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COVID-19 Illini Basketball

BTT 2021 – The Return of Illini Basketball

It’s Friday morning of the Big Ten Tournament. In the past decade, your favorite team would usually be home by now. Sometimes, its coach has already been fired.

In Year One of the Underwood regime, the B1G held its tournament at Madison Square Garden, forcing the schedule forward a week because the Big East books Selection Sunday every year. Thus, despite 31 points from Good Kipper, Illinois’s season was done before the month of March began.

Willie Geist didn’t even attend that game, as far as I know. That’s how dark things were for Illini basketball.

Kevin Miller and Willie Geist at Illinois/Villanova December 2014

It’s better now.

Today on Morning Joe, Willie picked Illinois to win it all. Not just the B1G. Gene Robinson took Michigan, and Jon Lemire wondered about Gonzaga’s annual choking act.

For you young-ins, this is what Illini basketball is supposed to be — talked about.

Meanwhile, in the rolling hollers of southern Indiana, birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, inbred Hoosiers are deciding how to kill Archie Miller.

Another tip for you young-ins: Indiana basketball was a thing, way back even before Illini basketball was last relevant. Old-timers remember an era when an angry old ape bullied and browbeat his way to three national championships. Enough of these old folks haven’t succumbed to Alzheimer’s & still have enough money and anger to extort an entire Athletics Administration. Thus, the Archie deathwatch is upon us.

They’re also cosplay fantasists, who dress up in candy cane pants and daydream that other white people want to coach their team.

Screencap from a Hoosier message board

You almost want to root for Steve Pikiell and Rutgers today, in thanks for putting IU in this position, where they must choose to pay $10M for 2017’s brightest up-and-comer to not coach their basketball team.

There are a couple of people on that list who aren’t completely unrealistic. Thad Matta (also rumored for Penn State) seems ideal. He grew up a Hoosiers fan, and he might not mind getting shitcanned in four years. But that’s if he’s healthy enough to get back in the game.

Chris Beard already chose Lubbock over Las Vegas because it’s home and he has family there. If IU can scrape $7 million x 10 into a contract offer, maybe he’d leave. It doesn’t seem risky financially, just for future piece of mind. Who really, when you get right down to it, enjoys being hanged in effigy?

Ah, the sun just came out. It’s another warm March day here in the ECI. Dos Mamba & SuperKofi are going to play basketball tonight. If they lose, they’ll still be a #1 seed. But they won’t lose.

We’ve waited for this, so long that you’re having to explain your tears to people who weren’t even born last time Illinois was good at basketball, and are now clamoring for a learner’s permit.

It’s a good time to be alive. And Indiana sucks.

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COVID-19 Illini Basketball

Enter Glass Man

Contemplating a return match with the B1G’s enigmatic Indiana Hoosiers, you should focus on rebounding and how the Hoosiers approach it.

Angry white trash fans will tell you — between calls for Archie Miller’s head — that their team has been pretty damn good on defense this year. The offense stalls for massive dead periods, predictably, if not every single game.

As for boards, Indiana is not good. Or at least, they’re not as good as conference opponents. Here’s a chart of recent Illini opponents, and how they perform on the glass in B1G games.

Some obvious points here: Iowa has the most rebounds per game because they play fast. Ohio State has the most rebounds overall because they’ve played 12 games. Rutgers has more O-bounds than its opponents, and fewer overall. Maryland does not compete for offensive rebounds. Not always, anyhow.

Not crashing the O-boards was key to Maryland’s win in Champaign. By sending their guys the other way, Maryland’s defense allowed itself to fend off Ayo and the blitzkrieg Illini transition game.

Deconstructing that game, Terps coach Matt Brady said this of the Illini “7 seconds” plan:

“Transition is such a big deal for them, We lost to Illinois (the Tevian Jones game) when they beat us in transition. And even though they got 18 points in transition (this January), we said we’re gonna send three if not four guys back. We’re not even going to try to get an offensive rebound unless we have a great chance to get a rebound. It’s another one of the things, if you’re going to beat them, you have to keep them out of transition. It was part and parcel of what we tried to do.”

Contrast Friday’s Iowa game. Every time the Hawkeyes made a bucket, Ayo immediately sprinted through their “defense” for a lay-up.

Ohio State won in Champaign because they did something unusual — or at least unusual for them: They relied on three-point shooters who hadn’t previously been successful from the arc.

It’s hard to scout for things that never happen, and it’s not worth scouting for things that rarely happen. That’s why Illini fans perseverate about the unknown bench player who “goes off” against Illinois. In truth, that happens to every team. It’s the nature of the game.

Like Ohio State, Indiana is small-ish on the interior. Like EJ Liddell, Trayce Jackson-Davis is a natural power forward who plays somewhat out of position. But unlike EJ Liddell, Trayce Jackson-Davis has not attempted a three-pointer this year. Not even during Indiana’s three non-conference blowouts.

So the key thing to watch for tonight is how Indiana sets up on the defensive end. Will they get back before Ayo takes off for the races? Will they keep the ball out of Kofi’s hands? That’s been an Achilles heel for Illinois this year. You’d want Kofi to get more than 10 touches per game, but so far, Brad Underwood’s scheming has not produced more touches. A few Zooms ago, he chuckled at the notion that any scheming could achieve a more open, or less harassed, Kofi.

But if it weren’t possible, you’d never have heard of Aloysius Anagonye. There’s a list of famous Spartans from Zach Randolph to Kelvin Torbert to the supersoft Paul Davis whose interior efforts were greatly advanced by Aloysius Anagonye felling defenders left and right around them.

So far in the Underwood tenure, Illinois has employed the butt-screen for its little guys, rather than as flack protection for its bigs.

Giorgious

When Kofi does get the ball, he’ll need to keep it high. away from help defenders.

Jackson-Davis is a good shot blocker, and he has a thick base. His shoulders aren’t as broad as you’d expect if you only got a chance to look at his lower trunk. But he knows how to use his hands in low-post defensive situations. But if Kofi can muscle the ball upward, he (or a teammate) will get slightly more than one chance per shot to achieve ball-through-ring.

Indiana doesn’t rebound well, and Jacob Grandison has launched himself into a prominent role largely because his natural instinct is to rush the offensive glass (90% according to Underwood).

If Kofi gets 15 touches, Indiana loses. If Grandison gets four second-chance buckets, Indiana loses.

But teams don’t need to rebound, certainly not offensively, if they never miss. Quod erat demonstrandum. If Rob Phinisee and Aljami Durham drain their threes*, and if Kofi gets twelve touches or fewer, Indiana wins.

*Armaan Franklin will make his, if he plays. He’s shooting 46% this season. Durham is 32% & Phinisee is 35%

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COVID-19 Illini Basketball

Arch Support

What a great day to be a basketball fan. You can hardly wait to see Matt Painter’s gang bludgeoned at the RAC, right? And what if Northwestern beats a top 10 Iowa team at Carver?

May we live in Interesting Times.

B1G standings – December 29, 2020

Yes, MSU is the worst team in the Big Ten. Yes, Northwestern is alone in first place. The times they are a-changin’.

Beilein and Bo, the best coaches in the conference, are gone. Tom Izzo turns 66 in a month. Juwan Howard has proved he can recruit, but can he coach a team to consistency? Steve Pikiell revived a program last relevant in the Ford Administration. He’ll be getting job offers in three months. If Chris Collins keeps it rolling in Evanston … well, Mike Krzyzewski turns 74 in February.

In simpler times, people crowded around Chris Collins in person

Fran McCaffery will never have a batter team unless he can land every single white kid in America.

Painter continues to churn away with a system that’s worked for four decades. But starters Nojel Eastern & Matt Haarms had enough of it. When your senior leaders bail, people start to whisper & mutter.

So to be specific, it’s a great day to be an Illini basketball fan. Last week was a great example of where we stand, and where the conference is headed. Pikiell rallied his team to execute. Penn State is falling apart. And Indiana is drowning in a swamp of angry fans.

Justin Smith had enough of Indiana. Same with Nojel Eastern and Purdue.

Looking back at four years of Illinois-Indiana, you could make an argument for which school hired the better coach in 2017. And assuredly, cynical fans of each program will tell you: They did.

The teams split their 2017-18 games. Looking back at that Hoosiers roster, you’ll think “oh yeah – him.” They finished 16-15 which is no better than Illinois, which finished 14-18. Good seasons end with single-digit losses. If your coach leads you to enough 12-loss seasons, and their accompanying 8-ish seed berths in the tournament, you’ll be anxious for the next coach.

In 2019, Illinois was full rebuild, and Indiana crushed any promising signs of life with March 7’s 92-74 drubbing at SFC. It was one of the most depressing games in recent memory, which is why you’ve forgotten it. The Hoosiers won both games that year, but haven’t beaten the Illini since.

Saturday’s game buttressed all the arguments against Archie. The offense stalled for two significant stretches. His substitution patterns and line-ups created mismatches and weak spots for his team. He benched his star player for a fourth of the game because Trayce Jackson-Davis committed a second foul, and subsequent to that, a third foul. Trayce Jackson-Davis finished the game with three fouls.

Tyler, Edgar and Ayo were thrilled with Archie’s strategic decisions

Hoosier fans comfort themselves with Beckmanesque rationalizations. These two teams would be equal, but Romeo left and Ayo stayed. The loudest critics are FREAKING OUT because all of Archie’s top recruiting targets went elsewhere. So did Brad’s of course. But Brad has a pair of touted freshmen who will also be freshmen next year.

Can Archie win enough games to fend off the clamoring Banners Pointers? Lots of summertoothed holler-dwellers still believe Indiana is a blue blood. They’re unparalleled at running coaches out of town on a rail. Meanwhile, Purdue hasn’t fired a basketball coach in over forty years. Maybe fifty. Nobody’s really sure.

Purdue tried to Guenther Lee Rose after his 1980 Final Four run. It didn’t work then, either.

Illini fans still haunted by nightmares of Weberball don’t ever again want to watch a well-coached defensive team that hasn’t really worked on offense yet and auto-benches its best player after two fouls. Benching one’s best player is the epitome of inflexible coaching, a hallmark of the Weber philosophy. Indiana fans might accept stodgy inflexibility for old time’s sake, but not of it finishes 9-11 in conference.

Underwood critics say he doesn’t have a system. That he keeps changing his defense. That he keeps trying new things. You know, as if that’s a problem.

THE LONE WOLF

Adam Miller started the Indiana game, as usual. He scored zero points and grabbed zero rebounds, with two turnovers and no assists in 17:38. Afterward, Brad Underwood said he’d keep starting Miller. Underwood said Miller’s been great.

We’re seeing sports psychology in action.

Miller was practically invisible against Indiana while his roommate was everywhere, all the time. Andre Curbelo again ignited the team, turning a scoreless start into a thrilling rally. The Illini raced through the first eighth of the game without converting a field goal. Belo came in, and the team converted three of them within about 15 seconds of whirling dervish.

Underwood has coached for a few minutes, though. He knows that benching Adam might break a delicate psyche that’s undergoing some painful adjustments and a whole lotta learning process. So Underwood will keep saying that Adam is great. He’ll keep Adam in the starting five. Curbelo played 29:41 — thirdmost court time after Ayo and Trent.

The dynamics of the Miller-Curbelo-Underwood relationship are one of the underrated storylines of the season. And the supporting cast is important, too. Orlando Antigua, Chin Coleman, Da’Monte Williams and Ayo Dosunmu play key roles. Even Edgar Padilla Jr. can’t be ignored in telling the story.

It’s one of the great reasons to look forward to 2021.

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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.