Illini basketball

Paint War

Ben Verdonk is the perfect MSU Spartan, and if he were playing for them, he’d be their latest Hutson or Anagonye — a guy who sets screens, rebounds, passes and converts enough put-backs to maintain a scoring average.

But if Ben is tonight’s starting center, MSU can shift its defensive focus to the perimeter. That’s why we’re all hoping Kofi Cockburn will pull a Curbelo-esque surprise tonight.

Intriguingly, Tomm Izzo expects Kofi to play.

Trent Frazier strips Fatts Russell

Lithe MSU center Marcus Bingham has never been an offensive threat, but he’s capable of bothering opposing bigs on defense.

His slight build means a muscular butt and a well placed elbow can shift him on the low post, but he still has those gangly arms. He’s blocked 50% more shots this season than Kofi & Omar Payne combined.

The MSU offense is spread around in an annoyingly even fashion. You know that the point & the pivot are not their primary scoring positions, and that’s nice and old school. But anyone among Gabe Brown, Malik Hall and Max Christie might be the hot-hand/leading scorer on any given night.

Brown and Christie are less effective than Hall, but they get a lot more tick and launch a lot more shots. Harassing Brown defensively probably won’t get him to stop shooting, but certainly has the potential to ruin his evening. 30 minutes of the Da’Monte Williams treatment could make it a fun night for Illini fans.

Siccing Luke Goode on opponents is legal and fair.

Unlike Illinois, the Spartans can win without heaving a lot of three-pointers. Where the Illini launch 26 threes per game, MSU shoots only 19. It’s not because they’re bad at it. They convert 39%.

Contrast Purdue, which shoots 24/game and hits 40%. MSU is pretty good, but more reliant on turning defense into offense as the saying goes. Rebounding & transition remains The Izzo Way.

The surefire way to beat these Spartans is to get hot from three, which means Alfonso Plummer needs to hit about 7-of-10, Jacob Grandison 5-of-7 and Trent Frazier 5-of-9. Seventeen makes in twenty-six tries will get the job done, assuming everyone learned his lesson on defensive gaps — the Achilles Heel against Donta Scott and the Terps.

Andre Curbelo is sick, so even if he plays tonight, he won’t be Andre the Magician. Illinois needs to keep turnovers at 10 or below to have a chance; so a feverish, disoriented Belo won’t help the cause.

Illini basketball

The Skeptic

Matt Painter stands alone among B1G coaches in a category that should be as important to you as it is to me: He explains basketball comprehensibly, comprehensively & eloquently.

John Beilein and Bo Ryan are gone. Paint is now in a league of his own in this capacity.

He’s also known for developing bigs. Even more so than Tom Izzo, whose reputation always begins & ends with the word “rebounding.”

During Illinois basketball’s 40 years in the desert (2007-2019), a lot of Purdue’s bigs ate our lunch. As did their guards. And wings.

Their cheerleaders ate our lunch. Even their pre-game hype video ate our lunch.

But you’ll have noticed that Things Changed when Brad Underwood established himself in Champaign. Purdue was 2x guaranteed losses for a while, there. That’s no longer the case.

2022 is a weird & disappointing year for the Boilermakers. Pre-season darlings, they’ve struggled to win the games they’ve won versus legit competition. Is North Carolina good this year? Is Villanova?

NC State is not, and nor is Butler. Florida State might get better.

These are the teams Purdue beat, sometimes in chinny chin chin fashion.

Somebody needs to fill the rankings, and Carolina and Villanova are media darlings. So they were ranked.


More important is what Purdue’s done in conference, which includes a close game with Penn State, a last second home win over Iowa, and a home loss to Wisconsin.

And the Ron Harper moment.

The Robbie Hummel-JaJuan Johnson-E’Twaun Moore class bought Painter a credibility that his Keady Tree roots couldn’t give him at a time when Bruce Weber was killing Illini basketball and Steve Lavin was between jobs.

Painter’s divorce scandal and flirtation with other programs sent a ripple of doubt through the faithful. And then he rebirthed himself. He’s one of the few major college basketball coaches whose job is not in question.

But is his current team any good?

Offensively, they’re amazing, and their offensive prowess stems from the same pick-your-poison 1-2 punch that Illinois likes to employ.

First get the ball to Trevion Williams, then watch him dunk it

Trevion Williams

… or kick it to the wing, where Purdue converts forty-percent of its three-pointers as a team.

Brad Underwood calls them the best offense in the country.

It’s the other end that’s been a problem, and Underwood says the Boilers used the Christmas Break (December 18 to January 10) to shore up a defense that’s let them down in those too-close games.

With Jaden Ivey feeding Williams, and with Williams subsequently finding Ivey on the wing; you’d expect them to be pretty good on that side of the ball. And then there’s the sasquatch Zach Edey, who can be hard to get around at the other end.

But it’s the surrounding cast that should make the difference for the Boilers. Will Sasha Stefanovic finally have a good game against the Illini?

What about this Mason Gillis kid who’s connecting on 55% of his three-pointers? After redshirting as a freshman, he made almost no impact on last year’s game. He got a late start this season after serving a four game suspension for DWI in June. (He played against ‘Nova, not against UNC.)

Which of those guys will exploit Alfonso Plummer? Who will Da’Monte and Jake shut down? Or will Coleman Hawkins again check the beefy 6’6″ shooter?

Mason Gillis scored 2 points in last season’s only match-up between Illinois & Purdue

If Illinois brings its A-game, they’ll beat these guys.

Trent Frazier doesn’t want Ivey to give Fox viewers anything to talk about. Kofi Cockburn will want to show NBA scouts what he can do to a dynamic big man like Williams. And then there’s Omar, whose game seems designed specifically to shut Trevion down.

Kofi’s been great with finding open shooters on the wings, so the only problem of late is that Illinois can’t hit from the arc. If they’re 6-of-24 from deep today, Purdue will win.

Illini Basketball

Omar – The Perfect Addition

When college basketball finally ends — giving way to Twitch, or similar things you’ve never heard of* — clever analysts and their publishers may finally have the opportunity to figure out what happened.

Why was college basketball so popular? So lucrative? Why did people invest so much of their time & emotions in college basketball?

To this point, we’re all kinda wondering.

Historians probably won’t question why Brad Underwood brought Omar Payne to Illinois. But that’s one of those subjective details that makes college basketball so fascinating.

Omar Payne was 4-for-4 from the line at Nebraska

Omar Payne might forever remain the least appreciated Illini recruit.

Lousy on offense (without Andre Curbelo to feed him dunkable lobs) and a defensive menace, he’s a liability to those who see value only on the former end of the court.

For a few months, social media geniuses have been asking each other why Illinois recruited Payne, whose 9:47 of tick at Nebraska bumped his average to 8.3 minutes per game. Is it his 1.9 points or his 1.9 rebounds?

The man who’s paid $3.5 million to make these decisions has maintained, throughout, that Omar Payne’s performance has been nearly flawless. Measured in the way Underwood’s staff grades defense, Omar is an A student.

That’s just in games. Omar’s major contributions have always been off the court (he’s a scholar, and a glue guy) and most significantly, in practice.

Omar is the pain-in-the-ass defensive presence that Kofi Cockburn needed. They’re great friends and mortal combatants. The former aspect is important, although not necessary. Omar would be making Kofi better if they hated each other. But it’s nicer when guys can be friends after they’ve had their showers and cooled off.

Omar isn’t the only reason Illinois beat Nebraska on Tuesday. Of course not. But the game was a great example of getting enough from the pieces you have. Guys fulfilled their roles.

Omar’s role expanded a bit when Kofi got his fourth foul. He added scoring to his rim protection and rebounding.

Jacob Grandison’s four assists and 12 points will disappear from public consciousness by the time you finish this sentence. Trent Frazier’s dominant offensive effort (mostly as a dribble-driver, not a spot-up shooter) will likely provoke more questions than satisfaction. Where has this been all these years?

But Trent’s performance was an excellent example of his discipline. He took what the defense gave him. He recognized the openings, and followed the path they presented to him.

They gave him his right hand. He used his right hand.
AND one

Omar said as much about Nebraska’s choice to hedge rather than ice. He knew what opportunities that strategy would open in the paint.

Although closer than you might have expected, the outcome at Nebraska was perfect for an Illini team that wants to learn. The fact that it won Omar some plaudits, finally, is gravy. The best thing that happened is that Illinois was challenged, and it overcame.

*because you’re not 18-24/male and therefore not a market worth exploiting

COVID-19 Illini Basketball

Jacob’s Ladder

During the first half of Saturday’s 106-48 blowout, a Da’Monte Williams three glanced off SFC’s south rim, and caromed into the hands of Jacob Grandison, strangely alone on the low post’s near side.

I turned to Nico Haeflinger, sitting beside me on the north baseline. “He’s always in the right place at the right time.” I think I said.

“He’s got an old man game,” Nico agreed, and added that highlights of Slim Jake rarely make his game reel, because Grandison is so rarely spectacular. You barely notice him scoring 20 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. He moves like a cat.

This was pretty spectacular, but the ref’s ass blocked Nico’s view.

Jake’s stat line, 11 games into the season, is instructive. It tells you about the other people on the team.

Compared to Omar, Coleman and even Da’Monte, Jake doesn’t accrue personal fouls or turnovers. His three-point delivery looks a bit awkward. It’s almost like a set shot. But so far, he’s made half of them. The Fonz is only 43.8% by comparison.

You can see why Omar’s minutes have been reduced to relieving Kofi’s panting. There’s no room at the 4, and Kofi will only be out to the extent that he needs to be out. (That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be intrigued by the Kofi/Omar twin towers set, which finally made its debut, which the coaching staff continues to dream about, and which threatens any team that relies on interior scoring.)

The re-emergence of Jacob Grandison drives home a stark reality about the future of Illini basketball: Oh shit, what happens when the olds are gone. Brad keeps pointing it out, because he knows that losing all those guys undercuts the foundation, everything he’s built.

If Coleman doesn’t figure it out real quick, Underwood’s get old, stay old plan might require an infusion of JUCO or transfer olds.

Luke Goode and Benjamin-Bosmans-Verdonk are interested in rebounding.

Getting old got a little easier against St. Francis, with Luke Goode earning almost 14 minutes of tick. He made 2-of-3 threes, assisted on Alfonso Plummer’s trey in the Five Pass Possession and grabbed three rebounds.

Luke provides the same team leadership, intelligence, grit and rebounding that Jake provides. He’s 10-of-23 (43.5%) from the floor, and 8-18 (44.4%) from the arc this year. Fine numbers, but not on par with Jake’s 46-of-85 (54.1%) and 23-of-46.

It’s no secret that he’s ahead of his fellow freshmen, but is it enough to slide into a 30 minute roll in 2023?


The StFrPa game offered Trent Frazier another fantastic opportunity to demonstrate Brad Underwood’s proclamation that SuperTrent is the best defender in the US.

Trent Frazier checks Ramiir Dixon-Conover

Brad always characterizes this argument by pointing out that Trent doesn’t garner flashy defensive data (blocks, steals) to buttress his standing among elite, elite defenders. Trent simply renders one’s existence intolerable.

Trent Frazier is a hands-on defender.

Ramiir Dixon-Conover scored 10 points against Illinois. He was 3-of-11 from the floor. Trent’s harassment took its toll on him as the game progressed. Those first three possessions were fantastic for the Red Flashes, with Dixon-Conover draining a three in the opening set, then kicking out from a double-team on the third.

Trent Frazier is a legs-on defender.
And if you get past Trent, there’s this guy.

From that point on, St. F-PA was 13-of-58 from the floor.

It’s not just the physical harassment that wears opponents down. Trent Frazier is an unabashed trash talker. He’ll tell you how bad you are while making you worse.

He doesn’t care who’s listening.

Dixon-Conover is a career 72% free-throw shooter, and entered the Illinois game at 73% this season. He converted 2-of-5 against the Illini.

He was rattled.


RJ Melendez continued building his highlight reel against Saint Francis. Although he’s a persistent rebounder, his game is not a mirror of Jacob Grandison. RJ is flashy. He’s already becoming a fan favorite thanks to his leaping, fancy passes, windmill dunks, and 67% shooting from the arc.

RJ drives to the bucket.

That last stat probably won’t survive another ten attempts. He’s 4-of-6 on the season.

To my utter shame, I didn’t capture an image of the Podz dunk in Saturday’s game. I’d just captured a few images of SFU freshman Brendan Scanlon, and had set my camera down so I could ask Twitter if it remembered the last time a 12 year-old competed in a regular-season Illini basketball game.

Maybe 10?

The answer, of course, is Little Lick. There’s no better way to get fired from a D-1 job than to give playing time to your own pudgy 5’8″ kid. It just looks bad, even in Iowa.


It’s been a harrowing season, and we still haven’t reached Christmas. The Saint Francis game offered every Illini a chance to let his hair down, get his stats up, and just have fun.

The bench shares a laugh after a Brandon Lieb dunk.

The biggest laugh for the team was a Brandon Lieb dunk. The dunk itself wasn’t funny, and the team wasn’t laughing at Brandon, who’s one of those guys that works hard in practice and gets little opportunity in games.

Brandon Lieb dunks against Saint Francis-PA

This was a laugh of relief, of having worked hard and got the job done right. This was a thank god the Flashes aren’t another Marquette, or Loyola.

The crowd’s biggest laugh came when Kofi mistook Da’Monte for an opponent, and ripped a defensive rebound from his smaller teammate’s grasp.

Monte thought it was funnier than anyone, and couldn’t help but laugh all the way down court as the Illini set up their offense.

Kofi’s biggest laugh was at himself. He executed a typical Kofi-esque low-post move, shifting toward the center of the cleared-out lane, dribbling with his right hand, pinning his man with the left.

He rose up for a right-handed baby hook, but missed from 30 inches away.

Kofi Cockburn clears some space with his left elbow

Kofi got his own rebound, power-dribbled, pushed a pair of St, Francis defenders away from the basket with his big old butt and left elbow, then brought the ball up with both hands for a bank into the bucket and-1.

Whether it was the miss from point blank, or the ease with which he moved two gnats from his path, Kofi thought it was hilarious.

Coleman Hawkins got back in the groove, and that might be a turning point for the entire Illini season.

Coach Underwood said he has more confidence in Coleman than Coleman has in Coleman. It’s a quirk of Illinois’s cockiest player. But given an opportunity to score against an inferior opponent, Coleman made it easy on himself by starting with a simple drive & lay-up.

Seeing the ball go through the net opened things up for Coleman, and he later drained a pair of threes from the corner.

Underwood’s management of Coleman will inevitably be a talking point when this season is deconstructed.


The coach’s favorite moment of the game was, of course, the five pass sequence that ended with an open three for Alfonso Plummer.

It began with Fonz dribbling to the baseline, then dumping to Kofi in the paint. Eventually, the ball made it all around the horn, and back to Fona, who ran back to the corner immediately upon releasing his pass.

Plummer to Cockburn
Cockburn to Frazier, Plummer runs back to corner
Frazier to Willams
Williams to Goode
Goode to Plummer
Fonz drains a three
Brad jumped up and ran to half court, cheering and pumping his fists.


So, it’s nice that the Illini got to enjoy this final game of their season.

Or maybe they’ll play in Braggin’ Rights Wednesday, as scheduled. Perhaps even after that.

As the Omicron variant swarms New York City, Midwestern know-nothings continue their Covid is Over behavior. Shopping at Champaign’s home improvement stores on Sunday, it was easy to identify the Faux News & Trump voters. The camo clothing and F-150s are often a sign, but their unmasked faces are the giveaway.

The team modeled mask-wearing more than ever.

Omicron is less susceptible to the immune response generated by mRNA vaccines. Just today, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced that he’s positive despite being triple-vaxxed. My vaxxed niece in NYC got it by sharing a meal with co-workers in a break room. An NYU sophomore on winter break, she’s already spread it to ten people, and is suffering through Day 6 of feeling like shit.

Another niece in California got the contact tracing text on Friday. She’d joined her fellow teaching staff in the school’s faculty holiday party. Someone brought The Vid.

Delta continues to rage in the United States. But as the US passed 800,000 deaths, the anti-science cohort — those who never participated in abatement measures while complaining about abatement measures, and seem to think that knowing how to install a serpentine belt gives equal/better understanding of viral pathology than a medical degree — continue their tribal resistance to simple measures.

Before Saturday’s tip-off, the major donors (many of whom do abide COVID protocols) were moved two feet back from Lou Henson Court. Perhaps the thinking holds that these 24 extra inches will provide a total of six feet distance from the players. Campus, like check-out lanes at grocery stores, boasts a bunch of six-foot markers.

But the aerosols generated by 15-thousand people, in one confined space, will not stop at six feet. So far, few of the attendees at Illini home games have abided the mask rule, and the DIA/SFC staff doesn’t enforce it.

Underwood declined the opportunity to offer a potentially controversial statement about his fans ennui with COVID precautions. Meanwhile, the medical community predicts a million new cases tomorrow, and exponential spread through the holidays.

I’m glad my Zoom room has a fireplace. I’m just sitting here, enjoying the warmth, and waiting for the Braggin’ Rights cancellation email.

Merry Giftsmas.

Illini Basketball

St Fran PA preview

If you’re a Chief Illiniwek stalwart, perhaps you’d want to open an SFU preview with “What the hell is a Red Flash?” Otherwise, “balanced scoring” is the obvious place to begin.

Four guys average between 11.3 and 14.4 points. Three guys play 30+ minutes per game, and that includes leading scorer Ramiir Dixon-Conover, who’s about to go through a Trent Frazier-shaped hell.

Ramiir Dixon-Conover

Dixon-Conover is a Criminal Justice major, so he’ll probably understand the restraints Frazier employs, and the reason Trent employs them. He’s listed at 6’3″, shorter than Dalen Terry, whom Trent checked in the Arizona game.

Admittedly, this is not a photo of Trent checking Dalen Terry.

The low post might be a problem for SFU. Redshirt sophomore Josh Cohen is steadily eating up the minutes that might otherwise go to redshirt senior Mark Flagg. Neither of them will be able to defend Kofi Cockburn.

Maxwell Land is SFU’s most frequent launcher of threes. He’s 12 of 32 on the season. As a 6’4″ swingman, he’s likely to see Da’Monte Williams in his grill. It’s not a pleasant prospect for anyone, so let’s sympathize with him.

Da’Monte Williams swats the ball from Minnesota’s Alihan Demir on the would-be game tying shot, sealing the win

Myles Thompson is another swingman for the Red Whatevers, and so far their best volume shooter. He’s at 42.3% on 26 attempts. He’s started every game for SFU, but plays on 25 minutes per game. Marlon Hargis is the final outside threat for the visitors. He’s the best overall shooter, but with a small sample size, and getting just 14 minutes/game, it’s hard to predict what he might do against the Illini.

Coleman Hawkins and Jacob Grandison will rotate against these two. Coleman presents more problems from a trash talking perspective, but either Illini is capable of perimeter defense.

Jake, by the way, has three stitches in his head, and plays the violin. These two facts are not necessarily related.

That leaves toreador Alfonso Plummer to check SFU’s second leading scorer, Ronell Giles.

Just a sophomore, Giles takes the most shots of any Red Guy, and he’s more of a slasher than a spot-up threat.

Ronell Giles Jr.

Plummer’s red cape might take some abuse here. On the other hand, The Fonz was uncommonly bold in dismissing a Red Threat. (Obviously the communications staff failed to warn him against downplaying opponents.)

Tip time is noon Saturday on the BTN.

COVID-19 Illini Basketball

The Season on a Brink

Michigan stinks. Minnesota’s good.

Eric Hutcherson, who flew from SoCal to Champaign every few days in November, has a lot of flights to unbook.

Coleman Hawkins, the only #Illini to start every game, appears hesitant on offense. Da’Monte Williams can’t buy a three, again (26.3%).

Alfonso Plummer joined the team as an undersized three-point specialist. Now he’s playing an oversized role, sometimes manning the point, and driving for buckets.

This is not the 2022 you expected. So what is it?

Seriously, what’s going on here?

“Did you have fun?” asked Bret Beherns, as he and Andy Olson exited the State Farm Center after last Saturday’s Arizona game.

I did. It was an exciting atmosphere.

He still hasn’t missed from the line.

Illinois basketball can now host legit contenders with the added possibility of beating them. After a decade in the wilderness of irrelevance, it’s good to be here.

As the abortive 2021-22 dream evolves to a December reality, your interest in Illinois basketball might diminish. I find it fascinating. I think The Jacob Grandison story, alone, is worth a season’s worth of literary deconstruction.

He’s shooting 48% from the arc, but that hasn’t stopped him from driving.

I think the Curbelo story is fascinating, and I can’t help but love the fact that Andre Curbelo has chosen to be the fourth assistant coach on this team, even while I try to understand (as do you, as does he) the neurological problems that keep him off the court.

I love watching the Brad Underwood story play out. And I recognize that threes, possibly fives of you are wondering why I haven’t published a column about Underwood trashing his players, which he certainly did after the Arizona game.

If there’s anything I’ve accomplished as a quirky sportswriter, it’s getting after a coach for trashing his players.

Once in a while, people ask me what I do. After I tell them, and if they ask for more information; I always send them this column, where I got after a coach for trashing his players.

(I can’t, now that I’m old, remember any other columns that I liked. I remember I wrote one titled “DJ is a helicopter” and another titled “8” which had to be configured manually within the CMS, so thanks to SP’s managing editor Patrick Singer for that. But I can’t remember whether I liked them.)

Brad Underwood doesn’t like ball-taking.

Point is, I turned on Bruce Weber when he turned on his players. Why am I not writing that column about Brad Underwood?

I guess the difference between Bruce Weber trashing his Illini players and Brad Underwood trashing his Illini players is that Underwood exudes toughness, while Weber is a whiny, lisping dork.

As a sensitive new-age man, I’m not allowed to say things like that in polite company. But you’re sports fans. You have no such sensibilities.

Basketball is violent, yet artful.

Underwood continues to remind me of Wayne Mammen, the best coach I ever had. That guy abused us left and right, but like Underwood, it was clear that he cared. We knew he was building us up while he tore us down.

Weber couldn’t instill that confidence because he was so visibly insecure himself.

It’s subjective. I can’t prove the point with data. But Underwood’s promise of “consequences” and challenging practices doesn’t rub me the wrong way.



That said, it was a little unfair for Underwood to rant about Arizona’s persistent ball-thieving when his biggest, baddest brute tried mightily, within the rules, to prevent ball theft.

Kofi got no help from his teammates (passes to his shoelaces) nor the stripey shirt guys.

Jake’s pass got to Kofi. So there’s that.

Lewis Garrison has officiated a few Illini games lately, and a pattern has emerged. He treats Kofi Cockburn differently.

I don’t think it’s intentional or malicious. After being clobbered by Kofi, I think Garrison suffers unconscious post-traumatic effects.

Lewis Garrison & Tommy Lloyd

The consequence, against Arizona, was that Garrison allowed the Wildcats to molest Kxng_Alpha rather violently. The theory goes like this: Kofi is superhuman, therefore these wasps & gnats will merely irritate him.

What would you do with this pass?

If Garrison treated Kofi like a normal person, he’d probably assess fouls against those wasps & gnats. It’s something to keep an eye on, if the B1G continues to assign Garrison to Illini games.

Kofi is kind and sensitive. Garrison is a little nerdy, and if not quite effeminate, then at least scholarly. These two should get along like a house on fire. Let’s hope they do in the future.

Kofi had his worst game against Arizona, but he continued to kick the ball to the wing effectively. If Garrison hadn’t treated him as a superhuman force, Kofi’s stats would have regressed to the superb.

I wonder whether average Illini fans feel the same way I do about Kofi. He’s so impressive as a physical specimen/athletic freak that I sometimes forget how freakishly athletic and physical he is.

And also that he developed a jumpshot, and the ability to pass.

It’s a remarkable basketball story, and must be underscored by the hundreds of enormous people you’ve watched over the years, thrust into basketball because of their size, and despite their lack of agility, work ethic & dexterity.

“I think not” – Kxng_Alpha

Just watching the Kofi story unfold is reason enough to invest yourself in this Illini team (unless they lose to Cuonzo’s awful Mizzou team, in which case you’re allowed to cut bait and move on, emotionally, to MLB spring training).

It’s been a few days since the thrilling melodrama with Tommy Lloyd’s lithe internationals, and like you, I’m getting itchy to see what happens next with the ’22 Illini. I especially want to watch the Plummer story’s next chapter.

I’m excited to see what happens to Coleman Hawkins. His flashes of potential hold the promise of stardom and/or Kris Wilkes-ish disappointment.

But because he’s a thinker, you shouldn’t be surprised that he’s suffering exactly the setback that he’s suffering right now, while he crunches everything.

Sometimes Coleman seems like a face in the crowd. But he’ll be special.

Smart, analytical people need extra time. (You’d think it was the opposite, right?) Given that time, it’ll all look different to Coleman. And then he’ll be the most entertaining & dangerous Illini.

I can’t wait.

And then there are all these new kids to be excited about. So yeah, it stinks that Illini basketball has three losses and continually changing circumstances, but after a distinctly depressing era of incompetence, you should have the feeling that it’s going places.

*I don’t actually care what their sex organs look like, or how they identify. It’s the toughness that matters.

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.


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.


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.

COVID-19 Illini Basketball

Adversity, Part 11/29

As the game-clock dipped below 20 seconds, and the beaten Irish forced another stoppage, a weary Andre Curbelo limped away from the Illini bench and propped himself against the wall of State Farm Center’s lower bowl.

A not unhappy moment from Monday.

His eyes weren’t glazed, but they lolled from side-to-side in the way that Andre Curbelo’s eyes loll for various reasons. Sometimes it’s because he’s just owned an opponent. Sometimes he’s just told a joke. This time, as in recent days, it’s because he wasn’t feeling well.

He was tired. He was ready for the game to be over. Most Illini fans were ready for the game to be over. The game was, in fact, over. But Notre Dame hadn’t stopped pretending, yet.

Belo had stopped pretending.

In the first half, he was excited, sociable. By the end, he just wanted it to be done.

Belo has an expressive face, and the way he expresses himself is not American (except for the fact that Puerto Ricans are Americans, despite their lack of representation in Congress).

Andre Curbelo dances a jig to & for referee Larry Scirroto.

As with Kofi Cockburn’s genuousness & sensitivity, Belo’s demeanor is disarming to Midwesterners. We’re accustomed to hating people. Our chosen news sources and algorithms have not prepared us for moments when we’re asked to assess the humanity & vulnerability of fellow humans.

It works for us when analyzing Da’Monte Williams. He’s a legitimate badass. He’s from Peoria. His entire identity is directed by his intensity.

It doesn’t work when we’re trying to understand our Californians, of which we have three. It doesn’t help us to understand our Caribbeans, of which we have five.

If you’re as cynical as I am, you could read the last few days/weeks of Illini tribulations as a script that Brad Underwood concocted in preparation for the viral video of his postgame speech to the team, in the locker room, after all of them overcame injuries and gastrointestinal distress just long enough to dispatch Mike Brey’s lanky leprechauns.

We’re living in an age of conspiracy theories, so I wouldn’t be surprised if many Illini fans disbelieve everything that’s factual about the current state of Illini basketball.

But even the facts, for those interested, aren’t immediately available to the insiderest of insiders. Brad Effing Underwood didn’t know his starting line-up 44 minutes before tip-off.

He named this 82-72 win among the best in his career.

Yes, he’s hyperbolic. Yes, he’s a fabulist. But despite AI, deep fake technology and Elite, Elite prose; Brad Underwood has no power to invent the legitimate quandary that’s stymied his team for two devastating/empowering weeks. The knee bent. The vomit projected.

The team overcame.

It’s a wonderful narrative, and it offers even us cynical writers a George Bailey moment.

But then we realize that Steve Pikiell has analyzed all of Monday’s video, that Belo appears to need Chicago’s finest neurologists and that Trent, back or not, still can’t shoot.


Illini Basketball

Screaming Eagles

Brad Underwood says Shaka Smart has brought The Havoc to Marquette. So whatever happens tomorrow night in Milwaukee, it’s going to be exciting. Probably messy. Possibly bloody.

Illini nemesis Darryl Morsell departed Maryland to join the Ex-Tex head guy in rebuilding the Warriors Golden Eagles after yet another K-Tree coaching failure slapped its last floor.

He will be a Thorn tomorrow.

Eventually, this guy will leave college basketball.

Jacob Grandison declined the opportunity to reveal the Illini scouting report for tomorrow’s game, but reiterated that at this stage of the season, the Illini are really focused on themselves anyhow.

Grandison, for those who haven’t noticed, is a leader for this Illini team. And last year’s team, as well.

He reluctantly admitted in Meet the 22 Illini that he sees himself as a Glue Guy. Brad Underwood was not at all reluctant to ascribe that quality to Jake in this morning’s Zoom. That’s why Jake gets to much PT. That’s how he moved into the starting line-up of a 1-Seed last season.

A 6 pm Monday tip might seem not ideal for some. You might still be on your way home from work. Maybe you’d have driven up from the north suburbs if you had an extra hour.

But it’s fantastic for John Podziemski. Fiserv Forum is a three minute walk from work (“3 min if the traffic light to cross 6th Street is green
6 min if the traffic light is red”) and the early tip means he’ll finally get some sleep after attending an Illini game.

Shaka’s team had a game Friday, in which they barely beat New Hampshire. Here’s his postgame presser. Mostly he talks about his team’s 75-70 win. There’s a bit of Illini prep at the end.

And here are the game notes from the MU Sports Information Dept.

COVID-19 Illini Basketball

The Coleman Show

Such a quiet second-half from Coleman Hawkins. It’s almost like he wanted to tone it down a notch, get other people involved, focus on his passing game.

Dude was everywhere, all the time, in the first period.

He can’t help it. He gets excited.

The 92-53 blowout lost money for people who bet on outcomes. It made money for Coleman. Whether it’s immediate NIL offers, or the attention of NBA scouts, and even without traditional TV bringing the game to people outside State Farm Center; word is going to leak about the lithe yet thunder-dunking point-forward

And then, after scoring 14 points, grabbing 8 rebounds (five offensive) drawing 8 eight fouls (committing one), dishing three assists and blocking two shots, Coleman became normal. He played 10 minutes in the second half, and 17 in the first. But he also relaxed a little, and not in a bad way.

Coleman has been the team’s hothead so far this season, but he chilled on Friday, perhaps recognizing the volatile atmosphere around him. The Arkansas State bench taunted Andre Curbelo into a technical foul.

Belo said they were talking about his mother. He took the bait.

It was worth it. The team won by 39 points, beating the spread by 25. It’s hard to argue with that, no matter how you got there.

Brad Underwood decided he’d get a technical, too. And that also worked. The team swarmed on defense, launching an 18-2 run.

“Don’t poke the bear,” Curbelo advised after the game. “I’m gonna stick up for my guy,” added Underwood.

How does a team score 92 points on a bad shooting night? By following its shot. 24 offensive rebounds, and a quick recognition of weak spots left in the Red Wolves defense following a shot attempt. Jacob Grandison and Da’Monte Williams see those things, and react.

Brandon Lieb cleverly missed a dunk so he could enjoy his own o-bound putback.

Ben Verdonk grabbed 10 rebounds again. Hawkins finished with a dozen, half on offense, and 17 points.

Red Wolves are probably waking up this morning, on their West Bomphoc campus, and wondering what happened.