Just thought of this - I should have bummed a ride with Lindenwood on the way up. On the way back, they could just drop me in the city on their way to St. Charles. AND, I could be writing this on the bus. Maybe they'd even have snacks?
If you've never heard of Lindenwood, it's a university in St. Charles, Missouri, just across the river from St. Louis County. They were an NAIA school for a long time (at least that's how I remember it), and then they did that thing some small schools have done the last 15 years: sports are the way to boost enrollment. So they jumped to D-II, upgraded, like, every sports facility, and even pushed their club teams to a higher level (Illini hockey has played Lindenwood in the playoffs before).
As a result, I'd say 20% of our sons' friends went to Lindenwood. 14% of their ex-girlfriends went to Lindenwood. 29% of all people I know in St. Louis have some connection to Lindenwood. I don't even know what I'm talking about anymore. Lindenwood parents are taking pictures with their kids on the floor of the biggest arena they'll ever play in, the Morgan Park basketball team is over there in the stands taking photos, I'm listening to Mahler 9, I'm so hungry that I just ate Brad Sturdy's popcorn leftovers, JaQuari Wiggles announced he's taking an official visit to Illinois, and I need a haircut.
I asked on Twitter what I should write about - there's really no story to beating a Division II team which, if I heard someone correctly, only had three returning players from last season - so I had no idea what words I should type. I guess I'm having a bit of an Admiral James Stockdale moment - "Who am I? Why am I here?"
Here's the angle I chose:
What is this team's identity???
-- Ben Diggle (@bdiggle) November 27, 2019
GOOD QUESTION. Here's my thoughts. I'm watching this game and it's clearly a guard game. At one point in the first half I looked up the stats and Ayo, Trent, and Feliz had something like 13, 12, and 11 points. So I started to think "oh yeah, this season is supposed to be about the backcourt". Because the first six games have been very Kofi-heavy. At times, I thought our identity might be "everything runs through Giorgi and Kofi". Then, tonight, the guards.
So I'll start by saying I'm still trying to figure it out. Tyler and I have a Back & Forth started for this very reason. I'm trying to figure out how the way this all comes together. I'm currently looking at it like this.
The poster this year is Ayo, Trent, and Giorgi and then a bunch of other players in the back. The top three scorers from last season all return, and they're the focus. That's the identity.
But Kofi is way better than advertised. And Andres Feliz is playing better than we expected. So, um, do we maybe have five great pieces here? It's supposed to be about Ayo-Trent-Giorgi, but Feliz and Kofi have kind of stolen the show so far.
Then I think about Arizona. Or Nicholls State. We almost lost to the second and were dominated in the second half by the first. And the answer is a resounding "no". You can't say you have five "great" pieces if you go to overtime with Nicholls State. There's still a long way to go.
After establishing that, I'm ready to talk about scheme/identity. As Tyler established after the Hampton game in his post on Sunday, no, we're not the "pressure the ball and create turnovers" team anymore. We're a... rebounding team now? We're, like, Michigan State or North Carolina or something? Kofi helps there, obviously, but Alan Griffin and Andres Feliz crashing the boards like this is not something we've seen the last few years. So is that what Brad Underwood basketball means now? Instead of "either get a steal or give up a layup", it's now "run the offense with two bigs and then rebound like crazy"?
I honestly don't know. That's why I started the Back & Forth post so Tyler can help me. It's still the offense with the pinch post and the cutters and all that, but it looks different, especially when Kofi and Giorgi are both on the court. And after Hawaii I was ready to declare "score in the first seven seconds of the shot clock" completely dead, but now we've put up 120 and 117 in back-to-back games.
So I think my answer is "I have no idea, but I plan to ask Tyler a lot of questions in the next few days so look for a Back & Forth on maybe Friday with some answers".
What would I LIKE our identity to be? Honestly, I mentioned North Carolina above and that made me a little excited. I'm talking brand of basketball here. When I think of Roy Williams ball, I think of that whole secondary break thing and scoring early but also lengthy athletes who rebound rebound rebound. By March, I would like this team to be like that.
Ayo runs the show and scores on the break. A lot.
Trent scores and then scores again.
Feliz gets to the lane (somehow) and scores (somehow) and even rebounds (somehow).
Giorgi gets more comfortable at the four, keeps hitting threes, and becomes a real passing weapon.
Kofi is a double-double machine.
Do that, and with a Big Ten that looks a little weaker (NEW MEXICO, Wisconsin? Virginia Tech with five new starters, Michigan State?), there are a lot of wins to be had. Do that, and I think we can push well past 20 wins. 25?
(Fail to do that - look like the Nicholls State game or even the Hawaii game - and we're not going to even win 17.)
Here's my official answer: stay tuned.
A few quick hitters:
+ Happy for Da'Monte getting 18 points (and hitting a few threes). Good game to get him some confidence offensively. That's one good thing about playing a team like Lindenwood - get a guy some confidence.
+ Very interesting to see Jermaine Hamlin score 8 points and grab 4 rebounds. Again, it's Lindenwood, and their tallest player was 6'-3" (a slight exaggeration), so this was glorified practice, but still - as raw as he was when he came in, I wasn't expecting those post moves he showed tonight (3 of 3 from the field). He might only play in one or two more games but... it's interesting.
+ Lots of wings on the bench tonight. Tevian Jones still suspended. Austin Hutcherson and Jacob Grandison both sitting out after transferring. And Alan Griffin was sitting for being late to a shootaround. Illini Hoops: wingless basketball.
+ There's an AutoZone on the Lindenwood campus. They were expanding their campus and they bought up a bunch of properties but AutoZone wouldn't sell. So it's, like, dorm, dorm, AutoZone, bookstore, library.
That's my best Lindenwood fun fact. Also, they came to Champaign and got absolutely destroyed.