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Illini Basketball

HexFinity

The last time Illinois visited College Park was also the last game before The Ayo Era truly began. Like a lot of games against Maryland, it ended stupidly.

You’ve tried to forget Anthony Cowan’s 35-footer, and in part, you’ve been successful: You still remember it, but you think it won the game.

It didn’t. It tied the game.

Then things got stupider.

Illinois had this game in its pocket, until it didn’t.

The Illini had a chance to win in regulation. Or just kill the clock.

Instead, Cowan & Sticks Smith tackled Andres Feliz, stole his ball, and ran to the other end. One free-throw and one intentional miss later, Maryland had capped off yet another improbable defeat of Illinois.

Illinois led 57-48 with 4:12 remaining. Closing a game on a 1-11 run was the only way they could manage to lose, so that’s what they did.

It was arguably even stupider than the statistically impossible Terrapin comeback in Brad Underwood’s first year, when Da’Monte Williams had not yet become the unshakablest Illini.

After the December Debacle, Quam Dosunmu (the elder) was possessed by frustration. He hadn’t steered his son to the Illinois program to watch Andres Feliz get ripped in crunch time. His family hadn’t traveled to Washington to witness ignominious defeat.

Quam’s rant went on for quite some time, and I probably wasn’t the only one who listened to it. I was however, the only one present while he was ranting to me.

I never asked Quam’s permission to share his words, and I didn’t record them, or even make notes afterward. But none of that matters. Once The Legend of Ayo became a matter of record, the Dosunmu family no longer needed to campaign.

It wasn’t unreasonable to put the ball in Andre Feliz’s hands. After all, he’d closed the first half of that same game effectively.

But obviously, Illinois needed to ensure, from that point on, that Ayo Dosunmu had the ball when the game was on the line.

The rest is history.

Brad Underwood remembers the violence and the non-call, but he doesn’t remember the Xfinity Center as the place where he realized that, going forward, Illinois basketball would look to Ayo Dosunmu to close the door.

Or at least he’s not saying it.

Presumably, Quam shared his thoughts with Brad, too. The Dosunmus had an access that most families don’t enjoy. Was that part of the deal? Your guess is as good as mine.

Underwood probably wouldn’t like to develop a reputation for heeding the demands of disgruntled parents, because all parents are disgruntled at some point, and many carry a low intensity grudge throughout their son’s eligibility.

All we know is that after the game at Maryland, Things Changed.

Underwood is not the kind of guy who’s put off by a grudge, of course. He thrives on them. You noticed, as the team prepared for its first B1G road trip of this season, that winless at Carver-Hawkeye was made known to everyone. It’s a chip that Underwood carries. He carries that chip for the Xfinity Center, too.

Because Maryland is bad this year, Illinois has a good chance to get Brad his first College Park roadkill. And the truth is, this is a must win for the Illini. They can’t expect to compete for a B1G title if they lose to the last place teams.

Maryland is 1-6 in conference, and 9-9 overall. Their coach quit before the angry mob arrived. Interim coach Danny Manning has already been drummed out of P5 basketball. After getting Tulsa to the dance in his second year, he went 78–111 at Wake Forest.

But he’s 1-and-1 versus Underwood. And Brad knows that, too.

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COVID-19 Illini basketball

Manning the Post

The Maryland game might not, when it’s all said & done, prove to be a Battle of the Bigs.

Maybe Eric Ayala will go off from three. Maybe every Illini perimeter player will do the same. But it feels like this game should be decided down low, and that Kofi Cockburn should be The Decider.

Maryland has a legendary Big at the helm. Maryland has an excellent Big at the 4 spot.

Qudus Wahab launches a baby hook versus Brown. (Maryland Athletics)

But the guys who’ll defend Kofi Cockburn are not Donta Scott. It would be a waste of fouls to put the Terps’ 6’8″ scorer on Illinois’s 7’0″ double-doubler.

Interim coach Danny Manning says 6’9″ freshman JuJu Reese will participate in the Kofi defense. And, you know, good luck to him.

Julian Reese (Maryland Athletics)

If he’s successful, that means Manning wasn’t just coachspeaking about all his players getting better. (Manning also addressed coachspeaking in his pre-game availablity.)

Mostly, it’ll be Georgetown transfer Qudus Wahab defending the #B1G’s pre-season POTY. That Wahab left Patrick Ewing to play for Danny Manning says something about Wahab’s personality: Manning is nicer than Ewing. Wahab has probably never heard of Leo Durocher.

If the Terrapins weren’t arguably awful, the talking point wouldn’t be Mark Turgeon’s negotiated departure. Democrats of Prince George’s & Anne Arundel Counties might not even care that Darryl Morsell chose to live in Em-Efffing Wisconsin rather than continue to toil on their behalf.

The talking point would be balanced scoring.

It’s hard to defend when all five guys can burn you. Maryland’s starters average double-figures. 6’8″ wing Hakim Hart barely makes the cut-off with 9.5/game, but he’s the Turtle to Fear.

A disruptive defender with a 2:1 ATO, he’s also a 52% shooter. His only problem in Champaign will be Da’Monte Williams, until it’s Jacob Grandison.

It’s an eight-man rotation, and six of them are there to put a ball through a hoop. Only Xavier Green and Ian Martinez play for primarily defensive purposes.

Grad-transfer Green made plain that he doesn’t expect anyone to guard Kofi one-on-one, and that’s the correct response. Kofi becomes vulnerable when Smalls join Bigs in defending him. Adding active hands, especially below the waist, causes problems for Kofi.

Kofi’s spin move (from elbow to block) at The Barn was intriguing to watch because it was sui generis.

It didn’t work.

Kofi has not reached that rare level of sophistication where the big man sees the short corner while his back is turned. Ideally, he’ll return for Year 4 to figure that out. On Tuesday, he got his pocket picked.

That’s the video clip that Xavier Green is visualizing when he talks about helping against Kofi.

Illini fans can satisfy their worrying habit by contemplating how these 8-and-5 Terps got to 8-and-5: They lost by only five points at Iowa, and Iowa is pretty good-ish, yes?

Maryland lost to George Mason by only five points, and George Mason almost beat James Madison in its subsequent contest!

Maryland lost to Louisville, lost to Virginia Tech, lost to Northwestern. Then they beat #20 Florida. Double you, tee eff?

Maryland beat Hofstra by 2, and HOFSTRA BEAT ARKANSAS!

They seem small, but that doesn’t mean they lost.

Yes, the all-caps is necessary because Illinois couldn’t even get to the Arkansas game in Kansas City.

Sure, a lot has changed since then. Coleman Hawkins has a new role. Andre Curbelo decided to get well instead of faking it. Alfonso Plummer bloomed.

Until Illinois can beat Maryland consistently, you’ll need to regard this as a trap game. The Illini should win, but Maryland has shown flashes kinda thing. Terps assistant coach Matt Brady has the Illini scout, and he’s one of those intellectual analysts that can rape a team of all its advantages just by explaining details. Loyola did it, so can they.

But because Darryl Morsell left for pastures, you’ll want to know whether Fatts Russell (whose name is actually “Daron”) can tandem with Eric Ayala to impose the kind of defensive pervasiveness that stops otherwise capable shooters, dribblers, passers & penetrators from enjoying Mr. Naismith’s winter exercise.

There’s no reason to believe he can. There’s less reason to believe that Maryland will win on Thursday. If they do, you can make spring break plans.

Brad Underwood already lost to a terrible Danny Manning team in his Illini career. If you think he’s forgotten about that, thanks for checking out IlliniReport dot info. I’ll assume this is your first time here.

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Illini basketball

Some blew it, some wouldn’t blow

Somehow, this writer has covered Illini basketball for nine years without seeing a game in the Tarheel state. South Carolina? Yes. Georgia? Multiple times. Oklahoma, Texas, Washington (state and district)? Yep.

Even Hawai’i and Quebec.

But never North Carolina, ’til Tuesday.

 

And boy what a disappointment it was. The game was okay I guess. But it was just depressing to visit the college basketball state and find such a lackluster crowd.

The Deacons attempted to revive their faithful by shooting catalytically unconverted toxins at the opposing bench, but even that couldn’t wake the Wake.

Lawrence Joel Coliseum announced a crowd of 5,782. Let’s hope that many people paid, then went to bed early.  But that would be more than a third of capacity, and there’s no way it was more than a quarter full.

I don’t think all of Wake’s fans had to get up bright and early to manufacture cigarettes. I think they’ve given up on their program. Remember when Wake fired Dino Gaudio after consecutive trips to the tourney? Remember when they then hired a charmless tactician who’d just suffered three consecutive losing seasons? Of course you don’t. But if you lived in Winston-Salem, it would burn in your memory.

Jeff Bzdelik’s head coaching record

If you want to know what an utterly destroyed basketball program looks like …

Everyone noticed the foul discrepancy. Brad Underwood took all the fun out of the postgame by praising the officiating crew as one of the best in the business. That observation effectively closed the door on the topic. We didn’t know what he’d told the radio crew moments earlier. It was a lot different.

Brian Dorsey has officiated a lot of Illini games. I think I recall Tim Nestor’s name, but maybe I’m just thinking of the long-eared Christmas donkey. Ron Groover has never worked an Illini game that I can recall.

The 31-to-14 advantage in free-throw attempts certainly helped the home team. But the Illini out-shot the Deacs 62-to-47 from the floor. Each and every one of those 15 extra shots missed. i.e. Illinois and Wake Forest each made 24 field goals.

The game was decided, as so often happens, by the ability to get a synthetic leather ball through a metal hoop. Whether it was missing shots, or turning the ball over 19 times before even attempting a shot, Illinois didn’t hoop the ball enough.

Wake Forest’s shots looked like this.

Illini shots also had that same guy in the frame. In fact, he often took up most of the space.

Both Josh Whitman and Paul Kowalczyk attended, along with compliance analyst Evan Taylor. This might suggest that the DIA took this game pretty seriously. “Yes we do,” said Kowalczyk.

Big Mike Thorne, recently returned to the states from Slovenia, attended. So did Mark Morris, the DOBO under John Groce.  Thorne says he’s healthy and hoping to play more basketball.

If I didn’t have photographic evidence of Adam Fletcher smiling, no one would believe it happened. I’ve certainly never seen him smile before. I’ve seen him leap from his seat, fists pumping, roaring a barbarian yawp.

It’s not that he doesn’t emote. It’s just never been the upturned mouth-corners variety.

Nice to know, then, that he can be kind and charitable to the little ones. Fletch took a moment to engage one of the ten year-olds who stayed up past bedtime to wipe perspiration from the court. He even helped out with the wiping.

I’m sitting in the Landmark Diner, in Atlanta, Romelda Jordan’s favorite town. As usual, I allowed myself an extra day to edit photos and collect my thoughts. The obvious conclusion is that our tiny team will get zoned by every taller team for the rest of the year. But that’s probably not true.

Brad Underwood explained that his team knows how to attack a zone. They simply didn’t follow their instructions.

Except, maybe once.

Nightmares about consistent rejection should take care of that.

But yes, the officiating was awful.