In And Out

Nov 28, 2018

It got that far down and then popped back out.

Look, this game isn't going to mean anything. It's not like the Georgetown loss and the Notre Dame loss are going to mean anything at the end of the year. It's not like one of these losses is preventing us from making the Tournament or anything. From the moment we dropped to four returning players, this season was "over". I've been over this too much. Indiana when Crean took over, Pitt under Stallings, Missouri after Kim Anderson's second year.... when a team doesn't even have five players when they're trying to practice in May, that team is going to be sub-.500 the following fall. I know you're tired of hearing that, but that's the truth.

I should also note before I move on - the roster we have is much more talented than what Stallings had at Pitt when he only had three returning players, and what Anderson had at Missouri with three returning players, and even what Crean had at Indiana (I think he had only two returning players the year he went 6-25). No, I don't see Kevin Stallings' 8-24 (0-18) season upcoming. I said that the stretch goal is 15 wins, I'm hoping for 13 or 14, but KenPom probably has it correct with a 12 win season. After losing several 50/50 games (Georgetown, Xavier, Notre Dame), getting to 12 is going to be a real test, but 12 is probably the true expectation.

So, as I've written, each time I turn on the TV or sit down in my seat at SFC, that's my expectation. 15-16 would be a "great" season with this many newcomers. 12-19 would be acceptable. No, 12-19 is not "acceptable" for Illinois basketball (like, ever), but given the roster + the schedule, with a cold, hard, fan-less look at things, 12-19 is acceptable as long as it's followed by 18-13 and then 23-8. Hmmmm... I feel like I've written a bunch of words on this rebuilding method before, maybe for a sport played with an oblong ball??

With that established (we're starting over, and that's just the way it is), we can talk about last night's game.

Man, that was disappointing. Another halftime lead, followed by a long second-half lull as the game gets away from us. Lulls are a staple of teams like ours (young, inexperienced), because inconsistency is the main thing that plagues a young team (Football Correlation #7 in this post already and we're only like 400 words in). But the lulls are still so painful to watch. Especially on the road while Notre Dame fans celebrate.

But then, another furious rally. This one was nearly identical to the Gonzaga game. A furious rally and we cut it from 13 to 2. Then they make a push with two minutes left and it's back up to 7 (I think it was 10 against Gonzaga). And somehow, we make a second push and have a three pointer in the air to win the game. Against Gonzaga, airball. Against Notre Dame, around-and-out. All of that effort, all of that emotion, and then it rims out.

I quite literally fell to the ground when it rimmed out. I was standing for the final four minutes, did that thing where I move closer and closer to the TV as Trent's three is in the air (so that my face is near the hoop if it goes in, I guess), and then fall to the ground as it rims out. You know the drill. The dog comes over like "why are you down here with me?", your brain is thinking things like "wait maybe Kipper was fouled going for the rebound or something?" before just accepting your fate.

And then it seemed silly that I was down there. This game didn't really mean anything. As I said above, this just means we'll go 11-20 instead of 12-19. Big picture, I should still be watching for the rebuilding pieces, not the wins and losses.

But man, it's just so hard to keep losing like this. I don't want to talk about it anymore. Let's just make a list of "things that bode well for 2019/20".

(OK before I make the list just one more point. I've emphasized this before but I need to do it again - September 2019 to March 2020 is SO IMPORTANT FOR ILLINI ATHLETICS". Both football and basketball will be trying to catch the one boat off the island and if we miss it, it's probably four more years until the next boat. SO IMPORTANT.)

OK, the list.

  1. Giorgi. Giorgi Giorgi Giorgi. I honestly feel like we're watching a top-50 recruit. How is it possible for a completely unranked player (who played at one of the top HS programs on the East Coast last year) to come in and have this many polished post moves? Yes, he's going to foul out of maybe 15 games this year (he's a freshman and he has to learn), and yes, he's going to have bursts of offense and then long stretches where he looks lost (he's a freshman and he has to learn). But this rebuild looks so different because of Giorgi. We have a known in Trent + Ayo, and it looks like we might have another known in Giorgi? How insane is that?
  2. Aaron Jordan is such a great example of how to build a program. Getting Aaron Jordans to their senior year is the key to everything. Once we have three Jordans graduating every year, we'll be back. He barely played as a freshman and sophomore, and after he only averaged 6 minutes per game and 1.0 ppg his sophomore season, many suggested a transfer would happen. He stuck it out, has learned the new system, and is now perhaps our most dependable player. Read that again - other players are more talented, but Jordan is our most dependable. Not only because he shoots 50% from three, but because he's pulling down five rebounds per game for a team with very little frontcourt help. How do you win college basketball games? Dependable upperclassmen. Unfortunately, we need six and we only have one right now.
  3. Since I'm already focused on next year, as I referenced above, I believe there are now three "knowns". Ayo creates (and is a much better shooter than we thought), Trent can score in bunches, and Giorgi has post moves. Those are the three knowns, and lock those three into the starting lineup. We need about four or five more "knowns" if we're going to make a push, so that's what I'm watching for. Candidates:?

+ Da'Monte glue guy. He's close to that right now (7 boards, 5 assists, 4 steals last night), but he has to be a scoring threat if he wants to be a "known". Getting blocked as much as he did last night does not = "scoring threat".

+ Alan Griffin three point threat. He's shooting 43% so far, and I love that stroke, and he's shown a few hustle plays, but he's currently a turnover machine (11 in the last three games). He's a freshman, so that's fine, but we need a leap next year.

+ Samba shot blocker. He's skinnier than Mike Tisdale right now, so he probably needs a 9,000 calorie diet, and he's really raw, so I'm stretching here. But we need a shot blocker, and he's the only candidate.

+ Feliz senior leader. After a great first two games, Andres Feliz has kind of disappeared a bit. Would really like to see a breakout game soon. And then next year, we need an Aaron Jordan senior leadership year from him. A pretty big ask.

+ Kipper senior light bulb. OK, now I'm really stretching. As the world's biggest Kipper fan, it pains me to see how lost he's been. But I want to make a jump next season, and nothing could help us get closer to that more than a Kipper light bulb.

Yes, with this 2-5 start, all of that is looking more and more like a longshot for next year (FOOTBALL CORRELATION #22). But it's all we can cling to right now (FOOTBALL CORRELATION #23). There are three pieces now (up from two a month ago!), so I'll keep scanning the horizon for piece #4 and piece #5 (and #6 and #7). This just has to work. It has to.

Because man, if this doesn't work...


Lou-a-villini on November 28 @ 02:55 PM CST

Robert, do you (or any of you) know when the Matto Chart was removed from the program? Seems to me like that extra incentive to hustle had other tangible and intangible benefits.

illiniranger on November 28 @ 05:08 PM CST

We allowed another opponent to shoot better than 50% from 2 and our opponent made 9 more FTs than we attempted.

Those two stats are defining every loss we have.

illiniranger on November 28 @ 05:11 PM CST

And all those fouls aren’t coming with payoff in turnovers. We only turned them over 16 times IIRC. We had 15 turnovers I think.

That’s.... dumb. As in, your overextended D isn’t generating turnovers against power conference teams, so dial it back and don’t have such a bad FT discrepancy.

IBFan on November 28 @ 07:48 PM CST

Are you watching the games this year? You might be watching Iowa? Go back and watch, let's say the Gonzaga game? They are kind of good but maybe not a good reference point for your turnover/defense beatching? Also the number of our turnovers means nothing about our defense. Teams shoot 50% more often than you think in P5, go look it up. Especially on a game by game basis if you want to look at 3s made one game but take them out in another as it suits your point. Furthermore, the defense isn't "attack the passing lanes but then foul if the guy starts to drive". I know it's really hard to rewatch games especially with all the hatred and negativity but count the fouls you would consider is just because of this defensive style. It won't happen because it's easier for you to piss and moan without any insight or basic reasoning. Trent hits two threes and you would be posting how underrated Gonzaga is, how ND is "going" to be awful just like GT is "going" to be awful and the coach is dumb because he should play AG more and won by 8, if he just did it your way.
Lou- I thought of the same thing the other day, I don't when it got retired. Robert-No way to salvage the next couple weeks? The guys can't make it over the hump? With this schedule, get Unlv, get Mizz and not even a shot at 500 in conference? If that happened, long shot I know, I think they would get a look. No "bad" losses?

IlliniLE on November 29 @ 10:51 AM CST

It's true that teams shoot 50% fairly often. The average 2Pt% thus far this year is 50.3%. We're allowing 58.5%, 334th nationally. We're also putting people at the line at an insane clip (FTA/FGA of 49.5, 337th nationally) where the average is 34.3. No matter how you slice it, we are objectively awful at 2-pt defense, and we foul WAY too much.

I have no clue what you're trying to say about fouls and passing lanes, and straw-manning what someone would say if we were to have won games goes nowhere. So not sure what your point is, but the defense is bad at 2pt defense and fouling (and defensive rebounding). It just is.

Oh, and Gonzaga shot 62.5% from 2 against us. That seems like a number worthy of some "beatching", even with 22 turnovers forced. And if you just meant ND's %, they shot 54.8% from 2, which would rank 270th if we maintained that number all season. 270th is... not very good.

illiniranger on November 29 @ 03:00 PM CST

in our last 3 losses we have been outshot at the FT line 90 to 46. That FT discrepancy has yielded us +3 in turnovers. That's it. We've allowed 44 more FTs in the last 3 games to yield a net of 3 turnovers.

Hoppy on November 28 @ 09:51 PM CST

I posted this awhile back but I’ll post it again. Groce’s second year only had 3 returnees and I believe...7 newcomers? Returnees were Abrams, Bertrand, and Egwu.

Newcomers were Tate, Hill, Nunn, Colbert, Morgan, Ekey, and Rice. (With Transfers Starks, Cosby, and Paul on the bench)

Even if you count Rice as half new, half returnee since he had a sit out year, that’s still only 3.5 returnees and 6.5 newcomers.

That team went 18-13 in the regular season and was an Abrams floater away from beating Michigan in the BTT and probably making the dance because of it.

Have we all forgotten that a team with 3 returnees (Sr, Jr, Jr), coached by John Groce, went 18-13? Why is it that our current team of 4 returnees (Sr, Jr, So, So) can’t?? Especially when being coached by BU? (A guy known for being incredibly effective at implementing his system)

I truly want to know. I just can’t see this as an excuse but maybe one of you basketball minds can help? I’m hoping it’s because a system like Underwood’s needs time to be instilled. If we follow the Tony Bennett model, and follow on success, I’m good with it.

But the “returnees” excuse doesn’t work for me. I’m holding on to the Bennett “system” excuse for dear life right now.

PapaDels4me on November 28 @ 10:19 PM CST

It isn't that hard to explain how JG had a better record in that year. He played NOBODY. Underwood has chosen to play a challenging schedule and is hoping that it pays off in conference. It might not, but I know for sure that we could have a better record if we played that schedule. Thru 7 games in 2014 our best opponent was ranked #76. This year we've played 4 teams better than that, including #1.

blackdeath on November 29 @ 10:20 AM CST

One particular problem with your assessment is that you propose to measure Sr., Jr., Jr. with 18-13 against Sr., Jr., So., So. with an unknown outcome as of yet this year.

You type out the numbers and the class abbreviations and suggest that Groce had less to work with: [(JG) Sr., Jr., Jr.] < [(BU) Sr., Jr., So., So.]

But these are human beings in real-world situations with infinite variables impossible to represent in any formula. Real world situations with human beings in them do not obey formulas. Does this really need to be said?

So to the question Why doesn't BU win more than Groce since he clearly has more returning players? the answer must be That's human life and We haven't even seen the season play out.

Maybe a heart-safe way to view it is to take the long view and just see what happens. Things may not go so well over the next few years. They may go very well, enough so that at some point a fan of another school imagines his school's hoped-for success in terms of how the "Underwood system" developed at Illinois. We'll just have to wait and see.

Hoppy on November 29 @ 01:42 PM CST

See, I’m not even doing it as an equation. I’m not saying that just because Underwood has more returnees he should do better, I’m just saying I don’t buy the newcomer excuse when it happened just a short while ago and we won 18 games.

They are very comparable situations so I’m trying to see if Robert will respond as to why we should give BU a huge pass. I really want him to succeed, and am in it for the long haul, but we have yet to beat a high major team. That is worrying.

Now, the schedule argument may hold a little water. Maybe a comparably tough schedule has Groce lose 4 or 5 more games but I haven’t researched it yet.

Norcal Illini on November 29 @ 07:03 PM CST

Going back to last year with the close losses and now similar this year against Georgetown, Gonzaga and ND, these guys don't seem to be able to make winning plays at the end of the game. In the Maryland game last year, with 4.5 seconds to go, all they had to do was get the ball in bounds, and they couldn't do it. After you lose game after game like that, it kills your confidence, and that's what I see happening. They have to get a few close wins against good teams if they want to turn it around.

The foul situation is something everyone is frustrated with it. I don't like to be a conspiracy theorist, but after watching the team last year and this year, I don't think the refs like BU's style of defense. It makes their job a lot harder with all the pressure. If they call enough fouls on Illinois, our guys might back off and play softer and make the refs' job easier. A free throw discrepancy like we've seen is more than just different styles. Maybe someone who has watched the games in person can chime in on that.

Gary48 on November 29 @ 07:47 PM CST

I saw real hope on Tuesday night. I am really tired of our 5 to 7 minutes of not scoring, but beyond that I saw a very competitive, but young team, that is making real progress as a team. I can’t predict what our won and loss record will look like in February and March but I think we will be a team the rest of the Big 10 will not want to play heading into and in the Big 10 Tournament

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