Where Did That Come From? December 3, 2011
I thought we could win this game. I didn’t expect that.
Before the game, in order to win that game, I thought we’d have to grind it out. 59-55, something like that. Keep it close, limit the damage from Sacre and Harris, and find a way to pull it out. I did not expect 82 points. Or 53% shooting. Or an answer for every single Gonzaga run.
The key to the game, to me, were the two bursts after Gonzaga tied it up. We pushed out to a 25-17 lead but let Gonzaga creep back in to tie it at 26. What do we do next? 8-0 run in 55 seconds to push back to an eight point lead.
And then, after halftime, Gonzaga ties it with a layup, but we push away again with a 7-0 run (part of a 14-4 run) that gave us the cushion we needed to hold them off the rest of the second half. Top-25 opponent fights back – we pull away again. I was not expecting that.
So now I have to re-evaluate the way I watch this team. There were so many late-game meltdowns the last few seasons that I have very little confidence in our ability to counterpunch. When Gonzaga fought back to within 2 with eight minutes left, you were probably thinking the same thing I was: great game, but this is a young team – we all know what happens next. What happened next was an 11-4 run to push it back to a 9 point lead.
Which leads me to look at the schedule and think “12-0 heading into the Missouri game is more than possible – it’s probable”. Play like this against UNLV in Chicago, and I think we win. Play like this, and we should hold serve at home against a sneaky St. Bonaventure team. 12-0 heading into a top-20 matchup against Missouri? Yes, please.
What I liked in this game:
Tyler Griffey 2.0
The initial release of Tyler Griffey in late 2009 was encouraging. It appeared to be something we’d be able to implement and use for the next 4 years. But when the 1.1 release came out late last year, it was very bug-y. Slow processing, froze up at just the worst times, didn’t show any of the benefits of the initial release.
But now that the 2.0 release is out, I’m loving it. All of the bugs of the 1.1 release appear to be fixed. Runs much smoother. Hasn’t frozen up a single time. And it comes with this add-on called the JumpStop that’s just a killer addition. I’m already crazy excited about the 3.0 release next year.
DJ and BP3 being DJ and BP3
For this team to be successful, we need DJ to play defense and hit jumpers and we need BP3 to fly around and create offense.
In the game against Gonzaga today, we saw DJ play defense and hit jumpers and we saw BP3 fly around and create offense.
If we can get that consistently, I really like the roles for this starting five. Maniscalco runs the point, creates late, and hits every free throw he sees. DJ is the outside shooter/lockdown defender combo. BP3 runs around on the wing and creates offense off the dribble. Griffey sets picks against man, flashes against zone, hits from the outside, and occasionally uses his new jump-stop to score. And Leonard is our go-to guy down low and our shot blocker at the other end.
I think that lineup is flexible enough to handle a frontcourt like Gonzaga or a backcourt like Missouri. Well, we know the first and are hoping for the second. But having our two junior leaders settling into their roles is a big step towards being prepared for Missouri.
Give me Ibby
I believe the sole purpose of internet message boards to be “find an angle that no one else is taking and then harp on it for months until it becomes your issue”. That, and flame wars. So much fun.
So in the dark corners of the Illini Internet where I hang out, I championed one thing last spring: we do NOT need to spend the last 2011 scholarship on a project big man. Save that scholarship for 2012 and find someone that can help immediately in the fall of 2012. So when Ibby verballed, I was all “WHY DO WE NEED A 3-STAR BIG MAN WHAT ARE WE DOING?”
It took exactly 8 games to realize why we needed a 3-star big man. With Leonard, Griffey, and Egwu all with 2 fouls in the first half, what would we done in this game without Ibrahima Djimde? The box score tells me he only played 12 minutes (good for 6th-best on the team), but it seemed like he played 25. And even though he still has a ways to go on offense, he was HUGE on defense against Sacre.
In fact, I’ll say it this way: had I gotten my way last spring and we’d saved the scholarship for the 2012 class, we lose this game today.
OK. There were a few things I didn’t like today, but why go through those now? This was our best game of the season. I want to go to this Christmas party with my wife and have that cool moment where I forget about this game, then remember this game, and have that “oh yeah, our basketball team is on the way back”. Three weeks ago, I did NOT see that coming.