Up To Speed - November 8, 2023
I set a personal best for sleeping yesterday. Between naps + overnight, I hit infant child numbers. There was a three-hour nap, a two-hour nap, and then some weird hour and a half of sleeping just before bed after which I got up, locked the doors, turned out all the lights, and went right back to bed. From 7:00 am yesterday until 7:00 am today, I believe I slept sixteen and a half hours.
I think I just reached a point of complete exhaustion. Everything had to be out of our old place by yesterday, so I spent Thursday evening over there and didn't get to bed until 2:00. Friday I took the train to Minneapolis and then wrote the SOC once I was checked into the hotel so I didn't go to sleep until 1:30. The game (and celebration) was Saturday so I didn't start writing until 11:30 and didn't go to sleep until 2:30. I got some decent sleep once I got back on Sunday night, but after finishing the basketball preview all day Monday and then attending the basketball game Monday night, I went directly to the old house and cleaned/loaded the car so I didn't get to sleep until well after midnight.
And then yesterday, all my systems shut down. I still ran to Menard's to get the replacement light fixture that the electricians needed to install, and I still made it to WDWS for the radio spot at 4:30, but other than that, I was basically sleeping. 100% system shutdown. I have a bad cold, so that's probably part of all of this, but... you get the point. I'm an idiot if I think I can keep up a pace like that. I thought I picked a great time to move (football bye week), but moves aren't finished once you move, and combining that with a football road trip + writing the basketball preview + the first basketball game was dumb dumb dumb.
So here it is, Wednesday afternoon, and the last thing I wrote is the postgame article from Saturday night. (Well, the last thing I wrote was the basketball preview, but that gets sent to upper tier subscribers and doesn't get posted on the site.) That means I need to get myself... Up To Speed.
I "covered" the basketball game on Monday night and this is the first thing I'm writing about it. There's "next day in the paper" slow, and then there's this.
The story of the game, obviously, was true freshman Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn being the leading scorer. The game was a sleepy affair at the start, with the crowd not having anything to cheer about until DGL's block about ten minutes into the game. After a layup by former Illini Jermaine Hamlin gave EIU a 19-15 lead, here's the scoring chart:
8:06 - Made layup, Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn
7:44 - Made layup on fast break, Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn
7:13 - Made dunk on fast break, Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn
7:13 - Timeout called by EIU
It was 19-15 Eastern Illinois when DGL did that, and the final score was 80-52, so the rest of the game was 65-33 Illini. That makes me wonder if DGL led the team in plus-minus. Let me go look that up real quick. He... did not. Shannon led the team at +27, Domask was +26, and DGL was +21.
I think most of us were surprised to see him as the leading scorer. He only played 3 minutes in the Kansas game, so I set my expectations at "he'll be the 9th or 10th guy off the bench". Then he's the leading scorer in the opener (granted, it was EIU), and he played the third-most minutes on the team, so I think I need to adjust those expectations. Defense will determine how much he plays, of course, but after he turned a 19-15 deficit into a 21-19 lead in just over a minute, I now have him penciled in for "immediate offensive boost off the bench."
And a freshmen scoring that much in his very first game made me think of two Illini players. Anyone come to mind for you? I'll give you a paragraph break so you can think about it. One guy from the 1990's and one guy from the late 2000's.
The two names: Jerry Hester and Brandon Paul.
Hester scored 16 (and had seven rebounds) in his first game during the 1993-94 season. Back then you either played in a Thanksgiving "preseason" tournament or you started the following week, so that game was on December 1, 1993. Yes, basketball used to start after football finished.
That ticket stub is under the glass on my desk here (I covered the top of my desk with ticket stubs from Illini + St. Louis sporting events the last 35 years). Let me find it and snap a picture...
Yes, I used to write the score on my ticket stubs and then tape them to the wall in my apartment. Who I was in 1993 is who I am in 2023.
The reason I remember that game so vividly (sad warning) is because it was two days after my dad's funeral. I had returned to school, trying to get ready for finals, and my mom talked me into attending the game. I'm glad she did. After a week like that you do need something to anchor you back to every day life. I can still picture so much of that game because I can still picture so much of that week. Hester scoring 16 will forever be etched in my memory banks.
(And yes, people on Slack - if you're wondering why that one guy goes by "AA13, row 6, seat 2", it's because he was seated right next to me.)
The other freshman debut that comes to mind is Brandon Paul. BP3 scored 22 in his debut (including 4-6 from three) in November of 2009. The opponent: SIUE. The venue: Assembly Hall. The whisky: Lagavulin 16.
It will be interesting to watch this rotation develop. I don't think we know the season-long starting lineup yet. And I don't think we could name the 6th, 7th, or 8th man at this point. We know that the five seniors will play a lot (Shannon, Hawkins, Domask, Harmon, and Gary A). We know that we'll get a lot of Ty Rodgers, Luke Goode, and Dain Dainja. This game proves we'll probably see a lot of DGL. So how many minutes does that leave for Hansberry and Moretti?
I think we can see why Sencire is redshirting.
Other thoughts on the game? I don't have many. We started out 1-15 from three and I was in a full panic. We hit 7 of the next 10 threes and I felt much better. But threes and frees are still going to determine everything for this team. When the round ball goes through the air it needs to fall into the cylinder as gravity pulls it down.
Somebody get the physics department on this.
I'm going to cover a lot of football analytics stuff in my "What..." article on Friday. But this one fell slightly outside of that so I'll put it here as the second half of this post. I've been pointing to how we're an "average" football team this year and the numbers are starting to show it.
Just look at SP+. The "number" of your SP+ says how many points you are above (or below) the average college football team. Our number right now: -0.5. We are half a point below the completely average college football team.
I've given you this chart many times (from CollegeFootballData.com). He has it updated with the current SP+ so.. here's this season (so far) compared to other seasons:
Definitely a big step back from last year (we knew that). Surprisingly below 2021 as well (although we still have a chance to boost our numbers against Indiana and Northwestern). Most similar to... 2014 and 2019. If we can get to 6-6, I think this 6-6 finish will feel a lot like those 6-6 finishes.
And there are other charts that peg us as pretty much "average." Here's an image from @JBudDavis on Twitter showing Power Five teams charted by EPA (I'll explain that in a moment):
There we are, right in the middle, bunched with Texas Tech, West Virginia, Washington State, Boston College, Maryland, Oklahoma State, and TCU as completely average Power Five teams (not sure how UMass snuck onto this chart). In terms of offense, in the Big Ten, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Maryland are above us (although Maryland and Penn State only barely) and then everyone else is behind us. Again - big games against the Indiana and Northwestern defenses (and avoid getting held to nothing by Iowa) and we could finish top-3 in the Big Ten in EPA per play.
What's EPA per play? This is a stat used heavily in the betting world, so I'm sure there about 30 explainers out there. Let me go find one.
Here's a cut and paste from this site. It's an NFL explanation, but the stat remains the same:
Expected Points Added, commonly referred to as EPA, is a measure of how well a team performs relative to expectation. For example, if a team starts a drive on the 50-yard line, its expected points to start the drive would be about 2.5. If the team ends the drive with a field goal, thus gaining 3 points, its EPA for that drive would be found by subtracting its expected points from how many points it actually gained, 3 - 2.5 or 0.5 EPA.
This same logic can be applied to individual plays. Say the Chiefs start with the ball first-and-10 from their own 25-yard line, where its expected points would be about 1.06. If Patrick Mahomes throws a 15-yard completion, making it first-and-10 on the KC 40-yard line, where the expected points is now 1.88, the EPA of that play would be 1.88 - 1.06 or 0.82. In other words, that completion increased the Chiefs' expected points on that drive by just over three-fourths of a point. If instead of the completion, Mahomes was sacked for a 10-yard loss, making it second-and-20 from their own 15, the new expected points would be about -0.54 and the EPA for that play would be -0.54 - 1.06 or -1.6. This means the sack decreased the amount of points the Chiefs were expected to score on that drive by 1.6 points.
The chart I showed you above is EPA per play (the second paragraph there). And it's adjusted for home field advantage (ha!) and opponent quality. We're slightly below average on defense and right on the line for offense. A completely average football team. And a completely average college football offense happens to be the fifth-best offense out of the 14 teams in the Big Ten.
And it should be noted that "Big Ten" plays heavily into that. If you use the red line for averages (both directions), here's a fun stat:
Big Ten: 4 offenses above the line, 8 defenses above the line
Big 12: 8 offenses above the line, 4 defenses above the line
The rest of my thoughts on this... will have to wait until Friday's article. For some reason I'm getting tired again.
Time for another nap.