Categories
Illini basketball

The Championship Game

Concussing Kofi Cockburn was a clever strategy for the first Purdue game. A stunned Kofi couldn’t maintain his footwork defensively, and the mammoth Zach Edey scored 14 points in the first half as the Boilers steamed to a 37-26 advantage.

Kofi complained to referee DJ Carstensen about the Edey Elbow. Carstensen ignored him.

Zach Edey’s uncalled Flagrant 1 knocked Kofi’s head backward.

But as #B1G officiating became the subject of social media ridicule, the conference offices realized they needed to get better. Even Matt Painter said the Illini didn’t get “a good whistle” during the teams’ first go-round.

Kofi thrust his elbow a few times, trying to get Carstensen’s attention

Brad Underwood didn’t show his hand about the #B1G’s operations, which include referee evaluation and interviews with the teams and coaches. Jacob Grandison didn’t offer a lot of information about the process either, saying he leaves that stuff to the coaches.

But a blind squirrel could find this nut: Knocking your conference preseason POY out for a number of games is bad for TV ratings. It cost the Illini a game at Maryland, too, and that ain’t right.

Edey’s improvement has been a story in itself, but he’s unlikely to get the same leeway in West Lafayette that he enjoyed in Champaign. Looking the other way while players suffer neurological issues has been deemed bad.

Hunter Dickinson scored 28 points against the Boilers in their last game. That performance demonstrates that a mobile big can do damage against 40 minutes of Edey/Trevion Williams. In that game, which Purdue won 82-76 at Mackey on Saturday, the minutes breakdown was 17/23, a deviation from Edey’s recent overtaking of the elder Williams’s playing time.

But Edey gathered three fouls against Dickinson, while Williams played the entire game without a personal foul. Dickinson stretches a defense in a way that Kofi would probably enjoy, but so far, hasn’t: the Michigan big man shot three attempts from the arc, and made a pair of them.

Mr. Cockburn did not enjoy his spectator role in game 1.

This game is Illinois’s to win. The battling bigs probably won’t be the decisive factor, just like it wasn’t at Indiana. Instead, Purdue’s #1 KenPom adjusted offense versus Illinois’s #17 KenPom adjusted defense might see Sasha Stefanovic return to form. He’s generally had a bad time against the Illini. In the first meeting, he made 5-of-8 threes.

Jaden Ivey got all the whistle in Champaign, and converted 13-of-15 from the stripe to get his 19. Three-of-ten from the floor looks less impressive, and that’s the problem that Trent Frazier inflicts on people.

The KenPom numbers strongly favor the Illini at the other end of the floor. Purdue is AdjD #106, awhile the Illini Adjusted Offense is 21st nationally. Basically, if Trent Frazier had made 3-of-9 from the arc in that first contest, rather than 2-of-9, maybe Illinois wouldn’t have needed a second overtime to beat the visitors. Trent’s increasing reliance on penetration worked against the Boiler bigs, especially Edey, who is not “cat quick.”

Against Indiana, an excellent defensive team, the Illini made 43% of their shots from the arc. Luke Goode, Jake and Da’Monte Williams should have an easier time getting looks against the Boilers. Alfonso Plummer might not. His 6-of-12 performance last time might have Painter scheming to shut him down from the arc.

Maybe the most important factor in Tuesday’s game is that Kofi and the gang like playing at Mackey, the site of his first career long-two. He also converted all six of his free-throws in the last game where the Paint Crew was there to heckle.

Illinois won.

Thing is, the #EveryDayGuys enjoy the harassment. They all fielded a lot of questions about hostile crowds since shutting up 17,000 Indianans on Saturday. Kofi in particular could not prevent himself from breaking a wide grin about the enormous BOOOOOO! he got from Hoosiers fans during team introductions.

I wouldn’t bet against them.

Categories
Illini basketball

Edeyfication

Yesterday’s thesis — that only Illinois could beat Illinois in a match-up with Purdue — did not account for the Carstensen-Boroski-Dorsey triumvirate.

They weren’t the only reason Illinois lost, but a series of bizarre calls and non-calls probably made the difference in a game that was tied at the end, twice

Bo Boroski, Brian Dorsey & DJ Carstensen

Illini Report has no personal enmity for any of these individuals. Boroski is a friendly guy. Carstensen is earnest & nerdy. Dorsey did a good job of ignoring a tirade from Nagash Cockburn.

But officiating really did hurt Illinois and help Purdue yesterday. Even Matt Painter said as much.

A sellout SFC crowd noticed, too. Every time these refs botched a call, the clever SFC production team posted a slow-motion replay on the hall’s giant video screens. Illini fans howled in outrage, their frustration growing louder with each successive injustice.

Maybe the worst calls were non-contact “fouls” that went against Illinois. But Kofi Cockburn might argue that Carstensen’s lenience toward Zach Edey’s elbows was the major problem. Cockburn repeatedly gestured to Carstensen that he’d been hooked. Carstensen offered no response or acknowledgment.

Kofi tried to get DJ’s attention.

The Illini defensive strategy mirrored its recent experience, in which Big Ten teams opted against double-teaming Kofi. The Illinois coaching staff obviously thought Kofi could guard Edey by himself. Or perhaps the staff was (reasonably) terrified by all the 40% marksmen waiting on the arc if & when the defense collapsed to help in the paint.

When Carstensen decided that Edey would have full use of his elbows, the plan crumbled. On to strategy #2: Deny Edey the ball.

That didn’t work either.

Edey scored against Cockburn at will. He scored behind Omar Payne. If Painter had allowed Edey to keep going, rather than substituting Trevion Williams at regular intervals, Edey would have converted 10 lay-ups by halftime. He made six in eleven minutes.

But the other half of the strategy was working. Purdue missed its first six attempts from the arc, and Sasha Stefanovic finished the half 0-2 on threes. Illinois had picked its poison, and the poison was killing them.

Illinois’s second half poison wasn’t as much of a choice as a necessity. They held Edey to three FGs in 13 minutes, but denying his opportunities allowed Stefanovic to go wild from the arc. Sasha drained 4-of-5 in those 20 minutes.

If Andre Curbelo hadn’t made a surprise comeback, Illinois would have lost by double-digits, in regulation.

Curbelo’s return now forces Brad Underwood to choose which starter won’t get as much tick as he’d been getting. Jacob Grandison sat for almost nine minutes in the first half against Purdue, and more than five of the second.

Da’Monte Williams played about 17:30 for each half, and every minute of overtime. Trent Frazier played even more, including all of both OTs.

Because Alfonso Plummer has been cold in B1G play, and because his defense is regarded as the worst among the starting perimeter players; he seems like the obvious choice to sit more. But he buried 6-of-12 against Purdue and remains Illinois’s second-leading scorer. Without him, Purdue wins in regulation.

Andre Curbelo started giving instructions as soon as he entered the game.

It’s always a good problem to have, or so the saying goes. But because Illinois is competing for a championship, this personnel question takes on an importance John Groce never had to contemplate, even when he repeated that a single addition changes the entire team.

Different line-ups might be capable of defeating the B1G’s top 10 teams. But the question now is whether Illinois can beat the Badgers on Groundhog’s Day, or arrive in West Lafayette, on February 10th, with a better plan of action.

Categories
Illini basketball

The Skeptic

Matt Painter stands alone among B1G coaches in a category that should be as important to you as it is to me: He explains basketball comprehensibly, comprehensively & eloquently.

John Beilein and Bo Ryan are gone. Paint is now in a league of his own in this capacity.

He’s also known for developing bigs. Even more so than Tom Izzo, whose reputation always begins & ends with the word “rebounding.”

During Illinois basketball’s 40 years in the desert (2007-2019), a lot of Purdue’s bigs ate our lunch. As did their guards. And wings.

Their cheerleaders ate our lunch. Even their pre-game hype video ate our lunch.

But you’ll have noticed that Things Changed when Brad Underwood established himself in Champaign. Purdue was 2x guaranteed losses for a while, there. That’s no longer the case.

2022 is a weird & disappointing year for the Boilermakers. Pre-season darlings, they’ve struggled to win the games they’ve won versus legit competition. Is North Carolina good this year? Is Villanova?

NC State is not, and nor is Butler. Florida State might get better.

These are the teams Purdue beat, sometimes in chinny chin chin fashion.

Somebody needs to fill the rankings, and Carolina and Villanova are media darlings. So they were ranked.

Fine.

More important is what Purdue’s done in conference, which includes a close game with Penn State, a last second home win over Iowa, and a home loss to Wisconsin.

And the Ron Harper moment.

The Robbie Hummel-JaJuan Johnson-E’Twaun Moore class bought Painter a credibility that his Keady Tree roots couldn’t give him at a time when Bruce Weber was killing Illini basketball and Steve Lavin was between jobs.

Painter’s divorce scandal and flirtation with other programs sent a ripple of doubt through the faithful. And then he rebirthed himself. He’s one of the few major college basketball coaches whose job is not in question.

But is his current team any good?

Offensively, they’re amazing, and their offensive prowess stems from the same pick-your-poison 1-2 punch that Illinois likes to employ.

First get the ball to Trevion Williams, then watch him dunk it

Trevion Williams

… or kick it to the wing, where Purdue converts forty-percent of its three-pointers as a team.

Brad Underwood calls them the best offense in the country.

It’s the other end that’s been a problem, and Underwood says the Boilers used the Christmas Break (December 18 to January 10) to shore up a defense that’s let them down in those too-close games.

With Jaden Ivey feeding Williams, and with Williams subsequently finding Ivey on the wing; you’d expect them to be pretty good on that side of the ball. And then there’s the sasquatch Zach Edey, who can be hard to get around at the other end.

But it’s the surrounding cast that should make the difference for the Boilers. Will Sasha Stefanovic finally have a good game against the Illini?

What about this Mason Gillis kid who’s connecting on 55% of his three-pointers? After redshirting as a freshman, he made almost no impact on last year’s game. He got a late start this season after serving a four game suspension for DWI in June. (He played against ‘Nova, not against UNC.)

Which of those guys will exploit Alfonso Plummer? Who will Da’Monte and Jake shut down? Or will Coleman Hawkins again check the beefy 6’6″ shooter?

Mason Gillis scored 2 points in last season’s only match-up between Illinois & Purdue

If Illinois brings its A-game, they’ll beat these guys.

Trent Frazier doesn’t want Ivey to give Fox viewers anything to talk about. Kofi Cockburn will want to show NBA scouts what he can do to a dynamic big man like Williams. And then there’s Omar, whose game seems designed specifically to shut Trevion down.

Kofi’s been great with finding open shooters on the wings, so the only problem of late is that Illinois can’t hit from the arc. If they’re 6-of-24 from deep today, Purdue will win.

Categories
Illini basketball

Purdue review – just a coupla thoughts

I love this new gig, where I can choose when & whether to publish.

I know people don’t like reading about losses. They’re not as fun to write about either — unless it’s time to fire the coach. Then they’re fun.

It’s not time to fire the coach. Settle down.

Now that the sting has worn off, I want to share just a few tidbits about Saturday’s game at Mackey Arena. These are things that wouldn’t have come across on TV.

MATT PAINTER INTIMIDATED THE REFEREES INTO TWO HUGE CALLS

In a game decided by five points, every possession is crucial. The Illini got jobbed out of at least two possessions at Mackey, perhaps because referees are susceptible to psychology, just like the rest of us.

In both cases, referees couldn’t or didn’t see the play. In both cases Bill Ek and Donnie Eppley signaled to each other for help in rendering a ruling. Each appeal for help resulted in a dramatic, emphatic ruling for Purdue. I saw both plays clearly, from my seat on the baseline. Both times, Purdue knocked the ball out of bounds.

The first time, it was Rapheal Davis who scooped the ball from a prone Rayvonte Rice, but lost control.

The second time came in the closing minutes, when Illinois furiously clawed its way back to a two possession game.

Austin Colbert was the baseline defender. Dakota Mathias was the inbound guy. An errant/risky Mathias pass, batted out of bounds by its intended recipient, never came close to touching anyone in orange.

Colbert was so shocked by the ruling that he covered his face with his jersey, to prevent himself from an assessed technical foul. But he campaigned for a reversal throughout the succeeding inbound play.

Illinois’ jobbing in Austin (March 2013) resulted in a rule change. Replay video may be used in the final two minutes of games. Why not use replay video to determine calls on plays that refs can’t see?

I don’t doubt that Ek and Eppley ruled for Purdue because Matt Painter rode their asses for forty minutes, and they simply wore down. Painter is 6’4″ and intimidating.

John Groce will never get the calls Painter gets.  He’s too short.

Refs will laugh at pipsqueaky Pat Chambers, and run his Nittany teams out of the gym on bad, perhaps even biased calls. But they won’t fuck with Painter. He’s too intimidating. It’s simple human nature. They’re scared of him.

That’s probably the reason Painter’s teams continue to get away with incessant hand-checking, in the year that everyone else in college ball opted for zone defense to comply with the “new emphasis” on hand-checking violations.

Lamont Simpson has been around for a while. He didn’t seem to cave to Painter.

RAYVONTE RICE’S LOB SLAM IS A TOP TEN ALL-TIME ILLINI BASKETBALL MOMENT

I wasn’t alive when Bob Starnes’s full court shot beat Northwestern. There are probably some other great moments from the pre-video era. I was on hand to see Efrem Winters windmill dunk against Minnesota, and it was as amazing as its legend suggests.

I was also on hand for Matt Heldman’s half-court lob to Awvee Storey. I saw two entire years of Kenny Battle. Those are all amazing memories.

Visit Furniture Lounge for vintage St Patty’s Day gear.

 

You all saw the Rayvonte Rice dunk Saturday. But you probably didn’t hear it. The crashing sound on the steel rim hurt my ears. Moreover, the camera angle fails to convey the improbable physics of the play. Kendrick Nunn threw the ball. He didn’t toss it. The ball was traveling at speed.

The ball was still going up when Ray corralled it. Ray had to get eleven to twelve feet into the air to grab that ball.  The rest was a matter of gravity, but it happened really fast. That is, the time elapsed between Ray attaining possession and the crashing sound was barely visible.

Even slo-mo doesn’t really capture the feat. IlliniProductionsHD photographer Jason Marry said “that should be a crime” or “Ray should be charged with a crime” or something along those lines.  We all laughed.

DO YOU HATE PURDUE?

I don’t.  I just hate this one particular guy.

The people who work at Mackey Arena are friendly. Their 2nd year SID is running the best, most accessible media operation in the conference. They always give us a lot of Puccini’s Smiling Teeth pizza.

I like Lafayette. Heather and I had a great blackened salmon and excellent escargot at Bistro 501 after the game. The campus looks just like ours, and they even have a Krannert building. Great engineering school. They hate the Hoosiers. What’s not to like?

Well, there’s this one guy. Thanks to the First Amendment, I can present him to you for your vilification and identification. Frankly, he brought it on himself.

A seasoned cameraman (I’ll leave his name out) said “Purdue has the angriest fans in the Big Ten. They’re just really angry.” Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s a trickle-down effect from the Keady years.  Gene Keady had anger issues. Maybe Painter does, too although I really like his thoughtful demeanor in postgame.

I think the cameraman’s remark was influenced by that one guy. I think that one guy has held the same season ticket, in the same spot, for some time. And he’s spewed hatred ever since he arrived.

On Saturday, as the final seconds trickled away, this asshole yelled “NIT Ray Rice! Have fun in the NIT!”

Ray is a great player, a great entertainer, a good student, a guy who defied consistent and continual underestimation.

If you’re a good person, and a good sportsman, you have to love Ray.

It makes me glad to see, at the end of every college basketball event, the opposing players and their families socializing. It happens after fans have been booted from the venues, while game-day staff are sweeping aisles and folding chairs.

There’s no hatred. It’s not just good sportsmanship. These people are friends. They know each other from high school, from AAU, from carpools and team camps.

I wish the fans could behave as well. Why couldn’t the Mackey Asshole simply savor the victory?

Rayvonte Rice will end a great career without an NCAA Tournament appearance. That sucks for Ray. As a college basketball fan, of any team, is that something you really want to rub in his face?

 

Categories
Illini basketball

Black is the New Black

It’s here. This is what we’ve been waiting for. Leron Black is ready to go.

The line-up is now complete, minus its star. But Rayvonte’s absence is providing extra touches for everyone. If this team makes a late run, that might be important.

Anyway, Illini basketball 2014-15 began Wednesday night, after way too long in the cocoon.

Leron Black is the butterfly, and he stings like a bee. His 13 rebounds were the difference against Purdue. Full stop.

Illinois’s eleven consecutive free-throws to close the game …. closed the game. But it was Leron Black’s 13 rebounds that won it.

The point that’s been obvious since the O & B scrimmage, and much stated on these pages, is that this Illini basketball team must rely on

2- Nunn

3 – Hill

4 – Black

5 – Egwu

and that means Rayvonte Rice plays the point.

Because Ray broke his hand, we get to see Jaylon Tate at the point. That’s entertaining, and offers ball-movement that you don’t get without Tate — although Kendrick Nunn has become one hell of a passer, did you notice?

The Illini  train got on track Wednesday because Aaron Cosby was unavailable to stand in Leron Black’s way. Now conversant with John Groce’s schemes — or at least sufficiently conversant to merit a start when everyone else is injured — Leron proved that he’s assimilated enough data to not embarrass himself.

From now on, we can expect the team we expected.

It’s nothing personal against Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby. Not at all. In very different ways, they are good lads. But ever since they donned the orange & blue, it’s been clear (eye test, stats) that neither of them resembled the dead-eye sharp-shooter that John Groce imagined.

Cosby has transformed his game recently, emphasizing defense and rebounding, and not shooting a lot from the arc. Starks attempted only two treys against Purdue. Still, he managed 1-of-9 from the field. An assist, a turnover, a rebound. He’s a pesky sonofabitch to play against, from an offensive standpoint. He brings that value to the team.

Nevertheless, the data pool is too large for a mathematician like John Groce to ignore. The reports will continue to buttress earlier reports, making trends where once there were mere samples.

2 – Nunn

3 – Hill

4 – Black

5 – Egwu

This is a short-bench team.

If you’re wondering where Leron Black has been this whole time, don’t. The answer is not as negative as “lost,” but could certainly be expressed as “finding his way.”

Leron said as much after the game. He also noted that his momma didn’t raise no quitter.

Matt Painter said it perfectly, while laying praise at Leron’s feet. He recalled his teammate Steve Scheffler, who felt lost as an underclassman, but also knew he could make impact if he tried harder than everyone else.