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.