Enjoyable Meltdowns

Nov 12, 2017

I'm three games in on watching Brad Underwood from press row (including the EIU exhibition) and I have to say - I think he gets excited when things go poorly. Tonight, when UT-Martin cut the lead from 16 to 3 in the final four minutes, my sense was that Underwood's reaction was "yes! finally!". I mean, he's glad that UT-Martin couldn't really get a look at a three pointer and Illinois pulled it out, but I really think he enjoyed the meltdown.

Let's see if I can explain this.

I wrote several years ago that Bruce Weber was like a helicopter parent. Sometimes I swore that DJ Richardson was going to turn around mid-play and scream "would you just let me play basketball?!?". If I played for him, it would feel like he was constantly peering over my shoulder.

John Groce was more of the youth football parent who is constantly running up and down the sidelines instead of sitting in the bleachers. That's not necessarily a bad thing - I prefer that parent to the helicopter parent in the bleachers yelling "Billy we talked about this!". But it's how Groce behaved on the sideline - high energy, a lot of pacing back and forth - we've all seen that parent at a youth sporting event.

Underwood is the confident type. There's yelling (oh, there will be yelling - he's a Frank Martin disciple), but there's also this confident smile that says "do you NOW see what I was talking about?". It's more of a "wait until your father gets home" vibe.

At practice, he teaches his players what not to do. When they do it in a game, they'll sometimes get the yell, but I think they'll sometimes get the smile. The "do you get it NOW?" smile. The "we've talked about this very thing, haven't we" smile.

So when a 16 point lead shrinks to 3 in the final minutes and the players look more scared than anything, the coach isn't "what are you guys doing??". His demeanor is more "FINALLY you'll listen to me at practice". This coach seems very confident in his system, knows that it works, and knows what will happen when his players don't listen.

And when they don't listen and what he predicted starts happening, I think it makes him overjoyed. If we're going to stop losing and start winning, those bad habits have to go away. And when the players fail on the court, well, now they know why coach was on them so much at practice.

And they kind of dread tomorrow's practice.

I'm not going to sit here and say that this is the path back to basketball dominance. I more or less did that after one year of John Groce - "the freedom these players feel getting out from under a helicopter coach is amazing" - so I've learned my lesson.

It's just interesting how different it is. There seemed to be not an ounce of panic in Brad Underwood as the lead shrank from 16 to 3. I think he was.. enjoying it? And that's the same as last Friday night and the loss to EIU in the exhibition. I think he… preferred to lose? He's all for whatever it takes to get the players to realize that they're not doing what they're told.

Now, I don't think this will continue. I don't think it will be 2019 and Underwood will say "our eighth loss in a row - maybe finally you'll listen to me". It would get quite old after a while. But as the rebuild begins (with a young team that has one transfer senior), I really think he enjoys a game like this. The players get to see what their bad habits produce? Perfect. Can't wait for practice on Monday.

+ Aaron Jordan is certainly the surprise of the season so far. 17 points in the opener, 10 points tonight. And some flashes of things he never showed before on both ends of the court.

The last two years he often appeared wide-eyed. Like the moment was a little too big for him. Tonight, there was this moment where he gave one of the officials (Bo Boroski) a smile and a head-tilt after a call which made Boroski laugh. A little glimpse of personality like that tells me he's no longer wide-eyed.

There's always that player whose career arc changes with a coaching change. After two games, it looks like Aaron Jordan will be that player this season.

+ The rotation seems fairly set after three games. There are only 11 scholarship players, and Underwood seems to be set on nine of them being in the regular rotation. Lucas-Smith-Alstork-Black-Finke are the starters with Jordan, Kipper, Frazier, and Williams being the bench players (in that order, I think). Kipper comes in for Finke or Black. Frazier usually replaces Lucas. Jordan and Williams are in a rotation with Smith and Alstork.

And then there's the two freshman bigs. Eboigbodin only played the final 0.9 seconds (for defense on the final inbounds from UT-Martin). Vesel didn't play at all. So let's call Eboigbodin 10th man and Vesel 11th. When there's foul trouble with the bigs, we'll see them. When there's not, we probably won't see them.

+ Overall, there's a long way to go, but we knew that. Well, most of us knew that, and then I accepted it after the EIU loss. This is a team that lost seven players (Hill, Tate, Abrams, Morgan, Thorne, JCL, and DJW) and changed to a new coach and scheme so… things are going to be rough for a while. There will be lots and lots of teachable moments this season.

And I think Brad Underwood will enjoy them all.


1970 John on November 13 @ 08:37 AM CST

I see a lot of Herb Brooks madness in Underwood’s method. He pushed the team into losses to make a point and there were a lot of wind sprits in practice. Treadmills and skates don’t match. But yes, lose now to win later. For Brooks it was that final game. For Underwood it’s B1G play.

PapaDels4me on November 13 @ 09:12 AM CST

"I'm not going to sit here and say that this is the path back to basketball dominance. I more or less did that after one year of John Groce - "the freedom these players feel getting out from under a helicopter coach is amazing" - so I've learned my lesson."

I definitely feel this way myself. I was so happy to anoint JG in the first year and a half. And I did the same with Bruce too, but I think everyone was completely taken with Bruce in 2005. But, anyway, back to your point, which is also my point. I'm not insightful enough to say yet that BU is The Man and will forever be The Man, but I do like what I see so far and I'm willing to stay the course.

Clearly, his recruiting is already superior to anything we've seen in a decade. I think his coaching is as well. But I'll wait to declare that. In the meantime, it is more fun to watch. Go Illini !

Edit: I added this merely to confirm that there is now an edit button and to say "Thank you!!"

DB50 on November 13 @ 09:32 AM CST

Brad Underwood's hire was a great coup for Josh Whitman. His track record at Stephen F. Austin & Oklahoma State speak for themselves, 111-27 (.804) & numerous trips to the NCAA. Weber & Groce didn't have this type of cache for experience. Underwood learned from some of the great minds in the business, Frank Martin & Bob Huggins. He paid his dues, borrowed from them, used his own ideas to shape a team. The fact that BU pinned to be head BB coach at Illinois makes it all the sweeter. The arrow is pointed straight up for Illini men's BB, but there will be learning curves along the way.

illiniranger on November 13 @ 10:03 AM CST

i like the aggressive style of play on both ends. it's refreshing to see a team attack the paint and generate free throw attempts.

Norcal Illini on November 13 @ 11:35 AM CST

Last night was the first game I got to see the team play, and I was also pleasantly surprised by the style of play. You mentioned after the EIU game that Mark Smith is the real deal, and I agree wholeheartedly. He doesn't look all that athletic, but he has a knack for scoring. He also didn't do too badly when he was the point guard after Lucas got in foul trouble. Maybe it was my imagination, but Finke looks like he can move his feet on D much better than he did in the past.

Of course, nearly blowing a 16 point lead to UT Martin, but it looked like a combination of some lucky shots (banked-in 3 pointer), some questionable calls, missed free throws, and a young team still trying to figure out how to close games.

orangejulius on November 13 @ 04:37 PM CST

Two games (3 if you count EIU) are enough to show me that we have some nice players but not likely enough to make the NCAA or finish top half in the conference. In order to make the tourney we needed to keep Tilmon or at least replace him with a decent 5th year big, and we failed to do either. It's hard to blame Underwood for that, but if he fails to get a good post player with the PT we have available next season, something is wrong. If we can somehow get some decent bigs and a wing shooter, I really like our chances going forward, but 10th in the conference looks about right for this team. If Underwood somehow makes the tourney with his roster, build a statue.

Bear8287 on November 14 @ 01:00 AM CST

Basically Robert's 2.5 years and you'll know all that you need to know even held true for JG. If giving Groce one more season meant that we got the opportunity to hire Coach Underwood then I'm good with that.

What I enjoyed most from watching this game? The ball flying up court after rebounds or an opposing bucket. Gone are the days of wondering if the Illini will get called for a 10 second violation even when there isn't any pressure on the ball. Maybe we can send some footage to Coach TNT to show him what "attack mode" looks like.

I still think that it's more likely that this team makes the NCAA tourney than not. Having two early conference games near the beginning of December doesn't help though. How weird, just to stick the B1G tourney in NYC.

HiggsBoson on November 14 @ 08:02 PM CST

Somewhat OT: Tim Finke has committed to something called "Grand Canyon". I assume it's some sort of school and not the geologic feature.

Bear8287 on November 16 @ 12:37 AM CST

Sounds like a program that has a big hole to crawl out of...

So on December 30th, does Tim root for his brother and the Illini or for his newly adopted team? (Should make him a favorite at the SFC.)

orangejulius on November 15 @ 03:40 PM CST

A for profit school in the nature of DeVry, University of Phoenix, etc. Hard to believe his father was on board with this one, but I guess he is the same guy who thought it was a good idea to kick a good African American player off of his team for reasons which seem to be unknown to the media the player, and the player's family.

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