You should probably feel less depressed about Ohio State if you feel depressed about Ohio State.
You should probably feel less anxiety about Iowa if you feel anxiety about Iowa.
This Illini team has demonstrated, throughout this season, that you can’t predict what this Illini team will do this season. Your source of anxiety shall henceforth parrot the reality of March: This team can lose to anybody.
Luckily, your glass is half full: This team can beat anybody, and has already proven its propensity to win seven-in-a-row.
Ayo mentioned winning seven-in-a-row just the other day, but he was talking about a state title, not a national title.
Ayo is voracious about titles. The chip on his shoulder is practically visible. His deference toward teammates & oft-stated respect for opponents belies a singular, individual drive to prove to you and your mom and everyone else that he, Ayo IS YOUR DADDY.
Ayo’s love of competition is infectious, and he’s contaminated an entire team and fanbase.
There have been two hints in recent Ayo Availabilities which should, at the very least, drive conspiracy theories about Ayo returning for a third year.
The most obvious was when he said he was contemplating Journalism as a major.
The other came after that, and I can’t remember which pregame availability it was, but you should probably just click on all the IlliniReport videos anyway.
But the good news about Ayo is that he wants to be The Guy who returned Illinois to jersey-popping status. If His Team doesn’t win three-in-a-row next weekend, or six-in-a-row after that; you can imagine him making another Consequential Decision in your favor.
The alternative is that you celebrate a championship.
You like sports & you know how to use the Internet, so you’ve probably encountered a probability to win graph. You might remember the one from ILLINI/MSU football. The sine wave changed at the end. The orange line moved up in comparison to the green line.
On Sunday, the red line hovered over the orange line for about 39 minutes of basketball.
Maybe not on your preferred website, but in my mind. Indiana was better than Illinois, and deserved to win Sunday’s game — for about 39 minutes.
If you want a more precise figure, the best I can come up with is 39 minutes and 53.6 seconds, because that’s when Terry Oglesby blew his whistle, and awarded a timeout to Trent Frazier.
It was this moment, when Andres Feliz pounced on a loose-ish ball, that the pendulum swung.
That might seem like an easy thing to say, because it happened to be the moment upon which the game swung.
Archie Miller wondered how the play could unfold with neither foul nor held-ball whistled.
Indiana was in position for a game-winning shot when — with about 8 seconds remaining — Andres Feliz leapt to steal the ball from Phinisee, who had unsuccessfully attempted to dribble through Trent Frazier’s outstretched leg.
Feliz then rolled his upper body away from Phinisee to prevent a held-ball situation. Trent ran toward referee Terry Ogelsby, who was closely monitoring the play. Frazier both screamed and signaled for a time-out, which Oglesby granted.
Indiana fans melted the Internet and phone lines for post-game call-in shows, arguing that Trent’s leg had committed a punishable act.
It’s an interesting theory. Should Oglesby have called tripping? Did Trent have a right to stand where he was planted? Might it be a charge?
Maybe Oglesby just didn’t see the contact. It happened pretty quickly.
In general, I think complaints about officiating are a waste of time. Fans often misinterpret calls (e.g. yes it was a clean block, but the defender bumped the shooter with his hip), and too many fans vocally express displeasure at all calls, creating a Boy Who Cried Wolf vibe with the refs.
That said, the officiating on Sunday was worth discussing.
The most obvious gaffe was a foul not called on Devonte Green. Andres Feliz drove to the basket, Joey Brunk and Green closed in, and Green hacked Feliz on his shooting arm, visibly changing the shot and Feliz’s follow-through.
Feliz was so stunned by the non-call that he failed to get back on defense (which is, as you know, quite unlike Feliz).
The other remarkable call that went against Illinois saw Oglesby whistling Alan Griffin for helping an off-balance Justin Smith fall out-of-bounds.
Did Alan touch Smith? Did he give Smith a gentle push? That’s obviously what Oglesby saw.
I was at the far end, so I asked my fellow reporters if anyone got a good look. Erich Fisher said something along the lines of where there’s smoke there’s fire.
Brian Dorsey must have agreed with Alan, because his make-up call arrived as soon as he could find a potential infraction. It’s easy to call traveling in any situation, so traveling is a common tool for make-up calls.
Some Hoosier grad student might inquire about a grant to study how officiating affected the outcome of this game. Surely some donors would fund it. I’d like to know myself.
As far as deserving to win. Indiana definitely deserved this game for all but 6.4 seconds. And then Illinois deserved it more.
Ayo’s third major end-game gaffe (Miami, MSU) nearly handed the Hoosiers their win. But Ayo also drilled the big three that pushed the lead to 65-60. He drained his two free-throws. i.e. he redeemed himself, and snatched back the win.
They say ball don’t lie. It seems about right that at the end of the game, Illinois had one point more than Indiana. They deserved it more.
When this Illini team is great, it feels like a rebirth of history and tradition. When this Illini team is bad, it feels like the last 14 years of kicks to the nads.
Illinois was terrible Monday. They won a game against a team that arrived in Champaign with a 7-19 record. It was uncomfortably close. Thank your favorite deity that the final minutes weren’t excruciating. Thank goodness it was an awful opponent.
What if Ayo hadn’t decided to play through the pain?
Ayo connected on 9-of-16 FGAs. That’s a solid number in hindsight.
At the time, his misses felt like a bad omen. He was missing shots you expect him to drill.
The rest of the team was much, much worse.
It might go unnoticed, as this game desolves from memory, that lowly Nebraska overcame a ten-point deficit. They were rolling. They had all the momentum. They’d tied the game. The crowd was silent.
Then Trent Frazier connected from three. It was the team’s third make in eleven attempts from the arc.
After that, Nebraska threatened a bit in the second half, but Alan Griffin and Kipper Nichols made key defensive plays to suck the wind from Cornhusk sails.
Kipper’s steal made a spectacular moment, and a major buzzkill for the Huskers. But it shouldn’t go unnoticed that he fought for, and garnered, the offensive rebound that followed a failed Illini attempt to beat an elapsing (3 seconds) shot clock on an inbound play.
This was the single play that changed the direction of the game. From this point on, Nebraska never felt competitive.
So, crisis averted. For now.
Nebraska reminded us that Illinois has beaten three good teams. The first was Rutgers, without Geo Baker. The second was Penn State, without Myreon Jones.
Now, a third can be added to the list. Wisconsin got to 10-6. Whatever they did to get there, they got there. The win at Madison now feels like a win at Madison.
So yeah, tourney lock. Illinois is in. Woo-hoo!
But there’s plenty to worry about.
Let’s hope someone tells Josh Whitman — who spent the dark days in Wisconsin and Missouri — that his model of DIA leadership, Ron Guenther, is the guy who didn’t offer Bill Self a double, treble, quadruple increase in salary.
Brad Underwood will be a hot commodity on the upcoming coaching carousel. Orlando Antigua is not paid enough, even at the standard academic salary commensurate with experience.
It’s 2003 again, and all the cutlery is in the drawer, or on its way. Can the DIA get it right this time?
Your favorite team is going to your favorite tournament.
Ayo hasn’t finished his business, and Tuesday night he made a statement to that effect.
Penn State’s defense was every bit as stifling as MSU’s, or Rutgers or Iowa. But they didn’t stop Ayo from penetrating the way Iowa did. They don’t have a Sticks Smith or a Myles Johnson anchoring the D.
No Rob, I hear you say, they have a Mike Watkins!
Tuesday night in State College, Mike Watkins was AWOL. He didn’t start. He played 18 minutes, including just five in the second half. The Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Nominee was not in foul trouble. He had Kofi problems. Or he had Ayo problems.
Really, it was his choice.
Illinois’ spacing problem resolved itself in State College. Well, enough anyway.
Ayo and Andres Feliz made the right decisions on a sufficient number of occasions to keep the Illini a few points ahead, keep the crowd nervous, and the Lions on their heels.
Two specific plays changed the tone, and perhaps the outcome of the game. One involved Ayo & Da’Monte, just as you’d expect. (It makes sense from a narrative perspective, see?) The other demonstrated Kofi’s mid-game tutelage.
Kofi had already committed his second shot clock violation in as many games, getting caught with the ball in his hands and no idea that time was running out. He learned from that experience.
With the Nittany hosts seeking a late-game comeback, it happened again.
But this time, Kofi got the ball in the basket, dampening the hosts’ hopes.
The other play happened a few moments earlier.
Ayo had hit the ground for the second time, as he often does. He was slow to get up, and assuming the TV camera was on him, I suspect some of you feared the worst.
He did get up, but he was late getting back on D. It turned out serendipitously well.
It’s a game of inches, and this time, the Illini punch had greater reach.
The bid was already locked in, so this column’s title is shameless clickbait. But the Illini are no longer the 12 seed. Now they’re playing for a four.
Now that the medical report is in, some of you are surely wondering why Ayo hit the deck, rather than the game-winning shot.
Did he, for example, slip on a wet patch? Was there, for example, some dripped perspiration left after a timeout huddle?
And why do teams huddle on the court anyway?
If you hadn’t known but always wondered, yes; the NCAA has a rule about timeout huddles. And that’s the reason teams meet on the court, rather than remaining on the bench.
Art. 2. During any timeout or before any extra period, bench personnel and players shall locate themselves inside an imaginary rectangle formed by the boundaries of the sideline (including the bench), end line and an imaginary line extended from the free-throw lane line nearest the bench area meeting an imaginary line extended from the 28-foot line.
Somebody probably thought it was a good idea. Perhaps a better idea is to give teams a choice. Huddle on the bench or on the court, whichever works best for you.
One can imagine that visiting teams might want to get away from heckling student sections. That would be true at Iowa and Michigan, where the Hawk’s Nest and Maize Rage are three feet from the visitor’s bench.
But at Purdue and Indiana, the team’s bench is surrounded by friendly boosters and parents. It varies from place to place.
Moreover, teams figure out how to harass their guests within any rules paradigm. At Iowa, for example, a mid-timeout contest features fans lobbing half-court shots at the visitors goal. A few ball-hawkers are assigned to prevent long rebounds from striking the backs of visitors heads. Perhaps not enough.
But maybe Ayo’s near-tragic landing wasn’t a matter of moisture. As I’ve written here before, Ayo falls a lot. He frequently lands hard.
I’ve often winced when he lands on a hip, or his coccyx. I feel less fearful when he lands on me, because I’m relatively soft.
Part of my concern stems from Ayo’s slight build. If you’ve only seen him on TV, you might not perceive his slenderness. It’s part of what makes him so quick. He’s built like a greyhound.
Maybe his bones and joints are just as sturdy as bigger bones and joints. They’re certainly smaller.
’til Tuesday, he’d seemed to dodge that bullet. But the ground finally caught up with him.
Don’t expect any updates on his physical condition today or tomorrow. Rutgers is undefeated at home. There’s no reason to help with their scouting report.
Running from the media room to the Spartans locker room, I caught a glimpse of the Dosunmu family in the training room. I made eye contact with Jamarra. I hope I cringed appropriately.
You never know what to say in these circumstances, and credentialed media aren’t welcome to poke around during medical examinations, so I hope I conveyed sympathy while also running as fast as possible.
I have a non-professional relationship with the Dosunmus. I don’t seek their input for publication purposes. I like to celebrate their highs and commiserate their lows. These are relationships you can’t help but form, especially at away games when a crowd of 15,750 contains 12 familiar faces.
I’m writing at 1:30 am. so this post may be obsolete by the time you read it. As of now, we don’t know the extent of Ayo’s injury. Everyone hopes it’s mild, of course. And if so, it could actually help the Illini.
Well, as I wrote the other day, this was going to be a five-game losing streak. Illinois had beaten one good team this year (Rutgers) and came close to beating a different good team (Maryland, at their place).
The second half of Tuesday’s game was the tectonic shift of the season. The Illini changed their own narrative. A thousand moments unfolded to paint the perfect pastiche of when they turned the corner or the season turned around or the moment it all came together.
Each one deserves its own mention, whether it was Ayo ripping a rebound from some Spartan or Alan’s steals. The unyielding aggression that stymied them at Iowa and against Maryland was revved up and revisited upon a team renowned for its toughness and rebounding.
Now Illinois has an excellent chance to manipulate fate for its advantage. Let’s assume Ayo rests his knee for the week. If they lose at Rutgers and Penn State, they were going to lose at Rutgers and Penn State anyway. The supporting arguments memo to the Selection Committee will point out that Illinois was without its best player in those two losses.
Or, if Andres Feliz puts the team on his back (again) and Trent drains a dozen threes during the eastern adventure, then bully for those two. They’ll benefit from the extra opportunities either way. The team can only improve from this adversity … assuming its short-lived.
The lesser told story of Tuesday night was how everyone’s role changed. Tevian Jones went from oh, yeah I forgot about him to the first sub off the bench. Giorgi took Tevian’s spot on the bench, having perhaps not heard Brad’s pre-game admonition about starting games against Michigan State with Giorgi shooting threes.
MSU is different with Cassius Winston on the bench, and Josh Langford in a boot.
Winston’s foul trouble limited him to 25 minutes. He made a difference when he was on the court. So there’s still an asterisk qualifying any claim that this Illini team is good, or can beat good teams.
They will win enough games to get in the tournament. At that point, it will be fascinating to learn whether they’ll fix all the obvious problems. This team, more than any Illini team of my lifetime, has the potential to perform at uncharacteristic heights.
A hot topic after back-to-back losses is whether a player should sit after committing two fouls in a first half. Brad Underwood benched Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams for long stretches of the Iowa and Maryland first halves because each had committed a second foul.
It’s not, by any means, the first time this Second Foul Rule has been hemmed-n-hawed among Illini observers.
Illini basketball has vast experience with the stodgy & inflexible. His name is Bruce Weber, and he’s notoriously hidebound in his approach to game management. The Second Foul Rule is a glaring example, and last March it cost him his second-best and probably last chance at a national title. Chester Frazier abandoned ship after watching Weber coach himself out of the NCAA tournament, losing to 13th-seed Irvine.
Weber needlessly sat first-team all-Big 12 guard Barry Brown for the rest of the first half after he picked up his second foul less than six minutes into the game. – Jeff Eisenberg
Barry Brown finished that game with two fouls, as did Demetri McCamey on March 1, 2011. In that game, Illinois led Purdue by 13 in the first half. Then McCamey picked up his second foul.
(While searching for these quotes, I found a classic example of Bruce Weber backhanded compliment concerning his best player/favorite target: “He’s grown up a lot. He’s learned how to play, he’s learned how to read defenses, all the things we’ve fought with him about over the years.”)
without McCamey, who was on his way to what might have been one of his best games of the year, the feeling changed instantly. -Mark Tupper
With McCamey on the bench, Illinois (8-9 in the Big Ten, 18-12 overall) went scoreless for more than four minutes, plenty of time for the Boilermakers (14-3, 25-5) to seize momentum in front of 14,123 fans. – Stu Durando
That 31-18 lead devolved to a 37-37 tie at halftime. Everyone wrote about McCamey’s benching, including me. I wrote about it again two years ago. I’m sort of obsessed with that game as a prime example of Bruce Weber’s inflexibility, and failure to learn from his mistakes.
I also like to point out, at every available opportunity, that Brad Underwood is the anti-Weber.
This week, he addressed the Second Foul Rule twice. I asked in the pre-game press conference, and Brad Sturdy asked in the postgame. Here’s a mashup of those moments.
In short, yes. He will generally pull a player after a second foul in the first half.
But yes, he analyzes each situation and adjusts:
I do that a lot. I think the situation determines that.
I would prefer to have guys have more opportunities to stay aggressive in the second half. Yet that doesn’t always work.
If you feel like a game’s slipping and you need that guy … if you feel like you’re not getting quite the performance you need from the guy that replaced him, you may go back (to the pulled player).
I try to do that in very short stints when I put a guy back in (so) as to not let them get fatigued and commit a lazy foul. Not necessarily have them in there where the opponent can isolate a situation to try and pick up a third. I know we look to try to do that sometimes, depending on the situation.
My main premise for it is to be able to have the three fouls going into the second half, and then and be able to stay aggressive when you play in the second half and the game comes down to the end.
So that’s that’s why I do that. It’s not a everytime deal. But it’s completely based on the flow of the game from that aspect.
So, maybe Underwood isn’t making the split-second decision you want. Maybe he’s not second-guessing himself at the times you’d like. But at least he’s always thinking about whether he can improve and adjust his strategy.
Sweeping Michigan and Purdue seemed impressive, right?
Historically, and recently, Michigan and Purdue are B1G contenders. But what about this year? Purdue is 13-10 overall. Michigan is 4-7 in conference.
Is that good?
Memories of Caleb Swanigan and John Beilein are fresh, but Trevion Williams is not Caleb Swanigan. Beilein is gone. So is Bo Ryan. Wisconsin is also 13-10 on the year.
Looking at the schedule on February 8 gives the viewer a different impression of this Illini season than s/he might have had on October 29. Did you predict that Penn State and Rutgers would be the hard games?
And yet, arguably, Rutgers is the only good team that Illinois has beaten this season.
Last night’s loss looked a lot like its predecessor in Iowa City. Maryland employed an aggressive zone defense to completely emasculate the Illini. You can readily envision the Terps coaching staff slow-forwarding through video sequences of that Iowa game, identifying known weaknesses and capabilities.
Likewise, you can imagine the Iowa staff presenting video clips from the Braggin’ Rights embarrassment while telling its team if you challenge them with all your energy and effort; they will fold.
Special credit goes to Terps guard Darryl Morsell, who latched on to Ayo Dosunmu and didn’t let go. Perhaps he watched the Miami game.
If Ayo gets past you, it’s over. And Ayo is extremely good at getting past you. But if you keep him in front, hands high, Ayo’s arsenal diminishes.
Some fans seemed to think Illinois had a chance in the final 10 minutes of the game.
Or at least, they didn’t start leaving in droves until Anthony Cowan drained yet another three to put the Terps up 69-60 with 2:34 remaining.
It’s sweet that they felt Illinois had a chance, after scoring a single field goal in the first 10:52 of the second half.
But the truth is that Maryland had this one safely in its grasp from the moment they initiated that press.
The good news, if you want to call it good, is that NET rankings will probably keep the Illini in the tournament even if — as seems likely — their losing streak extends to five.
On the other hand, Izzo often craps the bed versus Illinois. And he’s too inflexible to mimic another team’s winning formula. So there’s that.
The Illini defense was much better against Maryland than at Breslin. In fact, it kept them within scratching distance during their 40 day ordeal in the scoring desert.
Welp, my plan to publish every day encountered reality, fought it, and lost.
Yesterday, instead of writing this column, I spent every waking hour trying to install a forum at IlliniReport, only to find that WordPress and all its Forum plugins are super-buggy, like an Amish hot-rodder.
The IR forum was intended to replace the IlliniHQ fora, which died Sunday. In the grand scheme of things, neither that community nor the 72-65 defeat is all that important.
But both should be remembered, and this post will memorialize a moment from Sunday that Illini fans won’t want to forget.
This reporter has been Team Feliz since the first open scrimmage of last season. That fealty remains. I get why Coach Underwood wants to bring him off the bench, but I also want him on the floor for 40 minutes.
Sunday should remind everyone why Andres Feliz is a great Illini.
First, to set the scene: It was a warm, sunny Groundhog’s Day in Iowa City. About 45 degrees. The Iowa Caucus was the next day, so every available strip of dirt had a yard sign. Warren, Bernie, Yang Gang.
We found out that a big rally was happening just down the street from Carver-Hawkeye Arena. So we went to see what it was like.
It was big.
Maybe 1,500 people were waiting to get into a small junior high gym. Because we were wearing media credentials, campaign staffers grabbed us and walked us past the entire line, and into the gym. I felt kind of bad about that. But I did take some photos for the file, and I’ll share them with WILL. So it’s legit.
We moved on to Carver-Hawkeye, which was packed to the gills with white-clad white people. It was loud, and the Hawkeyes were playing an aggressive defense unseen in the Fran Era.
All defense has zone principles these days, and all zones have man principles these days. Whatever scheme the Hawkeyes employed, their defenders kept forcing smaller Illini to the baseline and sidelines. Both Alan and Trent got forced out-of-bounds completely.
Andres Feliz stood up to it. And then, he took its ball.
[Jason Marry was sitting to my right, so FightingIllini Productions will have this video in video form, rather than a bunch of 10 fps pictures glued together.]
Things looked pretty good for Illinois after Dre pulled off that unlikeliest of effort plays. The Illini led 59-55.
Even assistant coach Stephen Gentry got excited.
But on this unseasonably warm February afternoon, the sun was literally shining on Iowa City and its Hawkeye faithful.
You wouldn’t have known that Connor McCaffery was in a shooting slump, nor that Luka Garza had never attempted so many threes in his life.
They all went in the basket.
Or at least it seemed like they all went in. The box score says it was only 10-of-23, and that Garza made only 4-of-9.
But on a day when the Hawkeyes (and Brad Underwood) took Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn out of the game, that was enough.
Still, as Dre said in the hallway after the game. “We’re still in first place.”
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.
“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
“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.
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!