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Illini basketball

The Cheerful

Everybody associated with Illini basketball seems pretty happy these days. Was it the long road trip where they increased their conference losing streak to four games, puked a lot, and shuttled around in temperatures that hovered around 0° the entire time?

Maybe.

Is it that they competed with the four teams picked  3-through-6 in the pre-season? Probably not. Like a lot of athletes, they prefer to win.

Something about the new coach, the new system, the improvement they see in themselves and each other — all of that seems to buck them up. Wednesday afternoon, after prepping for Iowa, everybody seemed pretty enthusiastic.

The coach is sanguine, too.  After Saturday’s loss, Bret Beherns asked whether Brad Underwood planned to make major changes, like he did after an 0-6 start in the Big 12 last year.

Nope.

Maybe we should all be glad that Brad has this team loose after an 0-4 conference start. He’ll need to keep these players committed. He’ll need them emotionally available. He’ll need their attention.

Underwood talks about “listening” a lot. He knows when guys are doing it (Williams, always) and when they’re not (Kipper, sometimes).

Underwood is not so Old School that he can’t see the value in a guy like Kipper, whose basketball “faults” are aspects of a genial personality.

You could reduce Kipper to a cold-blooded killer via techniques employed by the 20th century’s most ruthless armies, but your end goal wouldn’t be worth the sacrifice.

Kipper is a warm, smart, funny guy. We need more of those, not fewer.

Brad’s challenge is to bring out the killer in Kipper while he’s on the court, without damaging Kipper’s inner Smoove B.

After losing a game that didn’t seem competitive in the second half, Kipper boarded the team bus with a hot, fresh pizza box in his hand. He got to choose his toppings, chicken & peppers.

Kipper was in a good mood. His mom & grandma were there, which is not unusual. They travel a lot.  But Kipper had just tallied game highs in points and rebounds, and that hadn’t happened much lately.

Underwood had a pizza as well, but he didn’t know what was on it. “Whatever Joey (Biggs) got me. I’ll eat anything, Rob.”

The post-game feed is as much of a tradition as the shootaround, or the halftime speech. Fortunately, it seems more susceptible to evolution than those two strictures. Thus, when Greg Eboigbodin decided he didn’t want pizza, he was allowed to choose a pasta dish instead.

Progress.

Of course, Greg had plenty of reasons to be cheerful. He’d just shattered all expectations for his college career by playing two straight games of  … is dominant too strong a word?

Chin Coleman bridled, in his introductory interview, at the notion that he’d be recruiting a different level of player to UIUC than he’d been recruiting to UIC. Chin might be right. Greg appears ready for prime time.

Greg still makes a lot of common Big Man mistakes, usually the consequence of being hit in the hands by a pass.

But he recovers so quickly from his mistakes that they sometimes don’t have a chance to be charted. Underwood mentions his speed and quickness every time someone asks about Greg.

But the other factor, the thing that allows him to play, is his mindset.  Greg is either oblivious to the millions of people watching him, or he’s built of iron and nails. I think it’s the former, and hope it’s both. (Contrast Matic Vesel, who’s way too aware that he’s landed at a Big Time basketball program.)

For the record, it’s not fair to use Greg as an example of athletes who are cheerful despite …

Greg might experience moments of gloom, bad moods, even severe depression. If so, he hides it well.  He seems, perhaps more so than any major college athlete I’ve met, to be Living The Dream. (He’s also the only Illini I’ve known who rides a bicycle to practice, as do I. So I’m biased.)

’tis the season for PT constriction. This time of year, coaches are generally slashing minutes, tightening the rotation. The youngsters don’t see much floor time. Experimental big men return to project status.

Not here in east central Illinois. The minutes were damn near socialist Saturday. Everybody got the same. Da’Monte Williams tallied a near-bourgeois 27 segments of tick while nobody else exceeded 22.

The veterans aren’t completely washed up, though. Leron Black and Mark Alstork were felled by a Norovirus. Michael Finke had to leave the team for a day because his grampa died.

There are no column-inch restrictions here at Illini Report, so let’s take a moment to remember David Langendorf.

Michael Finke, David Langendorf, Tim Finke

 

His name was David Langendorf, born in Highland, Illinois and was married to my mom’s mom, Barbara. His birthday was March 30, 1953. He died on December 24, 2017. He served in Vietnam and then was a police officer in Champaign for a number of years. He was currently “retired” but he was always staying busy. Loved doing yard work for people. Mowed all of his neighbors yards and was always lending a helping hand to whoever needed it. He loved fishing and was always wanting to take me and my siblings out to fish. He and Mike Thorne actually got really close over the couple of years Mike was here. They went fishing all the time, just the two of them. He was a guy that cared about others. Put other people before himself all the time. A really selfless guy.

So while you’re steaming about the 0-for-2 road trip, keep in mind that these young men have Things Going On that you may not have considered.

And despite all that, they played pretty well (for stretches).

If you’ve been frustrated by Illini basketball lately, whether you’re throwing your remote at your screen, or throwing your screen remotely, you’ll be delighted, possibly stunned to know that Michael Finke is averaging about the same number of rebounds-per-game as Leron Black (5.4 to 5.7).

You might also be delighted to know that Black is smoking Finke on threes,  .444 to .317, because it bodes well for Leron’s future as a long-distance shooter.

Aaron Jordan has cooled to a near-normal 53% from the arc, and it’s just about time for Brad Underwood to talk with AJ about mechanics. Where Underwood fixed Trent Frazier’s FT tendencies, he might be able to straighten AJ’s Spinning Globe.

Old School by nature, Brad will probably wait until Aaron’s percentage drops below 50 before interceding. That’s fine. But Brad is also a long-holdout-cum-believer in Analytics. At his disposal, he’s got the best proprietary analytics money can buy. Those data, plus the video collected, incessantly & tirelessly by DIA staff, will determine whether AJ’s shot has changed during these last weeks.

An Argument for Cheerfulness Re: Illini basketball

Basketball will need to change if it hopes to keep the attention of people who are now 30 and under.  The fact that Brad Underwood is the Illini coach, and Bruce Weber is not, should demonstrate that someone has recognized a tectonic shift in the human attention span. We can’t stand to watch methodical basketball. Like our social media addiction, we need basketball to enhance our experience at an ultra high refresh rate.

Bruce Weber didn’t compete for offensive rebounds, nor did John Groce. Brad Underwood wants to compete all the time.  Hence, every moment of Illini basketball is suddenly more interesting to watch.  If the NCAA eliminated the Alternate Possession rule, you can imagine an Underwood team gaining a win per year, simply because he wants to contest everything.

Overall, Underwood’s relaxed demeanor throughout the Michigan game and afterword reminded this Illini observer that Michigan Curbstomping Illinois is not a tradition to him. Brad doesn’t know that Michigan surpassed Illinois in 2009, after a lovely pair of decades in which the Wolverines simply couldn’t solve Illini riddles.

We’ll concede football to them. Irksomely, Michigan also holds the title deed to Illini basketball. It’s less egregious than Ed DeChellis’s ownership of your favorite team.  Michigan is a storied program, with a banner. (Grrr.)

John Beilein beat Brad by four points last year, if you exclude that last second prayer (as I do). As far as Brad knows, he’s competitive with Michigan. But for both coaches, there’s another significant factor responsible for their sanguinity: After years of toil, they Made It.

Like Beilein, Brad’s peace-of-mind is age-based. After years of getting by, and more recently making money that could put his kids through college, Brad Underwood is a multi-millionaire.

You can imagine him at 43, having enjoyed greater success as a JUCO coach in Florida than he had as a JUCO coach in Kansas, thinking I might be able to make ends meet.

The weather is better too you can also imagine him thinking.

If Bob Huggins hadn’t called, he might still be in Florida. Brad said as much. One phone call changed everything.

If Huggins hadn’t called, Brad’s mortgage situation would be different. He’d be driving a car that he owns, and it would have significantly more miles than the late model he’s driving now. His daughter’s cracked iPhone screen would be something he perhaps couldn’t afford to replace, rather than a teachable moment.

You can see why Brad Underwood isn’t at his wits’ end.  Everything has come together for him.

For the young people, this is only the beginning. There’s no reason to think it’s not the beginning of something good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Illini basketball

Weekend 4: Things I’ve Never Seen Before

It took me an extra long time to collect my thoughts this week, largely because I still can’t believe my eyes. I waited to meet with the participants, to ask if I really saw what I think I saw.

They said yes.

Tuesday afternoon, Brad Underwood emerged from the film session and told a small group of reporters that his team had just watched Te’Jon’s oop over and over.

He ran us (the reporters) through a number of hypothetical situations. What to do with the ball if you have 10 seconds left and a two-point lead. When to foul.  How do those situations change with each additional 5 seconds, or each additional point in your favor. These are things he coaches.

At no point was a 40-foot oop mentioned.

(Photo of Te’Jon Lucas by Vashoune Russell)

Then, as Fletch finished the team’s stretching, Underwood got back to coaching. You’ll never believe what the team focused on Tuesday.

Oh, did you say inbounding plays? How did you guess?

Maryland was probably the most exciting Illini game I’ve seen in my life, for better and worse.

  • I watched @Indiana with my dad in 1989, and we both leaped into the air when Nick hit The Shot
  • I was in the last row of C section when Frank beat Michael Redd’s Buckeyes
  • I sat under the basket for the Tyler Griffey lay-up

That Indiana game was sloppy. It wasn’t artful. I feel in my gut that the 1989 Georgia Tech game was much better, but it’s not replayed incessantly, so I haven’t seen it in 28 years.

I don’t remember anything about the 2000 tOSU game, apart from Frank’s three. Perhaps it was the best ever example of competitive basketball. If so, please excuse my faulty recollection.

The Tyler Griffey lay-up will forever be remembered for Tyler Griffey’s lay-up, rather than D.J. Richardson’s amazing performance. That’s how these things work.

I attended a 1987 game in which Illinois led Iowa 61-39 at the half. I met Dick Vitale that night. I said he should have a “Windex Award”  for the guy who best cleaned the glass each game. He liked the idea. I never got paid for that.

Anyway, Iowa’s victory may have been more impressive than the 22-point comeback Sunday. I just don’t remember it that way. I think I was annoyed by Jeff Moe.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Sunday was hearing a referee say “we screwed up.”

That’s never happened before, to my knowledge.

Terry Oglesby & Kelly Pfeifer were the two stripes closest to the goaltending that wasn’t. Pfeifer has always been a chummy guy, which is unusual for the stripes.  Few interact with others.

Oglesby always seems solid to me. I will say that he was the first game participant whose performance really stood out on Sunday, even before Anthony Cowan.

I watched Oglesby swallow his whistle on a number of plays where heavy contact, audible contact, occurred. “Wow, they’re really letting them play,” I observed to a pair of fellow camerapersons.

Sure, they called fouls. But they let a lot of stuff go.

Flopping might not be a concern against Austin Peay, but legitimate charge-taking will be a big part of tonight’s game, according to Underwood.

 

Whistle-swallowing is okay with me. For one thing, it allowed Leron Black to be Leron Black. He needed some time to adjust, but by the second half, Leron recognized the parameters, and exploited them effectively.

Apart from the fact that Tom Eades-Pfiefer-Oglesby cost Illinois the game by missing one seemingly obvious call, it was a well-officiated game.

How did 12,735 people see Trent Frazier’s lay-in swatted away while three professional observers didn’t?  It’s unfathomable.

But it’s also not reviewable according to current NCAA rules. Terry Oglesby felt bad about that. So he did the unthinkable. He apologized to the heckling fan.

Here’s Jeff Butler, yelling at the refs.

Jeff and his son Connor both told me that Terry Oglesby apologized to them for screwing up, and said he’d make up for it. That’s astonishing, and discomfiting.  I spent the rest of the game watching for Oglesby to retaliate.

Jeff Butler is a member of Dave Downey’s Club 53. Butler paid enough to get his name affixed to a plaque, which itself is affixed to a wall in the bowels of the State Farm Center. There’s a lounge, snacks, booze. You won’t get to see it, sorry.

The New Aaron Jordan is actually The New Brad Underwood

The new AJ is allowed to shoot even when he’s double-teamed by tall dudes. (He made it.)

Brad Underwood might be the most intellectually nimble Illini basketball coach of my lifetime. He seems predisposed to conservatism, with a progressive demon perched on his shoulder, constantly reminding him that he needs to adapt, to keep up with new trends.

(Photo of Brad Underwood at Allstate Arena by Vashoune Russell)

Conservatism and liberalism are not at odds, despite what you’ve heard. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But when you realize it’s not working anymore, be open to new ideas.

Underwood is stodgy and open to new ideas. He proved that at OKState, when he abandoned his defensive principles and adjusted to what works for this group.

You could see that intellectual progression this week. At Northwestern, the nation’s leading three-point shooter attempted one three-point shot.

Days earlier, Aaron scored 20 on 4-of-6 from the arc. But he also opted against shooting in a number of situations where he seemed open-ish, or open enough.

I asked Brad whether Aaron was too hesitant (here at 2:30). Brad said AJ is the best three-point shooter for a reason. That’s not a cop-out. It’s a logical response.

But Illinois lost.

When AJ launched a single three versus the NUrds, Illinois lost again.

(Photo by Vashoune Russell)

And then, Brad Underwood evolved.  He stopped defending AJ’s caution, and took the responsibility upon himself to see that Aaron gets more shots, more minutes, more open looks.

It began Monday night in the first installment of The Brad Underwood Show, at BW3 in Savoy. It continued in his Tuesday presser.

Underwood shared another personal moment with the media, after Tuesday’s presser, and before the Te’Jon-centric film session. He spoke (again) about the culture of losing, and how he’s never been around a group of guys who just seemed to accept it the way this group accepts it.

I don’t think John Groce enjoyed losing. Groce prepared his teams for life lessons, and part of life lessons is failure.

Underwood is not unsympathetic. But he’s a lot more aggressive, basketball and otherwise. He’s more human, less robotic, and a lot funnier than Groce.

You can already see that dynamism within this team. It was Groce’s team, but it’s becoming Underwood’s team.

Maryland beat Illinois 92-91, the same score that ended Underwood’s season in Stillwater.   A week before that NCAA Tournament game, the Illini folded against the same Michigan team that beat Underwood. That score was 75-55.

Look for a pattern here. The Illini are likely, during Underwood’s tenure, to give up more points than they did under Bruce Weber, or any other coach of Boring Basketball That Hurts To Watch.

If this were Weber’s team, that lob would never have been thrown. In fact, nothing exciting would have happened.

The future should look like the Lon Kruger era. His teams were so exciting that we hardly noticed how great a coach we had.

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Illini basketball

DePaul was Not Really Demonic

It would be nice if Dave Leitao could do at DePaul what Dave Leitao once did at DePaul. The Blue Demons were irrelevant for ages. He brought them back to prominence, and then bolted Charlottesville, where he had one good year.

Now back in Lincoln Park, he’s in his third miserable year. After losing to Illinois Friday, he grimly conceded that an ongoing rivalry is not likely.

If Leitao could make DePaul a contender, a regular home-and-home would be great for the Illini. Brad Underwood says he wants a stronger schedule. There’s no reason Illinois should spend a month tuning up against directional schools.

Now, some observations from the DePaul game.

LT Williams

You didn’t realize, prior to Friday night, that Illinois has a guy on the team named LT. His name is Little T. Williams. Or perhaps, L. Things Williams. “Things” for short, or just LT.

Underwood has described both Mark Smith and LT as having “the ‘it’ factor, whatever ‘it’ is.” But only LT  has been praised for a comprehensive understanding of “the little things.”

Williams’s perseverance in a 1-on-3 drive found him rebounding his own miss, tricking three Blue Demons into performing a childhood dance, and then banking in his rebound.

 

He stymied DePaul’s second comeback with a crucial tip in. It was so quick that a few people didn’t see what happened.

LT again sacrificed his chances of fatherhood to the God of Player-Control Fouls.

This time, it was impossible to see whether LT was grinning afterward. Probably not. This time, it looked painful. And then a fight broke out between Kipper Nichols and Jaylen Butz, whose name is almost certainly the title of a gay porn DVD.

But I digress.

Remember how Doug Altenberger loved to take a charge? Remember how pumped Matt Heldman got when the ref wrapped a hand around the back of his own head?

LT is like that.

12-for-12

In the Bruce Weber era, some guys never attempted a dozen free-throws in a season.  Weber was revulsed by contested shots. He never seemed to reach the next logical step: Contested shots lead to shots where people aren’t even allowed to defend the shooter!

Illinois now has a coach whose charges charge. They attack.

So yeah, maybe it doesn’t matter that Illinois can’t hit a three.

Mark Smith attempted twelve free-throws. He converted twelve free-throws.  The twelfth rolled around the rim before dropping in. That suggests Mark was fatigued. The eleventh grazed the rim. There’s nothing odd about that.

What struck me as strange was the way the ball snapped the net on his first ten attempts. Maybe I was distracted, and missed one. But it seemed to me that Mark’s trajectory was exactly the same on each of those shots.

I sit close enough that I can hear the net snap, and it made the same sound every time. The bottom of the net moved in a straight line, backward, as the ball pulled it toward the stanchion. Then it snapped back

Mark has distinctly deliberate free-throw routine. He takes quite a bit of time to deliver the ball toward the goal. To my way of thinking, the long pause should detract from the efficiency of his muscle memory. But it doesn’t The pause itself may be a component of Mark’s nearly flawless delivery.

Is he always like this?  I wondered.

The Supporting Cast

You wonder, would this rotation expand if Brad Underwood had more available bodies? Does Underwood employ the standard nine man rotation because that’s how many guys are available?

Greg Eboigbodin saw spot minutes. Matic Vesel got none.  Vesel’s tentative debut suggests that he might need more time to feel comfortable on offense, ostensibly his strong suit.

Everyone else has played a vital role.

Trent Frazier provided crucial minutes at the point when Te’Jon Lucas (again) got in foul trouble. Aaron Jordan grabbed nine rebounds and hit a comebackbreaking three-pointer to throttle DePaul’s second second-half surge.

Last year, Aaron couldn’t get on the floor. He watched Malcolm Hill and Jalen Coleman-Lands play many minutes of basketball. So it might seem surprising that JCL transferred, and Jordan didn’t.

Friday night, the tables were turned. JCL watched from the bench as Jordan thrust the dagger.

 

Jalen Coleman-Lands the Untold Story

An unmentioned factor in JCL’s decision to transfer, perhaps irrelevant, is that Paul Magelli died during the last academic year.

Magelli and Jewell White were two prominent personalities in the JCL recruitment. John Groce specifically named White as a key figure in attracting JCL’s non-athletic interests.

Piankhi Lands and JCL spent an afternoon in Magelli’s office as the elderly don mapped out JCL’s academic course in the College of Business. COB’s association with the College of Engineering was key, because JCL showed a keen interest in micro-devices.

Magelli’s office at the BIF overlooked the fancypants atrium where future tax avoiders quaff Espresso Royale and embellish their LinkedIn profiles.

Malcolm Hill liked to hang out in Magelli’s office, too. The old guy was, frankly, a hoot. His connection to Illini basketball predates modern record keeping.  In 1985, as president of Metro State University in Denver, Magelli recruited Lou Henson assistant Bob Hull to lead the Roadrunners basketball program into Division I That never happened, but it was probably a necessary step in bringing Hull’s wife Cindy Klose to national prominence.

The atrium of the Business Instructional Facility often hosts the TechMix, where business and engineering students pitch one another on start-up ideas.

Losing mentors from both the academic and athletic aspects of his life left JCL with few familiar faces in Champaign. Conveniently though, Dave Leitao had just recruited a whole bunch of JCL’s friends to Lincoln Park. Former LaLumiere coach Shane Heirman is now on staff.

And JCL has even found a new vessel for his whimsicality fix.

Magelli was about 5’5″ and good humored. Pantelis Xidias is about that height, and free spirited.  Another  LaLu transplant (like Drew Cayce, and also like Cayce, a non-scholarship member of his team) Xidias is the guy who keeps it unreal on DePaul’s bench.

JCL  didn’t say how he got to Champaign Friday night, but he hawked balls during warm-ups and sat on the team bench, which is uncharacteristic for road games. NCAA rules prohibit transfers from traveling with the team. (That’s why Tyler Underwood sat with his family at EIU.)

If there’s any animosity between JCL and the program, it’s on an individual basis. Kipper Nichols got a big hug from JCL (which, as you know, is vital to Illinois’ on court success). JCL slapped Cayce on the ass during warm-ups. Sports Info Director Derrick Burson shared a laugh with JCL at mid-court.

Pantelis Xidias kept an eye on the Orange Krush

Aaron Jordan is arguably more likely to thrive in the charging, attacking offensive system that Underwood hopes to develop. Meanwhile, JCL can shoot threes for the Roman church, which has already provided him one paid education at an idyllic lakeside school.

DePaul might not be as good at engineering, but they do have a College of Business. Taking classes in downtown Chicago will certainly enhance JCL’s business prospects.

Basically, everybody wins.

Categories
Illini basketball

Weekend 1, Southern and UT-Martin

Tip-off of Sunday night’s game was delayed briefly when courtside fans alerted referee Rob Kueneman of some grass on the court. There was enough grass to cause a running player (or referee) to slip and hurt himself. Kueneman called The Sweeper (The Broom Lad?) over to clean it up.

How did grass get on the court? Why was it still there at tip-time? Your guess is as good as mine.

Kueneman’s next notable contribution (apart from blowing a whistle when appropriate) came when Te’Jon Lucas lowered his shoulder, earning a charging call at the south end. “Come Big Ten play I’m going to need that call” Brad Underwood hollered from the bench.

“Fair enough,” responded Kueneman.

The other two referees were Courtney Green and Bo Boroski. It was a well-officiated game.

As for hollering, the Hollerer of the Game award goes to Skyhawks reserve Mike Fofana. The Orange Krush had a field day with Fofana after he exhausted himself hollering “who’s got shooter?” over and over and over again as various Illini attempted free-throws.

South-end photographers get to hear all the Krush offerings. Some are mundane, perhaps because they’re prepared. These offerings were spontaneous, demonstrating that individual Krush members can be pretty damned clever.

Two games in, we’re just getting to know our newcomers, and what they bring to the table.

Mark Alstork followed his 17-point debut with a 1-for-7 performance. But that one counted for three points. Nevertheless, he was an enthusiastic cheerleader for his teammates.

Da’Monte Williams speaks. I heard him say thanks to someone last night.

But for the most part, Da’Monte is The Silent Illini. His game displays a different variety of reserve. He’s simply not flashy. He moves very fast to get into position on defense, and that’s the kind of thing coaches adore. His proudest moment this weekend was taking a charge. As Leron Black screamed encouragement, Da’Monte’s grin spread from ear to ear.

Mark Smith’s game recalls Michigan State great Jason Richardson. Each has the ability to alter his shot in mid-air. That’s not terribly unusual. But each seems to leap without giving any indication that he has a particular angle in mind.

Smith waits ’til he gets a few feet into the air before deciding, for example, which hand to use, or whether to involve the backboard glass.

In short,  he doesn’t telegraph his move. That makes it hard for defenders to read his body language.

Trent Frazier learned to play basketball among taller players, and you can tell. Like Te’Jon Lucas, Trent’s primary offensive weapon is the pull-up jumper.

Like Te’Jon, it’s his quick release that prevents taller defenders from closing in time. But Trent’s pull-up is a conventional jump-shot, whereas Te’Jon’s shot often leaves his hands before he’s achieved a conventional shooting posture.

Matic Vesel didn’t see the floor on Sunday. He burned his redshirt in garbage time Friday night. But in that time, he made a beautiful post-entry pass.

As the clock wound down, the (surprisingly large Friday night) crowd audibly encouraged Vesel to attempt a shot from the arc. For whatever reason, Matic abstained. He did dribble the ball a lot.

In his postgame remarks, Brad Underwood wondered aloud why it’s so hard to get Matic to shoot. Perhaps Matic has not yet realized the second-most exciting thing about Matic: He does not miss shots.

Finally, I’d like to make this observation, visually.

Categories
Illini basketball

Basketball practice 10-11-17

Today was Media Day, so you’ll find your first interviews with Auto-Matic Vesel & Greg OingoBoingo on your favorite East Central Illinois news channel.  I’ll be cutting and pasting my version for a few days, because I’m slow.

I interviewed barely half the players because, unlike years past, media had to get off the floor so the team could practice. Also unlike years past, we didn’t have to leave when the team started practicing.

Thus, here’s your practice update.

The team ran five man drills in various groupings. The grouping of Smith-Alstork-Jordan-Vesel-Black underlined the concept of positionless basketball.  Yes, you could argue that those names match a typical 1-through-5 line-up, except that Vesel was mostly on the high post and the wing. Smith does seem to handle the ball at the beginning of a possession more than Alstork. If Leron Black really is going to play “center,” it will prove that Underwood has the imagination that Bruce Weber and John Groce lacked. i.e. he’ll seek to create mismatches rather than trying to compensate for them. (Can you imagine how many additional games Weber might have won if he played Mike Tisdale at small forward, and hid him in a zone? If not, go back and watch the 2010 game at Wisconsin.)

Drew Cayce (10) was the only player sent to the treadmill during the two hours I watched. I guess he didn’t cut sharply enough on a three man drill. So he had to run for a minute. And yes, they turned the speed to high. He was sprinting for that minute. Underwood didn’t yell, by the way. He just said “Drew – treadmill.”
There was one angry outburst from the coach, but it was directed at the entire team. A couple hours into practice, the body language had, perhaps, lagged a bit.  Underwood lit a fire under them with a few choice words. Suddenly, the drills looked crisp again. Amazing how that works.
Brad Underwood says Greg OingoBoingo is that fastest guy on the team. Faster than Trent Frazier, even. And that proved true this afternoon. In single-trip wind sprints, Greg paced the team twice. I didn’t see any of the 2x up-and-back sprints, in which Mark Alstork separated himself from the team during September 30 practice. So we don’t know about Greg’s endurance, but his initial burst is unlike any 6’9″ dude I can recall.
Tyler Underwood will be a huge asset to this team. He talks and points constantly, whether it’s a route to run or an open man deserving a pass. In one drill, he grabbed Trent Frazier by the torso as Trent ran a curl route. Tyler flipped Trent 180° and pushed him toward the correct corner.
Some other players may be “vocal,” but Tyler’s at another level. That’s how it should be for point guards, of course. And perhaps Te’Jon Lucas has some of that quality. But Lucas was sitting out again, still abiding the concussion protocol. His right eye remains bloodshot from the blow that felled him.
Auto-Matic Vesel’s footwork will be a niche source of joy for basketball nerds. He moves like a gazelle. It’s the same as his shooting stroke.  These motions seem so effortless,  you wouldn’t even notice them if it weren’t for the ten other less poetically balletic dudes nearby.
You could see it when Orlando Antigua ran a pick-n-roll drill with the bigs. I was so mesmerized that I almost didn’t catch the odd thing that happened at the finish of each rep. At first I thought everyone had a crazy high release point. Then I realized what they were hoping to accomplish.  i.e. using angles to evade rim protectors. The Underwood Administration has very particular opinions about angles.
In a later drill, Antigua instructed the bigs to employ a power bounce to gain position in the low post. Matic excelled here as well, because while he’s slight up top, his legs are solid and muscular. His core may be lacking, but his base is not.  Matic does need to add some upper-body weight.  That’s the challenge for Fletch, because Matic does not like American pizza.
Brad Underwood’s theory of rebounding is finely honed. It’s a departure from the traditional, but borne of statistical analysis. The rebounding drill he ran was unlike any rebounding drill I’ve ever seen, especially because it had nothing to do with putting a body on somebody.
Again, it was about geometry.
Underwood told the team that 76-80% of shots from a particular area will land on the weak side, somewhere between the low block and the short corner. You couldn’t possibly know that from just playing basketball.*  You’d need a lot of data and a long-term analysis, plus some fancy computers, to determine that sort of thing.
But that’s where we are now.  All this stuff is quantified and qualified by software companies, who get lotsa money to provide the analytics to deep-pocketed basketball programs
Official Visitor Elias Valtonen watched practice from the sidelines, with a beautiful woman who could very well have been his mother. Scandinavian women … wrowl.
*Maybe Dennis Rodman knew it instinctively, but more likely he learned it from playing basketball for years upon years, aided by an unusual memory for details.
Categories
Illini basketball

Banquet 2017

Before the Illini Basketball Banquet began Monday night at the i-Hotel, Rob Jordan said players’ families were wondering who’d show up.

Would John Groce return as Bruce Weber had in 2012?  No.

Paris Parham also didn’t attend, despite his continuing residence in Champaign. Dustin Ford and Darren Hertz weren’t there, but they have new jobs in Ohio.

Brad Underwood, who lives in the i-Hotel, was there. And he stayed as long as anyone.

One idiot was in attendance, and because he forgot to check whether he’d packed the batteries for his expensive camera, the following pictures will be blurry.

Rob Jordan takes a picture of Aaron Jordan and girlfriend Dawn Failla

Paul Schmidt and Adam Fletcher were the only remaining staff sitting at the coaches table. Underwood, Josh Whitman and Chancellor Robert Jones joined them. You wouldn’t call it the head table necessarily. It was off to the side. Really, everything about the event was low key. Unlike years past, the players never spoke.

Josh Whitman spoke twice. The first time around, he profusely praised the previous staff.  “I can’t say enough good things about our outgoing coaching staff.” (listen to full speech here).

He told of dark, difficult days throughout the 2016-17 season, and especially public opinion of the program. He promised better times ahead. The public perception of Whitman seems largely if not hugely favorable, and his comportment Monday night did nothing to change that perception.

Kipper Nichols, Alex Austin, Leron Black and Tracy Abrams pose with Julie Pioletti

Jamall Walker and Brian Barnhart emceed. Barnhart and a series of sponsors from the community announced individual awards (link to video) and Walker thanked all the people behind the program who’s names you rarely hear (link to video), then handed out  goodies to the players (link to video) which were fitted letterman jackets for the freshmen, and blankets for the upperclassmen. Jalen Coleman-Lands regarded the blanket as high-level swag.

Kipper Nichols, who said his body fat is 5%, acknowledged that someone measured his sculptured physique rather than guessing his jacket size.

Jaylon Tate and Mike Thorne were absent. Tate had a family issue, and Thorne is out somewhere looking for a basketball job. That’s how Walker explained it, anyhow. (The family issue seems to be that Tate’s family was pissed off about the way Jaylon’s career ended.)

Two players who were distinctly present, and seated at what you might call the head table, were Aaron Jordan and D.J. Williams.

Te’Jon Lucas and his mother Marie were also at that table. The Lucas parent are divorced, and Thomas Lucas sat at a table on the other side of the room. He lives in Milwaukee. She lives in Texas. Both parents are engaging people, and it’s not hard to see what brought them together. And it’s not hard to see why it fell apart.

Marie is brimming with personality and opinions, you might even say attitude, but in a good way. She’s the type of mother often found behind a D-1 athlete. Laura Finke and Machanda Hill are likewise women to be reckoned with, but again, in a good way. Strong women.

Thomas Lucas is mellow and approachable. In conversation with Underwood, he gracefully accepted frothing praise from this reporter, with agreement from the coach, that his three-piece houndstooth suit and tie elevated him into competition for best-dressed attendee. He’s almost sixty, but after changing his diet and losing 25 lbs. over the last year, he’s now back to playing competitive basketball. He’s eating less meat, and more ginger and garlic.

It gives us hope, especially the idiot, who gained 25 lbs. in the last year after his aging knees forced him to stop running six miles every other day, and is basically falling apart physically.

2016-17 Fighting Illini Basketball Awards

Most Outstanding Player: Malcolm Hill

Matt Heldman “Matto” Award: Maverick Morgan

Lou Henson Courage Award: Tracy Abrams

Orange Krush 3-Point Shooting Award: Tracy Abrams, 40.2 percent (51-127, min. 3 att./g)

Illini Rebounders Award: Leron Black, 6.3 rpg (196)

Ralf Woods Free Throw Trophy: Malcolm Hill, 80 percent in Big Ten play (76-95)

Malcolm Hill doesn’t really need any more accolades at this point. He just needs what Rayvonte Rice should have had two years ago. He needs the NBA to recognize that, whatever his physical limitations, he finds a way to get the ball in the hole.

Malcolm’s AAU coaches Patrick Smith and Doug Sitton attended his final banquet. And Patrick observed that Malcolm is not the next Michael Jordan. But maybe he’s the next Larry Bird. He has crafty old-man moves.

Smith and Sitton have been part of Malcolm’s life since third grade. “Seriously, you could tell when he was …” I queried.

“Oh yeah,” said Patrick.

“We knew,” agreed Doug.

That seems odd, but it doesn’t conflict with anything we’ve known about Malcolm all these years. You’ll recall that even during his freshman year, his teammates universally recognized him as the gym rat of the team (video link).

The second-best part of the evening was a tag team by Underwood and Whitman, in which they simultaneously praised & roasted Tracy Abrams and Malcolm Hill.

The best part of the evening was watching Malcolm greet a very young man with forceful enthusiasm, complimenting him on a particular sartorial choice.

Malcolm gets that he’s a star, and on these last two Illini teams, the star. But he’s also motivated by human kindness. He gained no advantage by showering attention on a pre-teen with a sharp outfit, but he expressly acknowledged the kid not just for looking good, but for having earned the outfit himself (paper route?).

Jamall Walker emphasized that Malcolm never thought Illini basketball was about him.

One current roster member expressed shock about John Groce’s closed-door media policy. On Day One,  Groce said practice would be closed to the media because he wanted to maintain a teaching atmosphere.  But as the players  know,  the Groce practice was a revolving door of Willie Hortonesque proportions.  Basically, the only people who weren’t watching were reporters.

Underwood is unfazed by the media. He doesn’t use the amplified headset Groce relied on. He doesn’t even use a whistle. That’s probably the reason his teams execute so well. They understand what he’s saying, and aren’t subconsciously trying to block-out the onslaught of sounds.

One final, gratuitous observation from the banquet, along as the topic of not understanding what people are saying, here’s Maverick Morgan mouthing syllables while an elderly crowd sings Hail to the Orange

At the end of the night, Walker said Trent Frazier’s dad  was in a tizzy about the Portillo’s beef story from last month.  Walker had to explain “no, Trent is not in trouble and no, you are not in trouble.”

It’s just another example of silly NCAA rules creating anxiety. Look here for more of that in the next couple of weeks.

Categories
Illini basketball

It’s not that they lost, it’s how they lost

Deon Thomas and Paris Parham greeted one another on court, about an hour before the Michigan game. They  reminisced about the one game they played against each other in high school.  Dunbar beat Simeon, according to Paris. But the teams had to stay in their locker rooms afterward, until the gunplay cooled off outside.

Whatever happens to the Groce staff, Deon and Paris agreed they’d lived through worse. They’ve seen guys get shot. They’ve seen people killed.

The Groce Question was answered today, by an Illinois team that couldn’t compete with a league rival, and by John Groce himself.

Five years into the Groce experiment, Illinois is not in the same class as the Big Ten’s elite teams. Illinois is second-class. Worse, they don’t just lose. They get blown away. They’re simply not relevant in major college basketball.

The B1G’s third-class teams played Wednesday. Two of them left town before the second-class teams arrived to punish the survivors. The first-class teams will show up tomorrow, and feast on the second-class.  Except for us. We’ve already been eaten.

The Illini will be in Champaign-Urbana when real B1G basketball gets underway.

Groce, to his credit, came right out and agreed he’d do it all over again, exactly the same way, rather than “coaching not to lose,” the sin Bruce Weber admitted while trashing his players for public consumption, in February, 2012.

The Groce Question by the way, is not whether Groce will be fired. It’s not whether he should be fired. It’s whether he can lead Illinois out of the slash and burn wasteland he inherited. The answer is no, he can’t.

Weber was fired five years ago today. If Groce doesn’t follow him out the door, we’ll know that Josh Whitman doesn’t have a home-run hire waiting in the wings. There’s no way Josh Whitman could let the Groce era continue simply because he thinks Groce needs more time, or might be on the verge of something big. Everything we know about John Groce says this is the way he’ll do it, including his own words.

He said during Monday’s pre-tourney teleconference that he doesn’t make in-game offensive adjustments.  He can’t. His system is his system, for better or worse.

And you know what? Good for Groce.  He told us on day one that he’s a teacher. And at the end, he told us the same thing again, and demonstrated as much. He’d rather coach these guys in practice than in games. That’s another thing he’s said, again and again, over his five years.

It’s perhaps not the best personality trait for a Division I coach. But it’s admirable.

So expect a new coach to be announced real soon. And if there’s not such an announcement, understand that it’s because Josh Whitman doesn’t see the point in giving a five-year contract to another mediocrity from the mid-majors.  Or indeed, a super-performing coach from the low and mid-major conferences, like many from my long list. Or Cuonzo, whose NIT trajectory should eliminate him from the conversation (it won’t).

 

Yes, there’s the argument that Illinois basketball will get worse if Groce isn’t fired immediately. But that can’t be true. Either you’re relevant or you’re not. Illinois isn’t relevant.

The fanbase won’t grow. Fair-weather fans won’t come back until the weather is fair. But if this season is any indication, about 12,000 people will still turn out for basketball games.

Anybody that lived through 1989 or 2005 isn’t going to stop cheering for Illini basketball. They remember how great it feels when we’re first-class.

Saturday in Piscataway (poet, I know it) I met two Rutgers basketball fans. Possibly the two Rutgers basketball fans. Terry and Stuart graduated in 1978. That means they were students when Rutgers last made it to the Final Four.

I met them in the campustown Barnes & Noble. I was about to catch the free campus bus that runs between New Brunswick Station and the RAC. Instead, they gave me a lift.

When we arrived at the RAC, Mike Palko was just walking by. He was the starting center on that 1976 team.

These three guys still attend Rutgers basketball games, because they remember what Rutgers can be.  They believe Rutgers will be back some day.

Illini fans vastly outnumber Rutgers fans. You needn’t be 61 years-old to remember the high.  If #WeWillWin means anything, Josh Whitman isn’t satisfied with second-class. Whether it happens tomorrow, next week or next year; it’s going to happen.

 

 

 

Categories
Illini basketball

Lessons from Iowa City

Illinois basketball has a road-game winning streak. For better or worse, it’s a consequence of who didn’t participate as much as who did. John Groce’s rotation has contracted. Five guys now see “starters” minutes in a game, while three others see spot time.

It’s not necessarily who you’d expect, and it certainly isn’t what forecasters projected in October.

Leron Black, yea & nay.

Everyone will remember Leron’s dunk. Instead of jump-shooting from 12 feet out, Leron juked his man, and drove to the basket for a two-hander. It was gorgeous.

Where has this been? Why did it take so long to debut?

On defense, Leron played his usual game. He fouled a lot. It’s easy to see why.

Leron’s posture, in general, is not conducive to defense.

He doesn’t stand erect. He doesn’t raise his arms straight up above his head. Even when he’s not reaching in, or bowling someone over, he’s in a stance which will draw a whistle, every time.

Rather than standing erect, Leron slouches. He’s naturally slope-shouldered.

Did you ever wonder what Adam Fletcher is yelling when you see him leap from the Illini bench during a telecast? He’s yelling “Wall!

 

Defensive posture might have been the story of the game, were it not for a handful of key plays by the diligent Illini.

Kipper Nichols collected four fouls in ten minutes. In eight minutes of action, Leron hacked four Hawkeyes.

Leron couldn’t get high enough, and Kipper couldn’t get low enough.

Nevertheless, Illini fans complained that Nichols and Black didn’t get enough PT. They also complained that Jaylon Tate and Tracy Abrams got too much. Most egregious to some fans is that Tate and Abrams played at the same time.

Tracy Abrams & Jaylon Tate

It’s true that Abrams & Tate accounted for an unfortunate portion of the first half, when both picked up a foul, Abrams missed a three and Tate earned a turnover (total BS, he never dragged that pivot foot).

But Abrams and Tate were crucial to breaking Iowa’s increasingly aggressive full-court press in the closing minutes. Te’Jon Lucas could not have survived on his own.

Lucas had just enough gas remaining in his tank to sink 1-of-4 free throws in crunch time. He could have been called for charging on one of those fouls.

Abrams and Tate were essential to the win. As for “too much PT,” they got 14 & 7 minutes respectively.

Yes, Tracy was awful yet again as a “shooting” guard (1-of-5), but his steal (credited as a rebound) at 16:00 (credited as 16:05) was a crucial turning point for momentum purposes.

Yes, Tracy again fell into the Bulldog routine, lamented today in Pat Forde’s weekly column as a national epidemic.

4. Hero Ball remains a plague upon our nation.

Guards who wouldn’t give up the rock despite being double covered played major roles in a pair of Big 12 games Saturday. For Baylor, trailing by two with eight seconds left, Manu Lecomte kept the ball and took the last shot despite being stalked by both Frank Mason and Josh Jackson, with predictable results. Then West Virginia had a perfect chance to reprise Villanova’s championship-winning play at the end of regulation against Texas Tech – only to see Jevon Carter force up a shot instead of dishing off

But John Groce used Abrams sparingly, and where necessary. That’s a fantastic development in Groce’s evolution from non-strategist to poor strategist to strategist capable of employing strategy.

Groce necessarily, if tragically, withdrew Mike Thorne from the rotation. There’s nobody I’d rather see succeed than Mike Thorne. I assume John Groce feels the same way.

The late, lamented legend of Mike Thorne

But it became obvious that he wouldn’t discard bad habits around the basket.

It’s encouraging to see Groce & Co. preach simple fundamentals about defensive positioning. It’s encouraging to find that, eventually, Groce will reward repeated lapses with a comfy seat on the bench.

But in a very human way, it’s also encouraging that he took so long to implement the latter policy. Groce gave tons of encouragement and second chances, third chances … 15th chances to his guys.

Inevitably, he was unable change the behaviors.  Instead, he eliminated their perpetrators. It’s as if he realized his job is on the line.

Groce should have noticed sooner. He should have been proactive in stamping out these bad tendencies. Someone, anyone should have coached Mike Thorne to make low post moves.

Paul Schmidt gave Mike Thorne a thumbs up on his blood sugar reading.

Every Little Thing

Iowa would have won but for every helping hand the Illini gave and got.

Sometimes it was Iowa screwing up. The odds of 83% foul shooter Jordan Bohannon missing both of his crunch time offerings? Well, statistically speaking, he’d hit either one of them 83 times out of a hundred.

Sometimes it was diligent attention from Kelly Pfeifer, John Gaffney & Donnie Eppley. Sometimes it was one of those three seeing something that 15,400 Iowa fans saw differently.

Sometimes they saw things differently from each other. But in those cases, they talked about it, and Illinois came out ahead in the offing.

Michael Finke’s five assists led the team. It was a career-high. When was the last time a PF/C led the team in assists? SID Derrick Burson couldn’t remember, either, apart from offering that technically Malcolm Hill did play the four spot a lot.

Jalen Coleman-Lands and Maverick Morgan were the unsung heroes of The Win at Iowa.

Morgan scored only six points, but the put-back dunk of Lucas’s missed lay-up broke the Hawkeyes’ collective back.

His seven rebounds led the team, as did his two blocks. In 34 minutes of floor time, Morgan committed only two fouls.

JCL’s passing continues to fly under the radar of fan appreciation, and over the radar of opponent defenses. His tendency to show up where needed manifests itself statistically if there’s a rebound to be grabbed, or a controlled ball in need of loosening.

Once he’s loosened that ball, he may be credited with a steal. Sometimes not. But in either case, he’s disruptive, and that makes the game harder for opponents.

Malcolm was the sung hero at Iowa, just like everywhere else. But that’s no reason to overlook his remarkable feats. Saturday saw him reach the 1,700 point threshold. Barring an unusually anemic — or outrageously prolific — outpouring in the final weeks, he should end his career as the #4 all-time Illini scorer.

The Lesson from Iowa City is that Illinois needs every player’s contributions, but it doesn’t need every player.

Again, there’s a bittersweet aspect to this lesson. We’re always bothered when guys never get a chance (Richard Semrau was the poster child until DJ Williams inadvertently stole the spotlight) to help a team that’s not surging toward an NCAA bid.

In this case, it’s utilizing guys rather than not-utilizing them that held the team back.

If John Groce were coaching this team in a vacuum, with no audience and no million dollar salary (and accompanying expectations) all his players would get equal PT, and he’d still be encouraging them to make better decisions.

If he’s fired at the end of the year, maybe he’ll regret that he didn’t harden his heart sooner. But then again, maybe he won’t.

Was John Groce crying yesterday because he hadn’t done the right thing? Or was it because he had done the right thing, and now realizes that he’s going to pay for it?

Categories
Illini basketball

The Bret Beherns Moment

The End of The John Groce Era began in earnest on New Year’s Eve eve afternoon, when Groce betrayed a thorough misunderstanding of his dire situation. Bret Beherns tossed a softball which Groce perceived as a curve. How can the coach reassure a fanbase distraught by a 25-point loss?

Groce blanched at the question, then ridiculed it.  An hour later, his reaction was viral & universally panned.

As a group and as individuals, we talked about the Behrens Moment after Groce left the room. I told Bret it was a perfectly fine question. Scott Richey wondered whether the moment would be excised from the Official Upload (it wasn’t, but you couldn’t hear the question either, which is unfair to Bret … this is why you should always watch the Illini Report version; you get the audio).

I wondered aloud whether Groce lives in a Rebounders’ Club bubble, and honestly doesn’t know that Illinois basketball once sold a lot of tickets, at non-fire sale prices, and had more than 200 retirees attending its every move.  Has he truly not heard the criticism? If not, that would be extraordinarily Todd Lickliterish of him.

Should we tell him that it’s not just the 25-point loss? Should we tell him that he’s never had a winning conference record at Illinois, and people have begun to notice?

Bret conjectured that Groce must, by the necessity of high-profile coaching gigs, be tuned out from the word on the street.  Derek Piper and I agreed that the assistants seem to have a nose to the ground that Head Coaches don’t.

An hour earlier, as the media gathered for player interviews at Ubben, Groce’s future was already the subject of speculation. TV, radio, newspaper and web reporters huddled by the trophy cases, which display championship hardware from zero seasons of the Groce Administration.

One asked who’d be the Missouri coach next year? Another followed up with the same question, but referring to Illinois.

 

I don’t actually remember who said what. I was trying to get my A/V gear up and running, and was experiencing technical difficulties. I was also sleep-deprived, and obsessed with the thought that the next Mizzou coach would be crazy not to court/hire Jamall Walker (admittedly assuming that the next Mizzou coach is not Jamall Walker).

The tone of that conversation continued as everyone moved across the street, where a media meal (chicken & cheese quesadillas with all the trimmings plus a mixed green salad with sliced cucumber and carrot shavings, and cookies) was served in the State Farm Center’s bowels.

It carried up the two flights of stairs to the media work room, where bright lighting, microphones  and a mult box make the job of capturing coaches comments a little easier. With only a cameraman representing DIA staff, and no SIDs in the room, the conversation turned to outright complaint. I was a bystander and witness. I didn’t say a thing during Groce’s subsequent presser, either.

Two points that came across were that Groce is — if not difficult to work with — than at least more difficult to work with than Bill Self, Lon Kruger and Bruce Weber. It was mostly to do with scheduling and punctuality.

At eight minutes past the bottom of the hour, Groce entered the media work room for his 12:30 press conference.

Many media outlets rely on deadlines. Timeliness is important to these people.

Tom Crean is considered, by far and almost unanimously, the very worst B1G coach in this regard. John Groce is #2. Crean has three major conference championships and a Final Four on his résumé. Groce led a team to a 3rd place finish in the MAC’s eastern division, twice.

Sports reporters frame & characterize their subjects for the public. They guide public perception. Why would you want to irritate them?

The business model of local newspapers, commercial radio and fan-oriented websites relies on public enthusiasm for local sports. If you’ve already eviscerated their cash cow, why would you dare to irritate them?

Illini sports sells newspapers. Or, as we’ve learned these last ten years; it doesn’t. We’ll always have 16,618, but we’ll never again have 16,618.

Whether Josh Whitman or Robert Jones gives a damn about basketball; Scout.com still wants to make money. So does the News-Gazette.

But if nobody wants to read about the team you cover, it’s hard to sell subscriptions.

If you can’t sell newspapers by writing about a winning team, you turn to the next hot topic that spurs reader interest: the coaching search.  Rush Limbaugh did well when Democrats controlled the White House. Jon Stewart did well under Republican rule. We’d prefer to read about our universal and ultimate glory. But short of that outcome, we’ll rally around those willing to persecute our tormentors.

Through his tone-deaf reaction that Friday afternoon, John Groce made it a little easier for everyone to turn the page on him, and start talking frankly about his successor. He took the gloves off.

It looked like things might get messy from then on out. But snarky Groce retreated into his shell, and cheery Groce returned.  We haven’t seen a recurrence.

After the second Penn State beatdown, which insured that Groce would finish 5-of-5 seasons without a winning conference record, the same group of regulars convened in the media room to do our thing.

“I know you guys don’t know what to write any more,” I told a couple of newspaper people. The ongoing joke is that they’ve run out of things to say, because every game is the same. “But I think we’ve run out of questions to ask. So I’m counting on you guys to come up with something. That’s your job.”

“Do you have a Realtor?” posited one writer, who shall remain nameless.

Maybe Whitman will learn that he can’t find a fantastic replacement, and choose not to make a change this off-season. So far, the names being bandied about are uninspiring or implausible.  Illini fans, like all fans, value their program more than neutral observers. They think rebuilding a thoroughly broken, irrelvant program will appeal to the top five names on every other school’s list of prospective hires.

Tomorrow, I’ll publish my list. It might have some of those same names on it, but only in passing, or to emphasize that they’re not coming through that door.

Groce still enjoys a lot of support with people who matter. He’s not a sociopath.

He’s a guy who’ll eschew winning in favor of  teaching basketball players to be better people and, eventually, better players — what his predecessor called “coaching not to lose.”

That appeals to those concerned with the educational mission of the university.

Categories
Illini football

Losing at Purdue – A History

Let’s take a trip down memory lane as we prepare for tomorrow’s loss at Purdue.

First up is the Bruce Weber Explains Losing At Purdue postgame video that everyone always forgets. The February 2012 video went viral after Weber pined for Robbie Hummel fours years after completely ignoring eager recruit Robbie Hummel.

But this was the game that exposed Weber. Illinois jumped out to a 13-point advantage, with Demetri McCamey leading the way. But then McCamey picked up his second foul. Weber, the hideboundest of hidebound coaches, sat McCamey for the duration of the half. And that was that.

Can a struggling Illini team conquer Matt Painter’s current Jekyll & Hyde?

Oh yeah, definitely.

First off, Isaac Haas sucks. He’s just an awful lummox. And while Caleb Swanigan is double-double machine, his team still finds ways to lose despite him. Against Minnesota he went for 28 & 22, and the Boilers still lost, at home, to Little Pitino.

But Painter is familiar with The Halftime Adjustment, and this would seem to give him an advantage over John Groce.

That’s not to say that Groce doesn’t make adjustments.

Anyway, here’s what the players had to say about Tuesday’s game. Michael Finke was getting his ankle wrapped. But we did get to speak with four other Illini.