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

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.

Categories
Illini basketball

Irrelevant observations from EIU

You probably know most of the relevant details of the 80-67 EIU triumph at Charleston last Friday. Jay Spoonhour and Brad Underwood agreed to hold an informal scrimmage, and use it as a practice.

Then, they each abandoned that plan and found themselves in a competitive brawl.

Now, here are the irrelevant details.

Before the game, Josh Whitman and Tommy Michael stood courtside, talking about various things. These two were the top contenders for the job Whitman eventually got. Michael was an associate athletic director before taking the top job at Eastern. He was an academic advisor in the DIA before that. It was good to see that no hard feelings came between the two re: that job search.

 

Michael was in a good position to know exactly what happened with Matt Bollant at Illinois.

He chose to hire Bollant to lead EIU women’s basketball.  Keep that in mind when remembering Bollant’s tenure, if you think about women’s basketball at all.

An unexpected member of the audience was Machanda Hill, Malcolm’s mom. It turns out that she hasn’t seen enough Illini basketball, yet.

She sat in the corner of the upper deck along with Kipper’s mom Tanicia Porter and Aaron’s dad Rob Jordan. Rob didn’t enjoy the scrimmage as much as, say, Eastern Illinois fans.

Also sitting in an upper corner were Bob and Cheryl Easter, who had great seats when he was university president.

Cheryl continues to be a huge basketball fan. She didn’t mind sitting in the corner.  Truth is, Lantz Arena doesn’t really have bad seats. Both Leron Black and Kipper Nichols said it felt like a high school gym.

That setting, and the backdrop it brings, might be the cause Illinois’ shooting woes.

Because EIU also hosted a women’s scrimmage, also for charity, there was no opportunity for an Illini shootaround in Charleston. Instead, the pre-game meal and shootaround took place in Champaign. The Illini then hopped on a bus for Charleston.

They never got a chance to acclimate to Lantz sightlines.

Perhaps the meal wasn’t enough, either. Mark Smith resorted to eating D’Angelo Jackson alive, both literally & figuratively.

Everyone reported that Lou Henson attended the game with lifelong friend Loren Tate (and Champaign golfer Joe Thompson).

But perhaps no one noticed the touching scene of Josh Whitman assisting Henson out of the building, late in the game (before the rush). With Whitman’s help. Lou beat the rush (and the court storming).

Tyler Underwood didn’t sit with the team. He sat behind the team.

He didn’t travel with the team. He traveled with the head coach’s family.

That’s because NCAA rules forbid transfers from traveling during their sit-out year, the same reason Rayvonte Rice watched that Gonzaga game in Champaign.

Greg Eboigbodin, Matic Vesel, Da’Monte Williams, Adam Fletcher, Aaron Jordan, Brad Underwood, Kipper Nichols, Patrick Shulte, Jamall Walker, Orlando Antigua, Chin Coleman plus Susan Underwood, Tyler Underwood, Josh Whitman, Lou Henson and Loren Tate.

Tyler is appealing to the NCAA so he can play this year. If that doesn’t work out, he’ll probably travel to away games with his family, not his team.

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Illini basketball

Rumors – Why do people keep falling for them?

After 24 hours of conjecture about Jamall Walker’s machinations, a weary, emotional Walker stepped in front of a small group of reporters Sunday afternoon.

Has he been in secret contract negotiations with Cuonzo Martin? Did Josh Whitman lock him up with a long term contract and pay raise? Does he have Smith & Tilmon in his pocket?

These are the things people people have been saying in social media. The truth, according to Walker, is that he took his wife to Scotty’s Brew Pub on Saturday night, having long ago promised her a dinner date. He had the shrimp tacos.

Jamall & Braylon back in the day

How does Rebekah Walker feel about staying in Champaign? Simply put “it’s home” said Jamall Walker, noting that their boys were born here. It’s where they’ve raised their kids.

Has he talked to Brad Underwood about the future of the Illini coaching staff? He has not. What’s he been doing during the week? Has he been out recruiting, or keeping tabs on the Class of ’17 signees?  Walker made no mention of either. He talked only about prepping the team for Monday night’s game against Boise State.

Basically, everything you’ve read about Illini basketball in the past week was untrue. Most of what you’re reading today is untrue. It’s like Coach K looking to buy land near Mahomet all over again.

So the narrative about Walker keeping recruits remains just that. It’s a storyline with no known relationship to the truth.

The good news is that, according to Michael Finke, the current players like the idea of playing for Brad Underwood. They’re excited about his offense, and feeling upbeat about the hire.

But they didn’t have insider info either. Michael Finke says the players learned about Brad Underwood about five minutes before the rest of the world did, when they all got an email from Josh Whitman.

Categories
Illini Basketball

Brad Underwood: The Anti-Bennett

The fives of you who engage me in social media know I was not pleased by the thought of watching a Tony Bennett coached team for the next 20 years — not that that was ever going to happen.

You five also know that I wanted no part of Cuonzo Martin. Cuonzo’s teams play slow, but they also lose a lot. I remember when the pitchfork mob ran him out of Knoxville. Evidently, everyone else has a memory that goes back hours, possibly weeks — certainly not years.

For posterity, I’m going to write the following sentence: Some Illini fans were worried about our coaching search after Mizzou hired Cuonzo Martin.

Defense porn lovers can watch Bennett’s Cavaliers hold otherwise exciting teams to 43 points.  Virginia will be on ESPN for years to come.

At the State Farm Center, Illini fans can enjoy high-scoring teams that win. To basketball novices like me, that’s a lot more fun. Basketball coaches like watching great defense and low-scoring games. Basketball fans like watching teams that score a lot and win. That’s what Brad Underwood brings to Champaign-Urbana.

I did not feel an actual sexual thrill when Underwood explained that statistical analysis proves teams are best off launching a shot within the first seven seconds of a possession.

I was not physically turned on when he said that his teams have mastered that skill, have gotten good at it.

But maybe that’s because I’m forty-six years old.

When I was a virile 25, Lon Kruger got the Illinois job. His offense was such a treat to watch. When people ask me who was the best Illini coach, in my opinion, it’s an easy answer for me. I like to be entertained.

Underwood’s OK State team is ranked #1 in KenPom’s offensive efficiency ratings, according to people who subscribe to that sort of thing.

Josh Whitman enunciated, above,  the usual platitudes about scholarship and community relations, and I expect we can all believe that Underwood will fulfill those functions. Jessica Goerke has the team’s attention, academically. The Rebounders Club is an easy audience.

The reason to applaud Whitman’s recruitment is because Bradsketball is fun to watch. Josh said so himself.

With this choice, Whitman displayed a fundamental understanding of basketball as it relates to the state of Illinois: We are not Indiana. We have advantages that can and should be exploited, when it comes to recruiting.

It’s great that Indiana has a million hard-nosed Joe Hillmans, ready to take a charge and set a screen. We, on the other hand,  love our hard-nosed Illini legends because they chose to play aggressive defense. They had other skills, but they knew defense was important. They chose to play defense because competing & winning is fun for competitors and winners.

Derek Harper. Bruce Douglas. Doug Altenberger. Kenny Battle. Kendall Gill. Matt Heldman. Dee Brown. Rayvonte Rice.

These Illini loved to punk their opponents on defense. They were exquisite to watch on offense. That’s what blue state Illinois offers that red state Indiana doesn’t. We’re open-minded about how we’ll beat you down.

Yes, we’ll turn you over. Yes, we’ll pick your pocket.  But we’re going to beat you because we’re going to score more points than you. And our scoring will keep the five thousand people who aren’t coaches and don’t care all that much about basketball but like a good show and buy tickets when we’re ranked, entertained.

Tony Bennett is losing a second-round NCAA game, badly, as I type. His defense is good. But UVa can’t score.

I wish Tony Bennett no ill will. His dad’s Wisconsin teams were painful to watch. I’d rather not watch that brand of basketball again.

As for Mizzou, #WeWillWin.

Categories
Illini basketball

It’s not that they lost, it’s how they lost

Deon Thomas and Paris Parham greeted one another on court, about an hour before the Michigan game. They  reminisced about the one game they played against each other in high school.  Dunbar beat Simeon, according to Paris. But the teams had to stay in their locker rooms afterward, until the gunplay cooled off outside.

Whatever happens to the Groce staff, Deon and Paris agreed they’d lived through worse. They’ve seen guys get shot. They’ve seen people killed.

The Groce Question was answered today, by an Illinois team that couldn’t compete with a league rival, and by John Groce himself.

Five years into the Groce experiment, Illinois is not in the same class as the Big Ten’s elite teams. Illinois is second-class. Worse, they don’t just lose. They get blown away. They’re simply not relevant in major college basketball.

The B1G’s third-class teams played Wednesday. Two of them left town before the second-class teams arrived to punish the survivors. The first-class teams will show up tomorrow, and feast on the second-class.  Except for us. We’ve already been eaten.

The Illini will be in Champaign-Urbana when real B1G basketball gets underway.

Groce, to his credit, came right out and agreed he’d do it all over again, exactly the same way, rather than “coaching not to lose,” the sin Bruce Weber admitted while trashing his players for public consumption, in February, 2012.

The Groce Question by the way, is not whether Groce will be fired. It’s not whether he should be fired. It’s whether he can lead Illinois out of the slash and burn wasteland he inherited. The answer is no, he can’t.

Weber was fired five years ago today. If Groce doesn’t follow him out the door, we’ll know that Josh Whitman doesn’t have a home-run hire waiting in the wings. There’s no way Josh Whitman could let the Groce era continue simply because he thinks Groce needs more time, or might be on the verge of something big. Everything we know about John Groce says this is the way he’ll do it, including his own words.

He said during Monday’s pre-tourney teleconference that he doesn’t make in-game offensive adjustments.  He can’t. His system is his system, for better or worse.

And you know what? Good for Groce.  He told us on day one that he’s a teacher. And at the end, he told us the same thing again, and demonstrated as much. He’d rather coach these guys in practice than in games. That’s another thing he’s said, again and again, over his five years.

It’s perhaps not the best personality trait for a Division I coach. But it’s admirable.

So expect a new coach to be announced real soon. And if there’s not such an announcement, understand that it’s because Josh Whitman doesn’t see the point in giving a five-year contract to another mediocrity from the mid-majors.  Or indeed, a super-performing coach from the low and mid-major conferences, like many from my long list. Or Cuonzo, whose NIT trajectory should eliminate him from the conversation (it won’t).

 

Yes, there’s the argument that Illinois basketball will get worse if Groce isn’t fired immediately. But that can’t be true. Either you’re relevant or you’re not. Illinois isn’t relevant.

The fanbase won’t grow. Fair-weather fans won’t come back until the weather is fair. But if this season is any indication, about 12,000 people will still turn out for basketball games.

Anybody that lived through 1989 or 2005 isn’t going to stop cheering for Illini basketball. They remember how great it feels when we’re first-class.

Saturday in Piscataway (poet, I know it) I met two Rutgers basketball fans. Possibly the two Rutgers basketball fans. Terry and Stuart graduated in 1978. That means they were students when Rutgers last made it to the Final Four.

I met them in the campustown Barnes & Noble. I was about to catch the free campus bus that runs between New Brunswick Station and the RAC. Instead, they gave me a lift.

When we arrived at the RAC, Mike Palko was just walking by. He was the starting center on that 1976 team.

These three guys still attend Rutgers basketball games, because they remember what Rutgers can be.  They believe Rutgers will be back some day.

Illini fans vastly outnumber Rutgers fans. You needn’t be 61 years-old to remember the high.  If #WeWillWin means anything, Josh Whitman isn’t satisfied with second-class. Whether it happens tomorrow, next week or next year; it’s going to happen.

 

 

 

Categories
Illini basketball

The Bret Beherns Moment

The End of The John Groce Era began in earnest on New Year’s Eve eve afternoon, when Groce betrayed a thorough misunderstanding of his dire situation. Bret Beherns tossed a softball which Groce perceived as a curve. How can the coach reassure a fanbase distraught by a 25-point loss?

Groce blanched at the question, then ridiculed it.  An hour later, his reaction was viral & universally panned.

As a group and as individuals, we talked about the Behrens Moment after Groce left the room. I told Bret it was a perfectly fine question. Scott Richey wondered whether the moment would be excised from the Official Upload (it wasn’t, but you couldn’t hear the question either, which is unfair to Bret … this is why you should always watch the Illini Report version; you get the audio).

I wondered aloud whether Groce lives in a Rebounders’ Club bubble, and honestly doesn’t know that Illinois basketball once sold a lot of tickets, at non-fire sale prices, and had more than 200 retirees attending its every move.  Has he truly not heard the criticism? If not, that would be extraordinarily Todd Lickliterish of him.

Should we tell him that it’s not just the 25-point loss? Should we tell him that he’s never had a winning conference record at Illinois, and people have begun to notice?

Bret conjectured that Groce must, by the necessity of high-profile coaching gigs, be tuned out from the word on the street.  Derek Piper and I agreed that the assistants seem to have a nose to the ground that Head Coaches don’t.

An hour earlier, as the media gathered for player interviews at Ubben, Groce’s future was already the subject of speculation. TV, radio, newspaper and web reporters huddled by the trophy cases, which display championship hardware from zero seasons of the Groce Administration.

One asked who’d be the Missouri coach next year? Another followed up with the same question, but referring to Illinois.

 

I don’t actually remember who said what. I was trying to get my A/V gear up and running, and was experiencing technical difficulties. I was also sleep-deprived, and obsessed with the thought that the next Mizzou coach would be crazy not to court/hire Jamall Walker (admittedly assuming that the next Mizzou coach is not Jamall Walker).

The tone of that conversation continued as everyone moved across the street, where a media meal (chicken & cheese quesadillas with all the trimmings plus a mixed green salad with sliced cucumber and carrot shavings, and cookies) was served in the State Farm Center’s bowels.

It carried up the two flights of stairs to the media work room, where bright lighting, microphones  and a mult box make the job of capturing coaches comments a little easier. With only a cameraman representing DIA staff, and no SIDs in the room, the conversation turned to outright complaint. I was a bystander and witness. I didn’t say a thing during Groce’s subsequent presser, either.

Two points that came across were that Groce is — if not difficult to work with — than at least more difficult to work with than Bill Self, Lon Kruger and Bruce Weber. It was mostly to do with scheduling and punctuality.

At eight minutes past the bottom of the hour, Groce entered the media work room for his 12:30 press conference.

Many media outlets rely on deadlines. Timeliness is important to these people.

Tom Crean is considered, by far and almost unanimously, the very worst B1G coach in this regard. John Groce is #2. Crean has three major conference championships and a Final Four on his résumé. Groce led a team to a 3rd place finish in the MAC’s eastern division, twice.

Sports reporters frame & characterize their subjects for the public. They guide public perception. Why would you want to irritate them?

The business model of local newspapers, commercial radio and fan-oriented websites relies on public enthusiasm for local sports. If you’ve already eviscerated their cash cow, why would you dare to irritate them?

Illini sports sells newspapers. Or, as we’ve learned these last ten years; it doesn’t. We’ll always have 16,618, but we’ll never again have 16,618.

Whether Josh Whitman or Robert Jones gives a damn about basketball; Scout.com still wants to make money. So does the News-Gazette.

But if nobody wants to read about the team you cover, it’s hard to sell subscriptions.

If you can’t sell newspapers by writing about a winning team, you turn to the next hot topic that spurs reader interest: the coaching search.  Rush Limbaugh did well when Democrats controlled the White House. Jon Stewart did well under Republican rule. We’d prefer to read about our universal and ultimate glory. But short of that outcome, we’ll rally around those willing to persecute our tormentors.

Through his tone-deaf reaction that Friday afternoon, John Groce made it a little easier for everyone to turn the page on him, and start talking frankly about his successor. He took the gloves off.

It looked like things might get messy from then on out. But snarky Groce retreated into his shell, and cheery Groce returned.  We haven’t seen a recurrence.

After the second Penn State beatdown, which insured that Groce would finish 5-of-5 seasons without a winning conference record, the same group of regulars convened in the media room to do our thing.

“I know you guys don’t know what to write any more,” I told a couple of newspaper people. The ongoing joke is that they’ve run out of things to say, because every game is the same. “But I think we’ve run out of questions to ask. So I’m counting on you guys to come up with something. That’s your job.”

“Do you have a Realtor?” posited one writer, who shall remain nameless.

Maybe Whitman will learn that he can’t find a fantastic replacement, and choose not to make a change this off-season. So far, the names being bandied about are uninspiring or implausible.  Illini fans, like all fans, value their program more than neutral observers. They think rebuilding a thoroughly broken, irrelvant program will appeal to the top five names on every other school’s list of prospective hires.

Tomorrow, I’ll publish my list. It might have some of those same names on it, but only in passing, or to emphasize that they’re not coming through that door.

Groce still enjoys a lot of support with people who matter. He’s not a sociopath.

He’s a guy who’ll eschew winning in favor of  teaching basketball players to be better people and, eventually, better players — what his predecessor called “coaching not to lose.”

That appeals to those concerned with the educational mission of the university.

Categories
Illini basketball

Illini post-game Report [2017]

The Illini men fell to [opponent team] last night in [city] by a score of [lots] to [considerably less].

Illinois was slow out of the gate while [opponent team] ran up a double-digit lead before the [ordinal number] media timeout. The [opponent team nickname] connected on [x] of [singular or plural possessive pronoun] shots as the Illinois defense was slow to find its footing.

“Obviously credit to them,”  Illini coach John Groce said afterward, “they did a lot of things right tonight.”

[Journeyman/team cancer] said he wasn’t sure why Illinois was so slow at the start.  [Predicted savior] agreed in part, saying the team needed to play harder. [Role player] said the team needs to play hard all the time.

[Opponent team] got a boost from [bench player], not known for his [specific offensive categorical] proficiency. [Bench player] tallied a career-high [x]  [specific offensive categorical] in [x] minutes of action.

“I thought [bench player] was just terrific for them,” Groce said. “He came in averaging [x] [specific offensive categorical]  and had only [x] in his [cardinal number] games in conference. So for him to [collect/connect] [x] against us is really impressive. There’s just no way to prepare for that. So kudos to him for that.”

Illinois’ assist-to-turnover ratio was particularly upsetting to Groce, who said the [lesser cardinal number] assist total might have been higher if his team had made more shots. Groce was also displeased by the [greater cardinal number] turnovers. “That’s not who we are,” Groce averred. “That’s not what we’re about.”

“We’ll have to take a look at it,” Groce added, when asked how to fix the problem, adding that his organization doesn’t make excuses. “One step at a time. ”

[Opponent team] out-rebounded the Illini by [fortysomething] to [twenties], despite the size advantage Illinois enjoys in the post.

Illini players said the team remains hopeful. [Role player] said he believes the team is on the verge of turning things around. [Journeyman/team cancer] added that Groce told the team they should never get too high about a win, or too low about a loss, and that the team needs to play more together.

Groce compounded that sentiment, employing an allusion to the 80’s British prog-rock group The Police to critique the team’s ill-adjusted sense of timing. [Journeyman/team cancer] admitted privately afterward that he’d never heard of the group, but sort of ignores moments when the coach is speaking metaphorically because it’s depressing and stupid.

Groce also said his team lacked toughness in the face of adversity.

The final score doesn’t tell the whole story. Illinois mounted a courageous comeback in the second half, cutting the deficit to [x] points. But following an Illinois time out, [opponent team] regrouped, forcing a crucial Illini turnover and regaining the momentum.

[Journeyman/team cancer] led Illinois with [x] points and added [x][assists/rebounds]. [Predicted savior] had an off-night for the Illini, connecting on only 1-of-9 shots from the field.

The Illini drop to [dwindling cardinal number-increasing cardinal number] on the year, and [single digit-double digit] in the Big Ten. [Opponent team] improves to [superior numbers] in conference and [NCAA-sniffing record] overall.

For his career at Illinois, Groce is now [cardinal number] and [increasingly larger cardinal number] in Big Ten games.

 

Categories
Illini basketball

Are we Elite? Not if we’re just mimicking everyone else.

The Purdue game was fun right up until it started. Most Illini fans already know that.

What they don’t know, unless they were there, is how cool Purdue’s pre-game ceremony was. Loren Tate mentioned it, referencing the legends involved in the recorded video portion (presented, like all pre-game videos, on the center-court jumbotron).

Loren is still the best Illini sports writer, so it’s no surprise that he took note of the presentation. It was meaningful.

Purdue’s pre-game ritual is not a passive experience. It requires the entire audience to work. Fans download the “BoilerBall Lights” app, which takes control of a smartphone’s LED light, and flashes it in coordination with everyone else’s LED light.

The combination of swelling music, the involvement of thousands, and the quasi-nationalistic call to arms video referenced in Tatelines (in which recorded Purdue greats ask rhetorically “Whose House? and the entire crowd responds “OUR HOUSE!”) achieved an atmosphere that Leni Riefenstahl might have admired.

At State Farm Center, our crowd watches an embarrassingly derivative, inescapably passive video & lighting montage that seemed pretty cool when the Bulls (first?) did it in 1993 or whenever it was.

Opponent introductions/dim the lights/crank the smoke machine … yeah, yeah. We’ve seen it. Everybody does it, and it’s just as embarrassing in Bloomington, Indiana as it is here.

Luckily, our school prides itself on innovation. Right?

A couple years ago, I told my friend Jeni that Illini athletics should trailblaze a new approach to pre-game ceremonies. We were discussing the National Anthem, and our preferred styles & performances.

I suggested that Illinois — an international university with a stated mission to embrace not merely diversity, but indeed university — should scrap the worn-out tradition altogether. If we want to remind attendees that they’re in the United States, why not let’s read a passage from the Constitution instead?

Sure, there’d be a “conservative” backlash. But those people can be invited to center court, to read the 2nd Amendment for all the “snowflakes” they so strongly revile for disrespecting … the Constitution.

We could show our international visitors what this country is really about.

Jeni’s husband Mike was in charge of Illini athletics at the time. But she recommended I mention my idea to Mike Waddell, whom she described as “the ideas guy.”

This was before I put Waddell on NPR’s All Things Considered, to promote DIA’s Mandarin simulcast experiment, which led to his appearance on The Today Show. We didn’t know each other well, but he listened to my idea.

He’s gone now, as are Jeni and her husband.  So we never got any further with the reading a passage from the Constitution discussion. But fortunately, the new DIA boss already knows about our founding document. He’s studied it. He knows why, like winning, “it’s important.”

I don’t hate The Star-Spangled Banner. I enjoy some renditions. But after decades of constant repetition, it rarely gives me chills.

I’m philosophically bothered that it’s performed de rigueur.  That’s the antithesis of the freedom from our British monarchist overlords it chronicles. Is it too soon to stop cowering before the mighty UK?

My conversation with Jeni took place long before Colin Kaepernick’s knee hit the ground.  But that later development only furthered the argument for scrapping the Banner: To replace rote recitation of a poem that promised to hunt down all the black people with a different recitation, one that changes each game.

A pastor could join a journalist to read the first amendment. An international student might read Article II, Section 2, Clause 2, which provides the formula for treaties with foreign nations. Maybe Al Gore or Donald Trump would come to read the Twelfth Amendment, which refined the electoral college.

Solemn. No light show. No piped music.

The author as Geoffrey Palmer, with Allie Groce & Jeni Thomas, possibly on the night in question

Canned noise is the worst.  Penn State’s automated lion growl  is the most annoying sound in sports. (Northwestern uses it too, but they pretend it’s a wildcat.) Fortunately, someone at DIA recognized this fact in time to scale back the aural onslaught for the 2016 football season. A gameday tech confirmed to me that some of the canned noises were eliminated before the Lovie Era got underway.

It would be great if DIA did the same for basketball. Take out all the fakery, and let the crowd make the noise. (This last part might require some other changes, of course. Nudge, nudge.) Keep the band, lose the pre-recorded crap. If the basketball team can’t generate crowd noise, don’t pretend 100 dB of screaming Ron Burgundy will make up the difference.

DIA has a lot of dedicated people. They have a lot of great ideas.  But sometimes, those ideas don’t translate.

Lu Yekai & He Liaohan have not been well served by the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics. Nor have a billion potential customers.

The Mandarin simulcast is a perfect example. It languishes in obscurity, mostly because it’s not actually a simulcast. The audio isn’t synchronized with the video.

So it’s unwatchable. Or at least, if you did watch it, you wouldn’t understand what was happening (which was kinda the point).

DIA has no plans to implement a synchronized Mandarin presentation (the way they synchronize Brian Barnhart’s radio clips to video highlights).

Josh has a lot on his plate.

But Tuesday night in West Lafayette, he saw & heard everything that I saw & heard. Maybe he’s begun to have some ideas.

 

 

Categories
Illini football

Illini 31, MSU 27

AD Josh Whitman hugs Illini captain Joe Spencer

Hey, guess what? Illini 31, MSU 27. That’s what.

You might want to remember this game. So here are some pictures of it, snapped by Vashoune Russell. Postgame comments from the coaches and players are here, too.

Enjoy.

Sam Mays hauls in the game-winner

Kendrick Foster disappears in the distance

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Foster rushed for 146 yards against the Spartans

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Ainslie Johnson found himself all alone in the end zone. Fortunately, so did Jeff George Jr.

Luke Butkus’s line got the job done

Lovie watches as Luke Butkus instructs the offense

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Ooh, ooh Jeff, over here! Over here Jeff!

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Reggie Corbin cuts left

Jaylen Dunlap returned a fumble recovery for 12 yards