0-4 And I Feel Good


Robert
Jan 06, 2018
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10 Comments

I can't really explain myself. I navigate fandom completely by intuition. When people ask "why did you pick us to lose to Rutgers?" or "why did you pick us to beat Wisconsin", I can't answer. I just go with my gut. And my gut feels good today.

Why does it feel good? I just told you - I can't explain it. But after watching this Michigan game, I'm pretty damn excited about our future. I can't really put specific reasons for that other than "I think this coach can teach his system". Michigan hit nearly every shot in the second half - yes, many times because of defensive breakdowns - and what looked good in the first half looked bad in the second half and now we're 0-4 in the Big Ten. I'm OK with that. 5-12 from three in the second (at one point I believe they were 5 for 8), 11-13 from two, they turn a 3 point first half deficit into a 10 point win at home with some old-fashioned Beileining.

And I turned off the TV thinking we might do some Underwooding real soon. I should probably explain my journey over the past 18 months.

I'm a football guy (yes, the "I'm merely a caveman" defense). With basketball, I have a cheat sheet. Which is mostly "recruiting is everything, coaching is only part of the thing". I sat in the parking lot of a Waffle House in Kentucky the night that Quentin Snider committed to Illinois and, after reading that Cliff Alexander had set up his official visit, tweeted that we were "back". Then Q flipped in the middle of the night, Cliff did the hat thing, and we continued to be "one player away". Brunson... no. Evans... no. Always right there ready to turn the corner... and no.

But what I didn't see while scanning the horizon for the recruit who would bring us back was that Groce was really struggling in the X's and O's. I've given my Price Is Right Range Game example before - recruiting is the range box (with these recruits we'll be somewhere between $9,600 and $11,400), and then coaching decides which end of the box we end up in. All five years, while waiting for that recruit, I wasn't paying attention to the fact that we kept getting $9,900 coaching performances. (Well, I was paying attention, I'm just an unfrozen caveman basketball watcher.)

So I vowed to see the next coach differently. To pay attention to people who know basketball and to see what they say they're seeing. And to try to learn myself on what is "good" coaching and what is "bad". Today, watching this game, my gut said "wow - good coaching".

And Twitter said that as well. Especially Michigan fans. Here's a tweet from Brian at MGoBlog after the game:

yeah, after two recent games vs Brad Underwood I bet the Michigan fanbase is more positive about the future of Illinois basketball than Illini fans https://t.co/yCptx6BKwy

-- mgoblog (@mgoblog) January 6, 2018

And make sure you go read the thread of tweets he's quoting. I don't know who any of those Michigan people are (Brian follows them, and that's good enough for me), but they seem to know their basketball and love them some Underwood.

So when I read things like that from opposing fanbases and they match with what my gut is saying - man do I feel good. Add to the fact that as soon as I finish typing this I'm headed to my old high school gym to watch Ayo play (as well as EJ Liddell and Adam Miller) - I'm in a good place today.

And I have to say - this game might have bumped up my expectations for next year even more. Shooting continues to be a massive concern, but we got a glimpse of what Underwood has been saying ("Mark Smith will start making a lot of threes soon"), and we got a lot of great looks at the basket (Eboigbodin 5-5 from the field with all layups and dunks). Add Ayo to this, get four freshman-to-sophomore leaps, get three "I'll have my best year my final year" performances from next year's seniors, and this thing could really be rolling.

Yes, I understand that this sounds weird after our fourth straight Big Ten loss (and the first game where we weren't in the game with three minutes remaining). We still don't know how to win on the road. But I felt like I started to see the future during this game. We know what we're doing - we just don't execute very well yet. As we continue to add players like Ayo, we'll start to see this thing take off. I really do believe that.

A few quickie thoughts and then I need to get to the high school shootout.

  • I was so wrong about Eboigbodin. When he committed I believe I compared him to famed Kansas State flameout recruit Jack Krap. 9 points at Minnesota, 10 points today, 2 more big blocks today. It's not just Kipper who needs to be worried about his minutes, it's Finke.
  • Speaking of Kipper, nice bounce-back game. He's certainly Underwood's main project, I think. Might end up really good as a senior, might get frustrated by it all and transfer. Today, though, good stuff.
  • The biggest issue with the freshman guards right now - turnovers. 17 turnovers from the Illini today - 6 from Mark Smith, 5 from Trent Frazier, and 2 from Da'Monte Williams. 13 of the 17 turnovers from the freshman guards. The good news - turnovers is one of the biggest things that gets erased during sophomore leaps. The bad news - they still have 14 Big Ten games to go as freshmen, plus the BTT.
  • It came out after the game that Leron was sick and that certainly showed. Looked nothing like the Leron of the past 10 games.

OK, I'm late. No time to even proofread and edit this one so sorry for all the typos you just read. Gotta go watch our future. That includes you too, EJ Liddell and Adam Miller.

Comments

neale stoner on January 06 @ 07:10 PM CST

We are in serious need of large sized Big Ten players. We have one-Leron, and he is not that large. Finke will never cut it. Greg needs a much better body. Also need shooting wings. Revert to your caveman. Even a good coach needs players

neale stoner on January 06 @ 07:13 PM CST

We are in serious need of large sized Big Ten players. We have one-Leron, and he is not that large. Finke will never cut it. Greg needs a much better body. Also need shooting wings. Revert to your caveman. Even a good coach needs players

MuckFichigan92 on January 07 @ 12:03 AM CST

"I don't know who any of those Michigan people are (Brian follows them, and that's good enough for me), but they seem to know their basketball."

Liars and crooks, without question. No such thing as a Michigan hoops fan. Subway alumni, sure, but all are just waiting until Fall. Cheat enough to make it to Spring practice.

uilaw71 on January 07 @ 07:32 AM CST

Have you checked out the Sparty board? They’d love you there.

Bear8287 on January 07 @ 12:02 PM CST

And right now, we're just in first gear, slowly and methodically overhauling everything. Hope you brought a pillow because this is going to be a long trip. --January 4, 2018

Two days later and after another 10 point loss:

But after watching this Michigan game, I'm pretty damn excited about our future. I can't really put specific reasons for that other than "I think this coach can teach his system". --January 6, 2018

Okay, so who are you and what have you done with Robert?
:-D

Yes, the coaching change is the biggest reason to be optimistic about the direction of Illini basketball at this moment.

Still early for "must win" games, but the Iowa game is getting pretty close if this Illini team is going to have a shot at the tourney.

There are no "easy" wins in the conference this year. Every team has pretty much shown that on any given night they can beat a "good" team.

As a side note: Unfortunately for the Illini, they had to play the gophers with Coffey (16 pts, 4 reb, 3 ast, 1 blk) and Lynch (11 pts, 12 reb, 7 blk, 1 stl) while it looks like the rest of the conference now will get to play the gophers without those two players. I'd like to think that the Illini win that game without Coffey and Lynch on the floor...

Andy Katz is also pretty upbeat on the Illini right now. See here.

Alrighty then, I'm ready now to see the Illini go on a 4+ game winning streak. ;-)

Illinimac68 on January 07 @ 07:24 PM CST

One loss at a road/neutral site, one at home, two on the road. The two on the road were to teams that predicted to finish higher than we will and we lost by ten each time. I think one problem with the development here is we mix and match lineups more than other teams. Put that together with all the newcomers and we're just not as efficient on offense. I'm still hoping for a team like Lon Kruger's first that tears up the conference tournament. I also agree we need some bigs. Even if Ebo turns out to be a great find we still need more depth. It's really hard to say that Nichols and Jordan are "bigs" and Finke, though he's tall, is ideally a 3 when he's in.

McAdoo on January 07 @ 11:39 PM CST

I really hate saying this, but I think this team makes the NCAA Tournament if Jeremiah Tilmon sticks around. We just don't have enough big bodies to compete in the conference this year.

On that front - Underwood has to somehow find another big man or we're just going to run into the same problem over the next couple years. I believe we have two scholarships open, at least one of them needs to go to a big man. It doesn't necessarily have to be a Top 50 guy, but someone that can at least give us quality minutes rebounding and defending down low.

orangejulius on January 08 @ 08:04 AM CST

Underwood may be a better x and o's coach, but if we had kept Groce we would be having a better season with JCL and Tilmon on our roster, even if Mark Smith didnt come, which he likely would have. With our glaring lack of shooting, size and athleticism, Underwoods recruiting for 2018 and 2019 will show us whether he will succeed or fail. We are seeing how successful a coach who supposedly excels with strategy can be with a weak roster.

Bear8287 on January 08 @ 12:04 PM CST

if we had kept Groce we would be having a better season

Personally doubt this, but there's no way to prove it one way or the other.

With our glaring lack of shooting, size and athleticism

The lack of "athleticism" slight seems to get hurled around a bit. Exactly how do you define "athleticism" and in what way do you see that the current Illini are lacking in that regard?

We are seeing how successful a coach who supposedly excels with strategy can be with a weak roster.

Well, we saw last year how the last coach was able to perform with a relatively strong roster (see Fair Shake). The current coach has also been to the NCAA tourney 4 more times in the last 4 years than the last coach. If had to bet, Brad Underwood will likely have a team back in the tourney again before John Groce.

orangejulius on January 11 @ 09:48 PM CST

Athleticism. Body control, jumping ability, coordination, resulting in dunks, blocks acrobatic finishes at the rim. Completely lacking on this roster.

I strongly disagree that we had a strong roster last season. Nothing resembling NBA talent in anyone on our team. It was a weak roster. The last decent roster we had made the tournament and Groce almost took us to the S16.

Again I will hold out hope that Underwood can recruit, but not super encouraged by results far. Ayo is fantastic but why did he or his handlers chase away Horton Tucker a top 60 recruit who would have made us a better team.

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