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Illini basketball

Believe?

You never doubted these Illini, right?

As football scores of 14-3 and 20-7 conjured unpleasant memories of Tim Beckman; you never for one moment hoped that Brad Underwood was, indeed, looking for property near Manhattan, KS.

Defense wins championships. Defense travels. D-D-D-Defense.

When you read accounts of this game, a 54-53 slog, scribes will tell you Lamont Paris apprenticed under Bo Ryan and Greg Gard, which is why Chattanooga plays slow.

Thus, Dick Bennett’s legend continues to infect the uninvolved. Wisconsin’s 21st century teams score plenty. The reason Illinois & Chattanooga scored only 107 total points is all about Illinois.

Illinois is really, really good at defense.

“Brad Underwood assembled a team that’s deadly inside & out.” Or that’s the rap, anyhow. And that’s all anybody talks about. But Illinois wins because Trent Frazier & Da’Monte Williams get in your business and force you to shoot 4-of-20 from the floor.

You will always enjoy beatdowns like the Wake Forest game in December 2004. But the games that live in legend are awful. The Arizona Game was awful. ’89 Bloomington was awful.

Yes, we all want 40 minutes of highlight reel, including six or seven dunks and about 15-for-19 from the arc. Cross your fingers, and the next five games might be like that.

But probably not.

Illinois survived, and moved on. In doing so, the Illini advanced the cause of Brad to KSU. But it also helped Lamont Paris, who should be strongly considered for any open P5 job. IN fact, let me launch the Lamont Paris to KSU meme right here. We need to get this guy away from B1G openings.

Sunday’s early lunch involves a more traditional Illini nemesis, and possibly the best coach in college basketball history.

Cellvin Samsung is like Bruce Pearl: Irritatingly good at coaching, regardless of whether he’s destroying the NCAA’s Rulebook. You should feel less great, after the Chattanooga performance, to know that Houston doesn’t compete in a lot of Q1 games.

They’re favored to win, and will probably win.

Right?

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COVID-19 Illini basketball

Don’t be so anxious

As confetti streamed downward from Honored Jerseys to Lou Henson Court, priority recruits joined (their future fellow?) students at the center I, jamming together in a mass of humanity that constituted by far the best super-spreader event of the COVID years, as far as Illini basketball is concerned.

Stoic, taciturn Adam Fletcher, known to you all as “Fletch,” literally danced on the baseline and smiled while doing it. Brad Underwood found Fran McCaffery through the crowd, and congratulated him on a game well fought.

Sarah & Chester, a love story.

Chester Frazier ran around the entire crowd, along the edge of the SFC bowl, navigating the least obstructed path to Sarah, his wife. He called to her over the crowd. Somehow, she heard him. And despite carrying a toddler on her hip, she too navigated the crowd to meet him at the final balustrade/cattle fence.

It’s a good lesson: Remember what’s important. Prioritize. Accentuate the positive.

Illini basketball had just frustrated all its fans en route to an incredibly lucky, mathematically improbable #B1G championship.

Now, five days later, Illini fans will sweat through morning coffee until the ’22 Illini tip off against the B1G’s least predictable team. OR, if you’re in Indianapolis and connected to the DIA, perhaps you’ll be drunk by tip time.

The B1G’s hottest team, Iowa, continued its offensive romp on Thursday, dropping 112 points on Chris Collins’s purty good Northwestern defense.

Iowa had won five in a row before stubbing its toe on Coleman Hawkins, a seven-footer guarding the perimeter, a crazy Puerto Rican whose passes seemed wild as his defense was sound.

And Trent.

When not playing Illinois, Iowa is pretty great. They were pretty great against Illinois, too. At the end, Illinois had more points. Despite everything.

Defense wins championships. On Sunday last, defense won a championship. It certainly wasn’t Belo’s passing or ‘Monte’s free-throws. But those two were instrumental in the lockdown, and ‘Monte again saved the game with an offensive rebound that drove the Hawkeyes Radio Network crew crazy.

Friday morning, Illinois will play a team that lacks confidence. As Trayce Jackson-Davis said after Indiana overcame an error-prone Michigan team, he’s never played on the #B1GTourney Friday before.

Indiana could win, and it wouldn’t matter. Brad would like “back-to-back on something,” and #B1GTourney championships are his best opportunity. We’d all prefer it.

But the pressure is off here. Winning any games in Indianapolis is unlikely to affect Illinois’s seed in the dance. Losing won’t help or hurt in that regard.

The team can play for the enjoyment of the game, and to work on coverages, and to implement sets that haven’t been scouted.

It’s a great opportunity. So enjoy it.

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Illini basketball

Defense, travels

What a stupid way to win a championship. Aaaaaaaand we’ll take it, AMIRITE?!?!?

First, the #LuckyBadgers find they’ve spent all their tokens. Then, the Murray Twins can’t buy a free-throw, while Belo spends twenty minutes throwing the ball away. And when the dust settles, a trophy.

As your hangover recedes, you’re already forgetting how the game unfolded. Twenty years from now, you’ll have no idea.

It doesn’t matter.

#Champions

Andre Curbelo regrets that pass

The feeling you had throughout the championship-winning game was probably something like “BELO WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!?” or perhaps “COLEMAN WHY DID YOU SHOOT THAT?!?!?”

Honestly, this game felt like a lifetime. And most of the time, you felt like you were dying.

And then, at the other end of the court, Joe Toussaint moved his feet too much while trying to find a passing lane.

Defense. Travels. It was the theme of the game. And Illinois won it, and a championship.

Everything matters. Every single thing.

We remember the Derek Harper three that got Illinois into the 1983 tourney, but we have no idea what the ’84 Illini did to tie Purdue for the conference championship.

*consults internet*

Ah, yes. They lost at Mackey.

I mean, that’s one way to look at it. You could also sayIllinois beat B1G doormat Wisconsin to clinch the deal.

Or don’t worry about it. It doesn’t matter.

Illinois was in position, Saturday, to win a Big Ten Championship on Sunday. It didn’t seem likely, but fundamentally, it’s the putting yourself in position that matters.

Coleman Hawkins says no.

The 2002 Illini championship (or 2001? … nah, not even finna Google this time) had a similar less than triumphant, come-from-behind, all dominoes must collapse in this order feel to it. And that’s how those dominoes fell. I think there was an unlikely Wisconsin loss there too, but I ain’t lookin’ it up.

#Champions

Brad Underwood said something important in the PSU postgame, which was about four nights and a lifetime ago. He said he told his team they’d have four or five games in the NCAA Tournament that were like that.

Scrap, scrape, bang, bend. Don’t break.

Don’t brake.

There’s a lot of pressure on this guy, all the time.

It’s been alarming and unnerving to watch Illini basketball these past two months, and yet here you are, celebrating a championship. How should you feel about that? How should you feel about their tourney chances?

1989 was a lot more fun. 2005 felt too easy. 1998 was five wastrels against the Big Bad Izzoes, a genuine David/Goliath story.

2001 was a tragedy, but maybe it helped the Big Ten’s front office recognize that referees should penalize players for fouling other players.

The gritty 2022 championship-winning Illini men’s basketball team feels like an offhand remark that’s been weighted down by the gravity of situation: If it keeps scrapping, it might win a championship. You know, like it just did last night.

“I told them they’d have four or five games like this in the NCAA Tournament” became “I’d like to play nine more.”

That was Brad’s postgame observation about his time with Trent and Da’Monte.

You’re smart. Do the math.

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Illini Basketball

Aüldogs’ Nütrix

Ten minutes of unsustainable bliss. Twenty-five minutes of hell. One moment of recognition.

The championship-squelching loss to Ohio State was the best & most important game of the 2021-22 Illini basketball season. Best because it featured amazing performances by future NBA players, plus a scrappy comeback by Every Day Guys. Most important because it allowed the Illini coaching staff, finally, to see what they need to do.

Teams with scouting budgets & good analysts have figured out how to stop Illinois.

Brad Underwood’s perspective changed when his view changed. Maybe he’d already thought about giving opponents a different look. But it wasn’t until he’d been ejected, and Kofi fouled out, that Illinois basketball actually tried something different.

Instead of Kofi + threes, it was …

Actually, the alternative doesn’t matter. Anything different does & will ruin opponents’ scouting reports and strategies.

EJ Liddell is a joy to watch. Also, Orange Krush needs new management.

Was it Underwood’s decision to go small? He said he was still coaching in the locker room. Does that mean he was texting Zach Hamer or Bobby Gikas with ideas? Did Chester, Tim or Geoff finally get his way while Big Mean Boss Man was sequestered?

Probably not. Illinois had to go small. Kofi fouled out, and Omar Payne can’t score. When you’re down by 14 with a couple of minutes left, you’re not thinking about rim protection.

But again, it didn’t really matter what Illinois did differently. It just mattered that they did something different. Underwood said they’d worked on their 5-out offense a lot in the early part of the season. That’s important. They were ready to employ it.

The thing that I’ve always liked about Brad Underwood is his quest. He’s never satisfied. He’s certainly not hidebound. He doesn’t sleep, and he loves a challenge.

And he drinks wine, which makes people creative. Especially late at night, when they can’t sleep.

The offense that worked against Mizzou stopped working by February, when #B1G opponents compiled enough scouting materials to scientifically, systematically shut down Kofi + threes.

So Illinois won’t win a B1G this year. Intriguingly, it’s never been a goal. Kofi talked about a national championship during a recent-ish availability. Trent mentioned it in the tOSU postgame. Even Brad, who generally reserves his word x 4 pronouncements to “elite” said it Thursday night: “March, March, March, March.”

Nobody questions Kofi’s effort or ability. This save was amazing.
The ball went to Jake, in the corner.
Jake scored easily on the broken play, because tOSU didn’t know what to do.

After Thursday’s loss, Underwood said he’s asked his assistants to identify his team’s vulnerabilities in preparation for the NCAA Tournament. He didn’t say they’re working on new actions/different sets to render well-trained teams defenseless. But if they aren’t studying different looks, they should all be shitcanned. Illinois’s obvious vulnerability is the facility with which its offense is scouted and stymied by opponents.

But that’s only true of #B1G opponents, and that’s why Illinois is much likelier to win the NCAA than the B1G.

Not all the #B1G foes scouted the ’22 Illini effectively, of course, Some of them don’t work as hard. Some aren’t as smart as others. Some probably figured it out and explained it well to their players, but the players didn’t execute. Some probably aren’t as good at explaining.

If a pattern emerges, it’s that Matt Brady (Maryland) and Ryan Pedon (Ohio State) are pretty good at scouting, explaining, and getting their players to adhere to the scouting report.

Other teams have had success against Kofi, but that’s because #B1G officials have decided, seemingly, to ignore most of the hard fouls that prevent him from scoring.

DJ Carstensen can’t see, and Lewis Garrison holds a grudge. Or maybe I’m imagining that. I don’t know how else to explain the B1G’s inability to officiate games.

Carstensen seemed oblivious to elbows until Kyle Young lost consciousness, or maybe just his footing (?) while defending Kofi on Thursday.

Despite Cockburn pleading for Carstensen’s personal attention, while actually concussed during the first Purdue game, Carstensen took no notice of #EdeyElbows during that game. Nor the second.

SHOUT OUT TO KEVIN WARREN

The Hightower Commission has failed.

Or maybe it’s a long-term study, designed to root-out the bad referees by 2025. I didn’t ask Dr. Hightower those specifics. Alls I know is that Ed Hightower, a retired schools superintendent and top-notch referee was commissioned (by the commissioner, who commissions things) to fix a problem that the Big Ten conference recognized.

It probably won’t help Kofi in 2022. Not in conference play, anyhow. But now that Illinois is dropping to 4+ seed territory, it won’t necessarily face B1G referees in the tourney.

Losing to Ohio State wasn’t fun. But at this point, the Illini could lose all their remaining games in the regular season. It doesn’t matter. The system was rigged against them, whether it’s officiating or scheduling.

But they don’t seem to care. They won the B1G last year. They have different goals now.

Quintuple team immediately closes on Kofi.
No whistles were blown.
Categories
Illini basketball

Buckeyes & an Elephant in the Room

Brad Underwood doesn’t want to talk about a Big Ten conference championship.

“Our guys aren’t dumb. They know what’s at stake,” he said yesterday, but added the team’s focus is “Ohio State, Ohio State, Ohio State.”

He prefaced all that by expressing relief that Duane Washington moved on to the G League while acknowledging that Washington’s replacement, Buckeye guard Malaki Branham, is “probably” the best freshman in the B1G.

Chris Holtmann still has his dynamic pair of undersized power forwards Kyle Young and EJ Liddell, two guys that have bugged Underwood throughout his Illini tenure. Young has taken on a sixth-man role this season, which provides Holtmann’s traditional 9-man rotation extra experience when the subs come in.

Sophomore wing Eugene Brown started the last four games. His role expanded when Justice Sueing went down for the season with an abdominal injury. Brown’s minutes became more important after back-up PG Meechie Johnson suffered a facial injury in practice, just before the January 13 game at Wisconsin. After missing three games, Johnson returned, wearing a protective mask. Then starting PG Jamari Wheeler went down with an ankle injury. Then, two weeks ago, Johnson rolled his ankle at Rutgers.

With Sueing and grad transfer Seth Towns both out for the season, the Buckeyes are the one B1G team that can argue with Illinois about who’s had the most roster fluctuation this year.

Theoretically, both Buckeye PGs are now healthy. Johnson played 18 minutes, and Wheeler 30 in the Buckeye’s 80-69 overtime win over Indiana on Monday, in Columbus.

Branham is the guard to watch. Underwood called him the B1G’s best pro-prospect, which satisfied the coach’s hyperbole quotient for yesterday’s press conference. But Branham’s scoring average has increased during B1G play (15 ppg), and he’s up to 46% from three on the season; so he’ll get the Trent Frazier treatment.

None of these people can guard Kofi Cockburn, but that wasn’t an issue when the Buckeyes won in Champaign last year. The Liddell pick n’ pop turned the tables on Illinois, which found its dominant low-post player … in the low post, while Liddell rained threes.

EJ is connecting on 39% of his arc shots this season. He’s connecting on Twitter at EasyE2432. It’s in the OSU pre-game notes.

The Buckeyes are a six point dog tonight, and that probably won’t change when betters find out about RJ Melendez’s emergency appendectomy.

Whether RJ could have helped against Liddell? Debatable. It’s nice to have an extra five fouls, but Underwood has pretty much stuck to a 9-man rotation, even though 12 guys are involved. (Nine play, while three DNP/CD per game.) That’s Luke Goode’s music you’re hearing.

And if Coleman Hawkins continues his aggressive defensive play, he might be just the problem Illinois needs to impose on Liddell.

But we’ll know the outcome when the Buckeyes take the court tonight. It’s Orange Out at SFC, which means the Illini will be wearing orange, perhaps the ’89 throwbacks?

If the Buckeyes dress in white, that means they’ll win. So let’s hope they don’t read Illini Report.

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Illini basketball

Dogfighting

Three B1G teams stink. Losing to any of those three teams should embarrass you, the fan. Northwestern is not one of those teams.

On the other hand, Illinois already lost to Maryland, one of the icky three. And yet, here remain the Illini, alone in first place.

It’s a brutal league, and the Wildcats compete with everyone. They’re especially tough defensively. And that’s why Illini fans can feel good about Sunday’s dogfight.

Kofi might have nightmares about Robbie Beran (+3) and Ryan Young (-3)

Ryan Young’s offense is the reason NU is under .500 in league play, but his defense is terrific. Robbie Beran is worse at the former, and even better at the latter. That’s why he’s remained a mainstay of the Chris Collins era, despite averaging 6 & 4.

These two defenders and their coach calculated that hacking Kofi Cockburn for 40 minutes might give them a chance to win. Adding Elyjah Williams’s five fouls to their arsenal, the Wildcats probably figured they could finish regulation with one big undisqualified.

Williams expended one of his fouls on Papi’s noggin.

Of course, that strategy required some hacking from the wings, too. And Chase Audige obliged. He and Beran fouled out. Young and Williams finished with three PFs apiece.

Bert Smith, Keith Kimble and Lewis Garrison reported 22 Northwestern fouls to the official scorekeeper. The Illini committed, as far as those three were concerned, just 14.

Keith Kimble explains the rules of basketball to Ryan Young.

Kofi officially drew 11 fouls, and unofficially drew two or three per possession.

That NU’s free-throw attempts lagged the Illini just 18 to 19 demonstrates that the ‘Cats did a lot of hacking in non-shooting situations. That Illinois reached 20 turnovers for just the second time this season (Marquette, 26) shows that the hacking worked.

Expect more hacking. Paul Mulcahy will certainly bruise Kofi’s forearms on Wednesday. Caleb McConnell will be the triple-teamer who forces held-balls.

Kofi is among the most emotionally balanced players ever to feel the bright lights, elbows & fingernails descend upon him. That’s the reason Illinois fans can hope for some success in the NCAA Tournament this year, regardless of their B1G Championship aspirations.

The B1G has clearly decided that its referees won’t stop play every time someone hacks-a-Kofi. But as James Augustine can tell you, it’s different in the post-season.

Ramses Melendez (+11) whips a pass to Coleman Hawkins (+17)

Sunday’s 73-66 verdict demonstrated a championship-caliber persistence in an Illini team whose stars have been saddled by ever-developing scouting report information. Grandison and Plummer surprised some people early in the season.

Chase: “How about this?” RJ: “Not today.”

There are no surprises in February. Not among foes whose budgets afford top salaries for human scouting, plus plenty $$ remaining for proprietary analytics.

On the other hand, the tendencies of Casey Simmons and RJ Melendez haven’t been compiled to the point that dribbles right on 97 % of ball screens at the top of the key can be deduced from previous performances.

Casey Simmons (+8) was a thorn.

And, of course, they’re both surprisingly bouncy.

Simmons was fantastic for the Wildcats, mostly on defense. Perhaps because, as a freshman, he hasn’t learned to play conservatively. He gambled and won time and again, most obviously when he intercepted Illini passes, and returned them for touchdowns.

RJ’s play, offensively, was the same thing he’s shown at every opportunity this season. It’s the reason Illini social media clamors for additional Ramses every time he gets tick. As Geoff Alexander promised in the pre-season, “he’s exciting.”

Whether RJ’s defense was any good in November, it wasn’t as good as Da’Monte’s defense. Whether RJ’s defense is better in February … still maybe not the point. Melendez minutes don’t require RJ to displace a veteran. As legs tire, as the gauntlet of a 20 game conference season reaches its trench warfare phase, RJ’s minutes will, ideally, provide exactly the kind of difference-making spark that beat Northwestern Sunday.

As Belo keeps Trent fresh, and provides a disorientingly unTrent-ish vibe on offense, so RJ can disrupt opponents simply by being unpredictable.

The weird thing about both these Puerto Ricans, however, is how cool they remain under pressure, despite their manic offensive explosiveness.

And if RJ remains as unflappable as he’s seemed throughout his brief Illini tenure, you can feel good about putting the ball in his hands at crunch time. For a guy who won’t be able to buy beer legally for another 10 months, that’s a remarkable quality.

RJ made 6-of-6 free throws in the last three minutes.

Brad Underwood deviated from a standard 9-man rotation only to the extent that Ben Verdonk played two extremely meaningful minutes, keeping Kofi from committing a third foul before halftime.

That Luke Goode is sometimes the ninth man, that Coleman Hawkins sometimes doesn’t play meaningful minutes: These are indications that Brad is balancing PT based on match-ups, and doing his best to keep everyone involved.

“No”-mar Payne

It doesn’t mean that 10 or 11 guys will see meaningful tick in any game. It means that Podz will be ready the next time Trent hurts his knee. It means Coleman will be available to extend a packed defense.

It’s a great time to be a fan.

Categories
Illini basketball

The Championship Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illinois won.

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

I wouldn’t bet against them.

Categories
Illini Basketball

The Emptiest of Feelings

Ask an objective observer who’s visited every basketball arena in the B1G, and you’re likely to get a unanimous response. Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall is tops. The best, bar none. It’s a purpose-built basketball emporium.

It’s not necessarily the best place to see a game. It’s the best place to experience a game.

For a team like the Illinois Fighting Illini, Assembly Hall II presents a magnificent opportunity for cruelty. 17,222 people — with perhaps 500 Illini fans sprinkled among them — means 16,722 despondent Hoosiers.

Saturday’s Illini performance took a scalpel to the beating, live heart of Indiana basketball, and harvested the organ.

Crushing the hopes of typical Indianans provides a cheap thrill. Brad’s lads did something far more perverse. Ripping the will from their opponents’ very souls, Da’Monte/Trent imposed long-term psychological damage on a group of nice guys who won’t finish last, but might (now that their souls have been ripped out) lose their next four straight, beginning with the Fuck You Miller Kopp, You Human Mediocrity festivities at Welsh-Ryan, Tuesday, 8pm CT, BTN (in case you don’t have anything else to do at 8 pm on Tuesday).

Saturday’s performance was workmanlike, a piecemeal performance-by-committee. Different dudes stepping up. A flash of Grandison to change fortunes. Alfonso extending the pain. Kofi converting at the worst possible moment for the locals. Trent finding his bag of nails, and putting a hammer to their coffin. The flashy moments buttressed by attention to details that always matter: ballhandling, defense & rebounding.

But until March, maybe April, we won’t be able to credibly say whether the Indiana outcome (like the Wisconsin outcome) was caused by the Illini.

Did Illinois convert 10-of-23 three-pointers because they set superior screens and threw better passes? Did Indiana miss 10 of its 13 arc attempts because the Illini consistently forced Indiana to rush their shots?

Ball Don’t Lie is predicated on individual outcomes, but championships are embedded in statistics. Wisconsin and Indiana converting three total attempts from the arc? That’s a coincidence, until it becomes a pattern.

For Illinois’s purposes, you want the Hoosiers to lose at Northwestern and MSU, which got pantsed Saturday at Rutgers. You then want the Hoosiers to beat tOSU on February 19.

As any competent dictator knows, its important to keep the victims demoralized.

As for schadenfreude, Indiana deserves every bit of bad karma it gets, as a collective. There’s a global pandemic afoot, and too many Hoosiers think it’s Fake News.

The SSAH public address announcer kept reminding Indiana fans that mask-wearing could keep crowds at The Skjodt. Those crowds invariably booed the message.

Lots of aerosols

Brad Underwood delivered his postgame Q & A in a room full of aerosols, and two Q-Anon followers on the Twit poked fun at me for mentioning it.

Here’s the thing, assholes: Whether you believe in science or not, Fran McCaffery is away from his team right now, with COVID. If Brad or Brad’s Lads experience a symptomatic infection, they’ll be pulled from action as well, like Belo last week.

Do you want Illinois Basketball to compete for a title? Then stop listening to car salesmen and wrestlers for medical advice. The Illini don’t need a quarantined coach, a quarantined Kofi, a quarantined Trent.

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COVID-19 Illini Basketball Illini basketball

High Noon

Trayce Jackson-Davis has three names, but Brad Underwood used only one during his pre-game Zoom. “Trayce” needs no introduction. You know who he is.

An hour later and 167.7 miles east-by-southeast, new Hoosiers coach Mike Woodson conferred the same respect on “Kofi.”

Kofi Cockburn & Trayce Jackson-Davis

This feels like a fight where the top billing, Godzilla versus King Kong, might not determine the outcome. It oughta be entertaining. But you get the feeling that it’ll be someone else who puts his team on top.

Against Purdue, that other person was Rob Phinisee. Trayce needed only 12 minutes to collect four fouls. It worked out okay for the Hoosiers, because Trevion Williams was ineffective in his 15 of the #BoilerBigs 40 minutes, and Zach Edey got only six shots in his 25.

How did Indiana hold Purdue’s Power Duo to 10 FGA? It’s something to worry about.

Perhaps he was unable to hit them in the face?

The Hoosiers committed THREE total turnovers in that game, and Trayce had two of them. Phinisee came off the bench (as usual) for twenty points, four rebounds and four steals in 26 minutes. That’s a lot of steals. Purdue had none. It’s the product of different defensive philosophies. Woodson’s Hoosiers are doing something more akin to Underwood’s Pokes (and early Illini teams), less pack-line-ish.

But Phinsee won’t pick any pockets tomorrow. Plantar Fasciitis will keep him on the bench.

This won’t happen in Bloomington.

If you looked at early Hoosier results and thought meh, consider three factors.

  1. A new coach/style
  2. Many newcomers playing significant minutes
  3. Trey Galloway’s broken wrist
Galloway is the shaggy one.

Galloway broke his wrist in mid-November. Indiana missed his irritating peppiness for almost two months. He’ll be a pain.

What about Khristian Lander, the heralded super-recruit who arrived in Bloomington and then …

He’s played nine games, starting none. He missed eight straight with a leg injury. Indiana fans still believe in him. They think he’ll be the determining force in Saturday’s contretemps. He’s a turnover machine, and he fouls a lot. We’ll see how that works out.

Xavier Johnson, Parker Stewart and Miller Kopp are the new blood. The Transfer Portal was good to Indiana is how Underwood phrased it. Johnson and Stewart started at Pitt. Stewart left to play for his dad at UT-Martin. His dad died. He left Martin.

Xavier Johnson (IU Athletics)

Johnson arrived at Pitt after Stewart’s lone season, and stayed for three years. Now running the offense in Bloomington, he’s tallied 95 assists for the Hoosiers (and 48 turnovers). Compare Trent Frazier’s 72 (39) and top-ranked Auburn’s Wendell Green’s 110 (47).

The Frazier/Johnson match-up should be as fun to watch as the Bigs Battle, especially for Illini fans.

Stewart is the shooting guard, and he converts 45% from the arc. But he’s attempted only 87 of them. Alfonso Plummer has attempted 160. Frazier’s launched 130. Jacob Grandison 95.

Jake leads Illinois at 43.2% from downtown.

Indiana has attempted 390 3FGs on the year, and their opponents 481. The Illini are up to 537.

Miller Kopp is just as boring for Indiana as he was for Northwestern. Statistically speaking, he does almost nothing but not take away opportunities from his teammates, which is something. Not touted as a defensive stopper, and a proven disappointment as a rebounder, this is the guy you want on the floor to get RJ Melendez some highlight reel.

CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE

Covering an early game in (the other) Bloomington poses some obstacles to an Illini media pool still digging out from a foot of snow.

Sure, one could drive over on Friday evening, once the day’s pre-game availabilities have been edited, transcribed, uploaded. If one survived the snow drifts and howling winds while wending the hollers, one could get a room at The Graduate for just $499. Or Hyatt Place for just $439!

Thing is, Hoosiers basketball remains insanely popular in those hollers. Cityfolk like it too! And rather than get up early and drive, these folks have chosen to drive and drink. They’ll be boozing maskless in downtown Hoosierville ten hours before tip-off. The ones who get to bed before midnight will start again before the game.

So, much to Joey’s consternation, we’ll all get up at 5:30 am, lose an hour crossing the border, and hope that Indiana’s DOT plowed the tiny roads, too.

Your trusted sources, among others.

Illini Report will not have an assigned photography spot at The Skjodt. In fact, among Illini media, only WCIA gets a spot on the floor. COVID and big donors have eaten into floor space.

Instead, Illini Report will enjoy something it hasn’t done since the Indiana blowout of 2019 — watching a basketball game. (Illini Report got so depressed during that game, that it had to walk to the very top of the real Assembly Hall’s bowl to watch Archie Miller — remember him? — rip Andres Feliz’s heart out.)

Illini Report will provide postgame coverage from both media rooms at The Skjodt. Being all fancy about basketball, IU has two of them. The opponent’s room is actually an administrative office for IU softball, and it’s never set up until after the game. No A/V equipment, though. Just chairs.

But because the Illini media pool is so butch, and travels well, IU Athletics Communications made an 11th hour decision, on Friday afternoon, to move our postgame to Suite 1820 of The Skjodt.

If we can find that vending machine, we will communicate Brad’s thoughts about the big win.

Or so we can hope.

This game has, since the schedule came out, seemed like the linchpin of Illinois’s quest for a ’22 championship. A win at Bloomington would define the season.

People who forgot how good this IU team is, perhaps because their coach got fired, need only recall the UI-IU contests of the past three years.

We’ve always known that these particular Hoosiers are dangerous. We knew it when Illinois barely beat them last year, and we knew it when Illinois barely beat them the year before that.

See you bright and early.

Categories
COVID-19 Illini Baseball

The Off Night

KenPom says Wisconsin leads the B1G in “luck.” By a lot.

In fact, the next luckiest B1G team is Michigan State, which checks in at #86. Stanford and Washington are the only other P5 teams in the Top 20. (Illinois is 125, which seems incredibly high given the injuries, illness & Kofi’s $uspenSion.)

Well, the Badgers returned to the mean.

Greg Gard turned to his SID Patrick Herb (their Derrick Burson) to query the Brad Davison 50%-from-three streak. It was 10 games. Davison is a career 36.6% shooter from deep. Pretty good, not great. Kinda normal.

Against Trent, he was 0-for-6.

After a season that saw our All-American sit for a quarter of the games, while our other All-American was just plain out for two months, it’s nice that the other team had bad luck.

Brad Underwood wants you to believe that his team had something to do with the Badgers 3-of-24 performance. That could be true. For example, if Badger shooters were plum tuckered from dodging defenders when they launched those wide-open threes …

Illinois didn’t shoot well from the arc, too. As a team, the Illini were 7-for-22.

But oh boy were they good from a foot away. Wisconsin’s non-fouling policy didn’t work in either sense. The Badgers were called for 10 fouls while guarding Kofi, and they also played Kofi so softly that he was frequently able to convert shots from within double-teams.

Lose-lose.

Andre Curbelo returned from COVID protocol and played eleven minutes (11:29), scoring seven points, dishing two assists and committing two turnovers.

All-Big Ten candidate Johnny Davis led the Badgers with 22 points and 14 rebounds, but he needed 19 shots to get those 22 points. He converted 5-of-19 from the floor, 1-of-5 from three-point range and 11-of-14 from the free-throw line.

Tyler Wahl was Wisconsin’s other double-digit scorer. He scored 12 points in the first half, but only two in the second. Underwood said Illini halftime adjustments made it harder for Wahl to receive the ball in a good position to score.

You probably won’t see Greg Gard make this mistake in the B1G Tournament. Sorry to be a downer.

But hey, FIRST PLACE.