Categories
Illini Basketball

Aüldogs’ Nütrix

Ten minutes of unsustainable bliss. Twenty-five minutes of hell. One moment of recognition.

The championship-squelching loss to Ohio State was the best & most important game of the 2021-22 Illini basketball season. Best because it featured amazing performances by future NBA players, plus a scrappy comeback by Every Day Guys. Most important because it allowed the Illini coaching staff, finally, to see what they need to do.

Teams with scouting budgets & good analysts have figured out how to stop Illinois.

Brad Underwood’s perspective changed when his view changed. Maybe he’d already thought about giving opponents a different look. But it wasn’t until he’d been ejected, and Kofi fouled out, that Illinois basketball actually tried something different.

Instead of Kofi + threes, it was …

Actually, the alternative doesn’t matter. Anything different does & will ruin opponents’ scouting reports and strategies.

EJ Liddell is a joy to watch. Also, Orange Krush needs new management.

Was it Underwood’s decision to go small? He said he was still coaching in the locker room. Does that mean he was texting Zach Hamer or Bobby Gikas with ideas? Did Chester, Tim or Geoff finally get his way while Big Mean Boss Man was sequestered?

Probably not. Illinois had to go small. Kofi fouled out, and Omar Payne can’t score. When you’re down by 14 with a couple of minutes left, you’re not thinking about rim protection.

But again, it didn’t really matter what Illinois did differently. It just mattered that they did something different. Underwood said they’d worked on their 5-out offense a lot in the early part of the season. That’s important. They were ready to employ it.

The thing that I’ve always liked about Brad Underwood is his quest. He’s never satisfied. He’s certainly not hidebound. He doesn’t sleep, and he loves a challenge.

And he drinks wine, which makes people creative. Especially late at night, when they can’t sleep.

The offense that worked against Mizzou stopped working by February, when #B1G opponents compiled enough scouting materials to scientifically, systematically shut down Kofi + threes.

So Illinois won’t win a B1G this year. Intriguingly, it’s never been a goal. Kofi talked about a national championship during a recent-ish availability. Trent mentioned it in the tOSU postgame. Even Brad, who generally reserves his word x 4 pronouncements to “elite” said it Thursday night: “March, March, March, March.”

Nobody questions Kofi’s effort or ability. This save was amazing.
The ball went to Jake, in the corner.
Jake scored easily on the broken play, because tOSU didn’t know what to do.

After Thursday’s loss, Underwood said he’s asked his assistants to identify his team’s vulnerabilities in preparation for the NCAA Tournament. He didn’t say they’re working on new actions/different sets to render well-trained teams defenseless. But if they aren’t studying different looks, they should all be shitcanned. Illinois’s obvious vulnerability is the facility with which its offense is scouted and stymied by opponents.

But that’s only true of #B1G opponents, and that’s why Illinois is much likelier to win the NCAA than the B1G.

Not all the #B1G foes scouted the ’22 Illini effectively, of course, Some of them don’t work as hard. Some aren’t as smart as others. Some probably figured it out and explained it well to their players, but the players didn’t execute. Some probably aren’t as good at explaining.

If a pattern emerges, it’s that Matt Brady (Maryland) and Ryan Pedon (Ohio State) are pretty good at scouting, explaining, and getting their players to adhere to the scouting report.

Other teams have had success against Kofi, but that’s because #B1G officials have decided, seemingly, to ignore most of the hard fouls that prevent him from scoring.

DJ Carstensen can’t see, and Lewis Garrison holds a grudge. Or maybe I’m imagining that. I don’t know how else to explain the B1G’s inability to officiate games.

Carstensen seemed oblivious to elbows until Kyle Young lost consciousness, or maybe just his footing (?) while defending Kofi on Thursday.

Despite Cockburn pleading for Carstensen’s personal attention, while actually concussed during the first Purdue game, Carstensen took no notice of #EdeyElbows during that game. Nor the second.

SHOUT OUT TO KEVIN WARREN

The Hightower Commission has failed.

Or maybe it’s a long-term study, designed to root-out the bad referees by 2025. I didn’t ask Dr. Hightower those specifics. Alls I know is that Ed Hightower, a retired schools superintendent and top-notch referee was commissioned (by the commissioner, who commissions things) to fix a problem that the Big Ten conference recognized.

It probably won’t help Kofi in 2022. Not in conference play, anyhow. But now that Illinois is dropping to 4+ seed territory, it won’t necessarily face B1G referees in the tourney.

Losing to Ohio State wasn’t fun. But at this point, the Illini could lose all their remaining games in the regular season. It doesn’t matter. The system was rigged against them, whether it’s officiating or scheduling.

But they don’t seem to care. They won the B1G last year. They have different goals now.

Quintuple team immediately closes on Kofi.
No whistles were blown.
Categories
Illini basketball

Edeyfication

Yesterday’s thesis — that only Illinois could beat Illinois in a match-up with Purdue — did not account for the Carstensen-Boroski-Dorsey triumvirate.

They weren’t the only reason Illinois lost, but a series of bizarre calls and non-calls probably made the difference in a game that was tied at the end, twice

Bo Boroski, Brian Dorsey & DJ Carstensen

Illini Report has no personal enmity for any of these individuals. Boroski is a friendly guy. Carstensen is earnest & nerdy. Dorsey did a good job of ignoring a tirade from Nagash Cockburn.

But officiating really did hurt Illinois and help Purdue yesterday. Even Matt Painter said as much.

A sellout SFC crowd noticed, too. Every time these refs botched a call, the clever SFC production team posted a slow-motion replay on the hall’s giant video screens. Illini fans howled in outrage, their frustration growing louder with each successive injustice.

Maybe the worst calls were non-contact “fouls” that went against Illinois. But Kofi Cockburn might argue that Carstensen’s lenience toward Zach Edey’s elbows was the major problem. Cockburn repeatedly gestured to Carstensen that he’d been hooked. Carstensen offered no response or acknowledgment.

Kofi tried to get DJ’s attention.

The Illini defensive strategy mirrored its recent experience, in which Big Ten teams opted against double-teaming Kofi. The Illinois coaching staff obviously thought Kofi could guard Edey by himself. Or perhaps the staff was (reasonably) terrified by all the 40% marksmen waiting on the arc if & when the defense collapsed to help in the paint.

When Carstensen decided that Edey would have full use of his elbows, the plan crumbled. On to strategy #2: Deny Edey the ball.

That didn’t work either.

Edey scored against Cockburn at will. He scored behind Omar Payne. If Painter had allowed Edey to keep going, rather than substituting Trevion Williams at regular intervals, Edey would have converted 10 lay-ups by halftime. He made six in eleven minutes.

But the other half of the strategy was working. Purdue missed its first six attempts from the arc, and Sasha Stefanovic finished the half 0-2 on threes. Illinois had picked its poison, and the poison was killing them.

Illinois’s second half poison wasn’t as much of a choice as a necessity. They held Edey to three FGs in 13 minutes, but denying his opportunities allowed Stefanovic to go wild from the arc. Sasha drained 4-of-5 in those 20 minutes.

If Andre Curbelo hadn’t made a surprise comeback, Illinois would have lost by double-digits, in regulation.

Curbelo’s return now forces Brad Underwood to choose which starter won’t get as much tick as he’d been getting. Jacob Grandison sat for almost nine minutes in the first half against Purdue, and more than five of the second.

Da’Monte Williams played about 17:30 for each half, and every minute of overtime. Trent Frazier played even more, including all of both OTs.

Because Alfonso Plummer has been cold in B1G play, and because his defense is regarded as the worst among the starting perimeter players; he seems like the obvious choice to sit more. But he buried 6-of-12 against Purdue and remains Illinois’s second-leading scorer. Without him, Purdue wins in regulation.

Andre Curbelo started giving instructions as soon as he entered the game.

It’s always a good problem to have, or so the saying goes. But because Illinois is competing for a championship, this personnel question takes on an importance John Groce never had to contemplate, even when he repeated that a single addition changes the entire team.

Different line-ups might be capable of defeating the B1G’s top 10 teams. But the question now is whether Illinois can beat the Badgers on Groundhog’s Day, or arrive in West Lafayette, on February 10th, with a better plan of action.

Categories
COVID-19 Illini Basketball

An Iowa Moment

A single moment, deconstructed, can be a great vessel for storytelling. Dealey Plaza, for example.

Illini fans will want to remember the 87-83 win at Carver-Hawkeye. They’ll enjoy the outrageous moments of injustice. The 21-2 run won’t bother them, nor the final moments when a 15 point lead disappeared.

The orange team won. That makes all of it enjoyable.

Here’s the moment I’ll deconstruct.

Before I deconstruct the moment, I’ll share some others. It was a frustrating game for the Illini, and the fact that maintained their composure is the reason they won. That’s why Brad Underwood talked about Jacob Grandison in his postgame comments.

Composure.

Kofi Cockburn should also get credit. And Da’Monte Williams. And Trent Frazier.

Eric Curry and Da’Monte Williams

Watching replays and looking at photos, I feel bad for DJ Carstensen. He’s an earnest person, a little nerdy, not an egomaniac. He wants to be a good referee.

He was responsible for most of the outrageously bad officiating on Monday. But when you analyze all the calls he got wrong, you can see that he had bad angles on the action. He couldn’t see Alfonso Plummer pushed to the ground.

He couldn’t see Jordan Bohannon molest Trent Frazier.

The latter play happened at the other end of the moment captured above. It started when Plummer left his feet (bad) which prompted Joe Toussaint to make a terrible pass (worse).

Trent got the steal, and headed downcourt, where Bohannon hacked him. Because Trent moves at near Dee Brown speed, you can understand why Carstensen wasn’t in position to see the hack.

There were plenty of bad calls, and plenty of bad non-calls. In general, DJ, Eric Curry and Lewis Garrison allowed Hawkeyes to batter Kofi. On the other hand, Kofi was the victim of a phantom foul call, among other injustices.

Lewis Garrison saw contact here. In his defense, he’s probably still having nightmares about Kofi.

But the thing that made Kofi mad wasn’t the hacking. He got really mad when DJ missed an out-of-bounds call. Kofi is a mild-mannered person, and he’s learned not to dwell on things (as Brad Underwood pointed out in the postgame press conference), but he was really mad in the moment. Probably because it began with yet another uncalled foul, but not one that hindered him. He’s sensitive to injustices against others.

After Gunman was hammered, the injustice was compounded when Keegan Murray batted the ball out of bounds, and DJ Carstensen awarded posession to the Hawkeyes.

Nevertheless, once his protest was logged, Kofi got back on D.

Now, back to the Frazier steal. The thing I like about the picture is that it tells many different stories, depending on how it’s cropped.

Both Joe Toussaint and the bespectacled fan were horrified by his pass.
COVID is a hoax to Iowa’s whiteys.
Matthew Crasko wasn’t the only one.
So nice to see them disappointed.

A BIT MORE ABOUT CARVER-HAWKEYE

Following @TylerCott’s lead in writing about media access at various #B1G and non-conference venues, I’ll revise & extend my remarks about Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Carver-Hawkeye is arguably the best place in the #B1G for a photographer to shoot a game. It’s also the worst place for media overall. The photography is good because the place is well lit, folding step stools are provided (the #B1G tournament is the only other place I’ve seen this handy accessory offered), and both home and away benches are immediately adjacent to the assigned photography spots, so one can get great pictures of the coaches and players on the bench.

One can’t hear most of the things they say to each other, because it’s an arena full of people and piped noise; but one can usually hear the head coach and whichever assistant had the scout for that game.

One is also free to imagine what the participants are saying.

Ooh, scary.

Before the game tips, and once the game is over, Carver-Hawkeye reverts to being the worst place for media. Iowa doesn’t have a media workroom, nor a media hospitality room. There’s no place to hang a coat. If you know who to ask, you’ll get a coupon good for $12 at the concession stands, which are all at the top and accessible only by walking up every last stair in the building.

Kofi tried to bat the ball to a teammate. It didn’t work, but it was a good idea.

Once the winded, sweating reporter makes it to the top, and waits in line for ten minutes, an industrial grade bratwurst or hot dog awaits. Conveniently, these food-like substances cost $12 with a soda. (Pro-tip, somehow it’s only $10.50 for the bunned, meatlike salt torpedo if you get a coffee instead, but they won’t make change anyway, so it’s not an exceptionally devilish trick.)

Iowa was the first #B1G program to employ the coupon method. Since then, tOSU and Penn State followed. That’s a shame because they both had great food, and comfortable places to eat it.

Categories
Illini Basketball

The Deserve Curve

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.