That Old Familiar Feeling

Nov 13, 2018

With about eight minutes left, I started to think about tonight's drive back to St. Louis. I let myself think about what one of these drives would be like after an exciting win. Put on a favorite album, maybe even sing a little bit in the car. And then....

Well, then the same old feeling came back. Just couldn't close. Led 72-68 at that point (when I was daydreaming), and then a 20-8 run from Georgetown to close the game. A game where we're favored by eight and we lost by eight. A game where the crowd is ready to explode and then they're heading for the exits. And yet another quiet, depressing drive back to St. Louis.

I mean, this game was just a continuation of the games across the street this fall, right? I wrote that post where I called us "Turnover U", saying how both coaches base their defenses on creating turnovers. Well, this fall, we've been Knife Through Butter U. That's probably not fair to the basketball team (only two games), but it just feels so familiar. "This could be so much fun if we could just stop them."

I mean, that's it, right? This was a FUN atmosphere. Really felt like I'd leave this game buzzing. And yet, I'm leaving the game deflated. Georgetown was 28-43 on twos (6-18 on threes) and that's the game. Offense is there, defense isn't.

And so here we are as the fanbase that just constantly yells "STOP SOMEONE". That woman who used to sit behind me at football games and scream "tackle him!" on every defensive play? She has to be hoarse by now, right? "This would be fun if we could just find a way to stop their offense" is our thing.

OK, yes, our best player was out. That makes a big difference. As I'm typing this Brad Underwood is doing his inside-the-arena interview after the game and he's talking about missing Trent as the "quarterback" of the defense. Trent took five charges in the last two games, and Underwood felt like those charges were there to be had tonight (he's right) but nobody was there in the right spot.

I'm sure I'll calm down by the time I get back home. Which feels like football as well. This game was dominated by the newcomers (I mean, just dominated - Kipper and AJ had poor games, Trent was out, so Da'Monte was the only returning player who really contributed). This was the Ayo and Giorgi show with Feliz joining the fun in the second half. There's a lot to be said about a coach finding his kind of players.

We've seen that in football too, right? Lovie immediately turned to his own recruits. They're sophomores and freshmen now, and we see glimpses of what he wants them to be, but it's not there yet. That was tonight, right? Certain glimpses of the up-tempo basketball that Brad Underwood wants to play. Several members of his first full recruiting class (Ayo and Giorgi and Tevian Jones and Alan Griffin) all showing glimpses of what kind of team he wants to put on the floor. Very exciting glimpses. But, in the end, the defense lets us down and I drive home thinking about a loss.

I'm so tired of this feeling.

+ OK, let's talk about Ayo. As advertised and more, right? Our top recruit since 2010 and he comes out in his second game and puts up 25 points on 9-15 shooting (3-4 from three) and a perfect 4-4 at the line. Steals, solid defense, running the offense - that was impressive.

I'm just sitting here thinking back on my emotions during that timeout with 7:00 to go. We're leading, even without Trent, and our freshman star is having a breakout game. I follow a lot of national college basketball people on Twitter, and it seemed like all of them were watching this game. Ayo breakout game! Beat Georgetown! 2-0 on our way to Maui!

And then everything slid back to "normal".

+ We should talk about Giorgi too. It's only three games (the exhibition plus these two games), but I think we have to say that he far, far exceeds even the highest expectations anyone had for him. 12 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and, perhaps most importantly, not in any way lost out there.

When we heard he verballed, our expectations were pretty much Matic Vesel, right? Someone we'd never heard of, ranked somewhere in the 300's, and the day he committed we're expecting maybe 5 minutes a game off the bench. Now, three games in, I'm staring at the clock and wondering when Giorgi can come back in with his four fouls because we NEED him in there. He feels so vital to this season (and the next three) and I can't believe I'm saying that.

Underwood said in the postgame radio interview that Giorgi has to learn that this isn't Euro-ball and that his sliding screens are going to get called every time. He said they have officials in practice every day trying to break him of that habit. It wasn't called in Austria, so it's a hard habit to break. I get it - this is his third game.

But if we're grading on a curve, Giorgi has an A+ right now. Way, way beyond anyone's expectations. That's encouraging.

+ What's not encouraging is only having three blocks. As Tyler has written a dozen times, having a rim protector is the single biggest thing this team is missing right now. The defense is going to force turnovers, and when it doesn't, there are going to be guards driving the lane, and when there are guards driving the lane, it would be really nice to have that rim protector. I don't think it's Giorgi (and it was never supposed to be), and I don't think it's Adonis De La Rosa (he never was a shot blocker at St. John's or Kent State, and he has that giant knee brace), and Samba Kane isn't ready, so... yeah. There's nobody to block those shots.

Which means it will probably bother me my entire drive home and then I'll go watch video of new commit Antwan January and hope that he's that guy. Unfortunately, he's not here until next year and we're about to play #3 Gonzaga. Ouch.

+ One problem I saw tonight that will plague us the entire season: guys playing out of position (out of necessity, really). Kipper playing the post (where he doesn't belong - he's 6'-6"). Aaron Jordan playing the four (he needs to be on the wing). Other guards needing to guard bigs.

A lot of that probably depends on De La Rosa. This was his first game since the ACL injury, and he only was cleared to practice last week, so rust is going to be obvious until December. I'll give him five games before I'll pay attention.

But if he can provide a post presence along with Giorgi, then that opens up so much more. Kipper can move more to his natural position, Jordan can move more to his natural position, and on and on down the line.

And tonight was exacerbated by Trent being out. Even the guard rotation was messed up (obviously, without our #1 guy). So when Kipper is at the five and Da'Monte is playing some point guard, everything is off. To build this thing, Underwood is going to need his guys to settle into their roles. Tonight was pretty far off from that.

So yeah, this drive won't be THAT bad. There are positives. I still think this is maybe a 13 or 14 win season, and that's fine. We saw glimpses of what it's supposed to be, and that was honestly exciting. This place was buzzing for a while.

But then, like always, it suddenly wasn't. And that feels way too familiar.


IBFan on November 13 @ 11:33 PM CST

IBFan on November 13 @ 11:48 PM CST

Encouraged by effort. Thanks to crowd as atmosphere seemed great over the tube. Georgetown will do fine in BigEast with their new gaurds, likely tourney team. This is not the same GT as last year. Team showed resilience fighting back numerous times. It probably didn't matter but the review under two minutes on missed Illini shot where we got ball...on the shot it was goal tending. The shot hits backboard first and GT player touches it on way to rim. Watching replay of game and calls, we didn't get any home cooking. Feliz at end gets his right arm raked, guy drives-jumps-lands and then passes and guy hits three, etc etc. But if the guys shoot free throws just a tick better, make an extra three, make one more stop....almost, almost. Great game for team growth, great game for November. Is it crazy I'd take a great atmosphere competitive exciting close loss to GT over a 13 point win over ThanksforTrying State?

Bear8287 on November 14 @ 02:45 AM CST

Is it crazy I'd take a great atmosphere competitive exciting close loss to GT over a 13 point win over ThanksforTrying State?

No it's not crazy. With Trent out, this Illini team went out and fought. For Robert, what if your football team had one clear QB to lead the team and you find out the day of the game that he's not playing because of a concussion?

This game is going to pay dividends for the Illini down the road this season. This is a team that looks like it will get better as the season goes on and probably at a faster clip than most other teams.

I was impressed with Georgetown too. Hats off to them, because they battled for 40 minutes. I agree that they're likely a tourney team this season.

Yes, too many drives, especially allowing McClung to go baseline with his right hand. You could see those as soon as he got the ball that the defender was out of position and he was going to have a straight line to the hoop. I expect that to get better and having Trent back will be a big part of that.

Part of the run at the end was Giorgi picking up his fourth foul. No Trent, no Giorgi, that's tough for this team this early in the season.

For all of the concern about Govan tearing up the Illini in the lane he was held to 11 points and 6 rebounds.

Here are some other stats to consider: The Illini outshot the Hoyas from the floor 67 to 61. The Illini shot one more 3-pointer 19-18 and shot one more free throw 17-16. The Illini forced 22 turnovers and had 17 assists. If you just saw those numbers, you'd have to think that they probably won the game, right?

This is a team with a lot of new players who haven't played much together and their floor general was out for the game. Sure it would've been nice to win this game, but I'm not the least bit discouraged by the outcome.

Joe Edge on November 14 @ 02:50 PM CST

I agree with 99% of your post.... Watching this game was 95% joy. They ran, they played hard, they fought, and they never gave up. This game is going to pay dividends later. Very exciting ...

Groundhogday on November 15 @ 04:44 PM CST

Is Georgetown a Tourney team? I honestly don't know. They certainly weren't predicted to make the tournament coming into this season, and looked like crap in their first two mid-major games. I'm not a little concerned that we made a deeply flawed group LOOK like an NCAA tournament team.

ATOillini on November 14 @ 07:30 AM CST

Really looked like a great atmosphere on the tube. This was a fun game to watch and played very well given it was Nov 13. Our shortcomings are well documented. Rebounds 39-26 and second chance points 11-2 is something we may have to overcome in every game vs good teams. It’s just who we are. When Jordan has an 0-fer night it’s a real problem. Little room for error across the board.

Otherwise I think your analysis is spot on. I’m disappointed and stared at the ceiling in bed last night thinking how is at that the visiting team made every single important shot including 11-11 free throws in second half? Why isn’t it the other way around.

I saw another site post game tweeting that Underwood was thoroughly out coached in second half. I don’t think so. With about 4+ minutes to go we’re up 2 and Kipper gets a perfect wide open 3 that would have been huge. He misses and then they come down and that skinny transfer hits a 3 from the corner. Instead of up 5 we’re down 1 in a matter of seconds. I thought that was absolutely huge.

Let’s hope we continue to improve. This was so much more fun to watch than the paint drying experiences we’ve had recently. Go Illini.

Southernillini on November 14 @ 08:09 AM CST

I have absolutely nothing bad to say about this team. Or last years team. There is a very clear sense of direction here that I havent seen since Self left. An identity. And the players bought in all the way. It's fantastic to see. Are they "there" yet? Nope. But they will play hard. Really hard. And that may earn a signature win or 2 to build from next year. Add a new 4 star big man to the roster to go with Giorgi and we really have something cooking! Ayo may only stay 2 years so we need to make sure we watch this young man and be proud he was wearing our uniform in college.

I just think there is something special here with Underwood.

illiniranger on November 15 @ 08:49 AM CST

Was it Tyler in the preview that said we allowed B1G opponents to shoot 59% in conference? We don't have to be GREAT defensively, but we have got to stop letting any team with a pulse shoot 50%+.

should be a fun team to watch, but man, we are going to leave some Ws out there with this defense.

HiggsBoson on November 16 @ 04:55 PM CST

So, what do you think? 0 for Maui?

1970 John on November 17 @ 01:20 PM CST

How many years out of Ayo? Does he get a U of I diploma?

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