Illini basketball

Notes from NUrdland

Staying old requires getting old, and RJ Melendez got older in Evanston. So did Podz.

RJ demonstrated an understanding of geometry that older Illini teammates might wish to study. He used the glass to score a much-needed bucket from an unfortunate angle, and within a pack of Wildcats.

Brad Underwood said he’d planned to play RJ against Michigan State, but somehow the match-ups weren’t right. After Saturday’s win, Underwood was unable to refrain from describing RJ as “bouncy,” which sounds cute and Tigger-ish, but also describes one of RJ’s most important functions: He can rebound without having worked himself into position. i.e. he jumps over people.

RJ is instant offense, and he’s unafraid to throw himself into the mix. For a team that’s run heartburn-inducing offense in recent games, RJ is the Rolaids.

Podz for three

The Podz substitution was obviously a response to Alfonso Plummer’s fourth foul. Would Underwood have inserted him otherwise?

It doesn’t matter. When his number was called, Podz was ready. He scored a lay-up on the next possession.

The box score shows no rebounds, steals or blocked shots for Brandin. But if statisticians tracked floor burns, he would have been team leader. Coaches track floor burns. They track hockey assists, and box-outs.

Brandin acquitted himself in those crucial six minutes and 19 seconds, when the Illini turned a deficit into victory.

That reliability means Underwood can trust him again in the future. It didn’t go unnoticed that Podz, like Da’Monte, can defend multiple positions.

Podz checks Pete Nance


Kofi Cockburn confirmed (after the Northwestern game) that he appealed (during the Purdue game) to referee DJ Carstensen about Zach Edey’s elbow.

When that elbow whiplashed Kofi’s head, none of Carstensen, Bo Boroski or Brian Dorsey saw any problems. It might have been ruled a flagrant foul. They saw it as incidental contact. Or maybe they didn’t see it at all.

Ed Hightower watched the game at Northwestern

The Big Ten knows its officiating hasn’t been up to snuff lately. That’s why Dr. Ed Hightower sat on the aisle, about ten rows up from the Wildcats bench. He was there, he said, on behalf of the commissioner.

Hightower wore a conference issued All-Access pass. He was in the locker rooms before the game, talking to coaches from both teams. He said he’d have follow-up conversations after the game as well.

“We will get better,” he promised.


Da’Monte Williams really does love defense. Unflappable as usual, he emoted not at all about his game-saving heroics in Evanston. But as a matter of analysis, he was perfectly willing to engage the topic of Da’Monte Williams All-Time Highlights. Was it that block against Minnesota? How about last year’s three-point daggers against the Buckeyes?

He picked Minnesota, dryly noting that he didn’t get a lot of tick in that game. (Maybe that’s why Richard Pitino didn’t know who we were talking about.)

Illini Basketball

Working Trip

Suzuki Method fiddlers gathered at center-court, moments before the tip-off of Northwestern’s annual orange invasion. Both teams formed a single-file line, facing each other.

The children bowed their instruments, commemorating a flag that was still there.

Elyjah Williams did not foul Kofi Cockburn here.

Elyjah Williams looked over his shoulder, and spotted a fivesome of six year-olds in kimonos, or whatever martial artists wear. Karate kids. He motioned them toward him. They stepped into the line, between Williams and Pete Nance. He looked down at the youngsters, placed his hand on his heart, and turned back toward the Star Spangled Banner. The kids copied his motions.

Kofi Cockburn releases a shot, Da’Monte Williams sees a path to the basket
Da’Monte navigates a path between Greer & Audige

I don’t remember thinking I’m gonna root for this guy from here on out. I thought it was a nice gesture. I got the idea that he’s a good guy, and that he thinks of others. And then the fiddling stopped and the game began.

Tracking the trajectory

As I watched Williams frustrate Kofi Cockburn, I wasn’t rooting for him. I thought it was kind of funny, because Elyjah obviously had a good attitude about his mountain-sized task.

Kofi broke into a smile momentarily, after some shit-talking. I appreciated that Kofi appreciated Elyjah.

I feel like I’ve written “Kofi is a kind & sensitive person” enough, and I don’t want to be boring. But did I say it enough?

I enjoyed watching two kind, sensitive and enormous people battle vigorously. At an elite level might say this one coach I know.

It’s been a strenuous time in America. These moments gave me some hope.

Meanwhile, Da’Monte continued his years long slog at proving the value of hard work.

It was demonstrably the best moment of the day for Illini fans. But because it was so needed, so necessary; a lot of Illini fans are feeling down about their team.

Maybe that’s appropriate. The #EveryDayGuys have been plenty bad on most recent days. But they closed the deal against Michigan, Michigan State, and this group of NUrds that’s played everyone close, but hasn’t learned how to close the deal.

It took Chris Collins to remind everyone, in 13 heartfelt minutes, how good this Illini team is. How hard it is to shut them down. And how good his Wildcat team is. And how they shut the Illini down,

You’ll feel better for watching it. And it’ll make you feel better about the Illinois performance at Welsh-Ryan.

Illini basketball

The Pushovers

Did you watch Northwestern choke in Ann Arbor on Wednesday? Well then, you know they can’t close a deal.

Did you watch Illinois cough up a 15-point second-half lead on Tuesday? Well, then you know they can’t close a deal either.

Did you watch Northwestern choke against Michigan State on January 15? Well then you know they can’t finish against Michigan State.

And neither can the Illini. And like Illinois, Northwestern won because MSU choked worse.

Pete Nance – still there

Last year’s game at Evanston was one of the strangest college basketball games ever played. The ‘Cats scored 43 points in the first half, and 13 in the second. They led by 15 and lost by 25.

Boo Buie was 0-6 from the field, dished a single assist and booted the ball twice. He garnered four fouls in fifteen minutes of tick.

Six weeks later in Champaign, Buie shot 4-of-9 from the field, scoring nine points. Again one assist. Again two turnovers. But in that much closer game (a 73-66 Illini win), Buie’s 15 minutes produced FIVE personal fouls.

Just wanna remind you how long some of these people have been in college.

Buie didn’t play in the ‘Cats best recent performance against the Illini, the too close for comfort 75-71 Illini win of January 2020. That game (in Champaign) saw lots of Pat Spencer, the gritty 5th-year transfer who spent his first four years playing lacrosse. Remember that guy?

Then, two years ago at Evanston, Buie shot 4-12 (0-5 arc) in a 74-66 loss, again tallying four fouls, but this time in a reasonable 33 minutes.

Boo Buie, Northwestern’s leader & best player, has been terrible to invisible against Illinois.

A reversion to the mean isn’t necessarily in the cards for Boo. After all, the defensive nemeses who shut frustrated him in the past are still playing for Illinois.

But you feel like he might possibly have a better shooting night for once. Like Alfonso Plummer, he doesn’t need a lot of time or space to get his shot off.

This is an official Northwestern document. Gotta love it.

The ‘Cats top scorer is Pete Nance, whose recent success makes you wonder why he plays for Northwestern. His dad was an NBA all-star. Surely he could have gone to a school with academic chops that also knows how to play basketball?

Basketball purists will appreciate the Nance development. He averaged 13 minutes per game as a freshman, on a team that starred Dererk Pardon and Vic Law. But Nance was also behind fellow “First-Year” Miller Kopp, who finally gave up on The Evanston Dream and became Indiana’s worst starter. Despite the pedigree, Chris Collins didn’t rush the Nance development. Pete’s numbers have increased & improved each year.





Pete will encounter Da’Monte Williams tomorrow. If he’s successful against Da’Monte, bully for him. Sometimes it’s nice to root for the underdog.

The pivot is a point of concern with Kofi Cockburn’s status uncertain. Northwestern’s bigs are Ryan Young, who doesn’t start, and Robbie Beran, who does. These guys combine for about 40 minutes and a little more than 5 fouls per game.

Young is considered the more dynamic offensive option, and that’s why Northwestern sucks so much. He’s the last guy you’d want handling the ball with a game on the line. Bad decisions, alligator arms, easily flustered.

If he scores 26 points on 10-14 shooting in a Wildcats win, you can assume this season is, in fact, cursed.

But here’s the thing: All these Wildcats are older and more experienced than they were during any previous game against Illinois. Until the clock reaches 00:00 and the Illini have more points, there’s no reason not to worry about the outcome.

Sleep tight!