the things they say to each other, because it’s an arena full of people and piped noise; but one can usually hear the head coach and whichever assistant had the scout for that game.

One is also free to imagine what the participants are saying.

Ooh, scary.

Before the game tips, and once the game is over, Carver-Hawkeye reverts to being the worst place for media. Iowa doesn’t have a media workroom, nor a media hospitality room. There’s no place to hang a coat. If you know who to ask, you’ll get a coupon good for $12 at the concession stands, which are all at the top and accessible only by walking up every last stair in the building.

Kofi tried to bat the ball to a teammate. It didn’t work, but it was a good idea.

Once the winded, sweating reporter makes it to the top, and waits in line for ten minutes, an industrial grade bratwurst or hot dog awaits. Conveniently, these food-like substances cost $12 with a soda. (Pro-tip, somehow it’s only $10.50 for the bunned, meatlike salt torpedo if you get a coffee instead, but they won’t make change anyway, so it’s not an exceptionally devilish trick.)

Iowa was the first #B1G program to employ the coupon method. Since then, tOSU and Penn State followed. That’s a shame because they both had great food, and comfortable places to eat it.

Categories
Illini Basketball

Eff All the Bruce Pearls

The following rant is mostly emotional, and features little analysis — outside of the pictures — of the 87-83 Illini win over Iowa, Monday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Maybe I’ll write that column on Wednesday.

The two things that I’m bursting to tell you about are Andre Curbelo’s coaching & cheerleading during the win, and how hard it is to bring you, the fan, good material from an @Iowa game.

First, Belo.

He sat on the floor for most of the game, at the end of the Illini bench, next to trainer Paul Schmidt.

He carried a big Ziploc bag filled with Fun Size packets of Haribo gummi bears. A bit of instant fructose infusion for any teammate who might need a boost.

He called out defensive plays, sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish, depending (duh) on the target of his advice. He wailed about his teammates’ inability to break the Iowa press, yelling “JUST GO!” as Trent Frazier got bogged down in a double team, five feet short of the ten second line, with those ten seconds expiring. Belo saw the open court ahead of Trent. Trent didn’t see it.

Trent gets inside his own head a lot, and this was one of those times.

In defense of Trent, the Iowa defense was violent, and the referees incompetent.

Belo was up and active for most of the game. But there came a time in the second half, a media timeout, where he stayed hunched on the floor, looking at his feet, as the team left the bench to form the NCAA-mandated Huddle Square (the time for team managers to shine, by snappily opening those round-top stool seats).

Schmidt reached out an arm, and pulled Belo to his feet. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Everyone needs a helping hand sometimes.

No foul called.

Illini fans enjoy insulting Iowa, and there are plenty of insults to yield. The B1G’s whitest fanbase is stuck in 1952, although Eisenhower was surely too liberal for their liking. Listening to Iowa’s AM radio (Iowa Basketball Radio Network affiliate) on the drive in, I understood why so much of middle America believes the craziest things.

He even chases long rebounds. You gotta love this guy, for real.

Iowa is the worst place to cover Big Ten basketball. The people who work at Carver-Hawkeye are all very friendly and accomodating, but the facilities are decades behind. So on the one hand, you’ll get great pictures and video from an @Iowa game, because Iowa provides photographers and videographers good spots and good lighting. The Wi-Fi works, and that’s important.

As a representaive of the Illini basketball media pool, I apologize for all the materials we uploaded last night. It’s not our fault. It’s effing Iowa.

Jake hoisted this one as soon as he touched it, knowing the shot clock situation. He’s smart. (It went in.)

They offer no media workroom. They offer no sound system. They offer no hospitality area (eating).

It’s the #B1G’s last unreconstructed facility. Even Williams Arena has more modern tech, and it’s older than Bob Dole (a fine American, may he rest in peace). Trying to report from Carver-Hawkeye in 2021 is like a Tardis to the newspaper era, and a lot of you noticed how poor our product was. (I’m sorry.)

The most important takeaway from Monday night’s game, if you read the non-weird reporters, is perhaps that Illinois won. But I’ma take a big picture persepective. The Belo thing has all of us worried, and Iowa’s trapping, three-quarter court press demonstrated that Brad’s team needs a healthy Belo.

It was great to see Belo engaged, enthusiastic. He saw, from the most distant corner of the hardwood, what needed to be done.

Perhaps he’ll be ready to do it, sooner than later. Fingers crossed.

#ISupportBelo

That said, Plummer’s minutes are working oout pretty well.
Categories
Illini Basketball

The Fighting Frans

When Brad Underwood starts rolling, the elite, elite barrage can grow somnolescent. Every team that happens to be next on the schedule is the best team they’ll face all year. Or maybe it just feels that way.

But because Iowa came close to upsetting Purdue, at Mackey, without their best player, on Friday; we must regard Sunday’s warning as stark realism. The Frans are good.

Yes, Connor McCaffery is still there.

Losing Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp and CJ Fredrick should’ve hurt more. But now that Fran is in year twelve, his teams have managed the Stay Old part of basketball’s favorite success formula.

Specifically, Joe Toussaint got old while you were worrying about other Hawkeyes. Toussaint has always been a pain in the ass, but evidently he’s now learned how to shoot, too. Watching him battle Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams should be one of the most entertaining aspects of tonight’s game.

They’re all scrappy and tough. One assumes some amount of blood will spill, even if it’s only scraped knuckles.

Unfortunately, Andre Curbelo won’t be available to get in Toussaint’s head. Brad said “same status” to a Sunday question seeking an update on Belo’s well-being. Here’s what Belo did to Joe last year.

The breakout star for Iowa is Keegan Murray, whose press began glowing while Luka Garza’s cot was still occupied.

Murray had one other scholarship offer, according to Brad, from Western Illinois. And now he’s in the Lottery discussion.

His twin brother Kris doesn’t get the same press, but Brad suggested he’s purty durn good too. Patrick McCaffery, Connor’s younger brother, also got a mention from Brad.

Finally, there’s Jordan Bohannon. He’s the guy you love to hate, and would hope to have on your team. In a way, Illinois does have him on its roster this year, except that his name is Alfonso Plummer.

Bohannon and Plummer are among the most dangerous marksmen in college basketball. Both are slightly shorter than you are. Both are better at creating their own shots than their reputations suggest.

This is how long Jordan Bohannon has been at Iowa.

There are some differences. Bohannon will chuck it from 30 feet, successfully. Plummer hasn’t shown that tendency. As far as we know, Plummer is not hated by his fellow students.

It’s been a while since Illinois won at Iowa. Monday feels like a good time to do it. The Frans aren’t good at defense, historically. But ball-handling has been Illinois’s Achilles Heel this season. We’ll see how well Trent and Da’Monte fare against an aggressive trapping press.

Of note to fans of great basketball players: Illini WBB wing Kendall Bostic grabbed 22 rebounds in Sunday afternoon’s 71-57 win over Eastern Kentucky.

That’s the third-best performance in Illinois WBB history.

  • 1. 30 rebounds – Betty Anderson vs. Eastern Illinois (1/23/75) 
  • 2. 23 rebounds – Martha Hutchinson vs. Indiana St. (1/24/80) 

She’s smart, and fun to watch.

Kendall Bostic grabs a rebound