Illini basketball

The Unsung Henchmen

I didn’t have anything to say about Illini basketball. You didn’t want to read about Illini basketball. We obliged each other.

But now you’re excited. You can’t wait for Thursday. So between now and tip-off in Columbus, I’m going to share some things that stuck with me over the past few weeks.

Here’s one.

Two of the best moments of the season came during Braggin’ Rights. Illini fans might think they don’t want to be reminded about Braggin’ Rights 2018.

But these two plays should be remembered. They meant something to the people involved.

Today’s post concerns toughness, which is especially exemplified by guys whose names don’t feature in DraftExpress rumors, but probably merit attention in the scouting report.

You got the feeling, even before the game, that The Mark Smith Experience left a bad taste in the mouths of his former teammates. Even Amiable Aaron Jordan stiffened at the mention during the pre-game interview.

When Brad Underwood bemoans last year’s locker room, he doesn’t name names. Yet, a mustache comes to mind.

Whatever his former teammates felt about him, they did seem to make an extra effort in one-on-one confrontations. Samba Kane got in on the action, and he wasn’t even there!

Da’Monte Williams is the guy who told Brad Underwood he’d prefer not to start. Monte would rather study the opponent from the bench before making his entrance.

That makes sense, because the psychology of the game seems important to him. He needs to know what people are thinking, so he can get inside their heads.

The same goes for Andres Feliz. His anger & psychopathy extend to all areas of the game. He’s a sh!ttalker, a mindf*cker, and a straight up boxer, if you get uppity.

Did you notice how poorly B1G stars Glynn Watson and Cassius Winston fared this week at the SFC? That was Dre. He got up in their business.

Of course, the art of mindf*cking includes the defensive end: How to avoid retaliatory mindf*cking.

MSU tried to protect Winston by out-dirtying Feliz. It didn’t work. Dre simply ignored the jabs.

It’s great that Illinois has two budding stars, grabbing headlines. It’s great that those two led their team to clutch victories, hitting big shots and generating national buzz for a long dormant program.

As that was happening, you might have missed the contributions from guys who don’t talk much, and do much of their work in the shadows.

But I couldn’t help talking about it. It’s been a while.

Illini basketball


Promising signs from the Nebraska game? The one where Illinois wasn’t competitive?

Well, yes.

The Cornhuskers blocked only three shots, and it’s not because they’re short.  Ayo Dosunmu and Andres Feliz have begun to think differently about how they attack the basket.

Andres drives toward the bucket
Andres experiences a flashback, an unpleasant memory
Andres changes his mind
Andres decides to start over

Ayo said on Tuesday that he’s jumping too soon. He’s leaving his feet before getting close enough to the rim that he’ll have options once he’s airborne.

Considering how quickly he became a rebounder after Brad Underwood told him to become a rebounder, he might be able to make that change as early as tonight. 

Underwood says Adonis de la Rosa had a good two days of practice. Underwood didn’t specify whether Adonis stopped flinging prayers toward the rim, or whether the big man has added passing to his repertoire.

Adonis is great at moving people. That’s his primary talent. He can do a lot for the Illini offense simply by handing-off from the pinch post and then moving people with his enormous ass.

Until he spends a week of 10-hour days practicing bank shots in the Corzine Gym, with Orlando Antigua and a half-dozen team managers making sure every single one of his shots hits the glass before the rim; he should be forbidden from shooting.

But he can still help.

Adonis is good, maybe even better than Giorgi Bezhanishvili, at taking the hand-off. He’s pretty good at handing it back. 

The hand-off has caused some problems in recent games, and that might get worse as teams get more scouting material on the Illini.  Cleaning up that execution is vital, particularly because the short pass is the best option for penetrating guards confronted by looming Tall People.

Andres, Trent and Ayo have all tried to shovel the ball to their bigs for an easy bucket. Instead of a spectacular assist, they’ve mostly earned turnovers for their efforts. That happened at Nebraska, too.

Andres turns the corner, Roby steps into his path
Andres attempts a wrap-around to Giorgi
Giorgi bobbles

The players all feel they’re a lot closer than the record reflects. Their coach is appalled by the lack of execution, but he says nobody’s discouraged.

After his media session yesterday,  Aaron Jordan jabbed a bon mot at his coach, in reference to Underwood’s hair coloring, which is not —  in case you hadn’t gathered —  his own.  (You might say it showed great dedication to the job that Underwood showed up in Champaign on day one with his hair dyed orange.)

Jiving may not be a new side of Aaron, but it’s not one that he’s displayed publicly in the past. Whatever’s been pent up inside is coming out. You saw that at Nebraska too. It didn’t quite work, but you liked to see him drive for that dunk.

It was a good idea.

The unambiguously good news from Nebraska was the Return of Kipper Nichols. I wish I could report that he didn’t need to get kicked in the nuts to stir things up. But the fact is that he did get kicked in the nuts.

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence.

Illini basketball

So Close, Part Deux

I do not hate Adonis de la Rosa.

I do not dislike Adonis de la Rosa.

I want good things for Adonis de la Rosa.

Illinois loses basketball games for two reasons. One of them is Adonis de la Rosa. On Tuesday night in South Bend, Adonis scored a -12 point impact on the game. He played for four minutes, and in those four minutes, Notre Dame outscored Illinois by a dozen points.

Giorgi Bezhanishvili, who manned the pivot for 33 minutes, was +12.

Brad Underwood is finally coming around on the painful economic concept of Adonis Costs.  He ditched his talking point about ACL recovery, and recognized that Adonis is rushing his shots. Underwood says Adonis doesn’t do that in practice.

Adonis is shooting 2-of-10 over the last three games.

The other reason is that Illini guards continue to misapprehend the danger imposed by Tall People. 

Underwood addressed that Tuesday night, as well. He didn’t know how many more Elite Rim Protectors his team would face this year, but he hinted that the problem has now crossed his radar.

Illini basketball

46 Turnovers

For people who’ve never seen these fresh-faced Illini cagers, the newcomers were certainly the most interesting thing about Friday’s Wesleyan exhibition. Now you know why Andres Feliz will be a starter, and why Giorgi Bezhanishvili will be a fighter.

For those of us who’ve seen them a few times, the box score was the eye-opener.

After years, perhaps decades of following a same-old formula, the official stat sheet has added new concepts. That’s why we know that Feliz not only committed zero fouls, but drew five from the Titans. Same stat for Trent Frazier.

We also know the plus/minus points tally for each individual’s playing time. And the playing time is more exact. For example:

That’s also a great example of how the +/- might mislead a person who reads box scores instead of watching games. Da’Monte’s impact on the game must be described as positive.

Three assists to zero turnovers, four rebounds and solid defense. He also made the play of the game (as judged by crowd reaction) with a dramatic shot rejection.

Still, it’s a metric. Da’Monte was -3. So was Alan Griffin. So was Tyler Underwood.

Yes, Tyler Underwood played 8 minutes and 44 seconds. Trent Frazier was +25 in 25:34 at the same position. Absolutely no one is shocked by this contrast, I presume. 

Feliz was +15. Like Griffin, he’s considered a superior on-ball defender. Like Griffin, he was posterized by a group of amateur Methodists, none of whom earned an athletic scholarship.

These things happen. Brad Underwood’s job is to make sure they don’t happen again.

Only Ayo Dosunmu played more minutes than Frazier, totaling 28:49. Ayo was the primary ball-handler for some of that time, but not much. So it’s not surprising that he managed a solitary assist. It’s more surprising that he booted the ball five times. The 1-to-5 turnover ratio might be explained by his inexperience at the college level. Frazier’s ATO was 5-to-4.

Seventeen turns is more than any college coach will accept, but on the other hand, Ayo garnered four steals. That evens things out. Likewise Aaron Jordan. His turnover was countered by two steals and two assists, plus a game-high seven rebounds. Dude was clearly feeling possessive about ball security.

Those numbers will keep him on the court. His 3-of-7 shooting is less than ideal, but AJ was +18 in his 21:10. It’s hard to argue with numbers.

Obviously this “contest” was not, in Brad Underwood’s mind, a proving ground for his eventual 200 minute distribution. Other than the two cripples, everybody played.

Samba Kane showed fans why he was recruited (height, mobility) and why they won’t see him again for quite some time (everything else). Drew Cayce and Samson Olademeji played. Team manager-cum-forward Zach Griffith got floor time.

The only omen one might read in the PT tea leaves is that Tevian Jones earned less tick than Kid Underwood. And, during that tick, one could see why.

Jones was the best example of freshman inexperience. The game was waaaaay too fast for him. He performed well when standing still (3-for-3 FTs), but needs the Team Underwood concepts to settle into instincts rather than second-guessings.

Why was Brad Underwood so generous with his PT? Probably because he wants the freshmen and walk-ons to feel rewarded for all the work they’ve put in since June. And also because he knows the newcomers can’t be hurried. They’re going to keep playing like freshmen until everything clicks for them. 

Finally, he’s probably realized, after having major parts of his body removed and replaced, that life is short, and must be lived in the present.

Perhaps he also wanted to show visiting Class of 2019 PF Chris Payton that everyone gets a chance here at Illinois.