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Illini Basketball

Overtaking Chicago

Alan Griffin deserves a hero’s recognition.

You have umpteen places to read about his heroics, because a relevant Illini team playing at Northwestern brings the biggest media contingent of any game in any season. You get all the B1G Chicago people including Andy Katz, the Trib’s Shannon Ryan and Teddy Greenstein plus all the C-U blogs and websites that rarely cover road games.

Read their pieces for game coverage & photos. I got a lot of Referee Butt tonight. It’s the most common complaint among basketball photogs. Tonight, it nearly killed me.

No biggie. My story was formed before I set foot in Welsh-Ryan Arena.

WLS 89-AM is broadcasting Illini basketball to more millions of homes & 18-wheelers than you can imagine.

Normally, I take a Peoria Charter to road games. You might have noticed. But I drove to last night’s game, and after WILL 580 faded, I tuned to 890 for traffic updates, as I usually do when driving into the city. The Afternoon Drive jock kept mentioning the Illini game. He even said he might drive up to Evanston to watch it himself. It won’t be sold out, so I can get a ticket no problem he speculated out loud.

If you’re 30 and under, you might not know how powerful a clear channel (not Clear Channel) AM radio station can be. The one that broadcasts from the World’s Largest Store, atop the former Sears Tower, reaches the nation’s capital, and Denver, and farms in North Dakota, and bogs in Louisiana. The signal strength is affected by weather, but it’s pretty damn good in any circumstance.

Hearing Brian Barnhart & Deon Thomas — on what is arguably* the nation’s most powerful radio station — changed my perspective of Illini sports.

Maybe satellite radio & podcasts have reduced the power of terrestrial radio and the DIA got suckered into supporting a dying industry. I’d like to see the latest Arbitron ratings (whatever they’re called now). I expect we’ll find that a shitload of previously untapped audience got a taste of Illini basketball from this deal.

That said, I felt bad that the DIA hasn’t been able to maximize its monetization of the WLS deal. I listened from the 6:30pm open until I got to the Welsh-Ryan parking lot, about 3 minutes into the game. I heard too many Public Service Announcements and not enough commercials. PSAs are required by the FCC for all licensed broadcasters, but most stations play them at 3am, not during Evening Drive/Prime Time.

There’s a huge advertising opportunity available to non-agricultural, non-insurance companies. Millions of people listen to WLS.

*WNYC, KROQ and KCRW are the only contenders I can think of, and this was my college major.

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Illini Basketball

All Hands

I haven’t seen the split-screen all-access thingy*, so I don’t know whether the following news is news to you, dear reader. I do know you can’t get enough Illini Basketball at the moment, so I’m here to help.

You know that Da’Monte Williams got in Lamar Stevens’ grill, and head. Maybe you didn’t know the other member of the team who gave her all to stymie Stevens.

Kelsea (Garthoff) Ansfield is Director of Creative Media and one of the great personalities of the Illini team. On the road, she spends the first 12 minutes of each game shooting photos in furtherance of the Illini online presence. (i.e. she gets up from the baseline at the under-8 media timeout and goes to edit/upload to various Illini branded properties.)

Early on in Tuesday’s game, Kelsea was sitting in the pole position (photog spot nearest the home basket’s stanchion) when Lamar Stevens fell on her.

Something crunched.

Lamar Stevens was horrified

He’d jammed her camera right into her nose.

I was sitting two spots away, WJAC-TV’s Candace Martino was between us. I heard the crunch.

PSU’s trainer Jon Salazer rushed over to help.

Jon Salazer & Lamar Stevens attend to the felled Kelsea Ansfield

Kelsea was able to get to the locker room on her own. At halftime, Paul Schmidt inspected her swelling. It looked a lot better than it sounded, but you could tell she’d taken a blow.

So had Stevens. He was clearly rattled, and it put him a step behind. A moment later, he committed a major faux pas.

You have to love Da’Monte’s reaction to this turn of events. It’s pretty unusual to see him smile, but on Tuesday in State College, it happened at least three times.

So Lamar Stevens, the best player on the B1G’s hottest team, spent a crucial nine minutes on the bench during a first half that set the narrative for the game. Illinois led 30-26 at halftime.

Pat Chambers said he was encouraged that his team kept the game so close without Stevens. The unanswerable question is how well they would have done with him? As it was, he never found his rhythm against Da’Monte and Kipper Nichols.

While the Second Foul Rule is universally respected by college coaches, you have to wonder whether it cost the Nittany Lions a ninth-straight victory. As seems so often the case with these fateful coaching decisions, Stevens finished the game with two fouls.

*If anyone who wants to send me an MP4, I’d love to watch it.

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Illini Basketball

The Low-Percentage Shot

Step back from the ledge.

An eon ago, in The 12 Seed, I speculated an upcoming five-game losing streak. It felt like a safe bet.

The other day, I suggested a silver lining to Ayo’s unexpected vacation. The committee might look at this east coast swing with even less skepticism than they might have. Losing at Rutgers and Penn State is not a big deal, and there’s no penalty for tourney purposes.

The Illini must beat the remaining crap teams on their schedule. Compiled Quad 1 wins have almost guaranteed some kind of bid.

The next mission for the team and its coaching staff is to figure out how to find uncontested, or at least less contested, shots.

At Rutgers, the boys in blue got open looks from Tevian Jones. Alan Griffin had a pair of clean looks from the outside, and a lot of armpits closer to the hoop.

Kofi was harassed in the paint, and didn’t quite figure out the implication of his abuse: The refs were letting ’em play.

Would Kofi be able to shift gears if he knew he could play rough? Maybe. Maybe not. These skills develop over time.

He didn’t seem as rattled in the second half, but then, he attempted two-thirds fewer shots.

In the first half, Kofi converted 4-of-9 attempts from the floor. In the second half, he launched only three. One of them went in.

The worst shooting performance came from Trent Frazier. Trent didn’t simply miss his shots. It’s not that the rim was unkind (except for that three that spun around and out). Trent’s problem was Rutgers. They were taller than he. They were in his way.

Trent’s shots were terrible, and the results predictable.

Even his high-percentage shots were low-percentage shots. You try to make a lay-up against three taller guys. You’ll see that it affects your percentage.

Trent needs more of the above from his teammates. He’s a great offensive weapon when they keep defenders out of his way.

It might seem insulting to say that Trent can’t create his own shot, but basketball is a team sport. Moreover, Trent can create his own shot. It’s a sudden & unexpected 30-foot jumper. He’s pretty good at it.

With each new game’s worth of video, this team becomes easier to scout. Illinois’ opponents have demonstrated admirable capability & professionalism in their game-planning.

It’s getting hard to score.

Brad & staff recognize this problem. They’ve already taken steps to address it.

You may have noticed that Tevian Jones played real minutes in Piscataway.

Alan started.

These two spread the floor. Their teammates aren’t dreadful at kicking out to them once the defense collapses; they’re merely bad at it.

Both Trent and Andres Feliz know how to drive and kick, but Kofi and Giorgi are still learning when to quit fighting through a double-team.

Both still exhibit space-out moments, what Brad calls “casual.” At Rutgers, Kofi took a half-second to assess the defense.

That was the only half-second Ron Harper needed.

When the parts come together, it looks effortless.

But too much of the time, it looks labored. It’s not always easy to watch a broken play and determine, in real time, how it broke. It’s worse when you can see it break before the players do.

Giorgi’s game at Rutgers, and in general, deserves it’s own column. He seems to have got his groove back. Brad says he wants more offensive opportunities for Giorgi.

Look for that tomorrow.

Categories
Illini Basketball

Every Little Thing

Brad Underwood name-checked Da’Monte Williams 36 seconds into his opening statement. In fact, Da’Monte was the first person he praised.

Having done this “reporting” thing for more than ten years, I can guarantee you that half of the Wolverine media pool thought “who?” Another 48% recognized the name, but had not considered it while writing the first draft of their stories.

credit: Vashoune Russell

“I can’t say enough about Da’Monte Williams and the job he did today. I think he guarded every player on the floor for them.”

This is the kind of money quote that lands in newspapers.

For the kill shot, Underwood added “his value doesn’t show in the stat sheet,” which the reporters were at that very moment scouring in hopes of finding the name he’d just said before they forgot what name he’d just said. ” but it sure does to winning basketball.”

A few minutes later, Ayo Dosunmu allowed himself a diversion from answering questions about himself & his fellow stars.

“I also wanna give kudos not only to the guys who played but to The Fun Bunch as well.”

Ayo rolled off the names of his non-star teammates, here at 3:16

“Tyler Underwood, Austin Hutcherson, Jay (Jacob Grandison), Sammy (Oladimeji), Zima (Zach Griffith).

“They don’t get any recognition, but at the end of the day, those are guys that’s pushin’ us each & every day in the gym. Making the scout team. Making it tough for us. Pushing us defensively. Making us lock in. Those guys are a huge part of our success and it’d be selfish of me not to give them credit.”

Alan Griffin didn’t play, of course. But he was very much involved in the win. Just before the second half began, Alan worked his way down the bench, dapping every teammate.

Alan’s B1G suspension kept him from hitting the big shot. But when Ayo got the ball with ten seconds remaining, Alan leapt from the bench and slapped two fingers against the easy access vein on his right forearm.

Fortunately, these Illini shoot only basketballs. Alan’s gesture referenced Ayo’s cold-bloodedness. Two jukes later, Ayo proved him right.

This game was the epitome of every little thing. When Ayo slipped on an unwiped wet spot, he turned the ball over. If Illinois had lost by a point or two, fans could rightly blame Michigan’s game day crew for failing to wipe it up.

And then there were the free-throws.

credit: Vashoune Russell

I feel terrible for Austin Davis, especially.

Everyone knows Zavier Simpson is a lousy free-throw shooter, so his misses are swallowed with a grain of salt. He’s been outstanding for the Wolverines, in every way but one.

I’ve never met Franz Wagner, and I couldn’t hear what he said (could you?) in that grainy, out-of-focus postgame scrum you and 980 others watched after Saturday’s game (thank$).

But he’d converted 20-of-23 FT attempts coming into that game. The fact that he missed both of his coulda-been-game-clinching attempts is inexplicable. He’ll kick himself about it, but the fact is, he’s good. And shit happens.

But Austin Davis needed a good bounce, and he didn’t get it.

In his third year of active duty, the RS-junior center has played a total of 260 minutes.

On Saturday, he was the energy guy who rallied his team to take the lead after Isaiah Livers aggravated that groin injury. After sitting out a year, playing 50 and 93 total minutes in his next two seasons, and seeing action in only 12 games so far this year; this was Austin Davis’s moment.

Frankly, he was great. Unfortunately, his effort and energy will be, in his mind, completely eclipsed by the fact that when he stood at the charity stripe for the fifteenth time in his career, he missed for the eighth.

I have a super-soft spot for these Wolverines. I didn’t want them to beat the Illini Saturday. They’ve had enough victories over Illinois to last them a while. But John Beilein is the best coach I’ve ever watched, and he was also an earnest, honest and comprehensible communicator. He instilled those values in his players.

I got to know them a little during their run to the 2017 B1G Tourney championship run, and just now discovered that the commemorative documentary I made of their harrowing travel misadventures was ruined by a faulty video card!

Why doesn’t anybody ever tell me these things?

Categories
Illini Basketball

The Lo-Hi

Something changed about the Illini offense last night.

Instead of trying to feed the low post from the top of the key, Illini guards & wings drove to the basket and then reversed the ball to the top.

I wish I had more cleverly annotated pictures of these actions. The few I have don’t begin to describe the number of times Illinois faked Purdue out of its collective jock.

There are plenty of pictures of Bill Ek’s ass, and Terry Wymer’s ass, which were captured when Illini penetrators (mostly Ayo) drew the defense inward before passing the ball outward. All baseline photographers capture many pictures of “ref butt.”

The actions differed so dramatically from previous Illini games, one is forced to wonder whether Brad Underwood is holding back sets for deployment in particular games, as if he’s figured out how this “scouting” thing works, and seeks to eliminate its efficacy.

Every once in a while, I dream that a coach draws out a scheme for an entire season. Do You? It’s what Bill Cubit was meant to do as Tim Beckman’s OC. It never seems to happen.

It’s crazy to even think that someone could be so longviewed in his scheming, right? But what if you’re a genius who’s spent your entire career toiling as an assistant & JC coach. Do you start drawing your grand plan on the off-chance that you might, some day, get the kind of chance you’ve always dreamed of?

The following is fact: Underwood drives a constantly expanding, conceptually evolving offense. And he’s done it while elevating the Illini defense to the top of the league. As he said last night after learning Purdue’s players said Illinois out-toughed its hosts: “There’s no greater compliment.”

When was the last time Illinois basketball was fun to watch?

Math nerds liked the Weber Motion. Results nerds liked Self’s hi-lo. Neither provided as much explosive entertainment as Lon Kruger’s teams. But Kruger never had the dynamic athletes that this 2020 team provides.

You’d probably have to go back to the 1980s to find a comparably entertaining Illini offense.

This team isn’t on par with the Flyin’ Illini. It’s too early for that. But if you remember 1982, when Bruce Douglas initiated his lob connection with Efrem Winters, you can start to appreciate where this team might be heading.

It’s a good place.

Kofi was 6-of-6 from the line. Paint Crew puked.

That said, there are still problems this team needs to fix moving forward. The obvious one is that Alan Griffin needs to consult with some professionals. His on-court demeanor needs addressed.

We’ve talked about it a lot, and he’s acknowledged that he’s completely different off-court. He needs to be different on court. He’ll be Kendrick Nunned from this Illini squad if he can’t stop kicking opponents in the nuts.

Kofi is. like many youngsters, a sponge for learning. It’s exciting to watch him develop good habits, and eliminate bad ones.

He got played Tuesday night, when that Morrissey lookin’ Dutchman lollygagged down the floor, thus coaxing Kofi to doddle as well. Nojel Eastern slipped behind the defense which Kofi was expected to anchor.

You can imagine he’ll hear about it, and that you won’t see this sort of thing happen again.

This team is developing so fast, it thrills us Olds. I can’t remember seeing this kind of gelling, and individual development, within the course of a single season.

Isn’t it fun?

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Illini Basketball

A Moment in Madison

I was surprised that no one watched Ayo’s Biggest Moment when I first uploaded it, moments after it happened.

Were Illini fans asleep? It was 10-ish of the clock in the Midwest, so you never know. But this was a BIG DEAL

No.

Illini fans, like all fans, are somewhat interested in what happens & what happened. They pay money to read fantasy fiction about Glory That Might Happen.

There are fewer views of Rayvonte Rice’s Braggin’ Rights game-winner than Francis Okoro’s minute-nineteen of yeah, I like Illinois; no I haven’t made any decisions yet.

None of that was the problem.

When I got back to Illinois, I realized what had happened. YouTube had blocked Ayo’s Magic Moment worldwide because a popular song was playing over the Kohl Center public address system.

I’d deleted the raw file from my phone before I got to the Wisconsin media room. I needed the space for postgame interviews.

Unfortunately, while YouTube offers Creators the ability to download videos of their own making, only a compressed version is available. So I grabbed the 69MB version, silenced the pop song, slo-mo’ed the key moments, and re-uploaded.

It’s fuzzy. But it captures Ayo’s two buckets. Way at the other end of the court, you can barely see the rebound he ripped from all contenders — an underappreciated moment of this incredible finish.

Giorgi’s 14-foot free-throw is there. Alan’s threes are not. Frankly, before he hit them, it didn’t seem likely that Illinois might win. Like DJ Richardson’s 8-point spree in the closing moments against #1 Indiana, Alan’s contribution to Illinois’ Proclamation of Return will likely get overlooked as time goes by.

The best part, in my opinion, is the joy and relief on the faces of Jamarra and Quam. They’ve traveled the globe following their sun (sic). Italy and Maui had some scenery. B1G towns all hold some form of charm.*

But until this Moment in Madison, Ayo hadn’t slain Goliath in a consequential game. Yes, the 2019 Illini beat MSU. They won at Columbus. They showed promise of things to come. But 12-21 impresses zero scouts.

The NBA wants winners. That’s why all five starters from 2005 got an NBA contract. Madison was Ayo’s entrée as consequential performer on the national stage.

Anyway, here’s a crappy video of A Moment Which Will Live In Your Memory. You will enjoy it, probably more than once.

*except West Lafayette.**

** It has an XXX-rated burger joint, though.

Categories
Illini Basketball

Yep. This is What a Rebuild Looks Like.

The AP reporter who addressed Trent as “Ayo” can be forgiven. Illini basketball has been irrelevant for a dozen years, and non-217s couldn’t care less who plays for this ex-newsworthy program.

But she also raised a great (if not original) point, in a different question to Alan Griffin: This team is young.

They don’t know they’re young, because they’re young. They take umbrage at being told they’re young because they’re young.

Last night’s Wisconsin game was, objectively, pretty bad. Dumb fouls. Execution failures. On the bright side, it reminded us again about the value of executing the plan. It’s the difference between winning and losing.

Illinois didn’t execute on Wednesday. Not until the end. And then they did, and then they won.

Because the Dick Bennett/Bo Ryan standard has not yet been undermined by its own fans; it felt especially impressive.

Brad Underwood dismissed the idea that a team’s defense is aided when its entire bench is calling out actions from the bench, as the Badgers did Wednesday. But he also acknowledged a massive improvement in field goal percentage, and 3FG% in the second half (62% and 71%). Perhaps the Illini got better looks because there weren’t as many Badgers waiting in their spots?

Certainly being alone on the court allowed the visitors to communicate among themselves. The Illini broke huddle before the hosts, just about every time. In the second half, that left them alone on the court’s south end. Alan and Ayo communicated about the play Underwood had just drawn. A moment later, Alan drained the tying three.

After the next huddle break, Ayo spotted Kofi Cockburn out of place. He directed Kofi to the correct spot, then lobbed the ball there a few seconds later.

Kofi is frequently in the wrong spot, and if you listen closely, you’ll likely hear Underwood yelling as much.

It’s not because Kofi’s stupid. It’s because he’s young and inexperienced. Get old and stay old is Matt Painter’s mantra for running a successful program.

A few days ago, Ayo rejected the notion that Illini execution problems were a symptom of youth. He doesn’t know, because he’s young.

The good news here is that last night at Kohl, Illini fans saw (finally!) what Brad Underwood’s program can look like when things start clicking.

Will it all come together by March, like it did for Kentucky’s recent 9-seed champions? Will you have to wait for next year before the team seems to be consistently moving downhill?

Right now, you’re pretty psyched that there’s another game in a couple of days. So maybe it doesn’t matter. Just enjoy the ride.

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Illini Basketball

Alan’s Minutes

A few press conferences ago, Brad Underwood said he doesn’t read anything produced by us, the media pool. In the MSU postgame, he scoffed at “social media” as a concept. At Saturday’s presser, he dismissed the suggestion, offered by one of us, that Alan Griffin might join the starting line-up.

We do read social media, and participate in it. We know that people have clamored for MOAR ALAN since November. Maybe since last year.

Last night, after beating Purdue for the first time in his tenure, the head coach expressed surprise that Alan Griffin got so little floor time.

“I looked down and he played 19 minutes and I’m like my goodness I needed 25 to 30 minutes.”

If that concession surprised anyone, it should. We might all safely assume that Brad Underwood oversees (or at least knows about) minutes distribution among Illini Men’s Basketball players.

Right?

This column does not seek to indict the coach, or the champion the madding crowd. It’s merely observational, capturing a moment in the history of Illini basketball. Perhaps like that time that Wayne McClain told Bruce Weber that Demetri McCamey is good at basketball, and should move into the starting line-up.

As Alan waited at the FT line, a band member called “you need ONE more rebound!” Alan gave him a thumb’s up, then got three more rebounds.

Underwood is paid $3 million and fans aren’t. On the other hand, collective wisdom often competes favorably with an individual perspective.

With a staff of five, full-time well-paid advisors; one might assume that someone has suggested that Alan’s numbers dictate more court time.

Has Alan cleaned up his turnover problem? Has he been stripped recently? Those were factors in earning his coach’s trust. Maybe we’ll know more by bedtime Wednesday.

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Illini Basketball

Talking Points

It’s Finals Weeks. Braggin’ Rights looms. One fourth of the way through the season, where does this Illini team stand?

Great teams don’t rest on their laurels. They analyze their mistakes, and their successes. They seek to improve every aspect of performance. There’s plenty of good and bad to think about on the way to Saint Louis. A few key match-ups should provide the best talking points, and might decide the game.

Da’Monte Williams

Is there a more polarizing Illini player? Almost certainly. But it’s worth noting that if you do have an opinion about Da’Monte Williams, you either think he’s the guy who holds it all together, or you’re calling for his benching.

You don’t have to like Clarence Thomas to be impressed by the effect he had on the US Supreme Court from day one. Da’Monte is like that.

Thomas arrived when the court was split 4-4 on a particular case. His vote would determine the outcome. Yet at the end of debate, Thomas found himself in the minority. Whatever happened in that conference room, he made an impression on his colleagues.

Likewise, Williams sat out his first summer as his ACL healed. On the first day he joined practice, according to Brad Underwood, he changed the team “because of his basketball IQ.”

Da’Monte’s intelligence would be useless if he didn’t have a lot of dog in him. But he’s from Peoria. Wimps don’t make it out of Peoria.

Da’Monte rips the ball from Mark Smith, last year

Williams will be the player to watch Saturday at the Checkerdome (or whatever it’s called these days). He probably won’t score much. That’s not the question.

The question is how will Mark Smith fare? Da’Monte hopes to answer with his defensive performance: not very well.

Last year, Smith scored 5 points in 35 minutes in his first game against his old team. It was pretty clear that Da’Monte enjoyed his part in that futility.

He enjoyed taking Smith’s ball

The other guy in all Sunday’s pictures of Smith will be Andres Feliz, who wouldn’t be here if Mark Smith chose to stay. In hindsight, Illini fans are probably okay with that trade. Feliz will want to prove it to them, nonetheless.

If you don’t think Andres Feliz plays with a chip on his shoulder, you haven’t met Andres Feliz.

It’s not a bad thing. He plays with pride, and as if his life depends on it, which it kind of does. That goes for his wife and kid, too.

Kofi Cockburn is a machine, and should be treated like one. His underuse might be this team’s most obvious problem. Watching from the bench during two heartbreaking losses was remedied by a dominant performance over ranked (overrated?) Michigan.

Against Old Dominion, Kofi attempted six shots. He finished with three field goals. Maybe he didn’t need the extra practice, but it would be nice to see the team go to that well continuously, until it becomes second-nature. He converts 59% of his shots. If you fould him, he’ll make his free-throws.

Maybe Kofi doesn’t know it, and maybe it’s not fair; but his match-up with Jeremiah Tilmon will be the talking point of Braggin’ Rights. Tilmon abandoned the Illini when Underwood came aboard. Instead, the Illini have Kofi and Giorgi Bezhanishvili.

Tilmon is averaging 9.7 points and 4.7 rebounds in 22.6 minutes/game on the season. Contrast Giorgi with 9.6 points and 5.7 boards in 25.9 minutes.

Giorgi Bezhanishvili rebounds

Kofi also gets 25.9 minutes, is averaging 15.4 points and 10.5 rebounds in those minutes. Foul trouble can limit minutes for any of them. Tilmon leads the way with 2.8 per game. Giorgi and Kofi accrue less than 2.5/game.

(Watch for Mizzou’s transfer guard Dru Smith to foul out. He averages 3.3 fouls per game.)

Alan Griffin

When Brad Underwood says “I don’t remember anyone stripping my ball” in college, he’s talking about Alan Griffin.

To Alan’s credit, Giorgi got his ball stripped a bunch of times in the Michigan game. It doesn’t mean you’re terrible. It means you haven’t played against the very best, and your habits are not attuned to playing the very best. It also means you’ve been distracted.

Alan is, by far, the most yelled at player of the Underwood tenure. Number 2 is Kipper Nichols, whom Underwood yelled at a lot during last Saturday’s game against Old Dominion. When the dust settled, Kipper was sitting in the media room, in front of a microphone. That’s always a sign that the coach thinks you done good.

Underwood doesn’t yell at you unless he thinks you’re worth yelling at. With Alan Griffin, the athletic ability is obvious. The talent is there. It’s the processing that frustrates Underwood. Alan is more cerebral than most, which sometimes slows him a step. Being too smart and being too thoughtful are enviable problems. In sports, it’s described as “spacy.”

Alan’s game translates well to the Mizzou defense, which is also spacy.

BTW: Underwood also spent a good amount of energy yelling at Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk during his moment of PT last Saturday, which suggests BBV might be worth the time & effort.

Note: Inquiries to the B1G office yielded no update on the health of Lewis Garrison. The ODU game was refereed by Brandon Cruz, I don’t know that Brandon Cruz had ever refereed an Illini game previously.

Categories
Illini basketball

A Happy Blood Bath

Just what the doctor ordered; a rampage through a hapless patsy.

Things had been going pretty well for the Illini, especially if his name were Kofi Cockburn. But as the team’s focus shifted, appropriately, to feeding its Monster in the Middle, individual stats suffered.

Saturday night, everybody got a chance.

Was it more important for Alan Griffin or Ayo Dosunmu? That’s the sort of question sports people ask, because sports people are incessantly looking for any available over/under. For better or worse, and it’s arguably for worse, sports is about winners & losers.

The answer is that it was better for Ayo Dosunmu and Alan Griffin. The answer is that Illinois basketball got a shot in the arm by allowing everybody to bask in the glory of a slaughter.

Scoring 20 and 19 points respectively, Ayo and Alan almost visibly swelled with confidence. And they got their points quickly enough to allow plenty of minutes for the guys who don’t usually get to play.


Brad Underwood name-checked both Ayo and Alan in his postgame comments, and didn’t say they’d been struggling.

Ayo enjoyed the opportunity to run an open (or at least disorganized) floor against the Pirates. Alan got open looks, converted 3-of-7 from the arc, and made one spectacular tip-in which is almost certainly susceptible to Search, now that everything is recorded.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of it. (It happened at the other end from me, as did Da’Monte’s alley-oop dunk.) But I did get a good picture of Alan.

Ben Bosmans-Verdonk dished four assists during his ten minutes of PT. He also grabbed two rebounds and two steals, and scored four points (and committed three fouls). Tevian Jones watched from the bench, and seemed to enjoy the performance despite the obvious point that he could have enjoyed those minutes himself.

Tevian Jones watches BBV getting all his minutes

Jermaine Hamlin got nine minutes of tick, and converted a pair of FGAs. The first was a left-handed hook shot. The second was a dunk that kept going and going and going.

No-nonsense referee Keith Kimble, who has never smiled, finally grew bored with watching Hamlin hanging from the rim, and assessed a T.