Fighting Illini


Robert
Nov 20, 2018
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12 Comments

This will be a quick one. It's 1:30 in the morning and I have to work tomorrow (er, later today). But I might not be able to sleep because I'm so jazzed about an Illini loss. When is the last time you were encouraged by a loss? Feels like forever, right?

For those of you who didn't stay up, a quick recap. We hung around and hung around and hung around with #3 Gonzaga in the first half, mostly led by Giorgi and his repertoire of post moves. Right before the half, Gonzaga hit two big threes and pushed out to a seven point lead (actually I think one of them was changed to a two because we were down two, then we were down seven). It was mostly Giorgi scoring, plus some Jordan threes, plus some Ayo. Trent only had two points at the break and looked like he was still in a fog.

Then Gonzaga quickly pushed out to a 13 point lead in the second half and we all thought about going to bed. It was past midnight, Gonzaga was favored by 14.5, it looked like that was the direction the game was headed.

Then, some Trent happened. Long story short, a 13 point lead became two, and we even had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead. I believe that was the play where Trent drove the lane and dished to Giorgi but Giorgi wasn't looking. That's OK, right? Still down two with about 3:00 to go.

Then, suddenly, we're down 10 again. Gonzaga hit a bunch of threes and we were finished. BUT WERE WE? Alan Griffin drives the lane and scores. Alan Griffin hits a big three. Gonzaga travels. Trent comes down, hits a three, and gets fouled. Now there's 1:00 to go and we're only down two! And - AND - we force Gonzaga into a shot clock violation, meaning there's 30 second left, we have the ball, down two, against the #3 team in the country, Trent dribbles down the shot clock to about 10 seconds, puts a great step-back on his defender (the guy bought the step and we moving backwards), releases the three that might win the game....

(Air ball. We foul Gonzaga, they hit both free throws, Trent gets a desperation three blocked with 4 second left leading to a Gonzaga dunk at the buzzer, Gonzaga wins by six.)

OK, now you're caught up. If you missed it, you really missed something. So much fight from these Illini. In the second half they just wouldn't go down. A Final Four favorite keeps pushing us away, annoyed that this pesky little 14-18 team just won't go away. The final comeback with two minutes left was fed a bunch of Gonzaga mistakes - "WOULD JUST JUST STOP PESTERING US" mistakes.

I'm struggling to think of a recent Illini game with more fight. We just would not go away. The announcers were talking about it. Twitter was talking about it. Half the country is asleep but here we are going toe to toe with #3.

Now, does it mean anything? Like, are we a tournament team if we can hang with #3 and have a shot to win with 10 seconds left? I don't think so. We're still so young. Kipper and Feliz were both in foul trouble (both had four fouls and Kipper onlt played 9 minutes while Feliz played 16), and De La Rosa only played five minutes, so the rotation was basically Aaron Jordan and the underclassmen.

And that's the lineup that led to the comeback. With Ayo, Kipper, and Feliz all having four fouls, it was Trent - Da'Monte - Griffin - Jordan - Giorgi on the floor for the furious comeback. Sophomore - sophomore - freshman - senior - freshman. The Illini scored 78 points - 16 from the upperclassmen and 62 from the underclassmen.

That's what has me so excited after a loss. It's two-fold.

1. We were led by the freshmen and sophomores who are only going to get better.
2. Those freshmen and sophomores fought and fought and fought some more.

Yes, there's probably a rough road between here and where we want to be. We're still crazy young and inexperienced, and we'll probably lay an egg tomorrow after such an emotional roller coaster tonight. That's usually how it goes for teams with eight newcomers. Have to build it.

But the bricks we're building with are so encouraging.

  • Trent Frazier, 29 points and 5 steals, with the ESPN commentators saying he was the "best player they saw in Maui today".
  • Giorgi Bezhanishvili, 17 points and 6 rebounds. We expected Matic Vesel and we've gotten (I'm gonna get crazy but it's late so forgive me)... freshman year James Augustine?
  • Alan Griffin, more or less forced into action once Ayo and Feliz had four fouls, puts up 7 points on 2-2 shooting (1-1 from three) and 2-2 from the line (in a massive one-and-one situation with the Gonzaga crowd screaming their heads off).
  • Da'Monte Williams, king of the little things, with 9 rebounds and several big defensive plays including drawing at least two crucial charges.
  • Ayo Dosunmu, with his worst game of the first three, still had 6 points and 3 assists (and some rebounds, and some steals) before foul trouble sat him down.

All of these players are freshmen or sophomores. Which means they're going to make a lot of mistakes this season and we'll need a lot of patience. But I don't think anyone could watch that game and not come away encouraged about the future. Sure, this will still probably be a rough season. There's a reason we're picked 13th in the conference. There are currently nine Big Ten teams in the top 28 spots in the AP poll (six teams ranked plus the first three under "receiving votes" are Big Ten teams). We're not going to be favored in many games this year. Someone told me today that KenPom has us favored in 3 Big Ten games and the underdog in the other 17 games. It's still going to be a long season.

But there's so much hope for what this looks like after the players have the necessary experience. They stood toe-to-toe with #3 tonight and were a three-pointer away from taking the lead with 10 seconds left. They will pester and they will fight and they will probably not end up 13th in the Big Ten. After three games, it feels like this thing has a real trajectory.

OK, now it's super late and I need to get to bed. But it's going to be hard. Because I'm still buzzing. Because we fought.

Comments

DB50 on November 20 @ 07:23 AM CST

For what seems like eons, finally a team that puts the “fight” back into Fighting Illini!

NC_OrangeKrush on November 20 @ 08:16 AM CST

So awesome to see... Trent would have won us Georgetown.... Georgi is great, and rebounding at the free throw line, you can see how small his arms are vs. Juniors and Seniors..... Such fight and promise. First half scoring hurt.. Hard to play defense at that pace and hit shots from outside.

It was 3 am when the game finished here in Aruba, the latest game I have stayed up for, and every bit worth it... Even if a loss.. A toughness or fight not seen in many years... I can't see our pace sustainable for 3 days straight, brace expectations accodingly... But good things lie ahead...

Sweetchuck13 on November 20 @ 08:53 AM CST

It's hard to remember a game that differed so wildly (in a fantastic way) from my expectations. I figured i'd watch most of the first half and go to bed with Gonzaga up by about 13 at halftime. Instead, I had no trouble whatsoever staying awake and really enjoyed watching these guys take the fight to Gonzaga. This was a really fun game to watch, and somehow I even could tolerate Bill Walton's nonsense.

The defense certainly has some weaknesses and the rotations/inside help are an issue, but man it was fun to watch them fly all over the court and really pressure Gonzaga. That's a legit Top 10 team that was struggling to handle our pressure (21 turnovers I think?). That's a "thing", as Robert likes to say.

The Big Ten will definitely be tough, but last night immediately turned up my hopes for this year. It's clear that this team (especially the Trent-AJ-Griffin-Damonte-Giorgi lineup - plus Ayo) fits Underwood's style so much more. Amazing that with 8 newcomers they can already look much tighter than last year. It should be fun to watch if nothing else. Go IllinI!

Bear8287 on November 20 @ 10:19 AM CST

What's with the shot of a bunch of empty seats? I suspect that those seats are going to be filled for games and SFC will be rocking this year.

Robert, I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I subscribe to Illini Board for the football coverage. If we were playing #3 in football, there'd be a pre-game breakdown of the opposing team (CHTS) and an SoC and a TWTDs and a FTS and a Postscript, plus likely a couple of other follow up articles.

You know, I get it. For football there's only one game a week and there are only 12 (becoming a thing at Illinois) spread across 13 weeks so there's a lot more time. The Illini are playing 3 basketball games in 3 days so I don't think anyone is expecting to see 15+ pieces on basketball.

On the other hand, it is the Maui Invitational Tournament and there are some pretty good teams at a prestigious event. The Illini were within 10 seconds of possibly knocking off the #3 team in the country. Maybe a couple of pieces?

By the way, what are the expectations for basketball coverage this year?

At one point Jason Benetti asked Bill Walton if he had ever played basketball against a football player. Bill said Junior Seau. Apparently they were really good friends. Very different games though. Don't let what's happening North of Kirby color your view of what's going on South of the Avenue.

They will pester and they will fight and they will probably not end up 13th in the Big Ten. After three games, it feels like this thing has a real trajectory.

This team is not going to end up 13th in the B1G. We may be witnessing the rebuilding of the "House of Paign". Georgetown got by the Illini, but that was without Trent on the floor and for anyone who doesn't realize how big that is, they must've missed last night's game.

HailToTheOrange on November 20 @ 11:20 AM CST

If we were playing #3 in football, there'd be a pre-game breakdown of the opposing team (CHTS) and an SoC and a TWTDs and a FTS and a Postscript, plus likely a couple of other follow up articles.

YES. Ironically, I grew up being a bigger Illini football fan than hoops. I was a freshman in 1990...first game I ever saw at Memorial Stadium was Colorado (the sanctions we endured also played a role in my lopsided fandom). And I SO appreciate Robert (and crew)'s expert, passionate, and consistent coverage of a team largely (and understandably) ignored by just about everyone.

BUT...a part of me is tired of the never-ending autopsy of our football program. Watching the patient's death has been painful enough without reliving the gory details week after week (I know, analyzing them must be all the more difficult). Call me weak or fair weather, but I would rather let the 2018 season be put to rest.

On the other hand, please more hoops coverage. Please. Robert, just b/c you claim football analysis is more in your comfort zone doesn't mean you should shy away from it. I love your writing and I think you have a ton to offer on the hoops side. And yes, I appreciate that you have a day job and I'm grateful for IB :).

Robert on November 20 @ 12:54 PM CST

What's with the shot of a bunch of empty seats? I suspect that those seats are going to be filled for games and SFC will be rocking this year.

Was simply looking for a photo I own that had the word Illini in it (given the post title). I will sometimes go on Twitter and search for a fan or blogger photo of a game to use as the cover photo (since I don't have a photographer at the game), but I don't want to use someone else's proprietary photos. Basically, I use the photos I've purchased from Holly for nearly every post.

Robert, I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I subscribe to Illini Board for the football coverage. If we were playing #3 in football, there'd be a pre-game breakdown of the opposing team (CHTS) and an SoC and a TWTDs and a FTS and a Postscript, plus likely a couple of other follow up articles.

I feel like you and I have had this same discussion the last three years.

When football and basketball overlap, there's just no way for me to keep up. I have a job and a family, both of which take priority. Football will be run through until it's completion and then I will transition to more basketball. Same as the last nine years.

By the way, what are the expectations for basketball coverage this year?

For the first time, Tyler and I plan to cover every home game in person (plus the games in Chicago and St. Louis). Tyler will cover 1/3rd, I'll cover 2/3rds. Last year we missed two home games, but this year we plan to cover them all.

I'll be honest - it will be monumentally difficult. Between watching the games, interviewing, and writing, I got to sleep at 2:45 on Saturday night and then 3:00 last night. Had to be up early both days for family stuff/work.

And for what it's worth, I haven't paid myself from the blog for 18 months - I've only paid the other writers and reimbursed myself for expenses. I'm stretching the coverage as far as it can go while still maintaining life/work balance, I believe, so the only way to increase that would be to increase subscriptions. But I doubt that's something that happens any time soon. People are aware of the site by now - they're just choosing to not subscribe. So I have to balance everything accordingly.

Don't get me wrong - all of my expenses are now covered and I can occasionally take my wife on a trip from just the blog money. People were very generous with their "tips" on the football preview this year. I'm just saying that if you're looking for more extensive coverage, I'd recommend Rivals or 247 because I believe I'm maxed out on what I can provide while still maintaining my work/family/blog balance.

Bear8287 on November 20 @ 02:14 PM CST

I have a job and a family, both of which take priority.

As it should be (although personally, I'd swap the order on those two).

Don't get me wrong, I think that your readers are grateful for the time that you put into this. My hope early on was that you'd be able to grow the site and bring on more help so that you wouldn't have to be doing everything by yourself.

I'd also be okay with you being less "free" with some of your work (of course I would though, I'm a subscriber) and look to bring in a little more revenue. Your concerns about "click-bait" and other issues seem a little different?

It's not surprising that people have been generous. Your football coverage is really quite excellent and you offer an informed and true fan perspective on a team, that let's face it, hasn't been very good for quite a while now and it resonates with others who love and cherish the U of I like you do.

Thanks for outlining the plans for the year. You know the whole expectations vs. happiness equation. It's good to know going in.

Get some more sleep (coming from a guy working at a startup... pot meet kettle) and keep up the good work.

Go Illini!

HailToTheOrange on November 20 @ 11:35 AM CST

Now, does it mean anything? Like, are we a tournament team if we can hang with #3 and have a shot to win with 10 seconds left? I don't think so.

Ummm. I don't "think so", I know so. :-). I'm not expecting to dance this year, but in terms of "meaning something" our performance last night is about VALIDATION, which is so much more meaningful at this point. It validates that the SYSTEM CAN WORK HERE, with these young, "low ranked" recruits, that we CAN FIND PLAYERS that fit said system, that we (likely) made the right decision in hiring BU and that we're headed in the right direction, likely faster than any of us would have dared to predict.

I get that everything gets easier with talent. But can you imagine Groce actually installing a system (any system), finding diamonds in the rough that fit that system, coaching them up in a short period of time, having them gel and perform against a legit final four contender LOADED with "talent"? [HEY ORANGE JULIUS. I'M TALKING TO YOU]

Yes, it's early. Yes, this is one game. Yes, the "red faced" coaching style still has me nervous (did you see Brad spend half of a time out ripping into everyone when we couldn't get the ball in bounds? LET IT GO BRAD!). But you can't have watched the last 2 games objectively and not recognized that the ceiling is high and the future (can be) bright.

Go Illini

ATOillini on November 20 @ 04:35 PM CST

For those of you old enough to appreciate this, if he keeps this up I may start referring to Trent "Clyde" Frazier.

HiggsBoson on November 20 @ 07:56 PM CST

And back to not fighting today. They folded like a cheap card table in the second half against Iowa State.

IBFan on November 21 @ 02:39 PM CST

IBFan on November 21 @ 02:49 PM CST

Trolls Trolls Everywhere

We need more time for Robert. There is no better source for Illini Football. The crew do a great job, much appreciated. The only thing that can go on his schedule is work. So how do we make Robert's work go away? A telethon? Maybe one of those walk, eat, and drinkathons? Go fund me page for "malnourished Illini articles"? Pass the hat at every Illini FB game? Put him on scholarship?

Someone do some supersleuthing, the sleazy internet-tech kind and figure out what his expenses are so we have a hard target.

Again thanks to all who put effort in on all topics.

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