This has been a theme for me with this team: consistency. Or, perhaps more accurately, inconsistency. A young team with eight newcomers isn't going to be able to sustain a high level of play for 40 minutes. Against Indiana or Iowa, it was about 10 minutes of solid play. Last night? About 30. And ten minutes of awful, which cost us the game.
I'm not suggesting that good teams will bring 40 full minutes of consistency every night. Michigan State was undefeated in the Big Ten and then came out in the first half against Purdue and looked like they'd never seen a basketball before. And then Purdue, in the second half, let a 23-point lead slip to 4 in what seemed like maybe seven minutes of game time. Every team has consistency issues.
But for a young team like this Illini team, things run especially hot and cold. When the switch flips off, it flips off. We had a five point lead last night early in the second half and then I went to the bathroom and when I came back we were down 14*.
That's how things go for this team. That's the biggest thing Brad Underwood is pushing for: consistency. Find a rotation that is comfortable playing with each other and get them settled in. The more they settle in and the more they understand what they're supposed to do, the more consistent they will be.
Because there are flashes. The second half against Maryland followed by the first half against Minnesota (both away from home) looked to be the best basketball we've played under Underwood. Even when shots weren't falling, things were working. It really looked like we were going to win two in a row.
But then it quickly fell apart. Aided by some, ahem, questionable calls and, AHEM, questionable non-calls where Giorgi is put in the figure-four with no whistle, Minnesota ran out to that 14 point lead. What looked like it was going to be a down-to-the-wire finish was a comfortable 11-point Minnesota win. We were able to hang on in the first half despite being cold from three, but in the second half, things fell apart quickly. And by "fell apart" I mean that Kalscheur hit back-to-back-to-back threes and suddenly we were down eight.
All in all, I didn't feel too bad about this game. I didn't have the same frustration as watching, say, the Xavier game or the Iowa State game in Maui. We can start to see things clicking. We can start to really see how things might turn around next season. Let's start the bullet points with that.
+ By far, the most encouraging thing in this game was Tevian Jones. He followed up his big performance against Maryland with another solid game. The threes weren't falling, but he still found ways to contribute. Off the top of my head:
- Two huge chase-down offensive rebounds in the first half where he just out-hustled the Minnesota guy to the spot.
- The alley-oop from Ayo we've been waiting to see all season.
- Another "how did he tip that in?" alley-oop from Kipper where he somehow slowed down a bad, off-angle pass and laid it in.
- That end-to-end fast break with Ayo were he threw maybe the best transition bounce pass we've seen all season.
- A steal at half-court and then, as Stephen Bardo pointed out on the broadcast, one dribble from halfcourt, three long strides, and a layup.
As discussed in the last post, this really changes the calculus next season. If Jones can continue these strides (pun intended), then this is a lineup that can go to the Tournament:
Keep them all around for another year after that and I believe that's a lineup that can really do damage.
(If there are offseason departures like last spring, that's a lineup that's going nowhere. Consistency is everything, dontcha know.)
+ The good news: Trent broke out of his slump in a huge way (30 points). The bad news: Ayo had his worst game in a long time at the very moment where Trent had a breakout game. Tyler's "Trent and Ayo haven't put together solid games at the same time" from December continues to haunt.
Like, HAUNT. That list above - that "can really do some damage" list - needs Ayo and Trent to play well at the same time (consistently). They have to be on the same page. And last night, perhaps best exampled by the pass Ayo threw to Trent when he was moving the other way, they weren't on the same page. That's the offseason mystery Brad Underwood needs to solve.
But just speaking of Trent, yes, it's great to see him break out for 30 points. I'll just put it this way. When we get that Trent game combined with the Ayo Maryland game (and the Tevian Maryland game), we're going to win a lot of basketball games.
+ I didn't tweet my "scoring and rebounding by class" list for this game. Here it is:
Seniors: 5 points, 6 rebounds
Juniors: 11 points, 6 rebounds
Sophomores: 32 points, 4 rebounds
Freshmen: 27 points, 14 rebounds
The underclassmen continue to dominate the stat sheet (as they should - there are twice as many of them). As of late, the trends are rebounds but not points from senior Aaron Jordan, more points from junior Andres Feliz, nothing much at all from junior Kipper Nichols (hasn't scored in five games), and a few buckets here and there from senior Andres De La Rosa (but not many rebounds).
And then the bulkload of the stats from the sophomores and freshmen.
+ So, 10 games remaining, six of them at home. I'd say 5-5 is a realistic goal (which would mean a 6-6 finish after starting the Big Ten 1-7). That would make me feel like this thing is on track to break out next season.
That, and, you know, more consistency.