The Less I Know The Better

Feb 16, 2023

I get "stick to football"-d a lot on social media. And I get it. Football guy tries to write about basketball in a world where weak takes get swatted into the ninth row... it's almost inevitable. The odds of me getting "stick to football"-d on any given basketball gameday are very, very high.

I guess I should start with a "stick to football" example:

During the Rutgers game last Saturday, I was sitting up in 200-level while Tyler was covering the game down on press row. Through the first 25 minutes of the game, the upper parts of the State Farm Center were as quiet as I could remember. The game was a slog, and while you could hear noise from down around the court (mostly from Krush) urging the team to make a push, there was just no energy upstairs. I've attended hundreds of games in that building, often (for more than a decade) sitting upstairs, and this game was nothing like those games.

Coleman Hawkins hit a three in the second half to cut the Rutgers lead down to 3, and I could hear Krush try to start some noise, but upstairs it stayed mostly silent. This was a 99-times-out-of-100 "the entire arena would rise to their feet and make noise to say 'come on, boys, time to jolt this sleepy game awake' all at the same time" situation in the past, but on Saturday, there was nothing. After the two teams both missed three pointers, the Illini got a steal and eventual layup (the one where the ball ping-ponged around and ended up in Sencire's hands for the layup). That cut the lead to one, and Brad Underwood immediately started raising his hands on the sideline to get the arena to wake up. The arena woke up.

At that moment, I tweeted this:

When I tweet something like that, it's nearly a guarantee that I'll get at least one Stick To Football response. And I did (I'll go with the screencap here because after I write about stuff from Twitter, these tweets often get deleted):

As a quick aside, if you guys want to know what the Orange Krush thinks of me these days, many of these "stick to football" responses are given a big ol' heart from the Krush account.

I've also been heckled by Krush members behind me - "are you gonna type out some more of your funny little tweets, Robert?" - so let's just say it's not great right now. I always had a good Krush relationship (hell, I'm a former Krush member and I road-tripped with Krush to Iowa in 2015), but my relationship with the current Barstool Krush is apparently, uh, tenuous.

I'm already way off track here so let's try to bring this back in.

Because "stick to football" is a legitimate concern for me, I try to get creative in the ways I write about the basketball season. I'm still trying to learn more about the ins and outs of basketball, but I still don't feel comfortable writing about scheme. I mean, I don't write about football scheme either (any step in the direction of "I would have run inside zone there" is a step in the direction of Team I Know Better Than The Coach, and I'll never join that team), but I will fanalyze the hell out of a football game. I don't feel like I have enough basketball knowledge to do something similar after a basketball game.

So when people send me extremely intelligent responses like this on Twitter... eyes glaze over. Which is the same way my eyes glaze over when I'm talking to Craig and Carmen and they're talking the overhanging safety in a 33-Stack defense. I kinda know what they're talking about, but I also kinda don't want to know? So much for "stick to football" I guess.

I understand what it means to switch a ball screen (guy guarding the guy setting the screen takes the ballhandler once he comes off the screen), but I don't feel like I want to learn much beyond that. This is confusing so I probably need to slow down and expound.

I want to learn about sports by slowly understanding what I'm seeing. It was a five year process for me to understand field position and football, and I'm thankful for that entire process. I'd learn a little more, and then I'd watch games and apply it, and it started to make more sense, and soon I'm seeing the game from a slightly different angle. I never played football (I played tennis in high school - there's your insult, haters), and so I'm what I call a "Blue 42" kind of fan. Some people will come to the line at the Thanksgiving pickup game and call "jumbo right 26 power" and I just want to be the quarterback who lines up for the play and yells "Blue 42".

My point: I don't rush my understanding of football or basketball. I don't research. I have an idea of what "need to show or hedge if you're not going to switch" means, but I want to learn that organically over the next five years, not through Wikipedia. And because I'm a football guy, I'm simply a bit further along in my football understanding. (But I still won't ever get close to understanding what I'm seeing like someone who even just played some high school ball.)

This is why I take "stick to football" as a compliment. I could never coach either sport. Ask me to get in front of the coaches and talk about, well, anything and I'd come off like such a fool. And I'm a firm believer in "unless you could hang with the coaches in a furious dry erase board session, never say a single thing about their schematic decisions." So if my basketball ignorance makes people say "stick to football", that means my football ignorance must not be as visible. Go me.

And this approach - which I'll call "The Less I Know The Better" - makes both sports much more enjoyable for me. Especially basketball, which is where my ignorance is somewhat overwhelming. When the guy next to me in the stands yells "why do we keep switching that??", I'm pretty happy every time because I haven't really noticed (or been watching for) any defensive switches. I've just been watching for anomalies.

Seriously, that's 60% of my sports watching. When I wrote about how Caleb McConnell from Rutgers is a ridiculous defender, it's not because I know what makes a good defender and then I watch for him to do those things. I've simply watched 25 different players guard Terrence Shannon this year and what I saw from McConnell was exponentially better. It was like he had already watched the game, memorized what Shannon was going to do, and then defended him based on that, not based on reading and reacting. If you think I "comp" a lot in my writing, you should be inside my brain when I'm watching a game.

The other 40% is narrative. Players who melt vs. players who excel under pressure. Light bulbs turning on for freshmen. Juniors whose light bulbs aren't going to get any brighter. Transfers who might really brighten the room. When watching a game, I'm watching for those things (hi there, February Ty Rodgers).

I'm at the point of the article where I'm not really sure what I set out to say, so let me regroup with a list:

  • If you're trying to engage me on Twitter with scheme talk (even something simple like switching vs. fighting through screens), I'm probably not going to respond because I just can't hang.
  • The knowledge that I can't hang doesn't send me to do Google searches (even though it should since this is, like, my job). For ease of watching games, I've chosen to not educate myself with anything other than "keep doing this for 10 more years and I might start to understand."
  • I feel like I'm further down that path with football than I am with basketball (almost entirely due to my ability to attend training camp from 2008 through 2019), so when you're saying "stick to football", that's really what you're saying.
  • This should probably push me to order six basketball books but each step I take in that direction makes a game less enjoyable for me. The less I know the better.
  • I'm probably too OLD MAN for Krush at this point. But my "why isn't Krush exactly like it was in 1992?" takes are now the equivalent of me, in 1992, reading "why can't the Assembly Hall be like Huff Hall in 1961?" takes.

As for that last bullet point, one more note. I probably just need to accept that the days of "the crowd makes noise at home no matter what's happening on the court" are gone. It's now, well, I'll let another @ on Twitter speak for me:

We're now in the days of "if you're winning, we'll cheer", and I probably need to give up the fight and just accept it.

So really, I'm only saying two things here.

  1. I'm 50 years old now, and the days of commenting on when a crowd should make noise have probably passed me by. The generations behind me just don't view home crowd responsibilities the same.
  2. I'm 50 years old now, and I really should know more about basketball (and football) at this point, but I find myself constantly protecting my ignorance in order to keep my gameday experience pure. "I know exactly what we should have done there" is a joy-killer for me. Ignorance, bliss, things of that nature.

Which all leads to this very simple point:

Watching this basketball team is one of the most confusing experiences of my fandom life.

That's not a shot at the coaching staff. That's not an evaluation of performance. There's no "well, with a roster constructed like this..." here. This is simply me, over here in blissful ignorance land, saying that I can't find a foothold. I'm pretty sure we're not bad, I'm pretty sure we're not good, and I'm pretty sure I have no idea what's going to happen one game to the next.

I think we're streaky, but as Tyler explained last Saturday, we're really not. I think our faucet either runs 100% hot or 100% cold with zero warm water coming out but then we play a Penn State team which has three Big Ten wins over teams not named Illinois and they absolutely take us to the woodshed twice (which suggests that it's not game-to-game hot or cold, it's opponent-based). We either win by nine or more or lose by nine or more and I can't make heads or tails of it. Nick Cannon head tilt dot gif.

All of that leaves me wondering what words I'm going to type the next three weeks. This isn't "play to the level of our competition." This isn't "we're dangerous when our shooting is hot." This is the team drawing a number out of a hat before each game and then playing to that level. Texas? We drew a 94. Missouri? A 23. Penn State (both times)? Somehow a 53 and a 51. Indiana on Saturday? Maybe we'll draw a 92, maybe we'll draw a 12. That's better than 2016 when the highest number we could draw was a 64, but that doesn't make it any less confusing.

What does this mean for the Tournament? I don't know! If we fall all the way to a nine-seed and then draw 1-seed Kansas could we beat them? ABSOLUTELY. Could we then face a 12-seed that made it to the Sweet 16 and lose the next round? 100%!

With the way I view basketball, this season is bordering on "unevaluatable" at this point. I can't find anything to comp to anything else. Those of you with bright basketball minds probably see massive trouble on the horizon, but if you do, please don't tell me.

The less I know, the better.


bkenny on February 16, 2023 @ 04:37 PM

You're not wrong about Krush. It isn't what it used to be...there is a lot of standing around silently during games. If they aren't given a reason to cheer, they simply don't. That's...that's not how home court advantage/being a difficult place to play is supposed to work. They get more excited for the possibility of free nuggets than anything else during the game.

thethrash on February 16, 2023 @ 04:44 PM

I relate completely to how you view the finer aspects of basketball, and also share your conundrum on how to view this team’s prospects moving forward.

thethrash on February 16, 2023 @ 04:44 PM

I relate completely to how you view the finer aspects of basketball, and also share your conundrum on how to view this team’s prospects moving forward.

thethrash on February 16, 2023 @ 04:44 PM

I relate completely to how you view the finer aspects of basketball, and also share your conundrum on how to view this team’s prospects moving forward.

OrangeBlazer on February 16, 2023 @ 05:17 PM

I wasn't at the Rutgers game, but as a fellow-old, what you describe doesn't sound any different than my fan experience going back to the Henson era.

In my view, Assembly Hall/SFC has always gotten up for the Really Big Game, where the fans will carry the team no matter what. They will always be sleepy for the non-conference cupcakes. And for everything in between, it's always been "wait for the team to show us something." Even though Rutgers was ranked, I wouldn't qualify that as a Very Big Game.

Case in point, February 2001. The original Paint the Hall Orange game against #4 Michigan State on Feb. 6 was absolutely a Very Big Game. The seats were full and everyone was standing 30 minutes before tipoff. From the tip it was deafening on every possession.

But a week later, down 13 at home at the half against #19 Wisconsin (which was not yet Bo Ryan Wisconsin and very much the Rutgers of the 2001 Big Ten), with a #4 ranking and conference title on the line, you could hear a pin drop in C section until Frank willed us to victory late in the second half.

In fact, at one of Bill Self's first press conferences that year, he complained and expressed surprise at how quiet the fans were. Growing up in Champaign, I don't think that was any different during the Henson era either. Fans get up for the big games, and sit back in "show me" mode for the other games. (And I think that's pretty much true for 99% of college basketball fanbases.) Going back to the original days of Brumby's Illiniboard, when many of us were the students, I remember lots of threads complaining about fans yelling at students in C section to sit down during games.

My point, I'm not sure anything has changed. I don't think there was ever a time where Illini fans always made noise no matter what was happening on the court, and your description of the crowd against Rutgers this year is exactly how I remember Illini fans behaving against similar opponents in the 80s, 90s, and 00s. They've always brought it for the Very Big Games, have never done it for the directional school nonconference games, and every other game in between is dependent upon context and opoonent. Saturday afternoon games agains the Rutgers of the world, even when ranked, aren't Very Big Games, and have always been tough sledding from a fan perspective.

And as to the team, I'm with Walkon/Tyler. Strikes me that at this point we know exactly what this team is and it is in fact quite consistent.

Barring a few outliers, this team is really good defensively, really good at the rim, and terrible from outside.

Against most middling teams that's enough to win pretty comfortably, which they have done.

Against elite teams, not so much unless you get hot from 3.

And the outliers tend to flow from matchup issues (like Penn State), or an individual hot streak (UCLA/Texas).

The Olaf Rules on February 16, 2023 @ 08:12 PM

You’re right about Krush. Access to those primo seats is a privilege, which ought to be earned by being bonkers supportive for two hours. I mean, the Cheerleaders cheer and the band plays; it’s embarrassing to see Krush just standing there with their hands in their pockets for long stretches. Generate energy! Lift up the team! That’s your role.

OrangeBlazer on February 16, 2023 @ 08:36 PM

I'm not sure why there are comments on this post about Krush not being loud. Robert explicitly said that most of the cheering was coming from Krush. The problem, as Robert says repeatedly, was in the upper sections of the arena.

bkenny on February 17, 2023 @ 01:22 AM

I think you need to re-read the spots where he talks about Krush

OrangeBlazer on February 17, 2023 @ 03:06 AM

Like the following?

"and while you could hear noise from down around the court (mostly from Krush) urging the team to make a push, there was just no energy upstairs."

"and I could hear Krush try to start some noise, but upstairs it stayed mostly silent."

larue on February 17, 2023 @ 12:33 PM

Yet another way in which we are complete opposites. I did play some basketball, so I know something about the game, but it's always changing. When I hear the color guy say that we are icing the screens, or Ayo saying that Michigan never tags, I have to find out exactly what that means and why a team would or would not do that, and how the offense can respond.

UofIx3 on February 17, 2023 @ 12:43 PM

I was at the Rutgers game and attending from the cheap seats. I can only speak for myself and my buddy--51 year old alums--but I think the silence is due to several reasons:

  1. Program hasn't recovered from end of Weber and the Groce eras. I do wonder if we would have recovered more from that fallow time if COVID hadn't prevented in-person attendance while the team was highly ranked with Ayo and Kofi. I know I'm often waiting for the other shoe to drop.

  2. The current Illini brand of basketball is more defense-oriented than offense-oriented. The place does get a buzz when a block happens, but the constant missing of open three point shots dulls expectations.

  3. This team is more up and down than a yo yo. I attended the PSU game in person as well, so you can imagine why one might be thinking "here we go again" for the first 25 minutes of the game.

  4. Our best players are from the portal and fans haven't developed the connection they might with someone who they have cheered for and watched develop over several years.

Illiniboat on February 18, 2023 @ 09:51 AM

I do feel like the home crowd used to more consistently cheer when the team was bringing the ball up after a couple empty trips to try to lift the team, but, as other people have noted, this happens more when the team is consistently good, I think the fanbase is still learning how to impact games again. Krush looks active on the broadcast, but why they haven't broken out a Roy Kent style cheer for Sencire Harris is a mystery.

on July 3, 2023 @ 03:59 PM


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