5 Minutes Of Something
Nicholls State was a near-disaster. Grand Canyon was a decent road win. Arizona was 30 minutes of good and 10 minutes of awful. And Hawaii was really, really frustrating for most of the game and then five minutes of what we expect to see.
Hawaii cut the lead to five (52-47) with 7:18 remaining. We were sluggish, we were hesitant, and worst of all, we were in danger of losing to Hawaii in Champaign. Just like we almost lost to Nicholls State in Champaign. That is not how a "finally gonna get back to the dance" team should start the season.
And then, finally, everything clicked. For five minutes, everything looked like we were expecting it to look this season. Ayo and Trent in control. Giorgi being Giorgi. Kofi dominating in the paint. 52-47 turned into 66-49 in a blink. Doing some quick math that would be a... 14-2 run over those five minutes.
It wasn't just that it was a run. It was everything we need to see this season. Let's just go through the plays:
- Kipper spinning layup in the lane.
- Steal by Trent, he gets fouled, hits both free throws.
- (Hawaii gets a layup.)
- Giorgi fakes a three and feeds Kofi for a lay-in.
- After forcing a Hawaii turnover, Giorgi rebounds a Kofi miss and lays it in.
- Giorgi grabs a rebound and is fouled (missed the one-and-one).
- We feed Kofi again, he's fouled, and he hits one of two free throws.
- They sag off of Giorgi expecting a dump down to Kofi and Giorgi hits a three.
- Feliz grabs a defensive rebound, pushes the ball, and feeds Kofi for a short jumper.
Five point lead becomes a 17 point lead, ballgame.
I'm skipping over a lot. Ayo made a nice push just before all of this (drive the lane for a layup, then hit Griffin for a three). Trent had some nice second half moments. But I was fully focused on those five minutes from 7:18 to around 2:15. The team we're expecting to see this season, led by Ayo, Trent, Feliz, Giorgi, and Kofi, showed up.
The bad thing? We've now seen that team in the State Farm Center for five minutes. We've played 80 minutes in the State Farm Center. Wait - 85 minutes. Nicholls State took us to overtime.
Basically, it's this. I expect this team to win 21+. The team we've seen through four games so far will not win 21+. The team we've seen through four games would lose to Michigan, Maryland, Missouri, and possibly Miami in December. 0 for M.
The team we saw during that five minute stretch can beat some of those teams. Maybe all but the road game at Maryland. My expectations are to enter the Michigan State game in early January sitting at 10-3, and if we can get it to click like those five minutes clicked, we can get there.
If we can't... I don't even want to think about what it means if we can't.
+ I think the biggest thing for me so far this season is that Kofi is way better than advertised. He's playing like a five-star recruit at this point. 14.3 ppg and 11.5 rpg.
I tweeted something this summer about Trent, Ayo, and Giorgi leading us back to glory this winter, and a lot of people responded with "don't forget Kofi", and I responded with things like "true freshman, will need to adapt to the college game, he'll average 7 and 5 and that will be great but don't expect freshman superstar". So far, he's been a freshman superstar.
Which makes me think that we should have four knowns at this point:
- Ayo Dosunmu, first team All Big Ten performer.
- Trent Frazier, sharpshooter and instant offense.
- Giorgi Bezhanishvili, post moves for days, energy and effort guy.
- Kofi Cockburn, massive man in the middle.
We can take that out further. Feliz should be the fifth because at times he's our best player. But if this is going to be what I'm hoping it can be, those four things heed to happen. Right now, I'd say Kofi is the only one that's fully "happening".
So there's the test for Brad Underwood. The pieces are all there. Put it together.
+ Is Alan Griffin the wing guy we need? He keeps getting better each time I watch him play. Tonight's minutes were surprising: Griffin 15 minutes, Da'Monte Williams 7. (I should probably add "Kipper - 21 minutes" to that.)
Which makes me think that once January gets here, we're basically an eight-man rotation. Ayo, Trent, Feliz, Giorgi, and Kofi start. Griffin, Kipper, and Da'Monte are the regulars off the bench. BBV and Hamlin don't really play. And Tevian Jones is the wildcard, depending on when he returns from suspension.
And THAT makes me think that Griffin is the key to so much this season. Offensive rebounds and threes. Go get it, kid.
+ Hawaii turnovers: 9. Illinois turnovers: 16. RIP defense whose sole purpose is to create turnovers?
+ Rebounds 44-26 Illinois? Hello team whose sole purpose is to out-rebound you by 20?
+ Bottom line, the next three games (Citadel, KenPom 315, Hampton, KenPom 240, and Lindenwood, Division VII opponent) need to be just like those five minutes described above. I'm going to need 100 points in one of those game. I need Ayo with 33 in another one. I need Trent and Giorgi to go off in the third game. I need to feel much better than I do right now.
Because I expect 21+ wins.