Build It Up, Tear It Down

Mar 07, 2019

Shoot 50% from the field. Hit 10 of 21 threes (10 of 20 until the walkon hoisted one in the final minute). Trent is 3-4 from three, Ayo 3-5, Giorgi with 15 points and eight boards. And... lose by 18 at home to a team that was 6-12 in the conference? What?

Well, see, there's this other half to the court. The one where you have to play defense. The one where we only forced seven turnovers, only grabbed 20 defensive boards to their 13 offensive rebounds, and let them attempt thirty one layups. This Indiana team, which just went through a 3-12 stretch, took it right to us. And we nad no response.

Which means, unfortunately, that almost all of the goodwill from our little win-five-of-six run is gone. There's one last moment which will undo all of what was done: a loss at Penn State on Sunday. Win five of six... and then close the season by losing five of six. Build it up, tear it down.

Which is just so, so, so, so disappointing. All of that "IT'S HAPPENNINNNNGGGGG" tweeting I did after the Michigan State win? Mostly all gone. All of the "have you seen how much our KenPom rating is climbing?" It hasn't updated yet, but once it does, with this horrific defensive performance, I'm guessing we fall to 14th out of 14 Big Ten teams. Our chance at finishing 7th in the Big Ten? Gone.

And all we had to do was beat the teams that were at the bottom of the Big Ten standings, three of those games at home and one on the road. It was all right there for us. Mountains of momentum for next season. And now, after Sunday, we'll likely be right back to square one, playing on Wednesday in the Big Ten Tournament. We threw SO MUCH AWAY with these Penn State and Indiana home losses. I just can't get over it. This drive back to St. Louis is going to be SO LONG.

Am I being dramatic? Always. But I had pinned so much on this game. Here's what I wrote back on February 4th. I had looked at the final nine games, laid out which games were likely wins (you know, like Penn State at home), which games were likely losses, and zeroed in on this Indiana game as the litmus test:

I think that sets up fairly well. The line is directly over Indiana. Somehow win one of the bottom four games and you're OK to lose one of the four games at the top. Win the top four and lose the bottom four? Then the "met expectations or nah?" moment for the season rests on the Indiana game in Champaign (and, secondarily, winning a true road game at Penn State).

Not only did we lose the Indiana game in Champaign, we weren't even competitive. We didn't even belong on the same court. Thirty one times we allowed someone to get to the rim. Thirty one times.

Man, I was so ready for this offseason two weeks ago. Let's go back to more words I wrote. Remember my hope for a "March Push?"

But man, I really want four straight wins after the loss (at Purdue) tomorrow night. I can't help it - I'm greedy. Here's what that would look like:

+ Beat Northwestern, Indiana, and Penn State to finish the regular season 13-18 (9-11). Nine Big Ten wins would be the most since 2015 - we haven't had 10 Big Ten wins since 2010. (Note: there are 20 Big Ten games now, not 18, so 10 wins doesn't really mean what it used to.)

+ There's still a chance that gets us the 7th seed in the BTT. Ohio State and Minnesota are still one spot ahead of us with seven conference wins, but Ohio State (7-9) closes with Iowa, Purdue, Northwestern, Wisconsin; Minnesota (7-10) closes with Northwestern, Purdue, and Maryland. Get to nine wins and I really think we're the 7-seed.

+ Then that 7/10 game in the BTT is maybe Rutgers or Nebraska. Win that and it's four wins in a row, a BTT quarterfinal matchup with maybe Michigan or Purdue - the ultimate gravy game. We would be on a 7-3 run to close the season with a chance to just go out and have some fun in the quarterfinal Chicago, setting the tone for next year's leap.

All we had to do to keep that alive was beat an Indiana team with six Big Ten wins. At home, on Senior Night. Man, so much pivoted on this game. 92-74 loss.

I guess we could still regain some of the midseason momentum. A road win on Sunday plus two BTT wins would do it. I'll probably see this a lot clearer tomorrow morning. But right now I'm surrounded by giddy Indiana media hammering away on their keyboards, writing their STILL ALIVE stories. That's not a good place for anyone to be.

Ugh. It was all right there. We had built up so much goodwill. And now it's almost all gone. A loss on Sunday means we undo the whole thing. Win five of six to build momentum... lose five of six once the schedule gets easier to watch it all go away.

+ In a thread on The Deuce earlier today, after checking KenPom and seeing how both Northwestern and Rutgers had been rising, I asked out loud if we were going to finish 14th out of 14 Big Ten teams. That.. would not be good.

Well, it just updated, and we dropped 11 spots after this statistical nightmare of a game, so yes, we're 14th out of 14 Big Ten teams as of now. Statistically, Rutgers and Northwestern have been better.

See what I mean? All of that goodwill is gone. You may think I'm crazy - all of this after falling to 11-19 instead of 12-18 - but I'm telling you, this was a plate-shifting loss for me.

It doesn't "mean" anything. This whole thing still pivots on keeping the roster together, adding Kofi, and making a leap next year. That hasn't changed. But the opportunity for summer momentum had we beaten Penn State and Indiana here at the SFC and had the opportunity to finish 7th in the Big Ten on Sunday would have meant so much. This is a massive recruiting summer, and 7th is so much easier to sell than 12th.

In that sense, this feels like the Iowa football loss. Avoid doing that (at home) and the offseason looks completely different. Look like you don't even belong on the court/field on Senior Night/Day? Destroys most all of the momentum you had built.


+ You know who we're going to hate the next few years? Rob Phinisee. That kid is good. If I didn't know the recruiting rankings of the Indiana players, I would have thought Phinisee was the five-star, not Romeo Langford. How many times did he get to the rim? 20?

Yes, a lot of that rests on our defense. But he's very impressive. And probably to small to ever make the NBA, which means he's likely a four-year player. That sucks.

+ The only bright spot tonight (for me) was Alan Griffin doing about thirteen "little things" in his 12 minutes on the court. His two offensive rebounds were five points - a putback and a rebound/kickout to Trent for an open three. There were two other assists (I believe Griffin had three of our four second half assists) plus a really nice block. Had that three pointer fallen (which would have cut Indiana's 22 point lead to 10 with about five minutes left) he would have gotten an A+ for the night.

(While I have the boxscore open - Trent, Ayo, and AJ shoot 9-16 from three and we lose by 18? HOWWWW?)

I need to get out of here. I'm still surrounded by IU media. Recording videos on the court. Hammering away at "HOPE STILL VIBRATES" stories where they talk about a 5% chance to make the NCAA Tournament suddenly surging to a 40% chance. All while we're staring down loss #20 on Sunday.



HiggsBoson on March 07 @ 10:42 PM CST

That was ugly. Even worse that when the Flyin' Illini were in the house. Not exactly rising to the occasion when the lights get bright. I expect a beat down at Rutgers and an ugly loss in the BTT to end the season. And poof, the optimism built by that 5 out of six streak is gone. Then we see who stays...

Joe Edge on March 08 @ 12:40 PM CST

So how many transfers are you expecting / predicting ? 4, 5, 6.... ???? Just curious dude ...

illiniranger on March 08 @ 01:04 PM CST

i think we will have 1-3. I'd guess Kipper, Higgs, Samba, Tevian are all possible. But i hope we have 0.

HiggsBoson on March 08 @ 01:33 PM CST

Kipper has already red-shirted, so wouldn't he have to do it as a 5th year grad student (don't know if he qualifies) or drop down a division? Higgs has kinda slipped my mind, so no idea there. Jones, Griffin, and Samba seem like possibilities, and Ayo might (foolishly IMO) go out early for the NBA. Or could be one or none.

HiggsBoson on March 08 @ 01:27 PM CST

I wasn't really predicting so much as noting that half the roster has turned over each of the previous years and wondering if that might happen again.

thumpasaurus on March 08 @ 08:03 AM CST

This was an awful game, but I'm just not tracking with you emotionally even though I often do. That's because I never really allowed myself to buy into the "ILLINOIS IS BACK" thing that was happening on these internets in February. It wasn't some kind of enlightened pessimism, I've just really ingrained my maxim of "you're never as good as your best win or as bad as your worst loss"

So I didn't come down as far because I didn't go up as high. Of course, I also went a LOT lower than you by the end of December. I lost my mind and basically abandoned all hope. Basically, the winning streak brought me from "this is an abomination" to "this is a bad team with a high ceiling," so I'm kind of still there.

Unfortunately, this loss all but guarantees that Underwood will own the all-time Illini record for losses in a season, as the 19th loss of the year tied John Groce's 15-16 team and Weber's 07-08 squad.

The only way to avoid that 20th loss? Beat Penn State, win the Big Ten Tournament, then win the national title.

illiniranger on March 08 @ 10:20 AM CST

this is still a rebuilding team. Tyler said earlier this year that he didn't want to get "windsocky" and i think that's the right view to have.

this team is going to have to find a way to consistently play defense in the B1G. If we don't do that then the whole thing is going to keel over.

Bear8287 on March 09 @ 04:52 PM CST

The only way to avoid that 20th loss? Beat Penn State, win the Big Ten Tournament, then win the national title.

"Over? Did you say over? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the German's bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! And it ain't over now!"

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Joe Edge on March 08 @ 12:45 PM CST

Not big enough, not strong enough, and not talented enough.... End of Story.

orangejulius on March 08 @ 01:29 PM CST

I agree with this. The disparity in talent, especially in quickness and athleticism, between the two ballclubs was very evident last night as IU ran circles around our guys. The "we didn't play hard enough' thing is just coach speak. In the end, our youth, and having only 1 top-100 player on our roster, is why we are a poor team.. The style we play, while giving us an identity which may help for recruiting, is only magnifying our talent deficiency. I think we have a possibility of 2 Top 100's committed for next season so that's progress if we can get them signed and into school. But we need more help than just that.

orangeandblue on March 08 @ 03:29 PM CST

On the bright side, can anyone see Ayo going pro this year now? When we were on our run and he was moving up the draft boards, I was getting nervous. Keep that streak going and go on a nice little run in the BTT and he very well may have been gone. I'm guessing we get one more year of Ayo at this point. That winning stretch was still very important. It gives Underwood some film to show recruits, a proof of concept. Recruiting is still so critical. Can't afford any poor classes or the little momentum we have will be gone.

orangejulius on March 08 @ 04:22 PM CST

50/50. I'm not sure he'll improve his draft position in 2020. He'll still have that funny looking J; he's not all of the sudden gonna become a plus athlete in the NBA. Plus, weren't his handlers the reason Horton-Tucker wasn't allowed to be in our recruiting class; not sure he has the best advisers. I think they want him in the league at the first opportunity to be there.

NC_OrangeKrush on March 09 @ 05:24 AM CST

I agree here and now again reminded how those handlers cost us this season as we stare at 20 losses... THT would have helped this team a lot.

AHSIllini32 on March 09 @ 07:30 AM CST

All you people pining for tht might want to go check out the scuffle he got into during isus last game. Some reports coming out that he may not be the best teammate. Ayos “handlers” (who are his parents by the way) are by all accounts great people who are very thorough in their decision making.

Norcal Illini on March 08 @ 06:59 PM CST

The NBA has a preference for underclassmen because they are drafting based on potential. The older a player is, the closer he is to his potential. Four-year guys might be better players but go lower or don't get drafted at all. So, I agree that Ayo might not move up in 2020 and might even go down in later years. There is also the risk of injury. Most likely, if he gets drafted, he'll go low to a good team and then spend a lot of time in the G league. He doesn't look strong enough to play in the NBA now. I hope he stays at least one more year, but I'm not optimistic about it.

Bear8287 on March 09 @ 05:14 PM CST

Interesting post. This draft site here shows the first round loaded with mostly freshmen and sophomores and the second round with mostly juniors and seniors.

It seems to me (hey what do I know?) that if as a freshman, you're not even on the board then you're still better off seeing if you can make that first round as a sophomore.

If you're not listed in the first two rounds by your senior year then maybe the NBA is not the place for you.

I'm pretty sure that Ayo could go overseas and play professionally, but that will probably always be an option so there doesn't seem to be the need at this point to burn a full-ride scholarship at a decent university to do that.

I'd certainly much prefer to see Ayo stick around and be drafted in the first round after his sophomore year. Just don't see the upside for him in leaving college ball now.

Markschnake1 on March 10 @ 03:18 PM CDT

Is anyone else concerned that it took Coach Underwood 1.5 years to install this system and it worked for about 5-7 games?

Following that, coaches have it scouted to the point where they are bearing Illinois by margins we haven’t seen in 2 years (our worst two years ever).

Archie Miller’s quote after the Indiana game was horrifying: (Paraphrasing): “With Illinois you have to take 3’s or layups.”

That’s literally the exact opposite of what we want to be giving. What are we taking way? Mid range jump shots and floaters?

Often, as fans we talk about the players we like, dislike, want or need on the team. I’m not sure that matters here.

I’m starting to feel like this system can’t work in the Big10 in general and we are just slowly going to bleed out until Whitman kills it.

HiggsBoson on March 10 @ 05:17 PM CDT

With that beat down by PSU, Brad Underwood breaks John Groce's record for most losses in a season with 20. And unless the Illini win the NC, at least one more loss to go. In case you're keeping score, that's 25-38 at Illinois, 11-27 B1G.

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