Dec 02, 2019

I think the bowl game has made me more impatient. Like, I'm One Of The Seventeen, but even I feel like Illinois football shouldn't return before Illinois basketball. Now that we're in a bowl, it feels like that our last tourney appearance in 2013 was 11 years ago. Just last month it still felt like six.

2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and now possibly 2020 without a tourney appearance. It's probably.. likely? I don't want to overreact, but it feels like we could be out by Christmas. Start the Big Ten 0-2, lose to Missouri, and you probably need what - 11 Big Ten wins in the new year just to get on the bubble? 12?

I should break this down. Lose to Maryland, lose to Michigan, and we're 6-4. Beat ODU and lose to Missouri and we're 7-5. Then you'll beat NC A&T but lose to Michigan State so you're 8-6. At that point, without any solid non-conference wins on your resume, and sitting at 0-3 in the Big Ten, you have to finish 11-6 in the conference just to get to 19-12 going into the Big Ten Tournament sitting on the bubble. So yes, it's beat Missouri or you might need 12 Big Ten wins to get in.

We might go seven years (eight? nine?) without making the NCAA Tournament. It's all hitting me right now.

After surviving Nicholls State (in overtime!) I tried to fight off the notion. At Arizona, I couldn't watch the game so I brushed it off as a tough road game. The Hawaii slugfest, I started to waver but we pulled it out and I settled on "these last five minutes were a corner". But going down 27 at home to Miami? As each of these pile up, I can't hold it off anymore. As of right now, this isn't a Tournament team.

Because I don't think Miami is a tournament team, and they just came to Champaign and won. And Nicholls State took us to overtime. And we struggled with Hawaii and lost to Arizona and are going to get ~drilled~ in the next two games. I look at the players and their abilities, I look at the results of the games, and they simply do not match up. Ayo-Trent-Dre-Giorgi-Kofi should not be a 17-win team. And right now, that's probably where this thing ends up.

Wait - KenPom tracks this, right? Let me go look it up.

YEP. After the update (losing to #82 Miami), KenPom now has us finishing the season 17-14. HOW HAVE WE NOT TURNED THE CORNER YET?

Like, seriously, when will it happen? It should have happened by now. We can't be losing this game in year three. I'm as patient as any fan on the planet but I'm sitting here screaming "WHEN?" inside.

Miami had four players. I'm serious. It was four players plus a bunch of mid-major guys. They played nine guys - those main four took 48 shots, the other five took six. We let a team with four players come to the State Farm Center and walk out with a win.

Since I have KenPom open, I'll look it up. Miami is projected to be... a 14-16 basketball team this season. They've already lost three games and barely beat Missouri State. How is this happening?

I know what you're thinking. As a HOPE guy, you're thinking I'd cling to the comeback. Down 27, cut it to one, had the ball with a shot to win. I get that. Great fight. That place was ready to erupt. But I can't get over the big picture. I might wake up on January 3rd to an 8-6 basketball team that was 33rd in the preseason poll. That's just so incredibly unacceptable in Year Three. You know my stat - Illini football 5 years to rebuild it, Illini basketball 2.5. Well, the Purdue game in early January is the midway point, and we might need to win to avoid 8-7.

It's just so depressing. Honestly, the only thing I'm clinging to right now is that my emotions are similar to the Eastern Michigan loss in September. That From The Stands was eight minutes of "HOWWW is this possible with the talent I saw at camp?", and then we turned it around midseason and made a bowl. So maybe there's a turnaround coming and I'll look back at this the same way I look at that.

But for now, I'm stuck on "when?". When is it going to happen? Is it ever going to happen again? This football fan needs Illinois Basketball in his life. The Illinois Basketball we all knew.

+ I'm not sure I've ever seen a shooting display from two opponents like we saw from Lyles and Vasiljevic tonight. I know I'm supposed to point to the defense, and maybe that was it, but some of these daggers were just... my goodness. Over and over and over. Even the bad shots one foot inside the line were dropping.

If I wasn't in this mood, I might chalk all of this up to that. "Sometimes, when two guys go off like that, there's nothing you can do". But when this comes as the second loss on the young season, when we were nine point favorites at home, I just can't get there. Find a way. Don't sleepwalk your way to a 27-point deficit. Don't need three timeouts in the first 10 minutes just to try to stop their insane run.

Two guards, taking mostly jump shots, are 18 for 28. Just incredible.

+ Maybe when I wake up tomorrow I'll be able to say that the comeback was fun. But when you come all the way back from 27, cut it to one, get a rebound, have the ball with 12 seconds left and a chance to win, and run someone over for a charge, man, it's the same feeling as the McCourt missed extra point at Michigan State. All of this emotion as we fought back and fought back and then THAT? Unfortunately, this time, there weren't four minutes left. There were 3 seconds left.

I'm not sure there's a worse fan feeling than that. You debate in your head "wouldn't it be better if we just lost by 22?" but then you think no, you want your team to show fight. That team in the second half is the team we all expect to see. But it's the same team that fell behind by 27 and looked shellshocked.

Michigan? Can this be the Michigan football game? Down 28-0 and cut it to 28-25 only to fumble twice and lose? We didn't know it at the time, but that comeback was the turnaround moment. Can this be that?

(It won't be that.)

+ Loved Da'Monte tonight. 7 rebounds, 2 big steals, 2 assists, massive put-back dunk, great defense. That kid plays so hard.

I know - he doesn't have the offensive game to go with it. But he does so many little things. If this was the season I imagined back in the summer, Da'Monte is the glue guy off the bench doing all the little things and winning 6th-man of the year in the Big Ten.

But it's not that season. So he's reduced to "only guy bringing energy as we fall behind 27 in the first half to a bad Miami team at home.

+ We need an upset in the worst way. We just have to win one of the next two. Not "have to" in order to make the Tournament (although that would help). "Have to" in order to snap me out of this mood.

I need my Illinois Basketball back.


Groundhogday on December 02 @ 10:12 PM CST

We let a team with four players come to the State Farm Center and walk out with a win.

How many players do we have? Five? With two who don't yet play really well together? Okay, maybe 6 because DaMonte played like a legit B1G role player off the bench.

Kofi dominated but unfortunately a dominate guard impacts the college game more than a dominant big man. And they had the dominant guard. Frazier and Feliz have been solid in their roles. What the heck is going on with Ayo?

orangejulius on December 02 @ 10:39 PM CST

This. Robert, you are vastly overrating the talent that we had on the floor tonight. After Ayo, Kofi, and Trent, how many guys were we playing who were wanted by any of the programs that we aspire to compete with?

If you want to be assured of winning games like this one, gotta recruit better players. Look at this year's class. Kofi was amazing, but he commits, and then we just struck out completely.

Now, I think we have more talent than Miami, but not significantly more, and they had a shooting night, and they beat us. I mean, Miami is probably better than we were last season, and we beat Maryland and MSU.

Lastly, not having Tevian is killing us right now. We need him back in the worst way.

chuddery on December 05 @ 11:51 AM CST

He's not overrating the talent. Look at the recruiting rankings for the past few years. Underwood's classes stack up well in the Big Ten, and there's been more than enough time for his guards to acclimate to college.

Groundhogday on December 02 @ 10:28 PM CST

What are the issues:

  • Giorgi and Kofi still learning to play together. Defensively, we are awful with those two on the court together. Just not enough mobility to defend the perimeter against a quality opponent. Giorgi's post entry passing was terrific tonight, but otherwise he looks lost on offense. Still not sure this pairing will work as more than a change of pace.
  • Something is wrong with Ayo's head. Maybe pressing too much with the hope of an NBA leap? Coaches need to help Ayo get sorted.
  • Depth, depth, depth. Williams gave us 27 solid versatile minutes off the bench. Griffin still working to earn the trust of this staff. After that? No one you really want to put on the court.

Overall, this team has talent, but the roster overall doesn't fit what Underwood would really prefer to do. Our guards aren't particularly quick; we don't have the multi-skilled athletic wings needed for positionless, pressure spread ball; only one reliable 3pt shooter; and we don't have the depth needed to play with the intensity Underwood demands. This won't be an easy coaching job, but Underwood and his staff have to figure it out. There is enough overall talent, but the pieces don't seem to fit together very well.

I still think this season will hinge on the development of Griffin, BBV and potentially Tevian Jones (if he returns to the court.)

IlliNYC on December 03 @ 10:17 AM CST

Not directed at you, but boy would I like to stop reading about how an Illini Basketball Coach's roster doesn't fit what they want to do. It's now been a decade plus of rosters not fitting....

Groundhogday on December 03 @ 03:34 PM CST

Kind of amazing that we now have a roster that would be a perfect fit for John Groce.

Joe Edge on December 03 @ 09:36 PM CST

The other one I'd like to stop reading about (and hearing) is how much better or more talented our players are than the opposition (Jeremy Werner) .... This CANNOT be true - WE LOST !!

Bear8287 on December 03 @ 02:52 AM CST

This game reminded me a bit of the 2016 game against Winthrop that the Illini lost in OT 84-80.

Remember Keon Johnson? Height: 5' 7" and Weight: 161 lbs. Lit up the Illini for 38 points.

That Illini team was expected to get to the NCAA tourney too. So far the Illini have played two Power 5 teams and are 0-2. Even worse, Dakich predicted before the game that Lykes would light up the Illini and Miami would win. Ugh.

At one point in the first half the Illini were down 17-2 in points off turnovers. The Illini managed to cut that to 23-15, but when you lose by 2 being down by 8 in points off turnovers really hurts.

In the first half the Illini had 10 turnovers, 0 blocks and 1 steal.
in the second half the Illini had 3 turnovers, 4 blocks and 3 steals.

This team just didn't come out ready to play and it's not the first time that's happened this year. It's still early, but with no significant wins on their resume yet, this Illini team needs to start to show some sense of urgency. This team needs to stop reading its own press. There's a lot of work to do there and I don't see this team being ranked any time soon (if at all) this season.

The Illini get to open the B1G season @#3 Maryland, vs #4Michigan and @#11 Michigan State. How does Robert say that? HOOOO-boy?

The coaches have their work cut out for them. At this point, Kofi looks like more of risk to leave for the NBA at the end of the season than Ayo does...

ATOillini on December 03 @ 07:29 AM CST

Well, I’ve already seen a few comments that I was going to make having already texted them to a couple friends post game last night.

We currently have 6.5 players with Da’Monte being the half. The Kofi/Giorgi on the court at the same time thing is not easy. It does present defensive issues which can be exploited, at least for now.

I do have a question for Walkon given his knowledge of the game. What’s up with this ring around the rosie at the top of the key offense? It just looks stupid. Somewhat of a “why don’t we just waste 12 seconds” kind of thing. Maybe I’m missing something obvious.

Finally, to me the disappointing finish was just equalizing things given the MSU football miracle a couple weeks ago. We never should have one that game, but did. This time the preferred result didn’t go our way.

Giovantischixstripz on December 03 @ 08:22 AM CST

Notes on a disappointing game

  • A coach usually gets most of the blame when a team underperforms, and he deserves some for failing to make run busting adjustments and not having his team prepared, but don't spare the players. Especially the guards. Why does it take until there is less than 2 minutes left for Ayo to refuse to switch on a screen and really dig in vs Lykes?
  • Where has Trent Frazier's swagger gone? He is too deferential offensively. If a guy plays 34 minutes and is 4 for 5 from 3 I am always going to say that he didn't shoot enough. This is on Underwood too, he should have run some action off double screens to keep him shooting, but Frazier is a streak shooter, he needs to get aggressive when he is hot.
  • The Giorgi-Kofi combo is coming into its own offensively, but is a liability defensively. 4s in college these days are almost always shooters, and they are both too slow footed to be chasing players around the perimeter. Also Underwood needs his guards to fight around ball screens so the big doesn't need to show aggresively, they are too slow for that as well. Let Kofi sit back on ball screens and wait for both the ballhandler and the roller around the free throw line. He's so big if Lykes pulls up he can still take one step out and get a good contest.
  • Offensively, while his high-low work is beautiful we are not seeing enough of Giorgi on the post when Kofi is in. He should feast on smaller 4s, and when the double comes he should be able to find Kofi for dunks on the weakside.
  • Ayo isn't a first rounder until he decides to lock in defensively. He only did that for the last 2 minutes of this game.
  • Loved the shithousery from Griffin. Gooning it up and getting a tech both ways was huge for us getting Lykes out of the game. I think his dad taught him how to be a role player.

This was a frustrating loss, but I think it very well could end up like the EMU football game. We played flat to start, but they were also unconscious shooting and you'll lose one of those games every year. We'll beat a ranked team again this year because we are hitting everything possible as well. Hopefully that win comes in the next week to get some confidence going.

ChainsawMustache on December 03 @ 09:36 AM CST

Would second the comment about the “ring around the rosie” 4 man weave stuff at the beginning of possessions. Would love to understand rationale behind that.

Similarly, we seem to spend a lot of time and energy on offense making cuts that really just lead to bad angles and our guards catching the ball in awkward positions. While I believe this is ideally supposed to ultimately lead to open back cuts / layups, seems to rarely pan out that way. Lots of people on this site that know than me on this - any insights you can offer?

Dr. Chim Richalds on December 03 @ 10:24 AM CST

I kept wondering the same thing about some of the hand-offs we were running. There was a lot of "Kofi/Giorgi hands to Da'Monte going left, which leads to him forcing a drive or wasting time and then pulling it back out." That play didn't look like it allowed for any easy passing lanes, and we ran it repeatedly in the first half. I don't know all that much offensive theory, so would be curious if Tyler could talk about those types of actions.

Sweetchuck13 on December 03 @ 09:40 AM CST

But it's not that season.

Last night was an awful loss. No way to spin it. But I still think it's too early to give up. I think this team is too unpredictable and talented to simply look at the schedule and automatically know we'll be 8-6 on January 3rd. If this were a Groce team, I think you could write it in ink as we knew which teams we could compete with and which ones we won't. I don't think this team will get wiped off the floor much - and we'll likely beat a couple of teams we probably shouldn't. It'll be maddening and there will be stretches like the first half, but I don't think we know yet how it'll end up in March. Don't give up just yet Robert.

As far as the game goes, our offense was really odd last night. The high-low with Giorgi and Kofi was exceptional, but I'm not sure why we didn't call it more often. The dribble weave rarely set anything up, and we didn't seem to go to the pinch post much at all. Can BU call up Self for a quick pointer on the high-low? Especially if Kofi can make his free throws - we may want to build around that.

Finally, I'd love to see Robert or Tyler address this, but is Ayo secretly not great in the half-court offense? On the fast break he's sensational, but where is his impact in the half-court game? I'm concerned.

Groundhogday on December 03 @ 03:25 PM CST

As Werner and Pipere were discussing on a free podcast, this team is not suited for the spread offense or pressure defense. It is much better suited for high ball screen, high-low action. Maybe time to scrap the spread offense for this season and do what works for the talent assembled?

chathamillini on December 03 @ 12:32 PM CST

What is most troubling is that a team at home could come out so disinterested in effort at the start of the game. Is Underwood not able to connect to these guys? Just can't see a tourney caliber team throwing out a turd like that in front of the home folks. Perhaps the Nicholls State game was more of a reflection of what this team is than we care to think.

Been so long since relevancy, I'm in the believe it when I see it camp now. Just assume we will continue to underachieve & be mired in this crap.

PapaDels4me on December 03 @ 12:44 PM CST

I'll repeat the questions about that weave around the top of the three point circle. It doesn't seem to create anything to me. What is the objective?

And regarding Ayo, as others have said, what is the issue? He is great with an open floor, making the Euro step look elegant and effective. But he doesn't seem to get past his own man very often. He must be fast more than he's quick. If so, man, I just don't see the League for him.

Sadly, Dakitch seemed to understand this game a lot better than the Illini did and maybe wanted it more . . . at least in the first half.

Giovantischixstripz on December 03 @ 01:39 PM CST


that link shows some good action out of the weave. the idea is any lack of coordination defensively as the 2 players cross opens up space to either turn the corner and head downhill or hit a 3 as the defense is lulled to sleep. there are a lot of actions to run off of it.

the problem for us is the only player who looks like a threat to turn the corner is feliz and nobody looks interested in taking the space from the hand off to shoot a 3 (Frazier needs to be more aggressive off of this).

same thing with our standard spread offense. Oregon and south Carolina made the final 4 running the same offense. we just don't have anyone who is consistently attacking downhill, the cuts are lazy, and it is a bad fit for our bigs together.

Groundhogday on December 03 @ 04:02 PM CST

Regarding Ayo:

  1. He isn't explosive
  2. His outside shot isn't consistent

Those are a couple of major challenges to overcome in order to develop into an NBA player. On the plus side, Ayo is very skilled, is deadly in the open court, and has good length for a guard. Ayo really needs a more consistent jumper in order to open up driving opportunities in the half court. If defenders aren't closing out hard on the perimeter, he isn't going to blow by anyone with athleticism alone.

Giovantischixstripz on December 03 @ 05:30 PM CST

Length is usually listed as a plus defensively. But Ayo has not been a plus defender so far this year, he needs to start using that length consistently to hound ballhandlers and pick up steals. Too relaxed too many possessions.

As far as his skill, he really needs to work on being able to drive to the left. He is skilled in that he can euro step and finish to the left, but he almost never crosses over and drives left. Add that on top of defenders not closing out hard on him and it becomes really tough to penetrate.

orangejulius on December 03 @ 05:54 PM CST

He's currently shooting 28% from 3 after hitting 35% in 2018. 35% is acceptable for an NBA prospect who has his ability in the open court. If 28% continues I suspect he's going to fall off the mock draft boards completely. On nbadraft.net he's already dropped from 32 to 43 since game 1.

Hopefully he will progress back to the 2018 #'s, but it looks like a regression is more likely given he's shot so poorly against largely bad competition so far.

Groundhogday on December 03 @ 08:45 PM CST

I fear that both Ayo and Feliz might be regressing to the mean with their shooting. Both were suspect shooters coming out of high school, but were serviceable from outside last year. Against weak competition those two guards are hitting 28 and 25% respectively vs 35 and 27% last season. Given that Williams doesn't have the confidence to shoot and Griffin is inexplicably inconsistent, that leaves us with only one outside shooter: Frazier. That is a HUGE problem.

orangejulius on December 04 @ 10:11 AM CST

It really is. Which is why we brought in the two transfers but where was the help for 2019. 2020 will be a different story if we keep the class we have.

Groundhogday on December 04 @ 12:08 PM CST

Solutions for this season: More minutes for Alan Griffin (his shooting seems to be improving?) and some minutes for Tevian Jones. We need shooters on the wing.

Giorgi is hitting a nice % but doesn't take many shots. Perhaps if he becomes more confident and aggressive from the arc that would help, particularly with the high-low game.

Giovantischixstripz on December 04 @ 01:12 PM CST

I think Ayo will rebound to what he did last year. Andres just isn't a 3 point shooter. I think Giorgi's stroke is real, but he has an ultra slow release and it is only on stand still catch and shoot looks, so his volume is always going to stay low. If he can average 1 made per game that would be fantastic.

Getting Tevian back would be a huge boost to the rotation, if it was an academic problem my guess is he'll either be back at the start of the next semester or not at all.

orangejulius on December 04 @ 09:10 PM CST

I really don't understand the starting lineup. Feliz needs to be energy off the bench; he shouldn't be starting. He's not a very good passer and he can't shoot. He's a 6-foot slasher. You can't start the game with only 1 shooter on the floor. It's just too easy to defend it.

Bear8287 on December 04 @ 11:54 PM CST

I really don't understand how you could not start the third highest scorer at 14.8 pts/G, the second highest rebounder at 6.8/G and the leader in assists at 4.3./G.

Just exactly who on this roster do you propose to start in front of Feliz?

Groundhogday on December 05 @ 02:04 AM CST

I’d start Kofi, Griffin, Williams, Ayo, Frazier. Give Giorgi and Felix starter min, off the bench.

orangejulius on December 06 @ 04:02 PM CST

Because he can't shoot, and he's not a very good passer averaging almost 3 TO a game. I like some things about his game, but I think his strengths would be better utilized off the bench with the second unit. I don't think he will keep up those numbers either against better competition.

I would start Griffin.

Gary48 on December 03 @ 09:43 PM CST

I just don’t understand our defense at this point. I have to assume that Coach U has decided this group cannot play his normal pressing defense. So, instead of a whole team having confidence playing in a known system this year, the team is searching and over thinking how to play the new system. And somehow, this has led to an equally unsettled offense with no flow whatsoever. We need to figure this out quickly or we have no chance of a winning season, let alone a tournament bid

PapaDels4me on December 04 @ 10:45 AM CST

Admittedly trivial, but I just love the handle "Coach U". When I read it, that sounds like "Coach(ing) University" and it just throws me into a complete tailspin. Which is actually sort of fun.

Like I said, trivial.

jdl on December 05 @ 05:27 PM CST

Because he wants to play Kofi and Giorgi together. If you do that, you can't run the high pressure D because one of those (probably both!) will be matched against smaller, quicker guys. So that dictated a change in defensive style. Maybe trying to play them together isn't going to work out, but it's not hard to understand why the defense had to change to try it.

orngblu on December 04 @ 04:41 PM CST

Robert, is that you holding your nose in the picture? Don't blame you, it was a stinker.

PapaDels4me on December 04 @ 07:04 PM CST

Good catch !

Groundhogday on December 05 @ 04:15 PM CST

Interesting thoughts from Trent Meacham on Jeremy Werner's show:

  • With the current composition of the team, offense probably won't be great. Not enough shooting or passing skill.
  • No excuse for not playing tough defense. Have enough length, size, athleticism to play really tough D.
  • Who is the leader? Not really clear at this point but you have to have an on court leader rally guys when things don't go well.
  • Wants to see more DaMonte and Griffin. The starting line up isn't getting it done, mix things up to keep from starting off flat footed so much.
  • Offense should be inside-out. Run the offense through both Kofi and Giorgi in the post. Wants to see Giorgi more in the post where he is most effective. Neither big is very effective at the pinch post.
  • Run simple actions to get guards going down hill to the basket.
  • Frazier needs to look for his shot more.
  • Ayo needs to be much better off the ball to set himself up for scoring opportunities. Doesn't have the ability to take guys off the dribble in half court.

Meacham on Werner Show

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