Running On Empty
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?