0-4 And I Feel Good
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.