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Illini Basketball

The 12 Seed

Sweeping Michigan and Purdue seemed impressive, right?

Historically, and recently, Michigan and Purdue are B1G contenders. But what about this year? Purdue is 13-10 overall. Michigan is 4-7 in conference.

Is that good?

Memories of Caleb Swanigan and John Beilein are fresh, but Trevion Williams is not Caleb Swanigan. Beilein is gone. So is Bo Ryan. Wisconsin is also 13-10 on the year.

Looking at the schedule on February 8 gives the viewer a different impression of this Illini season than s/he might have had on October 29. Did you predict that Penn State and Rutgers would be the hard games?

And yet, arguably, Rutgers is the only good team that Illinois has beaten this season.

Last night’s loss looked a lot like its predecessor in Iowa City. Maryland employed an aggressive zone defense to completely emasculate the Illini. You can readily envision the Terps coaching staff slow-forwarding through video sequences of that Iowa game, identifying known weaknesses and capabilities.

Likewise, you can imagine the Iowa staff presenting video clips from the Braggin’ Rights embarrassment while telling its team if you challenge them with all your energy and effort; they will fold.

Special credit goes to Terps guard Darryl Morsell, who latched on to Ayo Dosunmu and didn’t let go. Perhaps he watched the Miami game.

If Ayo gets past you, it’s over. And Ayo is extremely good at getting past you. But if you keep him in front, hands high, Ayo’s arsenal diminishes.

Some fans seemed to think Illinois had a chance in the final 10 minutes of the game.

Or at least, they didn’t start leaving in droves until Anthony Cowan drained yet another three to put the Terps up 69-60 with 2:34 remaining.

It’s sweet that they felt Illinois had a chance, after scoring a single field goal in the first 10:52 of the second half.

But the truth is that Maryland had this one safely in its grasp from the moment they initiated that press.

The good news, if you want to call it good, is that NET rankings will probably keep the Illini in the tournament even if — as seems likely — their losing streak extends to five.

On the other hand, Izzo often craps the bed versus Illinois. And he’s too inflexible to mimic another team’s winning formula. So there’s that.

The Illini defense was much better against Maryland than at Breslin. In fact, it kept them within scratching distance during their 40 day ordeal in the scoring desert.

Categories
Illini Basketball

Shifty, scheming

Brad Underwood announced today that Tevian Jones will “suit up” for the Maryland game.

No matter what that phrasing implies, it’s top-notch trolling.

Jones, you’ll recall, is the Terrapin killer whose career-best game stunned Madison Square Garden last winter. He’s the guy they didn’t see coming, and couldn’t stop going. Mark Turgeon still has nighthorses about Tevian Jones.

Jones sat out 8 games last year, so it might seem natural that this year’s suspension is also 8 games. But we know that his sophomore suspension is academics oriented, whereas last year’s was urine-based.

Perhaps DIA penalties for academic misdemeanors include, like a second positive pee test, sitting out for a quarter of the season.

But otherwise, the timing seems weird. The semester ends next weekend, not this one.

Underwood did not say Tevian will travel with the team. He did not say Tevian will play. We hope both of those potentialities come true. But it would be hilarious if Underwood made the announcement merely to keep Turgeon and staff up all night.

Tevian Jones was arguably the most improved sophomore coming into this season. The other candidate is Alan Griffin. Both showcased their improvement in Italy. But there’s no doubt that Tevian had the most dazzling European performance.

The book is still out on Underwood. He’s going to have to reach the NCAA tournament before any Illini fan can be sure he’s The Guy. But for those still recovering from Bruce Weber Syndrome, it’s refreshing to have a leader who’s willing to shift direction, change schemes, and plant misdirection in the minds of his opponents.

Well played, coach.

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Illini Basketball

Terrapin Soup

Feel like celebrating after Illinois’ 64-57 win?

Happy they beat a ranked team?

Go ahead. Enjoy it.

In a lot of ways, it was an improvement on the last couple of games.

In one very important way, it was not. The Illini tried to puke on their shoes again, but Maryland refused to be outshittyed. The Terps saw our bad pass, and raised us a kick it out of bounds.

Where Ohio State and Michigan took advantage, Maryland fainted.

By this point in the season, all Illini fans and perhaps even John Groce have figured out that one very important way. Groce made major and minor changes on Wednesday, to forestall that way of losing games.

It sufficed.

Malcolm Hill buried most of his shots, just like he usually does.

Jaylon Tate moved the ball, and exploited defensive weaknesses, just like usual.

Nnanna Egwu hustled to fill every gap, just like he always does.

The obvious difference between this game and astonishing collapses at Ann Arbor and Columbus is this: When Illinois offered the opportunity for its opponent to crawl back into the game, it got no response, until it was too late.

Enough changed for Illinois to win.

Enough stayed the same for Illinois to win.

Maryland clearly didn’t want to win. But because Mark Turgeon is an excellent tactician, Maryland nearly completed a miraculous comeback.

At one point in the second half, the Terrapins were shooting 40% on free throws. They finished at 56%.

A late barrage from three raised the Terps’ long-range percentage to an admirable 43%.  For most of the game, Terp shots dented the rim from all distances.

Jaylon Tate’s free throws — combined with Kendrick Nunn’s and Ahmad Starks’s refusal to panic — saved the game when Turgeon’s tactics threatened a third consecutive collapse.

John Groce did enough with rotations — and especially with constant defensive switches — to allay new-found accusations of managerial incompetence.

Ahmad Starks shot his traditional 1-for-x from the floor, as did Aaron Cosby.

But Starks’s game was among his best as an Illini.

Using speed, strength and floor vision; Starks keyed the second-half pile-on by exploiting advantageous spacing, with timely passes, a steal, three rebounds, and a fuck y’all attitude toward Maryland’s antagonistic trash talkers.

Cosby was not as awful as every statistic, comment & write-up will suggest. He contributed some good things.

Still, he made little argument from the “players play players” perspective, which John Groce continues to preach while largely failing to practice.

STRIPES

Interesting back-and-forth between Mike Eades and John Groce, throughout the night.

The two spent some time together in the tunnel at Miami, after the game. Groce remarked then that Eades is a good official. There’s obviously a rapport between them.

As the touch fouls accumulated against Illinois (mostly whistled by Terry Oglesby), Groce demanded that the Illini get a call next time a Terrapin breathed on him too hard.

“John!” Eades exclaimed, getting the coach’s attention. “We got the message.”

Groce’s next apoplexy came when Ahmad Starks was not awarded two shots when fouled while passing the ball. “John, he was passing the ball” Oglesby explained. Courtside fans joined in the nonsensical, misguided harassment.

I prefer to reserve referee criticism for those moments when the referees are obviously wrong, rather than when they’re obviously right. It just seems more logical, and credible.

 

Illinois won this game because Maryland coughed up this game. That’s fair. Illinois coughed up its previous two B1G contests.

Naturally, dominance would feel more satisfying. But at this point, in a season on a brink, one takes what one can get.

John Groce continued to allow freedom to his players, did not blame them for his shortcomings, and did not fail to provide them with a game plan while simultaneously criticizing them for not having a game plan.