What It Should Look Like - The Basketball Edition
Just 11 seconds into the game Kipper Nichols officially christened the 2018-19 Illinois basketball season with an emphatic dunk off a perfect Trent Frazier lob. It only got better from there. The Illini steamrolled to a 31 point halftime lead and cruised to a 99-60 opening night win over Evansville.
Robert's post after the Illinois football romp over Minnesota last Saturday was entitled "What It Should Look Like". Tonight - just six days later - we got then basketball version of "What It Should Look Like."
The Illini got steady performances from veterans Frazier, Nichols, and Aaron Jordan, and stellar debuts from newcomers Ayo Dosunmu, Andres Feliz, Tevian Jones, and of course, Giorgi Bezhanishvili - who became the quickest fan favorite in Illini basketball history.
Brad Underwood was practically beaming in the post game press conference - saying afterwards that he "couldn't wait to watch the film". What he'll see will fully satisfy his basketball aesthetic. Balanced scoring, crisp passing, a willingness to share the ball, ball hawking defense, and a relentless pace on both ends of the floor.
The caveat for tonight is, of course, that Evansville isn't a very good basketball team. They were without their starting center due to suspension, but his presence would have mattered little. The Purple Aces were outgunned and overmatched all night. By midway through the first half, they were practically sprinting away from the offensive glass to try to slow down Illinois' suddenly high octane transition game.
The Illini also unveiled a withering 3/4 court press spearheaded by the rangy and athletic freshman Jones, and choked Evansville to death - forcing 26 turnovers including 16 in the first half alone. Evansville head coach Walter McCarty implored his ball handlers to drive the ball to the basket - telling them "there's no help back there!", but the Illini defense was consistently up to the task tonight - disruptive to the end.
While I still need to see the defense do its thing consistently against stronger competition, there was a lot to like tonight from the offense - things which I think can be translatable to a step up in weight class.
For the first time in several seasons, the Illini could put five legitimate weapons on the floor together, and the guard rotation of Frazier, Dosunmu, and Feliz was especially good with a combined 44 points, 10 rebounds, and 14 assists. In his post game comments Underwood referred to the trio as "the three headed monster". There were often times tonight when you forgot that the two leading returning scorers on the team (Frazier and Nichols) were on the floor - and that's a GOOD thing. Giorgi B was also outstanding in the pinch post - a role in desperate need of a upgrade from last season.
So while I'm not quite sure yet if this Illini team will exceed our expectations, if tonight was any indication at the very least they're going to be a heck of a lot of fun to watch. It was... what it should look like. Color me optimistically intrigued.
+ Ayo Dosunmu came as advertised. The freshman racked up points, rebounds, assists and steals from everywhere on the floor. If he is able to shoot the ball well enough to keep defenses honest he's going to have a monster freshman year.
+The Giorgi B Experience is something to behold. My unofficial Giorgi-meter recorded the following:
- Finger kiss/sky point after a made three
- Missed tip dunk/made lob dunk
- Singing "We Will Rock You" along with the PA during a timeout
- Scream to Orange Krush after a monster block
- His second technical foul in as many games
-Performed some kind of Riverdance routine while guarding the inbounds pass and forced Evansville to call a timeout
For good measure he even crashed the post-game press conference. I already celebrate his entire catalog.
+ Illinois lost about 56% of its scoring and rebounding off the roster from last year. Tonight it got nearly that same percentage (50% of the scoring and 57% of the rebounding) from newcomers. That's a trend which needs to continue.
+ Adonis De La Rosa was in full uniform and going hard through pre-game warm-ups. It seems more and more likely we're going to see the big guy on the floor sooner than later. Like before the end of November.