Not There Yet

Nov 11, 2019

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Yeah it was asking a lot. The second of back-to-back road games with just a 48 hour turnaround in another really tough gym - and this time against a top 20 (maybe top 10) caliber opponent in Arizona. It just wasn't likely.

Yet after getting off to a hot start and trailing by just one after a thoroughly entertaining first half, you thought maybe - just maybe - everything really was going to come up Illini this weekend.

Alas, Illinois wilted in the second half and ended up getting run off the McKale Center floor 90-69. After falling behind early in the second half and then scratching back to within one at 53-52, the Illini gave up a five point possession after a particularly exasperating sequence (made three - foul in the lane while the shot was in the air - made free throw - offensive rebound - foul - made free throw) and the Wildcats never looked back.

Arizona was paced by a trio of fantastic freshmen - highlighted by guard Nico Mannion who was the best player on the floor - outplaying Ayo Dosunmu in a battle of potential 2020 NBA first rounders.

Despite the low probability of a win going into this game, watching this game unravel in the final 10 minutes was disappointing. Not disheartening, as a 2-1 record was always the most likely outcome of this first week, but yeah, disappointing.

Disappointing that a veteran group is turning the ball over with such alarming regularity (27% turnover rate through three games). The passing has been equally atrocious on the perimeter and on post feed attempts.

Disappointing that even with a retooled defensive approach, the Illini have given up an average of 44 points in the second half of the three games so far. The defense is different - but is it better?

Disappointing that the offense is not getting much from the primary looks of the spread - with minimal production from first cuts and pinch post action. The offense sputtered and wheezed in the second half - clearly bothered by the athleticism of Arizona. They've been able to flow into secondary options such as the high-low, but too often possessions are ending up in isolation situations.

Disappointing that Giorgi Bezhanishvili has yet to make much of an impact. One of the burning questions as we entered this season was how well he would be able to share the load with Kofi Cockburn. So far it's been a struggle. His usage is way down as he's had difficulty staying on the floor - fouling out of both games this weekend.

Fortunately, though, none of these issues are deal breakers. Many of the errors that allowed the game to get away in the second half were of the self-inflicted variety. These are coachable points - and I'm quite sure Brad Underwood is thrilled at the prospect of a full week of practice before the next game against Hawaii at the State Farm Center next Monday. It's going to be a one week boot camp I suspect.

The one area of concern I fear may not be fixable is the bench. Through the first three games, 85% of the scoring has come from the Illini starters. If you add in Alan Griffin's 24 points, then 96% of the Illini scoring has come from just six players. It's been especially tough whenever Kipper Nichols and DMW are in the lineup at the same time - averaging just 3.3 points per game between them.

Unless Underwood tweaks the starting lineup to "cheat" his way into getting some contribution from the bench he has to hope that either BBV finds a comfort zone, Tevian Jones is able to come back and be a productive member of the team, or Nichols can regain something resembling his sophomore level production. Otherwise the starters are going to have to continue to tow an exceptionally heavy weight, and I'm not sure that's sustainable for a full season.

The thing is, though, the bench thing needs to get sorted out preferably sooner than later as the next ten games on the schedule are crucial. The Big Ten as a whole is doing itself no favors so far, and it looks like we might not be able to rely on the strength of the conference schedule to help inflate the tournament resume. As it looks right now, you need to win eight of the next ten - unless you feel good about getting to at least 12 conference wins. Life comes at you pretty fast.

Hey did anyone catch that football game on Saturday? It was awesome.


ATOillini on November 11, 2019 @ 08:19 AM

These are great summaries. Thanks for the analysis.

I must admit a longing for the day we when we're the ones bothering our opponents with our athleticism as opposed to the opposite....which has seemingly been the case forever.

It seemed last year that Trent was out of sorts for quite a bit with the arrival of Ayo. Could we be seeing the same with Giorgi/Kofi this year? It's only 3 games, but a few more with the lack of bench production will be alarming, as eventually you will have starters out with nagging injuries, foul trouble, etc.

I guess I at least prefer unravelling in the last 10 minutes vs. looking unprepared and getting blitzed early.

Note to Tevian: Get your act together. You have a great opportunity.

Groundhogday on November 11, 2019 @ 10:50 AM

I have also thought about the Frazier-Ayo analogy to understand Giorgi's struggles. I'd guess the big difference is that Frazier and Ayo clearly fit into the Underwood system, whereas Underwood has never deployed a double post. Underwood has always embraced spread systems on offense and defense, so it will be a struggle to put out a lineup that is no really geared to a spread offense or pressure defense.

We really need some wings to step up.

Douglascountyillinifan on November 11, 2019 @ 10:55 AM

I wonder if any thought will be given to bringing Giorgi off the bench? Provide a little more scoring punch and hopefully eliminating Kipper and DMW being on the court at the same time.

Groundhogday on November 11, 2019 @ 12:48 PM

I'd propose both GIorgi and Feliz off the bench. But to do this, Williams and Griffin have be competent in supporting roles, playing with Frazier, Ayo and Kofi.

However the rotations are constructed you want to always have Giorgi OR Kofi in the game, and always have two of Feliz, Frazier and Ayo. Good depth and rotations for three positions. Now develop wings to play 60 combined minutes at the 3-4 (BBV, Nichols, Griffin, Williams). If the staff can coax 60 mpg of okay play from this group of 4, we are an NCAA team. If not...

Joe Edge on November 11, 2019 @ 12:19 PM

2nd part of my trip (1st part was GCU)... This time I had to pay for my seat, but was in the company of some good and courteous UofA fans...

I thought we played fairly well in the first half. We actually built up a 7 point lead 2 different times (as I recall)... we just couldn’t keep up the momentum, and they were well coached and able to cut short our runs. That shot to end the 1st half I thought was a great play, and although our defense was solid they finally got a clean shot to go up by 1.... I was feeling comfortable...

The second half was a complete disaster IMHO.... Lots of bad passes, not able to in-bound the ball under any pressure, sloppy passes, poor ball handling, not finishing at the rim, allowing several back-door passes for slams, LOTS of hero ball once their lead got to 10-12.... Lots of unnecessary antics from Giorgi (which hurt the team IMHO), one short spurt from our NBA draft pick followed by several turnovers, Dre was off, they couldn’t get the ball into Kofi very much, Kipper looked lost again (mostly) and I cringe for DMV - he just doesn’t have any confidence at all. I gave up the ghost with 2 minutes to play in an attempt to exit the parking lot quickly..LOL..

Their ‘Freshmen’ demolished our Sophomores, Juniors and Senior... Our play will have to improve significantly for us to get an invite to ANY tournament, but the season is just starting so I’m still holding out hope...The fans were nice enough and the crowd was noisy - although not nearly as loud as the GCU show.

It’s really hot here, and I think the last time it rained must have been in the 1960’s, so it’s time for me to return to the lush green PNW. If we could land a California bowl, I’d consider that heavily.... Go Illini.

Groundhogday on November 11, 2019 @ 05:46 PM

Relative to last season:

  • Lost: Jordan, DLR, Kane
  • Gained: Kofi, BBV, Hamlin
  • Gained: young guys have a year in the system

We miss Jordan. Griffin needs to be our gritty, undersized 4 who can stretch the floor--Jordan with more athleticism, stronger rebounding, and a quicker shot.

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