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Brad Underwood looked tired. Near the end of his postgame press conference, he noted that he didn't sleep on Tuesday night after the Michigan State game and will probably not sleep tonight. I just received an email that there will be an Underwood press conference tomorrow morning to preview the Wisconsin game, and he probably won't have slept between now and then.
Why so exhausted? Well, several reasons, I'd imagine:
- Three games in five days. Please note that this is three games in five days because of Michigan not feeling ready to play on February 11th. At the time, this Nebraska game was set for March 2nd, 3rd, or 4th. Instead, the Michigan game was rescheduled for March 2nd and Nebraska was crammed in between Michigan State on the 23rd and Wisconsin on the 27th.
- His All American has a broken nose caused by a Flagrant-2 foul. Take all of the who and what and why out of it and just look at that fact: Brad Underwood has a player in contention for National Player of the Year and he's not available right now because an opponent injured him and the refs ejected the player because they believe it was intentional.
- His team has to go on the road for three games in eight days - at Wisconsin, at Michigan, at Ohio State. It's possible, perhaps likely, that he has to coach those games without his star.
Why "likely"? It's just a guess - Underwood refused to give out any injury information - but the way he mentioned tests and MRI's and the multiple doctors Ayo was seeing all day yesterday, it sounds like this is much more complicated than just a "broken nose". People are going to speculate what that means, and I don't think we're going to get an answer until we see Ayo on the court again, but my gut feel after attending this press conference is that we won't see Ayo until the Big Ten Tournament (or perhaps the NCAA Tournament). I'm refusing to believe it might mean "or at all this season", clinging tightly to the video he posted on Twitter with a plastic mask to protect his nose while playing. But it feels like we're going to play Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State without him.
Now, I said this last year after his knee injury and he missed one game. Maybe this is all a smokescreen. But just going by that press conference, my guess is that at least three more Ayo-less games are coming.
Which probably means three consecutive losses are coming. Yes, we can beat Nebraska without Ayo, but I doubt we can win on the road at any of those three locations without Ayo. We were probably looking at something like 1-2 as it was. Take away the All American, and I'm not sure I can see any wins.
Maybe I'm way off here. Maybe this was just a smokescreen. Maybe we play without him, lose at Wisconsin, and then turn around and SURPRISE - there's Ayo in his mask at Michigan on Tuesday. I'd love to see it play out like that - two big tests before the BTT and then the NCAA Tournament.
But it's also possible that we don't see Ayo again until the BTT (if not the NCAA Tournament). Which means I've completely switched my brain from "what needs to happen to get a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament?" to "what seed will we be in the BTT if we lose the next three?" We'd be 13-7, so I start looking for other teams to get to 8 losses (or 7 losses if we have the tiebreaker. It looks like things will take care of themselves (the Purdue-Wisconsin loser would be out of it; the Iowa-Ohio State loser would have seven losses), but we're not necessarily home free just yet. Purdue only has six conference losses and they play Penn State, Wisconsin, and Indiana. So if we lose out and Purdue wins out, we finish behind Purdue in this year's Big Ten standings.
And that's possible if Ayo is out for the next 10 days. Well, it's not likely that Purdue runs the table, but it's possible we lose out if we don't have Ayo. It was possible we'd lose out if we did have Ayo. I'm rambling now. All I'm saying is that from the moment Ayo was announced as out, I've switched to damage control mode. Just get a top-4 seed in the BTT, get Ayo back, and then start our NCAA Tournament run with our masked hero out in front.
For now, though, it seems like Brad Underwood (and his team) are running on fumes.
+ Any other night I'd go on and on about Andre Curbelo here, but I'm running on fumes as well. I was up until 5:30 Tuesday night and 3:45 last night, so I can tell I'm about ready to crash. So let's maybe make a quick list of solid things from tonight:
- Curbelo was two assists (or, technically, five turnovers) away from a triple-double. He finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds (!!), and 8 assists.
- Adam Miller showed the scorer he's going to become. Foul trouble limited him in the second half - he eventually fouled out - but his 16 in the first half made us all a lot more comfortable with our "where will the scoring come from?" questions.
- Hack-a-Kofi backfired on Nebraska. He made 8-10 free throws, several of them and-one free throws where they tried to hack-a-Kofi but he scored anyway.
- Jacob Grandison was really good. 14 points and 7 rebounds in 22 minutes.
- Was this our worst 3-point shooting night of the season? 4 for 23. We were 26 of 39 from two and 4 of 23 from three. It's only Nebraska, but still - impressive to win going away when you shoot 4 of 23 from deep.
+ Overall, it feels like we were watching next year's team at times. There was this stretch where the lineup was Curbelo, Miller, Grandison, Hawkins, Giorgi. If neither Trent nor Da'Monte return, we're going to see that lineup a lot next season. Curbelo and Miller will be the focal point.
Maybe Trent or Da'Monte do decide to return. Maybe Kofi even decides to stay - who knows? But for now, if we do lose Kofi, Ayo, Trent, and Da'Monte, that lineup above might even be the starting lineup all season.
+ OK, my eyes are really heavy so I need to go to sleep. Makes me realize that somewhere, Brad Underwood is feeling the same way. Yet he's going to force himself to stay awake all night preparing for Wisconsin.
And he's likely preparing for them without Ayo. :(