Oct 01, 2019

The Italian word for basketball is "pallacanestro". This is weird to me. I don't know why, but I guess I assumed the Italian word for basketball would just be "basketball" - but pronounced with a cool Italian accent. Admittedly, though, "pallacanestro" is way cooler. So then, the Illinois "squadra di pallacanestro" spent 10 days in Italy this past August - playing four games on the trip.

After the Illini returned home, I accepted the challenge of binge watching all four of the games in Italy. I'm not going to lie to you here - this was no small task. 243 minutes of no audio, no replay, and questionable quality You Tube videos. That's a rough watch. Yet watch them I did, and here's what stood out to me:

+ Overall the gameplay was RAGGED. Underwood did not technically coach any of the games - opting to sit in a folding chair on the baseline and allow a different assistant to coach each game - but I'm guessing he was seething at almost 15 turnovers per game from what is now a pretty veteran group. Still - better against Cinema Paradiso in August than against Arizona in November.

+ The international three point line distance did not seem to bother this team AT ALL. Led by Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois shot 41% from the arc (42/102) over the four games. Ayo's jump shot looks as quirky as ever, but just about any time he got his feet set it was three points. They cooled off a bit as the competition stiffened with each game, but this certainly bodes well in anticipation of the newly extended three point line distance coming into play.

+ Besides the outside shooting, the other facet of the game which really stood out over the course of the four games was how well the Illini crashed the offensive glass. Offensive rebounding was not a strength of last year's team, but it has been a traditional staple of good Underwood teams in the past. Illinois averaged over 17 offensive rebounds per game on this trip - and this was without Kofi Cockburn.

+ Leading the way on the offensive glass was...Alan Griffin. In fact, Griffin was pretty fantastic for the majority of the four games. Besides his eye-popping rebound numbers (7.5 per game), he shot the ball well from deep and was very active on defense. The competition for minutes on the wing promises to be fierce between Griffin, Tevian Jones, and Kipper Nichols, but based on play in Italy, Griffin appears to be the leader in the clubhouse. Stay tuned.

+ Regarding Jones - who also played quite well for stretches in Italy - if nothing else, make sure you watch the last few minutes of Game 3 against Gazzada to appreciate his one man dunk contest.

+ Trent Frazier was quiet in Italy, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing. His main issue has been one of offensive efficiency, but if the games on this trip are any indication, he seems to have settled into a nice comfort zone with his game and role on this team. One where he is no longer relied upon to score, but where he'll still likely put up double digits most nights.

+ Kipper's jump shot form looks better. I don't know what happened between his sophomore and junior seasons that caused him to start corkscrewing his jumper up there last season, but at least on film it looks much better. I don't know if that will translate to the season - but it's something.

+ On the other hand - Giorgi's outside shot is not yet a thing. He only took three shots from behind the arc over all four games, missed all three of them, and looked tentative on every attempt. One potential "leap" area for Giorgi going into this season was to expand his perimeter game - we'll file that under "work still in progress".

+ Illini played a fair amount of zone (1-2-2) on this trip. Not prepared to say just yet that this is an indication of things to come - but I get a feeling this is worth filing away for future reference.

+ A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum. The Illini travelled to Rome for the last game on the trip and looked tired and disinterested in losing by double digits to that euro-juggernaut otherwise known as the Netherlands "B" team. It's disingenuous to be encouraged by all the good on the trip and then dismiss the bad stuff out of hand, so I won't. The outcome itself was not so concerning - the Illini were short three key players in Cockburn, BBV, and Andres Feliz, and so walkons Zach Griffith, Tyler Underwood, and Samson Oledeji were pressed into actual minutes. However, what did concern me was the reappearance of the all too familiar woes that plagued Illinois on defense the last two seasons - poor on-ball coverage, back door layups, and an opponent shooting exceptionally well on two point opportunities. Let's not do this again please.

So as I closed out this basketball binge, I'll admit this last game left a bitter taste - kind of like a limoncello shot after dinner, but I'm guessing Underwood might have been secretly pleased. At the very least it gave him plenty of coaching ammunition to use as official practice begins this week. Ciao!


Gary48 on October 01 @ 12:42 PM CDT

Thank you for your work in producing this report. Good, bad, and ugly at least we have great insight as to where this team is as Fall practice begins. Thanks again

Bear8287 on October 01 @ 03:18 PM CDT

Thanks for watching through 243 minutes of no audio, no replay, and questionable quality You Tube videos, so we don't have to. Actually, most games I watch recorded too, so that I can skip commercials, timeouts and half-time. I also play at something like 1.25x speed. After a while you get used to it and it really "slows down" the game when you watch in real time. :-D

Good stuff. Thanks!

Groundhogday on October 01 @ 06:48 PM CDT

One potential "leap" area for Giorgi going into this season was to expand his perimeter game - we'll file that under "work still in progress".

I remain a "Giorgi is really a 4" skeptic. I'd bet that Giorgi and Kofi playing together is the exception rather than the rule. Perhaps a chance of pace for ~6 mpg when we hit the B1G schedule?

So... who plays the bulk of minutes at the 4? Bosmans-Verdonk? Griffin? Jones?

Walkon on October 01 @ 09:05 PM CDT

Unless Kofi has difficulty staying on the court due to foul issues - I think we’ll see them together more than 6 mpg. Match up dictated of course.

Giorgi played 26 MPG last year and I have to believe Kofi and him will be on the floor together more than 6 of those minutes. I want the best players on the floor as much as possible - regardless of position.

BBV seems like a logical choice for frontcourt minutes as well - but his injury does put him a bit behind.

Groundhogday on October 01 @ 10:42 PM CDT

If Giorgi plays 26 mpg and Kofi plays 20 mpg, then they are the court together for 6 mpg.

Walkon on October 01 @ 11:04 PM CDT

Or 20 minutes. I’m hoping/expecting it’s closer to 20 than 6.

I believe our best shot to be really good this season is if those two can play well together.

Bear8287 on October 02 @ 02:11 AM CDT

I think that GHD's point is that for them to be on the floor together for 20 minutes AND there is no period of time where neither is on the court then they would both need to be on the floor for approx 30 minutes each.

If they're really playing 26 and 20 minutes and they're on the floor together for 20 minutes, then there's 14 minutes where neither of them are on the floor.

I suspect that it will be foul trouble that largely dictates how many minutes they will play per game.

Groundhogday on October 04 @ 03:00 PM CDT

Yep. I'd be shocked if both played 30 mpg. Foul trouble, stamina and matchups will all limit the twin tower lineup.If Giorgi doesn't develop an outside shot, that will put another limit on the twin towers.

It is really hard for big men to play 30+ mpg. A sampling of B1G big men last year:

  • 32 mpg Happ
  • 31 mpg Cook
  • 30 mpg Goins (more of a forward)
  • 30 mpg Fernando
  • 28 mpg Teske
  • 26 mpg Smith, Jalen
  • 26 mpg Wesson
  • 24 mpg Tillman
  • 23 mpg Haarms

Walkon on October 02 @ 08:42 AM CDT

Ultimately yes - this is the correct answer. Foul issues and game to game matchups will dictate their time together. If Underwood wants to go small then there might be games will neither will log big minutes. OTOH, to match up against, say, Williams and Haarms for Purdue - they might be on the court together for extended minutes.

My fuzzy math notwithstanding - my to answer GHD’s question about who gets the bulk of the time at the four is that I hope it evolves to where that player is Giorgi because that puts our best five players on the floor.

jono426 on October 02 @ 08:21 PM CDT

I agree on the corkscrew description of Kipper’s shot. It’s almost like he is tying so hard to keep his elbow in that he’s tight instead of relaxed when shooting.

Also interested that you saw 1-2-2. Maybe it was the angle but I thought I saw a lot of 1-3-1 and also some 1-3-1 to 2-3 mid-possession switches.

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