Categories
Illini Basketball

Big Softies

Kofi Cockburn is a monster in the minds of people who’ve never met Kofi Cockburn. Brad Underwood is a monster in the minds of people who get their opinions from social media.

In fact, Brad Underwood is a reflective person. One of the things he reflects on, frequently in recent weeks, is that Kofi Cockburn is a freshman, and a minor.

Tyler did not cry.

We and Brad sometimes forget — because Kofi is an intimidating physical specimen — that inside the cranium crowning 290 lbs. of lean muscle is a youthful, playful mind just discovering the outside world, as we all did if we were lucky enough to have a freshman year.

On Sunday, as Kofi battled an intensely, historically talented B1G man, Nico Haeflinger marveled at a moment of video he’d just captured for his nightly sportscast. I was sitting next to Nico, so he shared it with me. We sat on the north baseline, under the Home basket. But this was the first half, so Nico’s footage took place 94 feet south of us.

The gist: Kofi was angry, or at least seemed angry.

After a particular play under the south basket, the quiet, polite, shy, deferential, reserved and demonstrably pacifist BEAST-IN-WAITING emoted in way that Nico had never seen. He shared the slo-mo of Kofi’s facial expression, expanding.

It started as defiance. It ended in roar.

Kofi executed, finished, successfully completed a set. Choose your verb, and strive for strength. Alliteration if possible. Onomatopoeic CRASH! in an ideal world.

Or, if you prefer, forget the prose.

Something magical happened. Appreciated simply: Kofi Cockburn scored on Luka Garza.

In doing so, Kofi passed a milestone in an extremely personal, intimate and perhaps indescribable growth step.

For all his plaudits, Kofi remains as humble & surprised as you’d expect him to be if you knew his biography rather than his press clippings.

Of course, all these impressions were formed before his official coronation as B1G Freshman 2020. But the reality of Kofi is that he doesn’t react to plaudits. People have told him that he’s god’s gift.

The important thing to know is that he learned how to play against Iowa, and Luka Garza. In the grand scheme of things, it’s the only thing he’ll ever need to know, because Luka Garza is the best B1G he’ll ever see.

When they face each other on Friday, Kofi will know that he’s answered the Garza challenge.

Categories
Illini Basketball

A Good Night for a Bad Night

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.

Alan wanted it more.

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?

Categories
Illini Basketball

The Giorgi Development

Rutgers was a good game for Giorgi, who seems to do well against Scarlet Knights.

He made half his shots, grabbed 7 rebounds in 23 minutes, connected on both free-throws, dished two assists and committed only two fouls (one of which accounted for his lone turnover).

Giorgi’s great attributes are hard to quantify. They’re so many. One that stands out is selflessness. He genuinely enjoys watching his teammates succeed, even at the expense of his own gaudy stats.

His major weakness comes simultaneously. He hasn’t refined his high-post screens to B1G standards, so he’s called for a lot of moving picks. Similarly, his understanding of the charge/block rule is a work in progress.

Giorgi was genuinely surprised when Kelly Pfeifer rang him up for the most obvious player-control foul of the 2020 college basketball season. Dozens of Rutgers fans screamed that’s a charge! the first time Giorgi thrust his shoulder into Ron Harper. When he felled Harper with a buttocks to the gut, everybody in the building knew which way the call was going.

Giorgi found his shot in Piscataway. It helped that Harper is shorter and less athletic than Jalen Smith & Xavier Tillman.

But that’s the point of playing him alongside Kofi, rather than instead of Kofi. If a team puts its big man on Cockburn, Giorgi can dominate a smaller opponent. Kofi could help clear out the paint by dragging his man to the high-post.

Problem is, Kofi hasn’t demonstrated (publicly) his ability to knock down a 17-footer. He can do it, and he does it in practice. But apart from a broken play at Mackey Arena, where Kofi surprised everyone by dropping a jumpshot; Illini fans haven’t seen that side of his game.

Giorgi has a knack for creating space, both for himself and others. But lately, Brad Underwood has not been pleased by Giorgi’s casual attitude to the stretch-four position. Giorgi is actually the team’s second-best long-range shooter, a hair ahead of Ayo at 30.6% (unless you count Tyler Underwood’s 2-of-6).

He works on his threes, and his free-throws, after every practice.

You’ll recall the elder Underwood lamenting, prior to the second MSU game, the beginning of the first MSU game. The boss man does not want to open his offense with a three from Giorgi. The next day, Giorgi opened that second game with a missed three-pointer. He didn’t play a lot after that.

This morning, Underwood praised Giorgi’s jump hook and added “we have to get him more looks down there.” (emphasis mine)

The advantage of playing Kofi and Giorgi separately, assuming Giorgi can’t improve his threes by 6-to-10 percent and Kofi doesn’t add that jumper to his arsenal, is twofold.

First, they’re each less likely to garner five fouls.

Second, the four-out look can deter zone defenses, especially if Tevian Jones gets more tick. Tevian’s advantage over every Illini (and all opponents) is that his release takes place above the heads of most defenders. Not only is Tev quick draw, but he’s a high leaper. His jump shot takes place in the clouds. That’s why it gives opponents fits.

Coach Underwood sees that he needs to open the middle, and create space for his offense. Giorgi is tool to that end. Because his attitude is pure altruism, he’s willing to do whatever it takes.

Categories
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

The Second Foul – A History

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.

Trent Frazier garnered an unfortunate foul at Iowa.

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

https://sports.yahoo.com/how-a-misguided-decision-its-coach-contributed-to-kansas-states-early-exit-223753384.html

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.

Bruce Weber chastens Demetri McCamey

(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

https://herald-review.com/blogs/mark_tupper/a-tough-loss-but-renewed-hope/article_4bb85b30-ac3b-5fb0-ba5d-2895340c8f19.html

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

https://www.stltoday.com/sports/college/illini/illini-start-fast-then-stumble-at-purdue/article_99ebb23a-f47e-5f33-8663-27db9a597b01.html

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.

This photo is not related to the story. I just couldn’t not publish it.

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.

-Brad Underwood

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.

That’s what we want, yes?

Categories
Illini Basketball

Los Feliz

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.”

That guy has grit.

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?

Categories
Illini Basketball

Hi-Lo

It’s been an ongoing quest this season: How to get the ball to Kofi Cockburn in the low post.

You’ve seen a lot of bounce-passes from the top of the key. Unfortunately, so have the advance scouts and assistant coaches from opposing teams. Consequently, you’ve recently seen a lot of interceptions.

Wednesday at Wisconsin, the Hi-Lo was a mixed bag of effective oops, overhead passes and pick-offs.

In the first half, the Wisconsin bench called out Illini plays to their defenders. It was mostly effective with the significant exception of the lob dunk which Brad Underwood drew up during a timeout. I’d like to go back and compare the set up for that play to other lob dunks successfully executed by the Illini, because the Badgers bench didn’t recognize it. Underwood is as devious as John Groce was guileless. Presumably he knows that lining up his five in a particular pattern will tell opponents which actions are likely to ensue.

In the second half, Micah Potter tried to explain how to recognize a forthcoming alley-oop. But his teammates didn’t seem to understand. Or maybe they thought it was obvious and unnecessary. If they’re both at the elbow, it’s a lob.

This morning at the SFC, Kofi said the coaches haven’t done anything to hone the hi-lo. Underwood said his team isn’t running it as much, preferring other actions rather than a two-day game between the bigs.

Certainly none of that is entirely true, and there’s probably an amount of truth in both statements.

Watching hi-lo actions has always been painful, because there’s a necessary amount of cliffhanger drama. Will he get the ball is the obvious question. Will he keep it high, or bring it down to chest level is another.

Run properly, it’s hard to defend. But there’s just so much room for error, and recently, up until the second half at Kohl, error has prevailed.

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.