Five Finger Death Punch
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I called an Uber. This is about two hours after the game. The Uber arrives, I get in, and the driver is playing some very, very aggressive music. I look at the screen on the dash that shows what's playing on his phone: Five Finger Death Punch. Perfect.
In more ways than one, actually. Perfect in the sense that listening to heavy metal (nu metal?) after this game was an excellent wine pairing with the victory. But also perfect in that the name of the band is Five Finger Death Punch. You know, Pizza Hut and Howard vs. Gard and whatnot. Let me describe both.
(But first, real quick, the photo credit above goes to Illinois Athletics. I wasn't in the locker room today. That's not my pic. It was just kind of perfect, Underwood making a fist and all. Pizza Hut should make that an NFT.)
(I don't really know what an NFT is.)
Perfect Music Pairing
There has been a lot of yapping in the last 15 months between these two fanbases. It was fueled by several things, the biggest being Michigan's Big Ten title last season. You know the numbers already - Michigan went 14-3, Illinois went 16-4, Illinois won at Michigan in their only meeting, but 14-3 is .823 and 16-4 is .800 so Michigan hangs a banner. I'm not here to debate that again. You know my opinion. That's what was determined before the season, they pulled some shenanigans to make sure they'd play fewer games than everyone else (they could have played us the week they resumed but chose not to), but rules are rules and they hung a banner.
Many Illinois fans did not take too kindly to finishing second with two more wins. Many Michigan fans did not take too kindly to Illinois fans complaining about their banner. And the summer was one long "I know you are but what am I?" fight on social media.
It was then further fueled by Hunter Dickinson at Big Ten Media Days. I showed one clip in last night's article, but that was a response to a different question. Here's Dickinson's quote that lit up Media Days:
It's really the (Illinois) fans. They just act like they're some powerhouse in the Big Ten and they're really not. They're one of the best teams in the Big Ten now, but I don't know too much history about Illinois basketball. I don't know if they were really that good before. Coach (Brad) Underwood has done a great job of getting them up to the powerhouses in NCAA basketball. But I think their fans are kind of annoying. Obviously some fans, like Michigan State, you're going to get some hate from them. Ohio State, it's not so bad. Illinois fans are pretty annoying, not going to lie."
11th all time in AP Poll appearances
16th all-time in winning percentage
16th all time in Final Four appearances
3rd all time in Big Ten wins
"They just act like they're some powerhouse in the Big Ten and they're really not."
You'll forgive Mr. Dickinson for not knowing the history. And I mean that. He was born in November of 2000. When we went to our last Final Four, he was four. Since 2010 (when he turned 10 years old), we've been to three NCAA Tournaments. So in his worldview, yes, I can see how one might say "they just act like they're some powerhouse in the Big Ten and they're not."
But the reality is that Illinois went to 21 NCAA Tournaments in 25 years from 1983 to 2007. And Michigan went from 1995 to 2009 without a single NCAA Tournament appearance. OK, yes, they "played" in the Tournament in 1996 and 1998, but they had to vacate both because they cheated. So if you want to talk "played", they didn't "play" in the NCAA Tournament from 1999 to 2009. Read that again - 1999 to 2009. Zero Tournament appearances.
I'm getting sidetracked. The point: Dickinson's quotes fueled a lot of, ahem, back-and-forth between Illinois fans and Michigan fans. I stayed out of it. But it didn't mean the comments didn't affect me. I, uh, treasured up these things and pondered them in my heart.
I mean, I'm the one who spent a decade screaming "you don't understand, we're still one of the 15-best college basketball programs in the country" (even though we went seven years without an NCAA Tournament appearance). When I then declare us back and some Michigan player, speaking directly to Illinois fans (that's me), says that we're "not some powerhouse in the Big Ten", oh man, I store that one deep in the file cabinet.
And when this happens...
Illinois 68, Michigan 53 in Champaign
Illinois 93, Michigan 85 in Ann Arbor
...you'd better believe that death metal is the perfect music for the ride back to my hotel. I had lot of files in the Michigan folder this season. And to go 2-0, this time with Kofi going 11-15 for 27 points and Dickinson going 4-13 for 13 points, well, I'm ready for angry music.
So thank you, Uber driver, for the back-to-back Five Finger Death Punch songs on the way to the hotel.
5 stars. Big tip.
Five Finger Death Punch
I mean, could there BE a better band name to describe Illini basketball on February 27, 2022? Five man team beats Michigan's individual jump shooters? Howard vs. Gard last week? Brad at the McPherson Pizza Hut? Trent's "death punch" three? I'm even picking up some hints of the jokes we made about Bruce Weber's NCAA Championship pregame speech. That's right, Hunter, I said "NCAA Championship Game". In your lifetime.
There's really no better post title for today than "five finger death punch". We saw the Illini team we've been anticipating all season. All of the pieces were in place. And while Michigan took 10 foot jumper after 10 foot jumper, we ran our stuff and got our points.
Here's the "blow-up" shot chart for Michigan. This is all the shots in the lane (both halves). And it shows what I thought it would show. Michigan played well offensively. 1.214 points per possession. But they just could not buy a basket in that 8-12 foot jumper range.
If I just look at 8-12 feet - ignore the shots right around the circle and ignore the shots close to the free throw line - I count 14 shots. And Michigan missed 10 of them. 4-14 in that range. There's your ballgame.
As for us running our stuff and getting our points, we put up 1.329 points per possession. That has to be the best offensive game of the season (besides maybe St. Francis at home or whatever). We shot 71% in the second half (!!). When's the last time we did that?
(Actually, when is the last time we did that? I need to look this up.)
I looked it up. I can't find anything separated by halves. But I cannot remember a game, especially a Big Ten road game, where we shot 71% from the field in one half. Five finger death punch indeed.
The best part? This was the team we've been wanting to see assembled. I wrote at the beginning of the month about February being the "tinker with it, Brad, and by the end of the month have The March Team built for us." Well, he went out to the garage, ordered some Pizza Hut, and just pulled the finished product into the driveway today.
How did it look?
- Kofi dominated Dickinson. 11 for 15, 27 points.
- Trent delivered yet another dagger three at the end of a game. That's two in the state of Michigan in eight days.
- Andre Curbelo played his best game of the season. Purdue was really good, but he was better defensively today, I thought.
I should pause there and note that these are the three players on the cover of the media guide. This is what this team was supposed to be.
- Alfonso Plummer hit 6 of 9 threes one game after hitting 8 of 10 threes. If 14 for 19 over two consecutive games doesn't win him Big Ten Player of the Week, we riot.
- Coleman Hawkins' changeup had hitters fooled all day. They were sitting on Kofi's fastball and then Hawkins had them way out in front.
- Jacob Grandison wasn't needed offensively (only four shots and 0-2 from three), but his four assists led the team.
- Da'Monte Williams wasn't needed either (only 1-3), but that's fairly typical. This wasn't a good matchup game for him, so I'll move on because we know what he brings.
- Luke Goode had a fantastic hustle play rebounding that missed free throw. As someone noted on the Spaces, Goode grabbing that board, followed by the Kofi dunk, might have been the sequence of the game.
It's March in 27 hours, and now we know who we are. Numbers this time:
- Kofi in the paint. It starts and ends there.
- Trent the senior heart and soul.
- Belo getting more comfortable and (hopefully) returning to 2021 form.
- Plummer bombs away.
- Grandison & Da'Monte the savvy, experienced guys.
- Hawkins the secret weapon, allowing us to give a completely different look.
- Goode and Melendez (once he returns), tall freshmen wings giving us bench minutes.
- Payne gives Kofi breathers and fouls people and BBV grabs rebounds and fouls people.
Now take that and go win a lot of games in March.
Also, go Purdue beat Wisconsin.