Maybe the 2019 Illini will finish 13th in the B1G, just as all the Detroit and Philadelphia sportswriters predicted.
Thing is, all those busy professionals are too consumed with writing about pro sports, local sports and their own college teams. To the extent that they contemplate conference bottom-dwellers at all, it’s usually a quick study of someone else’s analysis.
Nobody really knows.
A few thousand people have seen Ayo, Giorgi and Andres perform on the same team. A few dozen have seen them play more than twice. But even if this squad wins the next ten games, we won’t know what they’ll be like in March.
Here’s what we do know after two public contests: This team must have an unflappable Andres Feliz’s if it’s going to succeed. Feliz had been the model of consistency. He was the rock. You could trust Andres Feliz to do the right thing. Like Dominicans in baseball, his fundamentals are not merely sound. They define him.
But not Thursday.
Feliz led the Illini in turnovers, with five. He offset that number with three assists and two steals, but it’s hard to believe he didn’t go straight home to flagellate himself with some torturous handcrafted weapon, known only to Gullahphones.
Feliz led all Illini with a +33 point-differential. The team is inarguably more successful when he’s on the floor.
Tevian Jones made the biggest single-game leap in this observer’s experience, and it makes total sense. Tevian was all over the place during the Wesleyan scrimmage. Last night, he was in the right spots.
Real game experience (competing against other teams, in front of spectators) is a big deal. It’s not just a matter of trying harder “when the lights come on.”
Neuroscience calls it “chunking.” People whose brains have already separated learned information into “chunks” don’t need to process familiar visual experiences with the same thoroughness as people who’ve never experienced those visuals.
Instead, they can concentrate on the visual information that is actually unique. If they’ve seen fifty games from the floor of the State Farm Center, they can concentrate entirely on the opponent’s offensive scheme.
It’s why seniors are better than freshmen. It’s why home teams beat visiting teams.
Tevian’s major freshman mistakes on Thursday took the traditional form of The Personal Foul. In 18:12 of tick, Tevian garnered a team-high four of them.
Contrast his senior counterpart, Aaron Jordan. AJ led the team in PT with 26:33. He fouled once.
Andres Feliz has a lot more experience than the Illini freshmen, but they’ll all get better with more experience playing together, and on the same court.
Even Ayo, despite gushing overnight plaudits, has lots of room for improvement. His most obvious mistake last night was fouling a jump-shooter after getting beat off the dribble.
He might have recovered from the initial mistake, but because it flustered him, he made the worse mistake.
Cherish these images. You might not get many chances to see Ayo making mistakes. His flashes of brilliance might overload the system.
It’s too bad that he can’t watch himself himself. He’s exciting.
Not surprisingly, some of Ayo’s best plays do not end in buckets. He’s too fast, and his teammates haven’t caught up yet. That’s another thing that might develop over time.
The Giorgi Show will be entertaining whether Illinois wins or not. But Giorgi is not indifferent to the score. Apart from being hilarious, he’s competitive. This combination brings confusing outcomes: Bo Boroski assessed an official warning for Giorgi’s taunting, yet came away laughing.
Every observer that I’ve polled expects Giorgi’s technical-per-game ratio to continue unabated. Let’s hope nobody gets hurt.