From: Will Leitch
To: Tommy Craggs
From: Tommy Craggs
To: Will Leitch
There was a funny moment in the dispiriting first half of the Miami loss, right around where the Hurricanes finished off their 22-2 run. Fans at the State Farm Center so clearly wanted to start booing. You could hear it — not boos, but that sound I associate strongly with Illini home games, that anxious rustling of overalls and old satin varsity jackets in the gray quiet of a mostly filled stadium, just before the band starts murdering that one Chicago song. But people also seemed to understand that there’d be something indecorous about booing eight games into the first promising Illini season since Kendrick Nunn got arrested. And so everyone decided to scream at the refs instead.
A few days later, that’s basically where I stand on the Illini as a whole: There’s a lot not to like right now, but what kind of miserable keening asshole besides you starts rending his garments over a 6-2 start that should’ve been 7-1? (All my garments are pre-rent anyway.) I believe there’s a genuine tournament team somewhere in here. I believe the second half of the Miami game showed it, the way the Illini narrowed themselves to whatever was working well (the high-low with Giorgi and Kofi, the weave action). We are the best offensive rebounding team in the country at the moment, and all those extra possessions will start to count for something once we stop throwing the ball to the other guys. Kofi is the real thing. With Ayo Dosunmu in a funk and Trent Frazier having too readily accepted his tertiary role, Kofi is the only Illini right now who can warp opposing defenses around him. Even when he doesn’t have the ball he creates opportunities for everyone else just by being a large and mobile presence. He made some nice reads in that Miami game, and I’m still a little mystified as to why he spent so much of crunch time on the bench. The defense is a work in progress, but he’s too big and too smart to be a liability on that end for long.
And the coach? I’m generally pretty sick of Brad Underwood’s shit. He was screaming on the sideline when we were up 50 against Lindenwood — psycho behavior that I wish sports culture would condemn as hotly as it goes after players who do funny things after scoring touchdowns. I do think we’re seeing at least some willingness on his part to adapt to his talent. Or maybe you’re right and he’s simply flailing. Whatever the case, the key for me is Ayo and Kofi realizing this team belongs to them and not to the shrieking pink-faced Rotarian on the sideline. Lose well to Maryland, upend Michigan at home, and we’re well on our way to disappointing everyone in the tournament.
Illinois Men’s Basketball faces off against Maryland on Saturday, December 7th at 4 p.m.