You Play To (Not Lose) The Game
I would be a horrific coach. Just horrific. Mostly because I would, at every moment, play not to lose. It's just how I approach everything. I'm way to cautious for my own good. I'd be constantly looking for ways to not lose. Which would have helped tonight.
With 42 seconds left, Te'Jon Lucas gets a steal. We can now run the clock down to around 15 seconds (with the lead) and hopefully put ourselves up 3 or 4. Te'Jon Lucas tries to throw an alley-oop pass. It goes out of bounds. Maryland ball.
Then, with 18 seconds left, Maryland misses a jumper down one. We get the rebound. My immediate thought is "get the ball to one of the free throw shooters". We get it to Te'Jon Lucas who is 8th on the team in free throw percentage. He's fouled. He only makes one of two.
Maryland comes down and misses a shot, with Cowan just tossing it up hoping to draw the foul. Ball goes out of bounds to Illinois. The officials review. We huddle. All we have to do is inbound the ball to one of our free throw shooters and we win the game. I tweet the free throw percentages because I hope we're designing something to just toss it to one of those guys. The Illini win percentage at this point has to be 97%. Even if the guy misses the free throws, he's fouled with maybe 2.8 seconds on the clock and the Maryland has to take that rebound, go the length of the court, and score. The game is over.
And then we call our last timeout after we see how Maryland set up the defense for the inbounds. Inside, every ounce of play-to-not-lose-the-game me is NO NO NO NO NO. We just did something that increased Maryland's chances of winning. We now don't have any timeouts so the inbounds guy has to throw it in.
And then we design a play where the bailout is to toss it deep. In that timeout all I'd be doing is getting in DaMonte's ear: the only way Maryland wins is if you can't get it in or if you throw it in and no one touches it. Throw a sky ball if you have to - by the time Maryland grabs it they'd have to heave a half court shot. I'm not even instructing players on what to do at that point - all I'm doing is instructing them what not to do. We've won the game. Here are the only ways Maryland can win.
Remember the win over Nebraska in football in 2015? Where Nebraska could have run it down to 15 seconds before punting it out of our endzone yet they threw the ball, incomplete, stopping the clock and giving Illinois 50 seconds after the punt (Illinois was out of timeouts) instead of 12-15 seconds? I was recording my From The Stands at the time and I had already worked out the math. Nebraska had won. Run around and then take a knee on that third down if they have to. The only way Illinois wins at that point is if Nebraska attempts a pass. They attempted a pass. AND, they had a timeout before that third down play to simply tell their QB "the only way we lose is if you throw it - simply run around and fall down and we win".
That's how I'd coach. At the end of games, since I have 18-22 year-old kids out there, I'd use late-game timeouts to simply describe all of the things to not do. As I'm sitting here typing this out I hear Brad Underwood talk about the inbounds play as something he's "used for 30 years", which, I'm guessing, means he simply instructed his players what to do. DaMonte didn't know what not to do. DaMonte threw a full-court pass to Kipper. It went out of bounds and Maryland got the ball under their basket. They missed a three and got the tip-in. The game went to overtime. Illinois lost.
To me, Illinois lost simply because we Herm Edwardsded. We played to win the game instead of playing to not lose the game. We put DaMonte Williams - a freshman - in a position where there are no timeouts and an official counting him down and an odd design with only one player charging the ball (double-teamed, in the corner) and his bailout deep ball was too deep. As Alstork charged the corner, DaMonte already had the deep ball cocked. I'm watching it and that part of me is saying NO NO NO NO NO.
For me, a 97% winning percentage (or whatever it was) isn't enough. When the game is in hand (and this game was in hand), all I do is instruct my players on what not to do. Mike Riley said he told his QB not to throw it - his QB threw it so I say Mike Riley didn't tell him. Riley put him in a position where he was running a play (the instructions should have been "take the snap, run over here, take a knee when they close in"), and Nebraska lost.
In tonight's presser, Underwood said that the design was to inbound to Alstork in the corner. I say the same thing as above - DaMonte threw it out of bounds which means he likely wasn't instructed to not throw it out of bounds. Again, in that timeout, my only words are "here's the only way Maryland wins - don't do these two things". He did one of those things.
Now, this is the reason Brad Underwood has a $3-million-per-year contract and I'm sitting here typing these things for my hobby. The other, oh, 422 things that happened in this game to bring Illinois back from a 22-point deficit with 17 minutes remaining and somehow take the lead were because Underwood plays to win the game. My way sucks. My way accomplishes nothing.
Besides, you know, winning the game when the chances of Maryland winning are somewhere around 1-in-40.
+ Overall, things are pointing in a very positive direction, three-straight-excruciating-losses-in-games-we-could-have-absolutely-won notwithstanding. This is the preparation, learn-the-system year. I ran through the schedule the other day and came away with 14-18 (5-13) for this season. After the meltdown at EIU (and the way the players looked scared), I made a massive adjustment to my expectations for the season. The media picked Illinois 12th in a 14 team Big Ten, I thought that was crazy, then I saw the product on the court and said "oh, right - because of that". 12th seems right. 5 or 6 Big Ten wins seems right. 7 players left after last season, Underwood is trying to change the entire culture, it will take some time.
So take this team, make them learn every possible lesson they can learn this year, then replace Alstork with Ayo and go win a lot of games next year. I feel like things are still on schedule for that. The way we played in the second half and in overtime, perhaps ahead of schedule. It's just going to take some time.
+ Mark Smith points per game: 9-13-21-13-13-3-5-5-0. That's... a bit unexpected. Hope he can snap out of it - we need him.
Also - is his starting spot safe? Seems to me that DaMonte might be pushing for that starting spot. And while we're at it, Te'Jon better be looking over his shoulder for Trent Frazier. Lucas tonight: 14 minutes, 2 assists, 2 turnovers. Frazier tonight: 28 minutes, 7 assists, 1 turnover.
+ I have to say, that second half comeback was a lot of fun. I spend so much time talking about the good ol' days. "Remember the last time we played Wake Forest?" and "that reminds me of the 1999-2000 team" and such. So to hear the place so deafeningly loud during the comeback - that was so great. When Jordan hit that three from Mahomet and Maryland took a timeout, this place went bonkers. Like 1999-2000 bonkers.
Which means that by the time I get home, I'll feel pretty good about this one. We're close, and this is just the beginning. In four years, I really do believe this thing will be absolutely rolling and a bonkers SFC will become the norm again.
Just try not to lose when the game is won, OK?