But If We Win The Next One


Robert
Feb 15, 2019
[]
[]
16 Comments

How many times have I said that in the last ten years? How many times - in football or basketball - have I said "this is a nice little run we're on, but these are home wins - win that one on the road next week and then we can talk". Well, let's talk.

Three weeks ago we're 6-15 on the season. And then we do this (using the KenPom ranking for each opponent):

Beat #15 in Madison Square Garden
Lose to #50 on the road
Beat #35 at home
Beat #4 at home
Beat #88 at home
Beat #37 on the road

Up until tonight - as you could see if you read the Back & Forth post this morning - I was still cautious. The LET'S DO THIS fan side of me wanted to go crazy, but Tyler was right - we should proceed with extreme caution. This run the last three home games was amazing, especially beating Michigan State, but with these road games looming, it felt like a big reality check was on it's way. This is all great, and it's very encouraging for next season, but we still haven't won a single road game. And now we have road games coming up against KenPom #37, #12, and #9. Back to earth?

Not back to earth. 6-8 in the Big Ten. A legitimate chance to win more Big Ten games this year than any of the last eight seasons. I need to say that again, and then I need to break it down.

We have a legitimate chance at the most Big Ten wins this decade. Big Ten wins the last nine years, starting with the 2009/10 season: 10, 9, 6, 8, 7, 9, 5, 8, 4. We're now at six, and here's the remaining schedule (with KenPom rank):

@Wisconsin #12
Penn State #59
@Purdue #9
Northwestern #69
Indiana #45
@Penn State #59

I mean, win the three home games and then win one of the road games and we're 10-10 in the Big Ten which would equal the 9-9 seasons in 2011 and 2015. But neither of those seasons had a Big Ten that was this grueling. 2013 did, and 2014 did, but those were 8 and 7 win seasons. So what's in front of us right now? Winning four of six to finish out the schedule and claiming our best Big Ten finish since 2010. Yes, during the season that started 5-14.

Let's put that into one sentence: the season that started 5-14 might be the season where we have our best Big Ten finish of the decade and that's happening in a year where the Big Ten is the toughest conference in America.

What?

It's crazy. It makes me want to peek at "OK, so if we win out, finishing 16-15 with wins over Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Maryland, do two BTT wins actually put us in a play-in game?" I mean, that's crazy - even the 2003 Illini would lose one or both of these road games coming up. We've improved exponentially, but we haven't "beat two top-12 teams on the road" improved. Still... I'm peeking at it.

I'll be honest, I didn't think we had any shot in this game. Coming off the high of last week - a big home win over Michigan State and then an emotional overtime win over Rutgers - I figured we'd go on the road and get destroyed by an Ohio State team, at home, fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives. Going into this one we had exactly one Big Ten road win under Brad Underwood, and that was at Rutgers last year. Road letdown after several emotional home wins - this felt like a lock for the loss column.

Yet I still had that back-of-my-mind hope. The same one I referenced above. "If we somehow pull this off, it means this run we're on is a legitimate thing". Well, this run we're on is a legitimate thing. Throwing out the crazy "win out and are we on the bubble?" stuff, here's a realistic scenario:

  • Finish somewhere between 7th and 9th in the Big Ten standings. If we lose at Wisconsin and at Purdue but win the others, that's a 10-10 finish (what?) and, given what Ohio State and Minnesota have left, likely a 7th place finish in the conference. (Running through their schedules, I see Ohio State finishing 9-11 and I see Minnesota finishing 8-12).
  • That means a Wednesday bye and then (hopefully) the 7-10 game against maybe Rutgers or Indiana.
  • Win that one and you somehow get to 15 wins, beating last year's win total of 14 after starting this season 5-14.
  • Use this momentum to land a quality, ready-to-contribute-next-year wing this spring and then go land a great 2020 class this summer.
  • The 2019/20 team, led by Ayo, Trent, Giorgi, and Kofi Cockburn, is fully prepared to make some serious damage next year.

That's where I'm at after this win. That's now what I see as a realistic scenario. When you win a game like this on the road, I feel like it tells you so much about where you're headed.

Up.

+ The run of "Trent and Ayo have solid games at the same time" continues. The numbers tonight:

Ayo: 15 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists
Trent: 15 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists

In fact, with Giorgi scoring 13 and Feliz scoring 9, this winning streak has been very repetitive. Team is led by Ayo, Trent, and Giorgi. Feliz, even though he's coming off the bench, is the fourth option on offense. Rebounding comes from everyone, with a surprising number of rebounds pulled down by Feliz and Aaron Jordan. Da'Monte starts and provides defense and The Little Things but no offense. Spot minutes off the bench for Nichols, Griffin, De La Rosa, and Jones.

Rinse, repeat.

+ All of this makes me wonder aloud: where will the 2018 recruiting class rank when we look back 10 years from now? I guess a lot will depend on the careers of Tevian Jones, Alan Griffin, and Samba Kane, but just looking at Ayo, Giorgi, and Feliz, it's been a long time since we had one class make this much of an impact.

I remember watching an interview with Brad Underwood before the season where he talked about his "top-15 recruiting class". And I kind of rolled my eyes. Yes, I'm sure some ranking system somewhere put the class in the top-15 due to eight players coming in, but a class of three top-100 players is much better than a class of one top-100 player and seven unranked players.

But now I think it really might be a top-15 class? Ayo has played better than his ranking, Giorgi has played approximately 155 times better than his ranking. Feliz really was one of the best juco players in the country and should have been ranked higher nationally, and I think Griffin really was a senior season breakout player who we landed before anyone else discovered him (he has a long way to go, but his knack for finding the ball - steals, rebounds - is really encouraging). A class that I thought would be seen as Ayo + Tevian + a bunch of Matic Vesels (meaning, long-term projects for 2021) has turned out to be, well, a top-15 recruiting class nationally.

If Kofi plays up to his ranking, we're really, really on to something.

+ It felt like the narrative for this game was going to be "free throws". As in, the refs are giving them to Ohio State which will get them back into this game (and also "we can't make them"). Ohio State ended up 20-25 from the line, which almost pulled them back into the game. We ended up 9-17, which I swore was going to cost us this game.

And when Ayo missed that layup with about seven minutes to go, I already started writing the postgame post in my head. "This one was RIGHT THERE but we're just not ready to win a game like this. If we make some of those free throws, or if that open layup falls, we win. But we're just not there yet."

But maybe we are there? All of those things happened, on the road, and the refs were putting the home team on the line, and yet we wouldn't let them grab the lead. They led by, what, 1 a few times? And every time we fought back to re-take the lead. That's so encouraging. We can win a game on an off night when we shoot 6-21 from three and 9-17 at the line. And we can win that game on the road.

Which means so much for next season. Build some momentum, sell it to recruits this summer, start winning (and winning big) next winter. This season is probably too little too late for any postseason talk, but next year looks so promising now. I'd love to think about continuing the season with an NIT berth, but that ship has probably sailed. We'll most likely lose at Wisconsin and that will shut down any talk of running the table and somehow sneaking into the postseason.

But if we win the next one...

Comments

uilaw71 on February 15 @ 04:37 AM CST

Stranger things have happened than a 7-seed winning the BTT. But even if not, why would NIT ship have sailed?

Markschnake1 on February 15 @ 04:51 AM CST

Having gone to U of I from 2000-2004, the conversations my friends and I had last evening felt like we stepped into a time machine:

“Yeah, we were sloppy but OSU will be on the bubble. If we bring that game to Kohl we get smoked!” I was NOT worried about that game from 7-7 on.

Living deep in UVA country now, I miss being an entitled Illinois fan. The win @tOSU was, in my opinion, the best non-mizzou win for this program in nearly a decade. Winning @Wisconsin and/or @Purdue would surplant it easily.

I just love watching this team and I hope the core of Trent, Ayo & Giorgi stick together for another year. Ayo’s recent Frank Williams impersonation is a thing of beauty! The assention of Giorgi and Ayo has allowed Trent to become an absolute nightmare out there for opposing teams as well!

Markschnake1 on February 15 @ 04:58 AM CST

Finishing #6 or #7 isn’t the greatest thing for the BTT. Your road based on current standings, if seeds hold is Rutgers (10), Michigan(2), Purdue(3), MSU (1). Rutgers will play up so probably out OSU or Minny in the 10.

The #8/#9 spot looks a little more desirable as you hypothetically get Iowa (4) in the semi finals.

Lou-a-villini on February 15 @ 08:47 AM CST

Nobody, besides Frankie, roots for DaMonte more than I do. But, does it really make sense to have such an offensive liability in the starting line-up? I mean, don’t you need theream to get out to the best start as possible every game? I know he does ALL of the small things....just wish he could pump in 6-8 ppg.

Groundhogday on February 16 @ 03:43 PM CST

We don't have good options on the wing. Hope Jones and Griffin develop and/or we pick up some quality wings in the 2019 class.

Lou-a-villini on February 16 @ 04:19 PM CST

Kipper?

ATOillini on February 15 @ 09:58 AM CST

I thought the same as you. That blown layup plus missed free throws late had me in that "We're going go give this one away" frame of mind. Somehow that didn't happen.

Also, raise your hand if you had declared this season "over" a few weeks ago, either by publicly stating it or at least thinking it. I seem to remember a few comments on this site that basically declared the Underwood era over already. Hmmm......How quickly things change.

One last question. Where does this Big 10 is the toughest conference in college hoops rating come from? The games I have watched, including several non-Illini matches, don't obviously lead me to think that. I hate Duke and NC, but those 2 plus UVA I believe would be top 3 if in the Big 10. I understand this conference ranking is obviously some overall statistic or whatever, but doesn't feel that way to me.

HailToTheOrange on February 15 @ 01:40 PM CST

I also remember a few comments questioning whether Trent was overrated and suggesting last year was a fluke, which is only slightly more ridiculous now then it was 3 weeks ago.

I agree that Puke, UNC, KU, etc would sit atop the B1G, though I don't think there's a conference in the country with more depth.

LongLiveTheChief98 on February 15 @ 10:02 AM CST

"OK, so if we win out, finishing 16-15 with wins over Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Maryland, do two BTT wins actually put us in a play-in game?"

In short, no. Look at Nebraska last year...they finished FOURTH in the Big Ten at 13-5, and still did not get an invite. We'd be 12-8. Yes, the Illini would have some serious quality wins on their resume, but they'd still have SIXTEEN losses. The non-conference matters. And 18-16 is still not at-large-worthy. The most losses for an at-large team has been 14, on several occasions.

Their only hope at the NCAA tourney is to win the BTT. And I wouldn't put it past this team to be able to pull that off, regardless of their finish in the B1G standings. This is an incredibly improved product from the team we saw in December.

With that said, I think a 10-10 finish is realistic...AND even with a 14-17 overall record I don't think the NIT is off the table at all. Pretty sure you don't have to be above .500 for that tournament anymore, and given the strength of the B1G this year, I think the NIT would jump at an opportunity to have an up-and-coming team like Illinois participate. Normally don't get excited for the "we're #69!" tourney, but that would be a great opportunity for this young team to keep building momentum into next season.

LongLiveTheChief98 on February 15 @ 10:05 AM CST

Hell, even if the CBI or CIT come calling, you take that. The more time this team has on the court for actual game play, the more they gel and get closer to the big prize next year...returning to the tourney.

mrmill on February 16 @ 09:21 AM CST

So many things need to happen to get to 18-16, so it’s not worth arguing, BUT the number of quality wins (and overall SOS)that would exist on our resume make the comparison to NU really far off.

Don’t feel like digging into it, but that team played a soft non conference schedule and didn’t really beat anyone in the B1G. We’ve got a long way to go, and will probably lose 2-3 times, but our ratings by year end should be bubble worthy (but our record will likely not).

LongLiveTheChief98 on February 17 @ 10:49 AM CST

But that's the primary point I'm trying to make...overall record. You simply can't ignore SIXTEEN losses, no matter how many quality wins one has. Yes, the NU comparison was probably off, but I'm just saying that a good Big Ten mark means nothing when you laid a turd in the non-conference. The committee looks at November/December just as much as they do February/March, and the overall metric still does not, and would not, pan in Illinois's favor with 16 losses. It MIGHT possibly put them toward the bottom of the bubble conversation, but that would be about it, and no serious bracket projection would have them in.

mmyers74 on February 17 @ 08:17 PM CST

You are right... the committee looks at November/December just as much as they do Feb/March... and in November and December, we had the #2 SOS in the entire country, according to many sources. Do SIXTEEN losses, as you put it, matter? yes. Do losses, in general, matter? yes. But do the quality of losses matter as well, and are you ignoring that, by and large, in your analysis? yes.

No one on here really believes, yet, that it's going to happen, and thus matter. That said... just saying SIXTEEN losses, again, doesn't make the sixteen losses more relevant.

ktcesw on February 16 @ 04:10 PM CST

For those doubting how good the B1G is, don't forget that MI crushed UNC earlier this season.

Markschnake1 on February 16 @ 07:36 PM CST

I think some define conferences by their top 2 or 3 teams, in which case the Big10 doesn’t have a Duke or UVA.

Top to bottom, I’m not sure how one can argue that the Big10 isn’t the best conference. I bet if you formed a 64 team tournament of the bottom half of every conference (pretend the math works), the Big10 would have 7 of the elite 8 and the entire final 4.

Bear8287 on February 17 @ 10:12 AM CST

But now I think it really might be a top-15 class? Ayo has played better than his ranking, Giorgi has played approximately 155 times better than his ranking. Feliz really was one of the best juco players in the country and should have been ranked higher nationally, and I think Griffin really was a senior season breakout player who we landed before anyone else discovered him (he has a long way to go, but his knack for finding the ball - steals, rebounds - is really encouraging). A class that I thought would be seen as Ayo + Tevian + a bunch of Matic Vesels (meaning, long-term projects for 2021) has turned out to be, well, a top-15 recruiting class nationally.

Coaching >>> Talent
and that includes the ability to spot and "coach up" talent.

Robert, you said what you thought this recruiting class was and what Brad Underwood thought it was. Would it really be fair then to go back and say, oh yeah, they really were much better and it's the players and not the coach?

Or how about the On Paper article from September of 2016? Robert pointed out how the Illini were #3 in the B1G (on paper) at the beginning of the season with a ton of experience. So how did that work out?

GHD pointed out here that the 2013 class was ranked 13th and overall recruiting rankings for that class were: Scout: 20, Rivals: 18, 247Sports: 20, ESPN: 15.

Can anyone in their wildest dreams imaging JG pulling this off? How many 20+ point blow out losses would there have been by now this season?

Good coaches take lower ranked recruiting classes and make them look better. Good coaches also go out and coach their team to win games that they are "not supposed to" win.

This is not a fluke either. Look at what BU did at Oklahoma State in his one season there getting that team to the NCAA tourney.

Robert, your stated metric is 2.5 seasons for a basketball coach and you may have your answer in less than 2 this time around. Time will tell but the arrow is definitely looking to be pointing up and it appears that we may finally have a coach that is going to build a program again.

Speak Your Mind

Please login or register to post comments on the IlliniBoard.