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Illini basketball

Defense, travels

What a stupid way to win a championship. Aaaaaaaand we’ll take it, AMIRITE?!?!?

First, the #LuckyBadgers find they’ve spent all their tokens. Then, the Murray Twins can’t buy a free-throw, while Belo spends twenty minutes throwing the ball away. And when the dust settles, a trophy.

As your hangover recedes, you’re already forgetting how the game unfolded. Twenty years from now, you’ll have no idea.

It doesn’t matter.

#Champions

Andre Curbelo regrets that pass

The feeling you had throughout the championship-winning game was probably something like “BELO WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!?” or perhaps “COLEMAN WHY DID YOU SHOOT THAT?!?!?”

Honestly, this game felt like a lifetime. And most of the time, you felt like you were dying.

And then, at the other end of the court, Joe Toussaint moved his feet too much while trying to find a passing lane.

Defense. Travels. It was the theme of the game. And Illinois won it, and a championship.

Everything matters. Every single thing.

We remember the Derek Harper three that got Illinois into the 1983 tourney, but we have no idea what the ’84 Illini did to tie Purdue for the conference championship.

*consults internet*

Ah, yes. They lost at Mackey.

I mean, that’s one way to look at it. You could also sayIllinois beat B1G doormat Wisconsin to clinch the deal.

Or don’t worry about it. It doesn’t matter.

Illinois was in position, Saturday, to win a Big Ten Championship on Sunday. It didn’t seem likely, but fundamentally, it’s the putting yourself in position that matters.

Coleman Hawkins says no.

The 2002 Illini championship (or 2001? … nah, not even finna Google this time) had a similar less than triumphant, come-from-behind, all dominoes must collapse in this order feel to it. And that’s how those dominoes fell. I think there was an unlikely Wisconsin loss there too, but I ain’t lookin’ it up.

#Champions

Brad Underwood said something important in the PSU postgame, which was about four nights and a lifetime ago. He said he told his team they’d have four or five games in the NCAA Tournament that were like that.

Scrap, scrape, bang, bend. Don’t break.

Don’t brake.

There’s a lot of pressure on this guy, all the time.

It’s been alarming and unnerving to watch Illini basketball these past two months, and yet here you are, celebrating a championship. How should you feel about that? How should you feel about their tourney chances?

1989 was a lot more fun. 2005 felt too easy. 1998 was five wastrels against the Big Bad Izzoes, a genuine David/Goliath story.

2001 was a tragedy, but maybe it helped the Big Ten’s front office recognize that referees should penalize players for fouling other players.

The gritty 2022 championship-winning Illini men’s basketball team feels like an offhand remark that’s been weighted down by the gravity of situation: If it keeps scrapping, it might win a championship. You know, like it just did last night.

“I told them they’d have four or five games like this in the NCAA Tournament” became “I’d like to play nine more.”

That was Brad’s postgame observation about his time with Trent and Da’Monte.

You’re smart. Do the math.

Categories
Illini basketball

The Hottest Team

It’s hard to see how Illinois wins on Senior Night ’22.

Iowa’s win streak is the best in the B1G (equaling Wisconsin). The Hawkeyes can’t miss from three. They’ve got the best pro prospect in the league* and they’ve finally, in Fran’s 12th season, learned how to play defense.

Andre Curbelo has a lot of untested theories about breaking Iowa’s press.

But if Illinois does win, you couldn’t have a better launch to the postseason. It would be like 2020, when Illinois pulled off an impossible win over Iowa, on Senior Day, against the odds.

The reason it might happen is explained in Life, the Universe and Everything: Distraction.

Illini players, maybe even their coach, will be so overwhelmed by their emotions that their basketball game won’t get overthought. They’ll be on autopilot.

That’s good. They know what to do instinctively, so at this point, thinking would counterproductive.

Just sayin’ is all.

Is it foolhardy to suggest #EveryDayGuys will be distracted by their emotions? Brad Underwood was pretty adamant after the Penn State game that, yes, he gets nervous in those last minute situations. Were you expecting that answer, or the conviction and forthrightness with which he proclaimed it? (If no, how great is it to be surprised by your head coach after all these years?)

Underwood’s pre-Iowa presser continued in that direction: “I wear my emotions on my sleeve, as you guys know,” said Brad. And yeah, I’d say we (the dozen-ish people who spend half an hour with him 4x/week during the season) do know it.

He cries on Senior Day. We’ve seen it.

Everybody was loose during Saturday’s media availability. Yes, we talked about Iowa, but mostly the focus was on culture and growth and vomiting and gaining maturity and learning from experience, including vomiting.

Life lessons.

Brad opened his presser eating an apple, which he didn’t bring into camera view on the direction of DIA media handlers. They also seem to have turned off his microphone while he talked about the Harry & David fruit box he receives every month from a friend at Stephen F. Austin, whom he described as a business partner with whom he still does business.

Hence the 50 seconds of silence right after he walked within mic range , here:

Was it the “business partner” aspect that spooked them? Do they not like pears? Piper and Doug also captured videos, but I already checked: The Harry & David portion isn’t there.

Well, we can form conspiracy theories if we want to. The important point is that the team was loose, and its coach was relating at a personal level. Just like human beings.

At this point of the season, @IlliniMBB knows everything about basketball that #EveryDayGuys can be taught. They’ll need to bring a defensive intensity if they want to win against the B1G’s hottest team. Maybe that’s innate now, too. Who knows.

What we do know is that defense wins championships, until said mantra is properly rejected as horseshit. It’s actually the team that scores the most points. Iowa is good at scoring points.

First one to 90 wins.

*This accolade varies depending on Illinois’s opponent. The best player in the Big Ten on Sunday, March 6, is Iowa’s Keegan Murray; because Illinois plays Iowa on Sunday.

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COVID-19 Illini Basketball

An Iowa Moment

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

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

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

Here’s the moment I’ll deconstruct.

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

Composure.

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

Eric Curry and Da’Monte Williams

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

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

He couldn’t see Jordan Bohannon molest Trent Frazier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A BIT MORE ABOUT CARVER-HAWKEYE

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

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

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

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

Ooh, scary.

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

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

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

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

Categories
Illini Basketball

The Fighting Frans

When Brad Underwood starts rolling, the elite, elite barrage can grow somnolescent. Every team that happens to be next on the schedule is the best team they’ll face all year. Or maybe it just feels that way.

But because Iowa came close to upsetting Purdue, at Mackey, without their best player, on Friday; we must regard Sunday’s warning as stark realism. The Frans are good.

Yes, Connor McCaffery is still there.

Losing Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp and CJ Fredrick should’ve hurt more. But now that Fran is in year twelve, his teams have managed the Stay Old part of basketball’s favorite success formula.

Specifically, Joe Toussaint got old while you were worrying about other Hawkeyes. Toussaint has always been a pain in the ass, but evidently he’s now learned how to shoot, too. Watching him battle Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams should be one of the most entertaining aspects of tonight’s game.

They’re all scrappy and tough. One assumes some amount of blood will spill, even if it’s only scraped knuckles.

Unfortunately, Andre Curbelo won’t be available to get in Toussaint’s head. Brad said “same status” to a Sunday question seeking an update on Belo’s well-being. Here’s what Belo did to Joe last year.

The breakout star for Iowa is Keegan Murray, whose press began glowing while Luka Garza’s cot was still occupied.

Murray had one other scholarship offer, according to Brad, from Western Illinois. And now he’s in the Lottery discussion.

His twin brother Kris doesn’t get the same press, but Brad suggested he’s purty durn good too. Patrick McCaffery, Connor’s younger brother, also got a mention from Brad.

Finally, there’s Jordan Bohannon. He’s the guy you love to hate, and would hope to have on your team. In a way, Illinois does have him on its roster this year, except that his name is Alfonso Plummer.

Bohannon and Plummer are among the most dangerous marksmen in college basketball. Both are slightly shorter than you are. Both are better at creating their own shots than their reputations suggest.

This is how long Jordan Bohannon has been at Iowa.

There are some differences. Bohannon will chuck it from 30 feet, successfully. Plummer hasn’t shown that tendency. As far as we know, Plummer is not hated by his fellow students.

It’s been a while since Illinois won at Iowa. Monday feels like a good time to do it. The Frans aren’t good at defense, historically. But ball-handling has been Illinois’s Achilles Heel this season. We’ll see how well Trent and Da’Monte fare against an aggressive trapping press.

Of note to fans of great basketball players: Illini WBB wing Kendall Bostic grabbed 22 rebounds in Sunday afternoon’s 71-57 win over Eastern Kentucky.

That’s the third-best performance in Illinois WBB history.

  • 1. 30 rebounds – Betty Anderson vs. Eastern Illinois (1/23/75) 
  • 2. 23 rebounds – Martha Hutchinson vs. Indiana St. (1/24/80) 

She’s smart, and fun to watch.

Kendall Bostic grabs a rebound