Nope


Robert
Feb 23, 2019
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20 Comments

It felt different from the moment I pulled into the parking lot. Mostly because all of the cars. I generally arrive at the same time for every game, and this time, I was a good five parking rows further back. Open the doors and there's all the people. Get to my seat in press row and there's a buzz throughout the arena. And then... that.

I just tweeted that this is the most deflated I've felt since Thanksgiving week of 2016 (loss to Winthrop at home, then two losses in New York City to West Virginia and Florida State). There was some momentum going into that season, and the Malcolm/Mav class had reached their senior years, and Tracy was back for a sixth year, and we had rolled over our first four opponents with Malcolm putting up 25 in one game and then 40 in the next. Maybe, finally, the corner was turned?

Nope.

So we reset. We fire the coach and hire a new one. He guts almost the entire roster and goes with the Year Zero approach. It's ugly in the second season with a 5-14 start and we start wondering aloud whether it will be the worst season of our lifetimes. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, hope. A win over #13 Maryland. A win over #9 Michigan State. A road win over Ohio State. Hey, we have three home games against the #12, #13, and #14 teams in the conference coming up. Win those three and it's a 9-11 Big Ten record. THAT'S something to build from. Win these three and there's crazy momentum going into next season.

Nope.

OK, it's not "nope". Honestly, this doesn't really change much. Those wins still happened. With Kofi on the way, if this full roster returns (besides the two seniors, obviously), there will still be a buzz going into next season. Not if we lose out, of course, but if we finish 2-2 (to finish 8-12) and then maybe win a BTT game... once the dust settles that's still a momentum-building season.

But I write as a fan (because I am a fan). I say "we blew it", not "they blew it". And I have to say, as a fan, this loss is so, so deflating. The feeling I get walking into a sold-out Assembly Hall (sorry, State Farm Center) for a Saturday afternoon game takes me back to SO. MANY. games in the past. Some of them played by the Flyin' Illini, honored on the court at halftime.

The last 12 years have been about one thing: the disappearance of that basketball program. The feeling we all had from 1983 to 2007 (yes, 25 years) disappeared, replaced with "Malcolm scored 40 the other night maybe the corner will FINALLY be turned?". Followed by -- every time -- "nope". We get our hopes up, we sell out a game... NOPE.

So for me, I have that 2016-night-game-against-North-Carolina football feeling right now. We wait and we wait and we wait and then we sell out a game because there's hope again and then NOPE. The feeling walking into that stadium that night was similar to walking in here today. Sure, it's not a big-name opponent, so it's not like the game is going to go down in history, but it's an opportunity to win at home in front of a sold out crowd and capitalize on all of the goodwill of late. You've pulled the football dozens of times over the last dozen years, Lucy, but sure, we'll buy in and sell out a game again. Just make sure you hold the football this time.

Nope.

Again, this doesn't change much. This game will be forgotten. A 13-19 season turned into a 12-20 season today. Big picture, it doesn't matter much. This program will either be built on the backs of Trent, Ayo, Giorgi, and Kofi or it won't. That's not really what I'm talking about here.

I'm talking about every one of these 15,000 fans heading to their cars right now. "Fine, we'll buy in again - just don't pull the rug this time. Promise? WHY IS THE FLOOR MOVING?"

That's the hump we need to get over. That's the corner we need to turn. This was a very small hurdle (the last place team in the Big Ten coming into our house), and we tripped over it. Yes, Penn State has been playing better than "last place team" and just beat Michigan, but the point is that with a sold out crowd on a Saturday afternoon, you have to beat the last place team. You just have to. So much has been asked of us, the fans, the last ten years (from both programs). We're fighting with Rutgers and Oregon State for the "worst fan experience this decade" trophy. All the fans asked for today, by selling out the State Farm Center, was to beat the last place team on Flyin' Illini day. It's so little to ask.

Nope.

+ This was a game where we needed someone else to step up. By "someone else" I mean someone not named Trent, Ayo, Giorgi, or Andres. Those four have consistently been our top four scorers during this run, and three of the four had rough games today. The shooting stats:

  • Trent 4-15, 1-9 from three
  • Ayo 7-15, 1-4 from three
  • Giorgi 5-14, no three-point attempts
  • Andres 7-11, 1-1 from three

So with that (again, Feliz was great), you need a Kipper or a Da'Monte or one of the freshmen to step up. The four main guys can't be expected to bring it every night, so you need something like what Jones did against Maryland (or Alan Griffin against Iowa State in Maui which earned him a start). We just didn't get that today (14 points total from the "other" six guys), and there's just no way to win if both of those things happen.

+ Speaking of Kofi (I mentioned Kofi above, right?), it feels like he would have made a massive difference today. That's the big difference between this season and next season (besides, you know, getting almost everyone back with a year of experience under their belt). Put a Kofi Cockburn in the paint and this game changes.

I really hope that Kofi gives us what Mike Watkins gives Penn State. Watkins only scored 10 points, but his 12 boards and 5 blocks were the difference in this game. Yes, Stevens scored 25 to lead them to a win, but Watkins was huge. We need someone to be huge.

Kofi is huge.

+ Rough moment happening in front of me right now. They set up tables on the court with all of the Flyin' Illini players and the fans lined up after the game for autographs. With selfies and "please sign these six things", the line has been going very slowly. And the allotted time is one hour before there's a reception that the players have to get to.

The clock just struck midnight, which meant that people waiting in line for an autograph for an hour had to just leave. It's an impossible situation - they can't sign autographs for four hours, so they have to cut off the line at some point. But man, imagine being a fan at this game who gets in line after that game, waits an hour, can see the players signing the autographs, keeps creeping closer, and then gets turned away when the horn sounds (like, literally - they set the clock for an hour and the horn sounded when the autograph session was over).

Nick Anderson and Kendall Gill attempted to salvage some of it, thankfully. They got up from the table and started walking down the line, signing every autograph they could. Again, there's no solution here. They can't be expected to sign autographs for hours. The clock was going to strike midnight with someone at the very front of the line. So a speed round of autographs from two of the superstars was probably the best idea. Well done.

But man, my heart just breaks for some of these fans. Standing there with their kids, promising them autographs and photos with the players and then (you know what's coming)...

Nope.

Comments

ATOillini on February 23 @ 03:30 PM CST

For sure this is not the result anyone wanted, but we're still headed in the right direction. None of the games we won recently were blowouts. We just don't have much room for error given the talent level. Let's tie things in with the Flyin' Illini celebration that just happened. Who on the current team as of right now would start in place of Battle/Gill/Hamilton/Anderson/Bardo (or even Liberty and Smith)? I'm just saying we still have a long way to go. Expectations need to be managed....But I repeat I'm still encouraged.

HiggsBoson on February 23 @ 04:04 PM CST

Today was so very illini, especially the autograph mess. Feliz came to play, the team as a whole crapped down its leg rather than rising to the occasion. After today we should all lose the fantasy that doing some damage in the B1G tournament. Wondering why we didn't see much from Jones or Griffin instead of Bad Kipper.

Should be better next year as long as Ayo doesn't pull a Meyers Leonard and bolt for the draft prematurely. Which would be very Illini..

AHSIllini32 on February 23 @ 09:01 PM CST

Leonard was a lottery pick.....

In no way did he prematurely leave.

HiggsBoson on February 25 @ 08:10 PM CST

I guess so, if money is all it's about. Career-wise, he most certainly did leave prematurely. He's never come close to his potential since then. Ayo won't be a lottery pick this year, but he could be down the road. I was just hoping he wouldn't jump early and have a disappointing pro career like Meyers.

Bear8287 on February 24 @ 03:15 PM CST

I don't think Ayo will be going anywhere this year. He doesn't even show up on the page here. Just wouldn't make any sense.

Now if Ayo helps lead the Illini to the Tourney next season and gets them into the second weekend of play, I'll be totally good with that. ;-)

orangejulius on February 23 @ 05:27 PM CST

The pressure d has treated us well in many recent ballgames but today it got exposed and led to high percentage shot after high percentage shot without forcing the requisite # of turnovers. When we did get the to we didnt finish in transition. PSU's weakness is long range shooting and we didnt make them do it. It is still not clear if any of the non Giorgi Ayo freshmen will be difference makers. Could have used something? anything? from Kipper in this game, but thats the story of the season.

pblillini on February 24 @ 10:48 AM CST

I think this was more a revert to the mean than one time lapse. This program has a loooong way to go. Chambers absolutely pantsed Brad yesterday. You don’t run extended ball pressure against the worst three point shooting team in the league, when their strength is multiple guys who are capable of driving and getting to the rim. We served that to them on a silver platter.

orangejulius on February 24 @ 03:24 PM CST

Exactly. When ball pressure clearly isn't working, adapt. They shot 5/17 on 3's and 21/36 on 2's. Plus they shoot 32 FT by getting into the paint at will on us. Pack it in and make them take outside shots. Get into our transition o. on long rebounds. We'll see if Brad learned anything in the rematch.

Bear8287 on February 24 @ 11:10 AM CST

Regression Game.

Really disappointing given a full house and the Flyin' Illini and Coach Henson in town...

This game looked a lot like the games that the Illini were losing earlier in the season. Shoot 13 more shots from the field and only make as many as the opponent. Lose by 7 points and get out scored at the free throw line by 8... we've seen this script how many times in losses this season?

Perhaps the most disappointing part of this game for me was that it felt like the Illini were actually being out hustled and that PSU wanted this game more. That's a bitter pill. The Nittany Lions seemed to come in with a lot more energy and on a day like that, how can that be?

The Illini were:
-12 in points in the paint,
-3 in points off turnovers,
-5 in second chance points,
-6 in fast break points
-7 in rebounds

Kenpom has the Illini at 64 at the moment. Here's how the last four regular season B1G season games shape up:

@Purdue 10
Indiana 48
Northwestern 70
@Penn St 46

and outside of Purdue, that's a good chunk of the bottom of the conference. (That's a tough conference.) The Illini will likely be favored in only one of those games. Even by just the rankings the two best chances for a win will be the two home games. Losing twice to PSU this season is nauseating, but win those two home games and finish up at 8-12 and that sets things up reasonably well for next season. Not that there are any "must win" games in what looks to be shaping up as the Illini's first 20 loss season ever, but that Northwestern game at home is a game that the Illini really should win.

Illinimac68 on February 24 @ 11:50 AM CST

Coach said something after the game to the effect that morning games are challenging for Trent. It makes me wonder whether the guys are on their own on Friday night and maybe are having a little too much college student fun before showing up at 9? or whenever they have to be there. A lot of shots they usually make were off and they seemed a few tenths of a second late on defensive rotations.

Altgeld88 on February 24 @ 02:13 PM CST

Hi. I read your stuff occasionally and appreciate your passion for the football and basketball programs. I'm a fair bit older than you (53), so please allow me some gentle advice: I counsel patience and an even keel. You get really high and low about these things and it'll wear you out, my friend. Chill. And focus on that full parking lot to the exclusion of sluggish play against a hungry cellar-dweller.

I started watching Big Ten ball in the early '70s when I was a kid. Played all through school. Was completely passionate about basketball, playing it and watching college hoops. Grew up in Columbus. One of the first BT games I saw in person was OSU-Illinois in 1975. Gene Bartow at the helm for his sole season. Bill Rucks, the first 7-foot tall human I ever saw in person, as backup center. I still have that game program somewhere.

Both teams were somewhere between "meh" and "suck" that day. OSU was consistently that way through the mid- and late '70s. St. John Arena was barely half-full. By 1980, however, OSU was ranked #1 for a while and provided some of the most suspenseful and entertaining basketball I've ever had the pleasure of seeing in person. I sat behind the Virginia bench when OSU beat Ralph Sampson in '80.

After that Bartow season in '75, Lou showed up to repair the ship and drag it off the shoals. Here are his [Overall / BT records - BT place finish] data from those initial seasons:

1975–76 14–13 / 7–11 7th(T) 1976–77 16–14 / 8–10 6th
1977–78 13–14 / 7–11 7th
1978–79 19–11 / 7–11 7th
1979–80 22–13 / 8–10 6th(T) NIT 3rd Place

1980–81 21–8 / 12–6 3rd NCAA Sweet Sixteen

1981–82 18–11 / 10–8 6th NIT 2nd Round

1982–83 21–11 / 11–7 2nd(T) NCAA 1st Round

'80-'81, BTW, was IU with Isaiah Thomas winning it all, and Iowa coming off its Final Four season. And we were third. In his sixth season after finishing no better than 6th previously.

Then '83-'84 arrived (as my acceptance letter from the College of Engineering sailed through the mailbox, to my delight) and things really took off for us.

It takes time. You likely know all of this, but many readers may not. Rome ain't built in a day. I have no doubt that BU will get us back to where we were, and better, frankly. Lou only won a single BT title and we tied Purdue for it that year IIRC. Those were fun teams to watch but still had occasional horrific losses (e.g., I recall in the mid-'80s while I was a student we blew a 20-point lead to Iowa at home at halftime one time and lost.) That's what you get with 18-21 year-olds.

It takes time. So enjoy the highs and let go the lows. If you want a reality check sometime, troll around the internet for accounts of BT games in the '70s and '80s. I went down a rabbit hole yesterday with Iowa from the Lute Olsen years to Tom Davis and MSU from Gus Ganakis through the Heathcote years until they moved out of old Jennison Fieldhouse. (Don't ask. I was thinking nostalgically of old BT arenas from my youth, like Jennison and the utter dump that was Iowa Fieldhouse, 'cause I have fond memories of watching OSU road games on TV as a kid... ended up blowing four hours of a Saturday.) Year to year, fans of every credible BT program don hairshirts. It's what we do. And we are, once again, becoming credible. Let's don't allow the endowment effect of some unexpected wins during the past month cloud our perspective.

I love the defensive aggression I see BU inculcating in his players. That will change the culture, and lead to the transition opportunities we enjoyed v. MSU, OSU, and Maryland, which led to wins. I was at MSG for the Maryland game last month. Hadn't seen the boys play in person since 2000. The first thing that struck me as they assembled for tip-off is "Holy Cow! They're tiny c/w Maryland. The Terps are going to shred them." And they did for a while. Then, at 30-19, our program changed. Adonis got in Bruno's head and put him off his game, the boys started paying BU's defense, Tevian, Trent, and Ayo drained some threes, and we won by 11 in Manhattan. And Giorgi wasn't even a factor in that one.

Give BU several years. Remember how long it took Lou. Or, better yet, what an embarrassment Wisconsin basketball was when I graduated UI in 1988.

(Here's a reality check: Wisconsin football/basketball was so pathetic in the late '80s that they couldn't repair holes in the Fieldhouse roof for basketball and began to eliminate non-revenue sports. The basketball program, notwithstanding the Final Four appearance in '97, didn't consistently begin to finish above .500 in the BT until the early '00s when Bo arrived.)

So be patient with BU. I believe we all will be delighted with the results. I love the fact that he loves Illinois and aspired to coach here. I love his passion for his players and for excellence. I love his style of play. I love that he has a system and is choosing payers to fit into it.

I believe that Doug Altenberger said much the same thing in a News-Gazette piece I saw at some point dated last summer.

Yeah, I know. I'm old. Who cares about the '70s and '80s? Well, listen to me young-'uns, and heed well.

And get off my lawn. ;)

ILL!

Bear8287 on February 24 @ 02:59 PM CST

INI!

Realistically, I was expecting somewhere between 7-9 B1G regular season wins for the Illini (and preseason, many would've called that optimistic with all of the new players and youth on the team). That appears to be where the team is tracking (admittedly had hoped for a bit better for the non-con portion but again most objective observers probably would've said that was optimistic too).

There definitely is a culture shift happening and for the better. Even in lackluster performances, the team so far hasn't rolled over and just played dead.

For some recent history, go back and look at the Fair Shake story Robert wrote just a little over 2 years ago in February 2017 after the Illini suffered their second loss of the season to PSU. The comments are also pretty interesting and I feel a lot better about the direction of the program now under BU than I did then with JG as coach.

[Oh, by the way Robert/Brumby the issue with the links being broken mention in the comments section still exists too... Just renewed my subscription, probably should've held out for the 2+ year old site fix request. :-D ]

Altgeld88 on February 24 @ 04:04 PM CST

You were more optimistic than me. When Leron left last spring and it became clear eventually that Adonis, if healthy, would be all we had up front (no one, of course, counted on Giorgi), I thought perhaps 4 or 5 wins at most. I assumed they would get crushed though January and then gradually come around as they learned the BU system. But I really didn't see them winning in conference at all given their frontcourt deficiencies. I was thinking 1998-99: 3-13 territory.

I read the Fair Shake post just now. Thanks. JG was simply not up to the job. As Robert noted, boring basketball and not the right personnel. And it still makes me sad that guys like Malcolm and Tracy never saw a tourney game. Just as it is an injustice that AJ probably won't. Fortunately, two seasons ago seems like ten to me at this point, such is my nascent optimism for the future. I believe that by 2021 it will begin to get really fun again for the fans. Anything sooner is gravy IMO.

pblillini on February 24 @ 06:05 PM CST

I’m all for patience but we have one recruit for next year. Even in Henson’s lean early years, you could see he was building something with recruiting. So the context matters.

Beyond recruiting I always liked Lou’s coaching. The inflexibility I see with Underwood gives me pause.

He’ll get time to build it, Whitman won’t wave the white flag until it’s painfully obvious to even the most loyal fans, football has demonstrated this. Let’s just hope it works out.

Altgeld88 on February 24 @ 08:11 PM CST

Thanks. I didn't really start following the team closely until '84 so can only look at the early LH season records. Agreed about next year's recruiting "class" but BU has really had nothing to work with so far.

I've been struck (in person in NYC as well as when I see them on TV) at the chemistry on this team and how much they seem to enjoy each other. I imagine recruits visiting last season picked up on the lack of chemistry on that team and no recent success in the program. I'll be surprised if the recruiting doesn't pick up sharply. He's a certain type of coach and requires players who buy his approach to the game. The thing I loved about Lou's teams is that the better ones played excellent defense. We've really got limited offensive potential this year so need that tough defensive approach.

Am curious... what would you like to see BU do differently (besides bring in recruits)?

pblillini on February 24 @ 10:55 PM CST

Well for starters, I’d like to see some variance in systems, especially defense, based on the strengths of the opponent. I’ve referred to his systems as “junk” meaning obscure stuff that nobody else uses - gimmicky. In the B1G the coaches are too good to just role that same strategy out there every game. There needs to be more tactical thought given. When you play a team like PSU who is like 320+ out of 350 teams in three point shooting, then play the take away the drive not overpressure out front which actually creates the driving lanes they want! When you play teams like Iowa and Wisconsin who are elite at sharing the ball, you are dead if you put yourself into constant scrambles. Iowa destroyed us with shooting wide open shots by getting us out of rotation. In any other year where Wisconsin had their typical shooters they’d have done the same. We hung around them this year only because they missed wide open shot after wide open shot.

On offense, yikes. There needs to be some movement and screening off the ball. We are really easy to guard because so much of what we do is one on one. I’d be curious to see what the assist totals for this year (and last) compare to past seasons. I bet it’s way low.

I like the transition push but I’m not a fan of the other schemes. I’d rather be solid than gimmicky.

pblillini on February 24 @ 10:55 PM CST

Well for starters, I’d like to see some variance in systems, especially defense, based on the strengths of the opponent. I’ve referred to his systems as “junk” meaning obscure stuff that nobody else uses - gimmicky. In the B1G the coaches are too good to just role that same strategy out there every game. There needs to be more tactical thought given. When you play a team like PSU who is like 320+ out of 350 teams in three point shooting, then play the take away the drive not overpressure out front which actually creates the driving lanes they want! When you play teams like Iowa and Wisconsin who are elite at sharing the ball, you are dead if you put yourself into constant scrambles. Iowa destroyed us with shooting wide open shots by getting us out of rotation. In any other year where Wisconsin had their typical shooters they’d have done the same. We hung around them this year only because they missed wide open shot after wide open shot.

On offense, yikes. There needs to be some movement and screening off the ball. We are really easy to guard because so much of what we do is one on one. I’d be curious to see what the assist totals for this year (and last) compare to past seasons. I bet it’s way low.

I like the transition push but I’m not a fan of the other schemes. I’d rather be solid than gimmicky.

LosAngellini on February 24 @ 09:46 PM CST

Surprised at Robert's whiplash. I am the eternal pessimist when it comes to Illinois hoops. I believed all the preseason predictions that Ills would be last or second to last in the B10 this year. I think Robert did too. So, I've been pleased as punch to see the team rally this past last month. Many teams (ahem, Weber) would have completely unraveled after the FAU game - this one didn't. If anything, it's the best chemistry we've seen in a while. Many highly recruited players would be moping or blaming teammates if they lost this much - not Ayo. Both are testaments to BU.

So yes, it stinks to lose at home to PSU. So yes, the gambling pressure defense was dubious here. So yes, Mike Watkins dominated (against a team with no beef in the front court). But the loss is not a turning point. It's not even a reliable directional signal b/c Ills is led by underclassmen who are inherently wildly inconsistent, especially early in the morning. If Ills loses to the last place team at home next year, then I'll be the first to say sky is falling. But not after this one.

Let's finish strong and build on that. That would exceed preseason expectations.

Bear8287 on February 25 @ 09:29 AM CST

So yes, it stinks to lose at home to PSU.

Yes, it definitely does.

If Ills loses to the last place team at home next year...

PSU is not the worst team in the B1G and even at that the "worst" team in the B1G this year would probably be going dancing in some of the weaker conferences in the country this year. Number 14 is ranked 78 in Kenpom?

Kenpom Rankings:

  • 4 Michigan St.
  • 7 Michigan
  • 10 Purdue
  • 12 Wisconsin
  • 15 Maryland
  • 28 Iowa
  • 37 Ohio St.
  • 43 Nebraska
  • 47 Penn State
  • 48 Minnesota
  • 49 Indiana
  • 64 Illinois
  • 70 Northwestern
  • 78 Rutgers

11 B1G teams in the Kenpom Top 50 and all 14 in the Top 80?

I think that if the Illini were to play Georgetown or Notre Dame now the outcomes would likely be very different. How much different would this season look with those 2 wins and a win against FAU or even Missouri who seems to have fallen off a bit?

Dropping all 4 of the remaining regular season games would be disappointing. Winning one is meh, but still reasonable for this season. Winning 2 really keeps the momentum going in the right direction and winning more than that is exceeding expectations.

LosAngellini on February 26 @ 01:56 AM CST

+1

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