Good, Bad and Ugly: Illinois

THE GOOD: CONSISTENCY, EXECUTION, AGGRESSION.

The Good Hoosiers showed up tonight in Bloomington. After the Bad Hoosiers lacked any sense of urgency in Columbus earlier this week, IU was a completely different squad this evening. They played like they wanted to win, like they deserved to win.

Perhaps this is just what we’re in for this season: a bit of deer-in-the-headlights-what-are-we-doing play on the road, while on its home court, Indiana plays with the utmost confidence. If the Hoosiers can give this kind of effort inside Assembly Hall every time out, they’ll be in most, if not all, of their home contests.

IU rattled off 41 points in the first half, and looked like a team on a mission. They were executing at both ends of the floor. One thing I want to point out during that impressive first 20 minutes: there’s a reason Jordan Hulls is starting alongside Jeremiah Rivers in the backcourt: his spot-up shooting ability. When Rivers is at his best on the dribble-drive and can draw help defense, Hulls stays at home on the wing or corner and has enough spacing to elevate and hit the three. And Rivers is athletic enough to take it all the way to the hole as well.

But when you’re hot, hot, hot, in the first half, you’re bound to cool in the second. Sure, the Hoosiers lacked some of that aggression and allowed Illinois to mount a comeback with their fouling, but IU’s shooting numbers tell a hot and cold tale: first half (14-of-25, 56 percent; 5-of-6 from three for 83.3 percent), second half (8-of-28, for 28.6 percent, 1-of-7 from three for 14.3 percent).

I expected Illinois to come back tonight, because it’s what they’ve done all season long: mount a comeback on a double-digit lead, get it close, and then go to war in the final few minutes. The Illini simply executed better down the stretch. Bruce Weber drew up a play for freshman D.J. Richardson when they were down one with 1:22 to go, and he hit the jumper. They hit their free throws down the stretch as well. IU didn’t, and hit a horrific scoring skid the last 8:28 of the game, getting outscored 18-3. They only scored 19 points in the second half.

Simply put, the better, more experienced team found a way to win this game this evening, because that’s what those kind of teams do. IU is still figuring that out, and it was frustrating to see all the good the Hoosiers did in the first half come in a losing effort. The IU team of a season ago gets routed in this game. This current incarnation plays well enough, but can’t finish. Future incarnations find a way to win this game.

In due time, they’ll get there.

THE BAD AND UGLY: FOULS.

I’m not here to complain about the refs. There were only a few calls I wasn’t a fan of, and they really could have gone either way. But Indiana was so foul-happy tonight — and it wasn’t just on shot attempts, it was reach-ins, and moving screens, and fouls off the ball — that Illinois got a whopping 38 attempts at the line. And it was a big chunk of their first-half offense: Illinois took 23 fouls shots, and hit 16 of them. They had 28 points at half, so only 12 points came in other ways besides the charity stripe. IU also got crushed on the boards in the second half, getting out-rebounded 24-13.

The Illini were in the bonus early in the second half, and it allowed them to chop away at the lead without any time coming off the clock. They hit 11 of their 16 second-half attempts from the line, including some key ones in the clutch.

There’s a fine line between being aggressive and being over-aggressive when playing defense, and the Hoosiers crossed it at points tonight. Yet, this was just a Big-Ten bruiser of a game: it was physical, it was heated, and you saw some jawing and pushing on the court.

Perhaps the younger, less experienced team played into that a bit too much with all the fouling going on this evening.

  • plane1972

    I agree with you, Cooper, that people don't know Elston well enough to substantiate rumors of him transferring, but I also don't think you know the situation well enough to say 1) that he has lost his confidence and 2) that it's because Crean is not playing him. Maybe his play has been affected by some cute cheerleader who broke his heart. Maybe a little far-fetched, I admit. Have you seen our cheerleaders? Oh, that was out of line. I apologize.

  • BigRed3588

    I think the main reason we don't see Elston more is he has shown to be a bit of a defensive liability. I've noticed a few times that he is out of position when switching off on screens and it has led to baskets for the other team. That being said, he's not the only big man we have that struggles defensively and I feel like his offensive production could not only offset his difficulties on defense but improve his D by giving him that confidence boost.

    As for Dumes, I agree with the limited minutes. We could use his defense a little more, but frankly, I'm tired of seeing him hoist threes with 30 seconds left on the shot clock. As one person above stated, he's never seen a shot he didn't like and he simply misses too much. Also, I think his limited minutes are the reason he's playing smarter. If starting was a certainty, I expect we'd see the same careless play from last year.

  • aceman07

    It might be different in baseball but I coached for years and it was very possible to teach kids how to be tougher and how to play to win instead of playing not to lose. You do that by working them in tough situations under stress and creating an atmosphere where winning is expected! To me, watching this team so far this year, it appears as if they don't expect to win, ever! They celebrate each victory like they've just won the Super Bowl and when they have a lead they tighten up and play to maintain a lead instead of extending it. That's what I mean by coaching toughness. It's possible to coach a team to the point where winning is an attitude and you don't choke. We could be down a run in the bottom of the seventh inning and I never felt like were going to lose because the atmosphere of the program was that we were always going to win, so more times than not, we came back and won the game. The culture of winning also made it easy for us to put games away when we took a lead. I just don't see any of that in these guys and I don't understand why it can't be brought out of them. Surely most of them played for winning programs in high school so they should be used to that winning culture.

  • oldiugymnast

    You know, I love basketball and grew up in Indiana (too short for bball though) and understand the game pretty well. In CA even at 41 I can out play most of the 25 year olds here just because I grew up in THE basketball state. That said, I have a little trouble with all of the comments second guessing Coach Crean. First off, he is in practice and knows the kids. I don't and neither do any of the people commenting here. Second, having coached another sport at the highest level, I understand the value of putting your athletes in difficult or learning situations. It is clear that Coach sees this season as a season to build skills and capacity rather than one in which having a great record is important. I think based on his ability to take large leads with the lack of personnel he had last year that Coach Crean knows what he is doing, and I am quite certain that there is a method to his madness.

    I was disappointed in the outcome of this game, sure. I always want IU to win. But I would not castigate a Coach who has been given the unenviable task of digging this program out of the deep hole that Sampson dug. Yeah, I like ball screens, ball movement, tough d and team d just like every other good Indiana boy that learned how to run a pick and roll when they were 10, but I am not on that bench and I don't know those kids. I am pleased with the progress and with the team for now. I think it is more than premature to be calling for the coaches head (like Smitty does) when the team has only his very young and very first recruiting class and is still hampered by sanctions. We weren't supposed to beat Illinois anyway, they were ranked in the top 25 (wrongly) coming into the season. That we had a decent chance at the end of the game is something to celebrate.

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