Trust Issues

Dec 02, 2017

"Any time my team only has 8 assists - that's a problem"

- Brad Underwood.

After a second game in a row in which Illinois wasted a substantial first half lead - losing in overtime tonight to Northwestern 72-68 in the Big Ten Conference opener for both teams - Brad Underwood suddenly finds himself with quite a few problems actually. Most notable being that his team is playing a game counter-intuitive to his grand design.

In the final three minutes of regulation, Illinois forced Northwestern into turnovers on FOUR consecutive possessions, but converted those turnovers into exactly zero points. Prior iterations of Brad Underwood teams would have used such opportunities as coffin nails.

To be fair, sometimes a team just has to shoot its way to a win, but with a roster thin on reliable shot makers, that's going to remain a challenge for this Illinois team. The hope for this season was that they could "out-system" opponents - overwhelming them with a relentless onslaught of pressure on both ends of the floor.

However, in its first two real tests of the season, Illinois frustratingly reverted back to the same bad habits which plagued last season. To wit: just eight assists on 22 made field goals. A mere five offensive rebounds. 19 turnovers. An offense devoid of the ball movement and cutting which Underwood so desires. His offense is predicated on getting the easiest of shot opportunities, but over these past two games, Underwood has watched his team labor mechanically just to get difficult ones.

He implores his offense to try to find shots within the first seven seconds of the shot clock when at all possible, but this team is slamming on the breaks instead. Illinois had only eight fast break points against Northwestern, and only 19% of the offense this season so far has come in transition. By contrast, in his single season at Oklahoma State, Underwood's Cowboys were 24th in the nation in percentage of shots taken in transition (27%).

Compared with other Big Ten teams, our 19% number is better than only OSU, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. Rutgers is running more than we are. RUTGERS !

We've seen a lot of "anti-Underwood" basketball quite honestly.

From a purely objective sense, this first week of December is crucial to Illinois' tournament hopes. Yet two extremely winnable road games have already slipped away, and a very good Maryland team looms on Sunday. Finish this week 0-3 and all of a sudden you are facing a mountainous climb to an NCAA berth.

However, I don't think you can view this season in a binary (Wins = WE ARE BACK!!/Losses = "OH NO WE SUCK AGAIN") fashion. I don't dare to be so presumptuous so as to tell people how to consume their basketball entertainment, but a healthy dose of perspective is likely going to be required for this season. I'm willing to let this season breathe a little bit, I remain excited about watching this team evolve.

And to be sure there have been positive signs. Intermittent bursts of the kind of basketball Underwood is preaching. We saw that in the first ten minutes of both games this week. Plus the defense was excellent tonight - completely unnerving a Northwestern team purported to be loaded with seasoned veterans.

This team isn't played scared mind you - just tentative. The hesitancy has been tangible in crucial moments in each of the past two games. They have shown a lot of fight - just not much trust. They don't yet trust the system, and they don't yet trust themselves.

Mike Finke had only six shot attempts in the last two games. Leron Black turned it over four times against Wake and five more times tonight. Te'Jon Lucas - who played an otherwise great game last night - attempted to go one on five with the game on the line. This kind of stuff gets better when players begin to consistently demonstrate trust in the system.

To fully turn the corner this team needs a baptism by fire, and success borne out of trust. They aren't going to get there beating up on Longwood and Austin Peay. That comes too easy. They need to experience that success (wins) in tough games against quality opponents. Ernest Hemingway said: "The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them". I suppose that holds true for basketball as well.


  • With renovations ongoing at Welsh-Ryan Arena, Northwestern will be playing its home games this season here in Rosemont at the Allstate Arena. The last time I was in this building prior to tonight was -- Saturday, March 26, 2005. All things equal - I had a much better time that night. That said it was enjoyable to see at least a 2:1 ratio of Orange to Purple in the building. ILLINOIS: ROSEMONT's BIG TEN TEAM.

  • Minutes for the Illini freshmen are suddenly at a premium. Mark Smith started but only played 8 minutes. Trent Frazier only 10. Greg Eboigbodin and Matic Vesel were DNPs. The one exception - Da'Monte Williams (DMW) who played an energetic 20 minutes. Because defense.

  • Opening conference play on December 1 is indeed kind of weird, but I actually kind of like it. And I think we should all probably get used to it, because when the league moves to a 20 game schedule starting next season - I'd bet on more December conference matchups.


HiggsBoson on December 02 @ 01:17 PM CST

So, anybody see a correlation between reduced minutes for freshmen and reduced success on the court?

Illiniiniowa on December 02 @ 03:05 PM CST

How about a correlation between Power 5 road games and reduced freshman minutes?

IlliniHimey on December 02 @ 03:03 PM CST

I like eating steak.

Bear8287 on December 02 @ 04:53 PM CST

Thanks for the post Tyler.

This team is definitely a work in progress. On the plus side, the guys are scrapping and not giving up on anything.

Illinois frustratingly reverted back to the same bad habits which plagued last season.

Yes, especially not converting on those takeaways towards the end of regulation. It looked eerily similar to scenes from last season, with little penetration or movement into/through the lane.

The passing is better, although there are times where I'd like to see less dribbling and the ball being reversed quicker. Towards the end of regulation everyone just seemed to be content to stand around the perimeter. I suspect though that the coaching staff will be able to correct this over time (hopefully not too long).

Expect to see a lot of zone D thrown at the Illini until the players figure this out though. Again, 3-pt shooting was an issue. If the Illini can't penalize the zone D by hitting open 3's then teams are going to sag into the middle. This will make it harder to drive, get good entry passes inside, grab offensive rebounds and it will also slow down the pace of the game; four things that the Illini don't want to have happen. Northwestern used it pretty effectively to wipe out the Illini's first half lead and eventually to win the game.

Thanks again for writing this up. It's nice to read something worth reading about Illini basketball on IllniBoard. By my count we're already 1/4 of the way through the season and didn't have any coverage of the games against Tennessee Martin, Marshall or Augustana. Not sure that I'd count the "I Don't Mind" section under a slapdash as "coverage" of the Wake Forest game but apparently it was good enough for some IlliniBoard readers. I thought that maybe this would change once B1G play started, but now I'm not so sure.

So far it looks like you're writing about once per week for IlliniBoard. Is that the plan going forward? Sure would like to see more of your writing posted here. Keep up the good work.

Walkon on December 02 @ 09:32 PM CST

I think the plan this season is to try to cover most every home game between Robert and myself - plus any local game (NW/ the UC game/Mizzou/etc) that makes sense. For the record, I think Robert did cover Marshall ("Relentless") and UTM ("Enjoyable Meltdowns?)

I'm not sure if I'll be covering a game per week but it's worked out that way so far this season. That said I don't think I'm due to cover again until NMSU up here in Chicago. I know I'm also due back in Champaign for the Grand Canyon game.

Hopefully Robert and I can also fill in some gaps with some Back and Forths as the season progresses.

Thanks for reading - and also for the feedback.

Bear8287 on December 03 @ 02:54 AM CST

Thanks for the reply Tyler and for the corrections. This is what I believe the coverage looks like after the first game with Southern:

Trust Issues, Dec 2, 2017, Northwestern (Tyler)
Slapdash, Dec 1, 2017, Wake Forest (Robert)
Next Steps, Nov 25, 2017, North Carolina Central (Tyler)
Relentless, Nov 19, 2017 Marshall (Robert)
Sustainable, Nov 18, 2017, DePaul (Tyler)
Enjoyable Meltdowns, Nov 12, 2017 UT-Martin (Robert)
SOC - Indiana (With Basketball!) , Nov 10, 2017 Southern (Robert)

So the only game that was left completely uncovered was the Augustana game and the Southern and Wake Forest games were folded into other articles.

Also, since you're following the posts here, there's one other issue that I've brought up before and it's that the articles once they're pushed off of the first forum page no longer link properly.

For example, if you go to the second forum page listing here: and say that I want to read your article "Culture Shock". If I click on the article, it directs me to: which generates a "404 Not Found" error.

The link that really should be generated for the Culture Shock article is: and it works. For some reason, once stories are pushed off of the first page, the links are no longer correctly generated. The extra "/forum/page" in the URL just breaks it.

Seems like this should be a relatively easy fix.

Thanks for the articles and the replies.

ATOillini on December 03 @ 08:23 AM CST

Good post Tyler. I agree with with you on every point. We're shooting .328 from 3 for the season.....take away Jordan's 20 for 30 (obviously that won't hold up) and we're at the .26 mark. That is simply awful after 8 games of which 6 were against inferior opponents. As stated above here, I would expect too see a ton of zone until we can prove to be better than that.

We simply outplayed NU but somehow lost. Finke tends to disappear against better opposition. Also, Black is so important to this team and deserves a ton of credit. But when the ball goes in to him in the post it's just not coming back out regardless of how many guys collapse on him.

I was really impressed with our defense. Da'Monte is just unbelievable for a freshman. He reminds me so much of Bruce Douglas defensively. He has Big 10 defensive player of the year potential. If his offensive game gets going he has a great career ahead of him.

Congrats to Women's Volleyball......and beat Maryland.

NJJ87 on December 04 @ 08:59 AM CST

I'm glad you like Da'Monte, but the Bruce Douglas comparison is a little much. Bruce Douglas is still the All-Time Big Ten leader in steals with 324, 2.5/game(he also finished his career as the all-time leader in assists, and remains 2nd all-time). He had 78 steals, or 2.44/game during his freshman season en route to leading the Illini in steals in each of his 4 years at Illinois. The closest to him in career steals, Dee Brown, was 93 behind him. He was a 2-time Big Ten Def. POY and is one of the all-time greatest lock-down defenders in Big Ten history. No offense, but it is very unlikely that Da'Monte will be remembered like that. He has 8 steals an 0 blocks through 9 games.

AGig21 on December 03 @ 03:28 PM CST

OSU started 0-6 in the Big 12; up to that point they had trust issues too.

HiggsBoson on December 06 @ 09:31 PM CST

Well, they beat Austin Peay in a game that should have been called on account of ugliness, so at least the didn't blow it like the last three. It looks to me like the team is paying less attention to coaching as we go along rather than more. It occurs to me that we're at about the point in the schedule where it was obvious that the football season was over even though there were more games to play. Had the Illini lost tonight, that might have also applied to basketball. At least Underwood can recruit, but he's going to have to get the players paying attention to his coaching. Tonight looked like Groce's offense on meth. That is to say, ugly and frantic.

I really hate to see the B1G force conference games in December. Ruins the most interesting part of the season with ugly games and bad officiating. Oh well. Volleyball is doing pretty well and it'll be golf season before you know it.

Speak Your Mind

Please login or register to post comments on the IlliniBoard.