My Alarm Goes Off In 4 Hours November 20, 2012
…but I don’t care. No chance I could go to sleep right now. I feel like I just watched a rebirth.
OK, disclaimers. It was just USC. They’re supposed to be much improved this year, but they might be awful again. We might look back on this game in three months and see that we beat an awful team.
And yes, we’ll need more inside. Of our bigs, Myke Henry has an outside game, Tyler Griffey’s offense is that of a two guard, and Nnanna would rather take the 15 footer than post someone up. Only McLovin has a back-to-the-basket, get-the-tough-rebound game. So everything written about this team between now and March will have a “but when the shots aren’t falling…” disclaimer attached. We’ll have to shoot well to win.
But with that out of the way, FUN FUN FUN FUN FUN FUN FUN FUN. Watching this game was so much fun. As I said on Twitter, the only time I can remember being dumbfounded by a first half of Illini basketball was the Gonzaga game in the Wooden Classic in late 2004. For me, that was my “wow, this team is pretty incredible” moment. We had a hint in the Cincy tournament game, and we saw it in action against the #1 team in the land against Wake Forest, but that Gonzaga first half was something else.
This USC first half was something else. No, we’re not going to make 11 shots in a row again this season. But it wasn’t just the shots. It was the defense. And the passing. And the hustle. And the determination. And the smiles on their faces. And the togetherness. And the relentlessness. (And the 57 points.)
I jumped up off my couch three times before deciding to stand. When I wanted to tweet something, I’d literally run over to the laptop (phone takes my eyes off the screen too long) and then run back to the TV screen eight feet away. When Brandon Paul dunked that reverse alley-oop, I did this fist punching modern dance thing that had the dog thinking it was the morning. They were having fun out there. I was having fun in here.
And I think that was the best part of tonight. As I’ve said many times here, I believe DJ was the one player most hurt by the “don’t shoot that” coaching style of Bruce Weber. With the helicopter parent hovering, he struggled to find a groove. To see him as smiling and high-fiving and fist bumping and clapping on defense as he got into his stance – man, that was so great to see.
Tyler Griffey, too. The freedom to shoot and to drive and to be aggressive – he has to be loving life. He’s now 7-14 from three on the season. Love the pick and pop.
And Tracy Abrams? Who expected this from Abrams? Who expected 15.3 points per game and 5 assists per game this early in his career? I’ve been worried about a first year surge and then, after these seniors graduate, a second year slump for John Groce. But if Abrams can keep playing like this, maybe next year he can combine with JoeBert, Rayvonte Rice, and the freshmen to compose a similar, aggressive backcourt.
Most of all, I’m just excited that we’re aggressive. I’m excited about the brand of basketball that we play. When a top-5 recruit like Cliff Alexander tweets “Illinois looking good tonight”, you can’t help but think that John Groce has this thing pointed in the right direction.
And now, a Division II opponent that just played out of their minds to beat Texas. After we take care of business there, a spot in the finals on ESPN Wednesday night, most likely against North Carolina. Remember when you’d come home from college for Thanksgiving, and that Wednesday night was the big night to see everyone you hadn’t seen all fall? And how it still happens today, with people back in their hometowns for Thanksgiving, meeting up with old friends at the local watering hole?
The game that’s always on in the background that night? The final of the Maui Invitational. I remember just such a scenario in late 2000 when we played Arizona and Sean Harrington nearly shot us back into the game. Wednesday night, “hey, I haven’t seen you in forever”, Maui final in the background.
Well, this Wednesday night, that game will likely be Illinois vs. North Carolina. As it should be.