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Illini Basketball

Games Notes @ RAC ’22

It feels presumptuous to write a pre-game essay in mid-February. By this point, you know the Scarlet Knights as well as they know themselves. Not only did you see this Rutgers team play Illinois already, you’ve seen at least five of their games since then,* because what else were you going to do?

The Purdue finish was amazing. Basketball nerds might argue that the tOSU finish was even more amazing. And nobody bet against Wisconsin.

So why is Illinois favored to win at Submarine SandwichDome?

Steve Pikiell’s job at Rutgers should, and probably will, result in the publication of books. However great Tommy Lloyd does at Arizona, he was handed an amazing job. Pikiell took over a never-ran has, shockingly, established itself in the upper-half of the #B1G. i.e. the Tourney half.

Simultaneously, the Rutgers SID staff has upped its game, and organized itself into a first-rate organization. Hence, we already know who’s refereeing tonight’s game (Szelc, Ek, Wells).

They’ve built a new media workroom (the old one was fine). Their arena, still smallish by P5 standards, was built for watching basketball, and it’s loud. (And has frequent shuttle buses because the Boston-Washington corridor is civilized.)

For our purposes (you and me both), this info will help us figure out whom to follow on Twitter tonight. The best information actually does come from the color & play-by-play teams, because they have the best access, instant stats reports, and courtside view.

But there’s always something going on elsewhere, in the stands and on the sidelines. It’s good to know who’s watching it.

*Those of us who remember The Old Times are still amazed that we can watch every game, anywhere.*

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Illini Basketball

HexFinity

The last time Illinois visited College Park was also the last game before The Ayo Era truly began. Like a lot of games against Maryland, it ended stupidly.

You’ve tried to forget Anthony Cowan’s 35-footer, and in part, you’ve been successful: You still remember it, but you think it won the game.

It didn’t. It tied the game.

Then things got stupider.

Illinois had this game in its pocket, until it didn’t.

The Illini had a chance to win in regulation. Or just kill the clock.

Instead, Cowan & Sticks Smith tackled Andres Feliz, stole his ball, and ran to the other end. One free-throw and one intentional miss later, Maryland had capped off yet another improbable defeat of Illinois.

Illinois led 57-48 with 4:12 remaining. Closing a game on a 1-11 run was the only way they could manage to lose, so that’s what they did.

It was arguably even stupider than the statistically impossible Terrapin comeback in Brad Underwood’s first year, when Da’Monte Williams had not yet become the unshakablest Illini.

After the December Debacle, Quam Dosunmu (the elder) was possessed by frustration. He hadn’t steered his son to the Illinois program to watch Andres Feliz get ripped in crunch time. His family hadn’t traveled to Washington to witness ignominious defeat.

Quam’s rant went on for quite some time, and I probably wasn’t the only one who listened to it. I was however, the only one present while he was ranting to me.

I never asked Quam’s permission to share his words, and I didn’t record them, or even make notes afterward. But none of that matters. Once The Legend of Ayo became a matter of record, the Dosunmu family no longer needed to campaign.

It wasn’t unreasonable to put the ball in Andre Feliz’s hands. After all, he’d closed the first half of that same game effectively.

But obviously, Illinois needed to ensure, from that point on, that Ayo Dosunmu had the ball when the game was on the line.

The rest is history.

Brad Underwood remembers the violence and the non-call, but he doesn’t remember the Xfinity Center as the place where he realized that, going forward, Illinois basketball would look to Ayo Dosunmu to close the door.

Or at least he’s not saying it.

Presumably, Quam shared his thoughts with Brad, too. The Dosunmus had an access that most families don’t enjoy. Was that part of the deal? Your guess is as good as mine.

Underwood probably wouldn’t like to develop a reputation for heeding the demands of disgruntled parents, because all parents are disgruntled at some point, and many carry a low intensity grudge throughout their son’s eligibility.

All we know is that after the game at Maryland, Things Changed.

Underwood is not the kind of guy who’s put off by a grudge, of course. He thrives on them. You noticed, as the team prepared for its first B1G road trip of this season, that winless at Carver-Hawkeye was made known to everyone. It’s a chip that Underwood carries. He carries that chip for the Xfinity Center, too.

Because Maryland is bad this year, Illinois has a good chance to get Brad his first College Park roadkill. And the truth is, this is a must win for the Illini. They can’t expect to compete for a B1G title if they lose to the last place teams.

Maryland is 1-6 in conference, and 9-9 overall. Their coach quit before the angry mob arrived. Interim coach Danny Manning has already been drummed out of P5 basketball. After getting Tulsa to the dance in his second year, he went 78–111 at Wake Forest.

But he’s 1-and-1 versus Underwood. And Brad knows that, too.

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COVID-19 Illini basketball

Cakewalk Continued

The Illini men’s basketball team will likely face a good opponent during the 2022 B1G season. But not tonight.

Nebraska is winless in conference play, and 6-10 overall. Losses include the Western Illinois Leathernecks, a team that’s 1-3 in the Summit League so far this season. WIU beat Denver before losing to Omaha, St. Thomas and Oral Roberts in league play.

Lat Mayen and Illini Zach Griffith, who got the start on Senior Day

What, you ask, is St. Thomas?

Good question. Evidently it’s a basketball school in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and evidently it became a member of the Summit League after some less obscure basketball team departed for the greener pastures of MVC, or MAC or something. Probably.

Transitive property, that’s how bad Nebraska is.

But Lat Mayen is still in Lincoln. He led the Huskers in scoring during last years overtime “thriller” against Ayo (31 pts) and Kofi (21). Brad Underwood says Nebraska is even better at rim protection this year, so Illinois better find its shooting rhythm from the arc.

Injured guard/bulldog Trey McGowens was the Huskers’ top scorer in the return game, an 86-70 Illini win in Champaign. He scored 16 in that game, and 15 the first time around. Some regarded him as the Huskers best player last season. This year, it’s his kid brother, the first five-star recruit in program history. Bryce McGowens is a lanky scorer

Derrick Walker is also back, and still beefy in the middle. He was Nebraska’s other interior defender last year, but caused the Illini few problems. In the first game, he’d just returned from a major suspension. In the second game, he had foul trouble.

The remaining Husker of interest is Alonzo Verge, whose career has had a lot of ups and downs since the days when John Groce was recruiting him.

This should be a snoozer. Let’s hope you find it restful.

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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.

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Illini Basketball

Kansans of the Ark, part 1

There’s usually a story behind a non-conference scheduling.

Lon Kruger brought Texas – Pan American to Champaign, because he coached there. He liked the people there. He wanted them to get paid.

Bruce Weber scheduled Vanderbilt because he liked having a couple of beers with Kevin Stallings, his old benchmate from Gene Keady’s glory years.

Scheyerface: It’s not just for Scheyers anymore.

Brad Underwood scheduled Arkansas State because he’s friends with Red Wolves coach Mike Balado. He didn’t use the word “beers” in describing their friendship, but feel free to draw your own conclusions. Florida was involved.

I misshopped the guy’s forehead on the right. He doesn’t actually look like a Romulan.

Trent Frazier wore a big black harness on his right arm during Thursday’s practice. It looked like the thigh pads that basketball players wore under their baggy pants in recent years. It looked like the thigh pads that football players wore until fashion became more important than practicality. It didn’t look like a shoulder harness. If there was a shoulder component, it was obscured by Trent’s practice jersey.

Talking to Omar Payne and Alfonso Plummer before today’s practice, we got the feeling that both Illini were aware that Arkansas State has a couple of talented guards, and possibly some bigs that know how to basketball.

The unspoken point was that these two Illini players will be auditioning their skills against the best opponent they’ve faced so far in this nascent Year ’22. Plummer wants to showcase his PG skills because he knows the NBA isn’t interested in SGs my height. And although both Trent Frazier and Andre Curbelo are likely to play Friday, Plummer has been practicing at PG in preparation for the game.

Brad Underwood said the coaching staff was surprised by Plummer’s adjustment to the role, and his adeptness with the unique skill set involved in directing an offense.

This may have been an Elite. Elite on Brad’s part, but he did seem genuinely surprised.

Payne gets another chance to swat shots and possibly integrate himself into the Illinois offense. This is a good thing. Kofi Cockburn’s suspension was a godsend in this regard. And although Kofi got a raw deal from the NCAA, it’ll almost certainly help the team in the long run.

You want Omar to succeed. He’s exactly the kind of student-athlete that you want to root for, both in life and on the court.

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Illini Basketball

Miss Jackson State, if you’re Nasty

First, keep in mind that it’s not Jacksonville, where Tony Jasick’s career is mired after a successful stint at IPFW.

Remember that big fat guy with the beard that nearly destroyed John Groce’s second Illini team?

His name, you will not believe, was Steve Forbes

It’s also not Jacksonville State, where former Groce staffer James Haring became DOBO before getting the same job with Anthony Grant’s Dayton Flyers.

He’s now a full-fledged assistant at Radford, but recalls the important trick when differentiating these schools.

IR: Do you have any clever mnemonics, rhymes or “sick beats” to differentiate Jackson State from Jacksonville and Jacksonville State?

JH: Haha, just always said the Jacksonville State Gamecocks in Jacksonville, Alabama. Made sure to always include the mascot to differentiate from the others.

Jackson State is, duh, the land grant university for the State of Jackson. Whereas the Jacksonville schools are obviously both in Florida.

JSU is led by … wait, I’m hearing from the control room that Jacksonville State is in Alabama. Oh, yes, that’s what James Haring meant by “Alabama.”

Summa Cum Laude, this guy. Trust his info.

Anyway, the state of Jackson … uh, hold on again.

Turns out there might not be a state called “Jackson.” Perhaps the Orange Krush can remind Tuesday’s visitors about the silliness of their name.

But seriously, the JSU men’s basketball team represents the HBCU in Jackson, Mississippi, so more power to them for fighting the good fight. The best of fights, frankly, as far as good fights go.

Tuesday’s game will be their first spectated contest of the season. Their exhibition against University of Arkansas-Monticello was cancelled. (You might think it’s odd to house a campus of UA in Monticello, but just remember that Indiana keeps one of its campuses in Pennsylvania).

During the Season of Covid, they managed to play 18 games between postponements and cancellations. Their 12-6 record was a fantastic improvement over the 15-17 of 2019-20. They performed well in their awful SWAC both seasons, going 11-7 the first time around, and 11-0 last year, buttressed by the conference’s POTY (Tristan Jarrett), the conference’s D-POTY (Jayveous McKinnis) and a Juwan Howard-esque strategy of postponing or cancelling the risky games.

JSU fared abysmally against legitimate programs last year. Ben Howland’s Bulldogs beat them 82-59. Kermit Davis’s Rebels imposed worse punishment, at 80-45. LA Tech ran it up to 85-58.

Bradley won 83-60 in Peoria, and even an atrocious Iowa State team won 60-45 over JSU’s ’21 Parade of Clowns, in Ames.

Coach Wayne Brent already done tole you that they’ll be better this year, despite losing Jarrett to the G-League. McKinnis is back, and they’ve added transfers Gabe Watson from Southern Miss, and Chance Moore “who played at Wichita State and Washington State.”

But in fact, Moore played a total of 20 minutes in Kansas, and not at all in Pullman.

Jayveous McKinnis (GoJSUTigers.com)

Watson was pretty good in Hattiesburg, so he left. But after signing with Ron Hunter (yep, that guy) and Associate Head Coach Ray McCallum (yep, him) to play at Tulane, Watson found himself back in his hometown. We don’t know why, and a query to JSU sports information yielded a copy of the game notes.

Relying on guys who couldn’t find the court at better programs remains a poor strategy against ranked teams from major conferences.

So even without Kofi, with a sore Trent and a rumored (mild) injury to Belo, the Illini should still enjoy a good curbstomping. And if they don’t, Brad Underwood will garner more great video for Treadmill purposes.

Win-win.

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Illini Basketball

The Littlest Indiana

Last week, the Illini men prepared for an awful Saint Francis team. They’ll play a better Saint Francis in December.

Friday night, Illinois hosts an Indiana team. They’ll face a better Indiana team in February, in Indiana. Friday’s Indiana team is not from Indiana. It’s from Alabama.

Specifically, it’s from that part of Pennsylvania that political operatives refer to as “Alabama in the middle.” So is California, another ineptly named school from the Alabama part of Pennsylvania.

The Indians of Indiana are no longer Indians. Not content to simply retire an irksome logo, they embraced the Nonexistent Bird path favored by Lowell’s RiverHawks and Miami’s RedHawks. (But not that Miami.)

They are now Crimson Hawks.

Indiana begins a fifteenth season with its winningest leader, Coach Lombardi (but not that Coach Lombardi). His team features four D-I transfers, led by 6-8 forward Tommy Demogerontas, an Orland Park native whose collegiate career began in 2015 at Moraine Valley Community College. Demogerontas originally transferred to Northern Illinois before moving to IUP, and suffered season-ending injuries at both stops.

photo by Peter Fortunado

He averages 17 and 9 per game, and takes almost half of his shots from outside the arc.

Dave Morris’s previous stop was Tennessee State. Not a powerhouse you say, but they beat Illinois in Champaign during that season you’ve been trying to forget, with that coach whose name escapes you. (So did the RedHawks. Those RedHawks.)

IUP plays in a conference of little Division II Pennsylvanian schools. But this team will be much better than the laughable Joliet squad that embarrassed itself here on Saturday.

Dave Morris is the Crimson Hawks point guard. He also makes half of his shots. (Teri Enciso)

The Crimson Hawks advanced to the DII Championship game twice since Joe Lombardi took over. They’re a perennial PSAC powerhouse, last winning the conference in 2020. You shouldn’t expect them to win against Curbelo & Co., but they won’t puke on their shoes either.

Tip time is 7pm on FRIDAY at the SFC.