Categories
Illini Basketball

The Deserve Curve

You like sports & you know how to use the Internet, so you’ve probably encountered a probability to win graph. You might remember the one from ILLINI/MSU football. The sine wave changed at the end. The orange line moved up in comparison to the green line.

On Sunday, the red line hovered over the orange line for about 39 minutes of basketball.

Maybe not on your preferred website, but in my mind. Indiana was better than Illinois, and deserved to win Sunday’s game — for about 39 minutes.

If you want a more precise figure, the best I can come up with is 39 minutes and 53.6 seconds, because that’s when Terry Oglesby blew his whistle, and awarded a timeout to Trent Frazier.

It was this moment, when Andres Feliz pounced on a loose-ish ball, that the pendulum swung.

That might seem like an easy thing to say, because it happened to be the moment upon which the game swung.

Archie Miller wondered how the play could unfold with neither foul nor held-ball whistled.

Indiana was in position for a game-winning shot when — with about 8 seconds remaining —  Andres Feliz leapt to steal the ball from Phinisee, who had unsuccessfully attempted to dribble through Trent Frazier’s outstretched leg.

Feliz then rolled his upper body away from Phinisee to prevent a held-ball situation. Trent ran toward referee Terry Ogelsby, who was closely monitoring the play. Frazier both screamed and signaled for a time-out, which Oglesby granted.

Indiana fans melted the Internet and phone lines for post-game call-in shows, arguing that Trent’s leg had committed a punishable act.

It’s an interesting theory. Should Oglesby have called tripping? Did Trent have a right to stand where he was planted? Might it be a charge?

Maybe Oglesby just didn’t see the contact. It happened pretty quickly.

In general, I think complaints about officiating are a waste of time. Fans often misinterpret calls (e.g. yes it was a clean block, but the defender bumped the shooter with his hip), and too many fans vocally express displeasure at all calls, creating a Boy Who Cried Wolf vibe with the refs.

That said, the officiating on Sunday was worth discussing.

The most obvious gaffe was a foul not called on Devonte Green. Andres Feliz drove to the basket, Joey Brunk and Green closed in, and Green hacked Feliz on his shooting arm, visibly changing the shot and Feliz’s follow-through.

Feliz was so stunned by the non-call that he failed to get back on defense (which is, as you know, quite unlike Feliz).

The other remarkable call that went against Illinois saw Oglesby whistling Alan Griffin for helping an off-balance Justin Smith fall out-of-bounds.

Did Alan touch Smith? Did he give Smith a gentle push? That’s obviously what Oglesby saw.

I was at the far end, so I asked my fellow reporters if anyone got a good look. Erich Fisher said something along the lines of where there’s smoke there’s fire.

Brian Dorsey must have agreed with Alan, because his make-up call arrived as soon as he could find a potential infraction. It’s easy to call traveling in any situation, so traveling is a common tool for make-up calls.

Some Hoosier grad student might inquire about a grant to study how officiating affected the outcome of this game. Surely some donors would fund it. I’d like to know myself.

As far as deserving to win. Indiana definitely deserved this game for all but 6.4 seconds. And then Illinois deserved it more.

Ayo’s third major end-game gaffe (Miami, MSU) nearly handed the Hoosiers their win. But Ayo also drilled the big three that pushed the lead to 65-60. He drained his two free-throws. i.e. he redeemed himself, and snatched back the win.

They say ball don’t lie. It seems about right that at the end of the game, Illinois had one point more than Indiana. They deserved it more.

Categories
Illini Basketball

A Good Night for a Bad Night

When this Illini team is great, it feels like a rebirth of history and tradition. When this Illini team is bad, it feels like the last 14 years of kicks to the nads.

Illinois was terrible Monday. They won a game against a team that arrived in Champaign with a 7-19 record. It was uncomfortably close. Thank your favorite deity that the final minutes weren’t excruciating. Thank goodness it was an awful opponent.

What if Ayo hadn’t decided to play through the pain?

Ayo connected on 9-of-16 FGAs. That’s a solid number in hindsight.

At the time, his misses felt like a bad omen. He was missing shots you expect him to drill.

The rest of the team was much, much worse.

It might go unnoticed, as this game desolves from memory, that lowly Nebraska overcame a ten-point deficit. They were rolling. They had all the momentum. They’d tied the game. The crowd was silent.

Then Trent Frazier connected from three. It was the team’s third make in eleven attempts from the arc.

After that, Nebraska threatened a bit in the second half, but Alan Griffin and Kipper Nichols made key defensive plays to suck the wind from Cornhusk sails.

Alan wanted it more.

Kipper’s steal made a spectacular moment, and a major buzzkill for the Huskers. But it shouldn’t go unnoticed that he fought for, and garnered, the offensive rebound that followed a failed Illini attempt to beat an elapsing (3 seconds) shot clock on an inbound play.

This was the single play that changed the direction of the game. From this point on, Nebraska never felt competitive.

So, crisis averted. For now.

Nebraska reminded us that Illinois has beaten three good teams. The first was Rutgers, without Geo Baker. The second was Penn State, without Myreon Jones.

Now, a third can be added to the list. Wisconsin got to 10-6. Whatever they did to get there, they got there. The win at Madison now feels like a win at Madison.

So yeah, tourney lock. Illinois is in. Woo-hoo!

But there’s plenty to worry about.

Let’s hope someone tells Josh Whitman — who spent the dark days in Wisconsin and Missouri — that his model of DIA leadership, Ron Guenther, is the guy who didn’t offer Bill Self a double, treble, quadruple increase in salary.

Brad Underwood will be a hot commodity on the upcoming coaching carousel. Orlando Antigua is not paid enough, even at the standard academic salary commensurate with experience.

It’s 2003 again, and all the cutlery is in the drawer, or on its way. Can the DIA get it right this time?

Categories
Illini Basketball

The Low-Percentage Shot

Step back from the ledge.

An eon ago, in The 12 Seed, I speculated an upcoming five-game losing streak. It felt like a safe bet.

The other day, I suggested a silver lining to Ayo’s unexpected vacation. The committee might look at this east coast swing with even less skepticism than they might have. Losing at Rutgers and Penn State is not a big deal, and there’s no penalty for tourney purposes.

The Illini must beat the remaining crap teams on their schedule. Compiled Quad 1 wins have almost guaranteed some kind of bid.

The next mission for the team and its coaching staff is to figure out how to find uncontested, or at least less contested, shots.

At Rutgers, the boys in blue got open looks from Tevian Jones. Alan Griffin had a pair of clean looks from the outside, and a lot of armpits closer to the hoop.

Kofi was harassed in the paint, and didn’t quite figure out the implication of his abuse: The refs were letting ’em play.

Would Kofi be able to shift gears if he knew he could play rough? Maybe. Maybe not. These skills develop over time.

He didn’t seem as rattled in the second half, but then, he attempted two-thirds fewer shots.

In the first half, Kofi converted 4-of-9 attempts from the floor. In the second half, he launched only three. One of them went in.

The worst shooting performance came from Trent Frazier. Trent didn’t simply miss his shots. It’s not that the rim was unkind (except for that three that spun around and out). Trent’s problem was Rutgers. They were taller than he. They were in his way.

Trent’s shots were terrible, and the results predictable.

Even his high-percentage shots were low-percentage shots. You try to make a lay-up against three taller guys. You’ll see that it affects your percentage.

Trent needs more of the above from his teammates. He’s a great offensive weapon when they keep defenders out of his way.

It might seem insulting to say that Trent can’t create his own shot, but basketball is a team sport. Moreover, Trent can create his own shot. It’s a sudden & unexpected 30-foot jumper. He’s pretty good at it.

With each new game’s worth of video, this team becomes easier to scout. Illinois’ opponents have demonstrated admirable capability & professionalism in their game-planning.

It’s getting hard to score.

Brad & staff recognize this problem. They’ve already taken steps to address it.

You may have noticed that Tevian Jones played real minutes in Piscataway.

Alan started.

These two spread the floor. Their teammates aren’t dreadful at kicking out to them once the defense collapses; they’re merely bad at it.

Both Trent and Andres Feliz know how to drive and kick, but Kofi and Giorgi are still learning when to quit fighting through a double-team.

Both still exhibit space-out moments, what Brad calls “casual.” At Rutgers, Kofi took a half-second to assess the defense.

That was the only half-second Ron Harper needed.

When the parts come together, it looks effortless.

But too much of the time, it looks labored. It’s not always easy to watch a broken play and determine, in real time, how it broke. It’s worse when you can see it break before the players do.

Giorgi’s game at Rutgers, and in general, deserves it’s own column. He seems to have got his groove back. Brad says he wants more offensive opportunities for Giorgi.

Look for that tomorrow.

Categories
Illini Basketball

The Second Foul – A History

A hot topic after back-to-back losses is whether a player should sit after committing two fouls in a first half. Brad Underwood benched Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams for long stretches of the Iowa and Maryland first halves because each had committed a second foul.

Trent Frazier garnered an unfortunate foul at Iowa.

It’s not, by any means, the first time this Second Foul Rule has been hemmed-n-hawed among Illini observers.

Illini basketball has vast experience with the stodgy & inflexible. His name is Bruce Weber, and he’s notoriously hidebound in his approach to game management. The Second Foul Rule is a glaring example, and last March it cost him his second-best and probably last chance at a national title. Chester Frazier abandoned ship after watching Weber coach himself out of the NCAA tournament, losing to 13th-seed Irvine.

Weber needlessly sat first-team all-Big 12 guard Barry Brown for the rest of the first half after he picked up his second foul less than six minutes into the game. – Jeff Eisenberg

https://sports.yahoo.com/how-a-misguided-decision-its-coach-contributed-to-kansas-states-early-exit-223753384.html

Barry Brown finished that game with two fouls, as did Demetri McCamey on March 1, 2011. In that game, Illinois led Purdue by 13 in the first half. Then McCamey picked up his second foul.

Bruce Weber chastens Demetri McCamey

(While searching for these quotes, I found a classic example of Bruce Weber backhanded compliment concerning his best player/favorite target: “He’s grown up a lot. He’s learned how to play, he’s learned how to read defenses, all the things we’ve fought with him about over the years.”)

without McCamey, who was on his way to what might have been one of his best games of the year, the feeling changed instantly. -Mark Tupper

https://herald-review.com/blogs/mark_tupper/a-tough-loss-but-renewed-hope/article_4bb85b30-ac3b-5fb0-ba5d-2895340c8f19.html

With McCamey on the bench, Illinois (8-9 in the Big Ten, 18-12 overall) went scoreless for more than four minutes, plenty of time for the Boilermakers (14-3, 25-5) to seize momentum in front of 14,123 fans. – Stu Durando

https://www.stltoday.com/sports/college/illini/illini-start-fast-then-stumble-at-purdue/article_99ebb23a-f47e-5f33-8663-27db9a597b01.html

That 31-18 lead devolved to a 37-37 tie at halftime. Everyone wrote about McCamey’s benching, including me. I wrote about it again two years ago. I’m sort of obsessed with that game as a prime example of Bruce Weber’s inflexibility, and failure to learn from his mistakes.

This photo is not related to the story. I just couldn’t not publish it.

I also like to point out, at every available opportunity, that Brad Underwood is the anti-Weber.

This week, he addressed the Second Foul Rule twice. I asked in the pre-game press conference, and Brad Sturdy asked in the postgame. Here’s a mashup of those moments.

In short, yes. He will generally pull a player after a second foul in the first half.

But yes, he analyzes each situation and adjusts:

I do that a lot. I think the situation determines that.

I would prefer to have guys have more opportunities to stay aggressive in the second half. Yet that doesn’t always work.

If you feel like a game’s slipping and you need that guy … if you feel like you’re not getting quite the performance you need from the guy that replaced him, you may go back (to the pulled player).

I try to do that in very short stints when I put a guy back in (so) as to not let them get fatigued and commit a lazy foul. Not necessarily have them in there where the opponent can isolate a situation to try and pick up a third. I know we look to try to do that sometimes, depending on the situation.

My main premise for it is to be able to have the three fouls going into the second half, and then and be able to stay aggressive when you play in the second half and the game comes down to the end.

So that’s that’s why I do that. It’s not a everytime deal. But it’s completely based on the flow of the game from that aspect.

-Brad Underwood

So, maybe Underwood isn’t making the split-second decision you want. Maybe he’s not second-guessing himself at the times you’d like. But at least he’s always thinking about whether he can improve and adjust his strategy.

That’s what we want, yes?

Categories
Illini Basketball

The Lo-Hi

Something changed about the Illini offense last night.

Instead of trying to feed the low post from the top of the key, Illini guards & wings drove to the basket and then reversed the ball to the top.

I wish I had more cleverly annotated pictures of these actions. The few I have don’t begin to describe the number of times Illinois faked Purdue out of its collective jock.

There are plenty of pictures of Bill Ek’s ass, and Terry Wymer’s ass, which were captured when Illini penetrators (mostly Ayo) drew the defense inward before passing the ball outward. All baseline photographers capture many pictures of “ref butt.”

The actions differed so dramatically from previous Illini games, one is forced to wonder whether Brad Underwood is holding back sets for deployment in particular games, as if he’s figured out how this “scouting” thing works, and seeks to eliminate its efficacy.

Every once in a while, I dream that a coach draws out a scheme for an entire season. Do You? It’s what Bill Cubit was meant to do as Tim Beckman’s OC. It never seems to happen.

It’s crazy to even think that someone could be so longviewed in his scheming, right? But what if you’re a genius who’s spent your entire career toiling as an assistant & JC coach. Do you start drawing your grand plan on the off-chance that you might, some day, get the kind of chance you’ve always dreamed of?

The following is fact: Underwood drives a constantly expanding, conceptually evolving offense. And he’s done it while elevating the Illini defense to the top of the league. As he said last night after learning Purdue’s players said Illinois out-toughed its hosts: “There’s no greater compliment.”

When was the last time Illinois basketball was fun to watch?

Math nerds liked the Weber Motion. Results nerds liked Self’s hi-lo. Neither provided as much explosive entertainment as Lon Kruger’s teams. But Kruger never had the dynamic athletes that this 2020 team provides.

You’d probably have to go back to the 1980s to find a comparably entertaining Illini offense.

This team isn’t on par with the Flyin’ Illini. It’s too early for that. But if you remember 1982, when Bruce Douglas initiated his lob connection with Efrem Winters, you can start to appreciate where this team might be heading.

It’s a good place.

Kofi was 6-of-6 from the line. Paint Crew puked.

That said, there are still problems this team needs to fix moving forward. The obvious one is that Alan Griffin needs to consult with some professionals. His on-court demeanor needs addressed.

We’ve talked about it a lot, and he’s acknowledged that he’s completely different off-court. He needs to be different on court. He’ll be Kendrick Nunned from this Illini squad if he can’t stop kicking opponents in the nuts.

Kofi is. like many youngsters, a sponge for learning. It’s exciting to watch him develop good habits, and eliminate bad ones.

He got played Tuesday night, when that Morrissey lookin’ Dutchman lollygagged down the floor, thus coaxing Kofi to doddle as well. Nojel Eastern slipped behind the defense which Kofi was expected to anchor.

You can imagine he’ll hear about it, and that you won’t see this sort of thing happen again.

This team is developing so fast, it thrills us Olds. I can’t remember seeing this kind of gelling, and individual development, within the course of a single season.

Isn’t it fun?

Categories
Illini Basketball

Trent Transformation

Discussion of Trent Frazier’s defense is all the rage these days. It’s all anyone’s talking about. But who knew Trent would be offended if one asked about his offensive outburst against Purdue.

I suppose it makes sense. Offense is offensive.

Cuonzo Martin was exasperated by Illini freshman Trent Frazier (Vashoune Russell)

Erich Fisher and I asked different versions of did coach tell you to be more aggressive with the ball after that game. Trent dismissed the notion.

Then Derek Piper posed the same question to Brad Underwood. He said yes.

It seemed pretty obvious. But whatever the case, thank goodness it’s happening. The Complete Trent is much better than Defensive Specialist Trent. The Illini need those buckets. In a handful of losses this year, an extra 10 to 15 points from Frazier would have dramatically changed circumstances.

Cuonzo Martin made it clear in his 2019 postgame observations that taking the ball from Trent changed the whole nature of the Illini offense.

When Brad gave the ball back, Illinois walloped the Boilermakers. Cause and effect can be pretty simple sometimes.

Categories
Illini Basketball

The Third Side

Following that tirade at 16:08, the Illini might have felt motivated to execute. But they didn’t.

We don’t know whether a set was called during all that yelling. If Brad Underwood drew up an action, it must have planned for a low-post feed.

For whatever reason, the team did nothing better, or well, once they broke that huddle. The Illini suffered through one of their worst offensive possessions of the season. It seemed as if they were trying to compile a highlight reel of bad tendencies.

Succinctly, they failed to reverse the ball. It’s been a talking point all year, and something they still get wrong. For every “we need to fix that” in a postgame remark to the media, there are as many further iterations of “stickiness” as the lads like to say. The ball “sticks.”

Missouri foisted an intense defensive effort, certainly the most insistent, unrelenting 40 minutes of defensive pressure these Illini have faced all year. And this one possession showed just how effective that type of effort can be against a young team that’s still trying to learn its reads.

The major combatants were centers Reed Nikko and Kofi Cockburn. Nikko won.

At this crucial moment in the game, and after spending a precious timeout, Illinois fails to convert. Instead, it’s another turnover and a foul.

And although Reed Nikko’s defensive footwork was superb, and deserves a lot of credit; it’s also true that Illinois helped him immensely by not reversing the ball to the left wing (the second side), forcing Nikko to establish a different defensive posture. And then, ideally, reverse the ball again (the third side) while Kofi seals Nikko with his big ole butt, creating a drive for Trent from the short corner.

The Underwood administration has seen some fantastic back screens and butt screens. Jermaine Hamlin had a great one for that Samson Oladimeji alley-oop.

Jermaine’s screen is quick, simple and effective.

Adonis de la Rosa executed a beautiful butt screen at Northwestern last year. Giorgi did one for Kipper just a couple of games ago.

It’s a really effective maneuver, but it doesn’t work against a well-coached team that’s already established its defensive position. you’ve got to get them out of position to make it work, and you get them out of position by reversing the ball.

Perhaps the problem against Mizzou was simply that Kofi Cokburn was, as Underwood pointed out, ten games into his college career. He might have popped backward sooner, when he felt Nikko release for the double-team. But it seems likely that Da’Monte would’ve been smothered regardless.

And while Kofi did struggle all game against Missouri’s bigger, quicker defenders (i.e. bigger and quicker than he’s accustomed to playing, so far), reversing the ball would have afforded Kofi the opportunity to re-position himself for screening a backdoor cut.

Some people scoff at the notion that this team is “young.” But they really are young. More importantly, they haven’t played together as a unit in the way that, say, Dee-Deron-Luther-Roger-James did.

If you’ll recall, those guys looked pretty bad in January of 2004. They’d lost in the B1G-ACC to North Carolina. They got clocked by Providence in the Jimmy V Classic. They scraped by a 16-14* Mizzou team in Braggin’ Rights 71-70. Then they started the conference schedule at 3-3.

Things looked bleak. Disjointed. And then that team didn’t lose again until the B1G Tournament’s championship game.

So be patient. Let’s see how this comes together.

*Mizzou’s website credits that team with a 20-14 record, including two wins over themselves in pre-season intrasquad games and a 0-0 win over the Blissless Baylor Bears. You should laugh at them, point fingers, and dump popcorn on their heads.

Categories
Illini basketball

The Rock

You might have a favorite Illini player. I don’t. I’m averse to the concept of favorites. I like variety.

Moreover, favorite means different things to different people. Is it an alpha or an underdog? Do you love the personality or the skill set?

This article is about The Rock of this 2020 Illini basketball team.

Giorgi is one of those once-per-generation personalities, and his skill set is so fundamental that it appeals to all ages of hoops aficionado.

Kofi is an effortless, nearly flawless once-per-generation bucket+rebound machine. His earnestness is a story in itself.

Lali Bezhanishvili attended her fourth consecutive game on Tuesday. She’s now on a plane back to Wien.

Last night, Da’Monte Williams burst forward for a career-high 18 points, and earned a moment in the spotlight. He even smiled when this reporter asked his teammates to aver that he sometimes smiles (in the absence of cameras) and, in fact, cracks jokes.

None of these guys, all indispensable to the team, is The Rock.

Da’Monte Williams

Trent Frazier hews precipitously toward rockishness. He’s got that game, and that personality. Brad Underwood, as hard-ass old school as any current Power 5 head coach, cannot find enough time to heap praise for Trent’s toughness, defensive dominance, and playmaking capabilities.

Trent Frazier is not the subject of this article.

Ayo Dosunmu finally enjoyed a night’s romp through defenses, driving to the bucket, assisting others, connecting on jumpers from the arc.

No, I’m not talking about Alan Griffin either.

To me, it’s obvious that Andres Feliz is, and has been, the foundation of this team since the moment he arrived on campus. It’s not because he keeps the team loose in the locker room. It’s not because his stature imposes Laws of Physics on opponents. It’s because his sheer determination imposes itself on everyone lucky/unfortunate enough to cross his path.

Giorgi is everything to all people, and one of the best freshmen Illini basketball has seen since freshman eligibility. Kofi, Ayo and Trent continue to be focal points for media and opponents.

Andres Feliz remains the lone Illini whose focus, effort & intensity demonstrate a ruthlessness that — for better, or very much likely worse — can’t be taught. It’s borne of a determination that Americans can’t fake and don’t experience. Not in this generation, anyhow. Andres fought his way off that island.

Since arriving in Champaign, Andres has demonstrated a sense of humor to fans. In moments when he thought he might have been unobserved, he’s taken his teammates aside for words of encouragement, hugs, and laughs. But also tough talk.

For those who might have opinions about Tyler Underwood, it might be useful to know that both Andres Feliz and Trent Frazier have intensely close relationships with Tyler Underwood.

Sports fans and sports psychologists have an understanding about toughness & determination. Maybe casual fans understand too. Maybe not. If you’re an Illini fan and reading this column, understand & appreciate this point: Andres Feliz is the first among equals on this team. He’s the terminator who absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

The best part of the Andres Feliz story, for those of us benefiting from all his determination and hard work, is that we can expect to enjoy his labors, for free, through March.

He’s married to an American woman, and has an American kid. Maybe he’ll be able to stay even after that.

Categories
Illini basketball

A Happy Blood Bath

Just what the doctor ordered; a rampage through a hapless patsy.

Things had been going pretty well for the Illini, especially if his name were Kofi Cockburn. But as the team’s focus shifted, appropriately, to feeding its Monster in the Middle, individual stats suffered.

Saturday night, everybody got a chance.

Was it more important for Alan Griffin or Ayo Dosunmu? That’s the sort of question sports people ask, because sports people are incessantly looking for any available over/under. For better or worse, and it’s arguably for worse, sports is about winners & losers.

The answer is that it was better for Ayo Dosunmu and Alan Griffin. The answer is that Illinois basketball got a shot in the arm by allowing everybody to bask in the glory of a slaughter.

Scoring 20 and 19 points respectively, Ayo and Alan almost visibly swelled with confidence. And they got their points quickly enough to allow plenty of minutes for the guys who don’t usually get to play.


Brad Underwood name-checked both Ayo and Alan in his postgame comments, and didn’t say they’d been struggling.

Ayo enjoyed the opportunity to run an open (or at least disorganized) floor against the Pirates. Alan got open looks, converted 3-of-7 from the arc, and made one spectacular tip-in which is almost certainly susceptible to Search, now that everything is recorded.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of it. (It happened at the other end from me, as did Da’Monte’s alley-oop dunk.) But I did get a good picture of Alan.

Ben Bosmans-Verdonk dished four assists during his ten minutes of PT. He also grabbed two rebounds and two steals, and scored four points (and committed three fouls). Tevian Jones watched from the bench, and seemed to enjoy the performance despite the obvious point that he could have enjoyed those minutes himself.

Tevian Jones watches BBV getting all his minutes

Jermaine Hamlin got nine minutes of tick, and converted a pair of FGAs. The first was a left-handed hook shot. The second was a dunk that kept going and going and going.

No-nonsense referee Keith Kimble, who has never smiled, finally grew bored with watching Hamlin hanging from the rim, and assessed a T.

Categories
Illini Basketball

Practice thoughts, October 2018

Homecoming weekend included a basketball practice at Ubben, first thing this morning. Unlike last time, there were no Official Visitors. So the team wasn’t focused on throwing lobs to 17 year-olds.

Spectators numbered about one-third the size of the Tshiebwe-Liddell-Shannon crowd. That is, they lined the catwalk one-deep rather than three.

They learned that Giorgi Bezhanishvili is not a goofball all the time. He’s a shittalker. Giorgi’s shit was mostly directed at Samba Kane, who might have wilted on the spot. When teammates and coaches talk about Samba, the sentence usually begins with “he’s had a hard time because …” and usually continues with the themes like “arrived late” and “new to the game.”  Piling on psychologically doesn’t seem fair, but it’s hard to imagine prospective opponents treating Samba more deferentially.

Mike LaTulip, Brandon Paul and Steve Bardo joined the team for a Homecoming photo, after practice

Giorgi should be raw too, but he’s not. He moves fluidly, and finishes at the rim. That might change when a competent defender over 6’6″ challenges him. This Illini team has no such defender. Adonis de la Rosa dressed for practice, but did not participate. Anthony Higgs began the session looking at an iPad, reclining on a cushioned table, in the training room. He didn’t enter the Corzine Gym for the first 20 minutes, and then rode the stationary bike for the next 20. Samson Oladimeji and Zach Griffith did their best (Oladimeji’s rejection on a Tevian Jones lay-up was a highlight of the day), but neither is big enough to present a B1G-caliber post-presence.

So, we might not know what Georgi can’t do for another month or three. As of now, he’s a definite starter.

If the season began today, the starting five would be

  • 1 – Andres Feliz
  • 1 – Ayo
  • 1 – Trent
  • 4 – Kipper
  • 4 – Giorgi

That’s no slight to Aaron Jordan. He continues to burnish his coach-on-the-floor bona fides, spreads the defense and drains threes. In that regard, he’s the quintessential sixth man. Brad Underwood might need to start him, but ideally Aaron would enter the game after assessing what’s happening. 

Da’Monte Williams continues to make unforced errors, the kind Underwood claimed he never commits at the beginning of last year (before the Maryland game). Because Feliz offers doggish on-ball defense, and Ayo’s impersonation of a six-foot spider will, arguably, compensate for Monte’s absence, Williams will need to clean up his little mistakes to challenge them for PT. The three-headed PG attack is just too hard to defend. Feliz pushes the ball, and finds the open man. When left alone on the perimeter, he buries his threes.

Saturday’s practice

The wing-to-be-named-later continues to be Alan Griffin. Like many wings of the three-point era, Alan seems comfortable pitching a tent on the arc. Underwood stopped live action to holler at him about another option from the Triple Threat  “Alan!” he called, arms aloft and sweeping downward to indicate an open path to the basket,  “Drive!”

From the sidelines, ex-perimeters Mike LaTulip and Brandon Paul agreed with the assessment. “When your defender is that close up on you, you can always dribble past him,” observed LaTulip.

Also in town for Homecoming were 89ers Steve Bardo and Ryan Baker. Bardo relayed the story of his Bobblehead mishap. He was in Atlanta working on a non-sports TV production (cooking) and missed the deadline for signing his release. Hence, no Steve Bardo Bobblehead.