Running On Empty

Jan 5, 2023

Tyler covered the game, I fell asleep. Because of that, and because I have to publish his articles if we want comments to work, this one has been sitting in the drafts all night waiting for me to publish. Sounds like I picked the perfect game to be exhausted and fall asleep because... yeesh.

Here's Tyler's article from Evanston. I'm gonna go unpack and do laundry and pretend like the basketball season starts Saturday.

I'm quite tired and more than a little grumpy after driving back from Evanston following Illinois' fourth straight loss to a high major opponent - 73-60 to Northwestern. I should be careful about writing in this state, because rash statements and proclamations can be made which end up looking stupid in just a matter of days.

One week ago, Michigan fans were ready to riot after the Wolverines lost to #296 Central Michigan, and yet one week later they are blocking out vacation days in late March after back to back wins against Maryland and Penn State.

I'm just not into writing post-mortems in January, although I'm realllly tempted to - because there are several brightly flashing indicators which are telling me this team is headed for a long winter of discontent. Quite simply, though, with the exception of late second half runs against UCLA and Texas, this has been a bad basketball team.

Still, I'm not going there yet. There will be plenty of time for a full on autopsy if and when things are officially off the rails.

Of course this team has numerous flaws. Poor shot selection, poor free throw shooting, a high turnover rate, a high foul rate, and a three point shot percentage that does not support the number of three pointers attempted. From a 30,000 foot view, though, the most glaring weakness has been the vulnerability to game sabotaging runs.

I tweeted before the game that we have trailed by double digits at some point in every game against high major competition with the exception of Syracuse. Now add Northwestern to the list. (And they aren't even high major competition!!)

That's seven of eight games:

+UCLA: 30-8 run over the last eight minutes of the first half and the first two minutes of the second half

+Virginia: 12-0 run to close the final three minutes of the game.

+Maryland: 17-2 run over six minutes in the first half.

+Texas: 20-4 run over four minutes in the second half.

+Penn State: 18-4 run over the last three minutes of the first half and the first two minutes of the second half.

+Missouri: 39-11 run over a 13 minute stretch in the first half

+Northwestern: 20-2 run over five minutes in the second half.

(And I won't even mention the 16-0 second half run we gave up to Alabama A&M.)

The runs come seemingly at random and are most often fatal.

This team is playing 30-35 minutes of solid basketball per game - but then absolutely going full on basketball crazy for periods during which they look like they all met each other for the first time just two minutes prior.

Eventually they wake from the stupor and morph back into a legitimate basketball team, but more often than not, the damage caused has proven fatal. We were able to fight back for wins against UCLA and Texas, and almost against Maryland as well, but obviously this is not a sustainable trend for a winning basketball team.

And these schizophrenic tendencies have Brad Underwood full on exasperated. It's not the losses (I mean, yeah, it's the losses), but it's the manner of the losses over the past several weeks.

He looked downtrodden, dejected, and deflated following the game. Gone were the fart noises and fiery persona - replaced by a guy who is clearly searching for answers that he just can't find yet. During the post-game press conference tonight he just kept looking at the stat sheet and shaking his head. It's as if he just can't reconcile what he's seeing in practice with what is transpiring in the games.

He's called out his upperclassmen about leadership. He's switched up his offensive and defensive schemes. He's changed the starting lineups. He's even changed his game day wardrobe - but all to little avail. He keeps pushing buttons but the elevator just won't show up.

So here we sit at 0-3 in the Big Ten with a game in two days against 14th ranked and undefeated in conference Wisconsin. So while it seems a bit hyperbolic to talk about must wins in January - it kind of feels that way doesn't it?


Schlepper on January 5, 2023 @ 07:33 AM

I think you’re giving them too much credit with 30-35 minutes of solid basketball. 10 minutes maybe. This team doesn’t play very smart and can’t afford all the stupid fouls and chucked up 3 pointers.

1978fan on January 5, 2023 @ 08:03 AM

I agree with Schlepper “chucked up 3 pointers” have to STOP. I truly believe, they worked their way back into the game, pounding the ball into the paint. I’m not going to look up the stat, it has to feel better going back on defense after scoring points than it is going back after giving up another defensive rebound.

This team is lost. This team may snap out of it. This team may be destined to not win another game this year? It’s very very difficult to watch.

jdl on January 5, 2023 @ 08:21 AM

He mentioned free throws as a way to stop these runs when you asked him about it. Yet taking all these 3s seems to be part of the plan as he's mentioned that often. That doesn't lead to many FT attempts. And as noted, we're not good a making them either. He also mentioned turnovers which I think we can all agree is a problem. But then he also gave us "executing a play to get a basket" noting they're able to do so in practice "against the scout team". Well guess what, that scout team is nowhere near a B1G level defense, so that really doesn't mean squat.

sirrah1912 on January 5, 2023 @ 08:42 AM

Ugh. I am concerned for us. And "us" is both the team and fans. I am as loyal and proud of a fan as there is, but last night I gave up and stopped watching with 7 minutes left. I endured the Miznoz game, but last night was just too much for my Orange and Blue blood to withstand and I stopped watching.

Hard to grasp what has happened, but my best guess is many of these new players can not handle the type of coach Underwood is. Early it didn't matter as we won, but when we hit bumps and Underwood lit them up, many of the players must not like it and don't respond well to it. And when that is the case, it is only going to progressively get worse.

Coaches typically have two faces. The recruiting face and the practice face. And they are almost never the same. It can be a shock for freshman and affect their play and demeanor until they adjust or leave when they realize this style isn't for them, but you typically have a calloused group of upperclassmen holding down the fort. That style either doesn't bother them or they like it. We don't have the experienced guys to steady the ship in the rough Underwood seas and we appear to be taking on water.

McGuive on January 5, 2023 @ 09:07 AM

I've only been an avid fan for about 10 years since I started college. I've felt disappointment, anger, frustration, bittersweet, joy, adrenaline, euphoria, elation, etc. But I've never quite experienced something like this. The apathy is palpable with this team - and it's scary. There are glimpses of greatness as to what can happen if these guys play together. And I don't think the willingness is completely absent. You can tell that they're excited when they get assists or when there is good ball movement or when someone gets an offensive board and kicks it out for a three. But they don't build off of those glimpses. I'm completely fine with mistakes and growing pains, especially with a nine-man rotation including four freshman and three transfers. I'm even fine with losing streaks... but this just does not feel right. And I don't know if anyone can really explain it.

RonSwanson on January 5, 2023 @ 10:12 AM

Difficult to beat good teams without a point guard/facilitator. This team doesn't have one. Not sure what BU was thinking when he assembled this team.

Harris picking up two quick fouls was...less than ideal.

We were extremely lucky to upset both UCLA and Texas. It took Shannon and Meyer, respectively, shooting lights out otherwise, we'd have zero good wins and our season would be over for all intents and purposes.

I believe BU to be a good coach and we have talent. Just need to find someone who wants to play the point - none of this "combo" guard business.

OrangeBlazer on January 5, 2023 @ 01:35 PM

I think this is the red flag we're not discussing enough. We can talk about mental toughness and culture or this team being soft, but there are obvious personnel issues creating the problems we're seeing.

As Underwood himself has pointed out, the defense is mostly fine. We foul too much, but in our half court sets, we're generally ok. Not elite by any means, but solid enough to win games.

The problem is on offense and there we are seeing the product of a team that lacks shooters and a steady PG. I think the hope was that Clark or Epps would come in and run the point, or, absent that, Shannon or Hawkins could serve in a point-forward role out of the spread. But clearly that's not working, and it's not working, in part, because we don't have enough consistent outside shooting to create the kind of space needed to get Shannon or our guards in the lane consistently.

When we do get in the lane and move the ball, the offense is fine. But even last night we saw a large number of quality shots from outside that didn't go down.

I think Underwood did an admirable job piecing together a roster through the portal and recruiting that he thought would address the departures we had, and allow us to transition to a post-Kofi world. But there are some shortcomings that I don't think anyone expected, or at least hoped wouldn't be the case. Beyond that we look like a team that relies on two freshmen PGs to initiate the offense.

AGig21 on January 5, 2023 @ 10:41 AM

Doesn't excuse all the other terrible play but just looking at this game where we played awful yet take away the Harris T (lord, what a momentum killer and it put him right back in foul trouble and on the bench) and TS's intentional foul and we may have very well won.

ktcesw on January 5, 2023 @ 10:48 AM

This team has never been able to establish a pecking order. In general, the freshman will concede to the seniors or, as I am sure that you have seen on occasion, get punched out in practice. Everyone was new here. No one was quite sure where they stood. No pecking order has ever been established. BU's calling for leadership was a bad move. For quite a few guys, that means shoot more and take all the big shots. Not a good idea with the current situation. The last thing that I will mention is BU's discouragement of 15 footers. Sometime, when you are struggling (and everyone struggles, sometimes), and the 3 may not be dropping, a 15 to 18 footer will relax you, give you confidence and, get you into a rhythm. He may not realize the extent that he discourages that shot but, he has commented twice in nationally televised games that they were taking too many shots in that range. I truly don't care about shot effenciency. A 22 footer may get you more points than a 16 footer but, a 22 footer that is missed gets you zero points. One can always go back to 22 footers after hitting a couple of short shots. The key is to break the drought!

jpbrown on January 5, 2023 @ 02:39 PM

Whatever the reason is (poor officiating, bad defense, a combination of both), 40-10 FTAs in favor of Northwestern is completely unacceptable.

LosAngellini on January 5, 2023 @ 04:55 PM

The success of this team was always conditioned on Skyy being able to run the offense. He can't (yet). Doesn't mean he won't be a good player, but he's a freshman. Freshman Trent, Ayo, McCamey, Derron also were all similarly meh. Just unrealistic expectations for Skyy.

Disagree that the defense has been mostly solid. Opponents have lots of uncontested 3s, bad switching, and far too many layups. Northwestern should have scored about 10 more point in the lane, but just missed bunnies.

Agree that the current offense scheme (hoist jumpers and pray) doesn't match our talents. The 5 out should make it easy for TSJ to drive, but it oddly hasn't. How about playing Coleman within 20 feet of the basket? I don't know, but hoping the coaches can figure it out. on January 5, 2023 @ 08:16 PM

Evan Miya tracks a team stat called a “kill shot” - which is a run of 10 points or more in a game. Illini currently average giving up 0.71 kill shots per game. Just look at the other teams with similar stats … it’s unfathomable.

Walkon on January 6, 2023 @ 09:03 AM

Ha! I almost titled this post “Kill Shot” and dove into his metric, but it was really late and I wasn’t 100% sure about the attribution etiquette and all that.

Love that site. It’s crazy how this team gives up runs. I’m kind of expecting (hoping?) there is some regression in our favor coming soon. on January 6, 2023 @ 12:00 PM

Coleman Hawkins has many attributes and skills, but the coach and/or the player has too much attention towards those he doesn’t possess. His ball handling, outside shooting percentage, and mental game have not matured enough to deliver the consistency we all want. He is passing up wide open feet set facing the basket shots for off balance turning in air running jumpers off the dribble from 30 feet which is mind boggling to me. He constantly refuses an open 10 foot jump shot to make a bad pass, pass his teammate into a troubled spot, or lose the ball. Too many switching mistakes on defense. Hate it for the guy. Seems like a great kid and teammate and has tons of potential, but he’s either trying to do too much or his coach needs to get him where he needs to be until he’s ready. There are little problems all over the place including the ship’s captain, but if I had to pick the greatest bang for the buck, I’d clean up his usage. And it does no good to run an offense focused for the three when you can’t shoot them well enough to compete.

on July 3, 2023 @ 03:59 PM


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