Smile Politely

Maui, Day 2

Before you get all excited about the orange throngs pictured in coverage of Illinois’ Maui excursion, understand that fans are seated by game, not by session. Illinois had a good contingent in Lahaina, but North Carolina had as many fans as all the other teams combined. Brad Stevens referred to them as A Program.

Illinois was A Program once. Now it’s an informercial. But we’re beginning to see signs of true entertainment.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. Illinois waltzed into the Maui final.

They played a crap USC team, followed by a Chaminade squad that’d left everything on the court the previous day.

That’s not to say this revived squad is not the coolest thing since aerosol cheese. On the contrary, this Illini squad is the coolest thing since aerosol cheese. Thing is, we all know exactly how cool aerosol cheese is. We don’t know how cool this Illini team is.

In just a few hours, we’ll know whether this Illini team is as cool as fresh salsa with a lot of cilantro, salt, and lime juice. A win against Butler would seal that deal.

Are the Illini possibly as cool as CFL lightbulbs, the Wankel rotary engine, or Skeletor? Hold your horses, cowboy. And drop the Kool-Aid.

The thing that still scares me is interior passing. Illini guards, wings, and even our senior power forward charge the basket (good) distribute when double-teamed (good) and throw the ball toward … somewhere … else (bad).

Tracy Abrams is a pit bull without the bark. He’s all bite. Abrams attacks relentlessly. He just keeps coming. It wears people down.

These are my only observations of Illinois’ offense in Maui.

The defense looks even better. It’s almost completely a 2-3 zone at times, but with a pesky agitator harassing the opponent’s top scorer, or best ball-handler. Or something. It’s not a box-and-one, not at all. It’s a trapezoid-and-one.

And then it changes.

Or does it?

I don’t know. You don’t know. They don’t know. It’s confusing and I like it.

The predictability is missing from Illini basketball. The ennui is gone too. Dread, fear, loathing, and resigned pathos have left the building as well. We’re within one lumbar vertebra of declaring Illini basketball back.

For those who can’t adapt easily to change, you’ll be glad to know that Illini basketball is still helmed by a man with an irritating speaking voice and sometimes dorky mannerisms. But John Groce has complete control of his team. He does not speak in banter. Things are different now, better.

Also for those who can’t adapt, here’s the halftime show.

When this was over, the kids turned around and played the same chord at the other side for a full two minutes. It was horrific.

Many were first charmed, delighted in some cases. By the end of the second act, they’d all scratched out their eyeballs and/or earballs. That’s why I stopped filming.

The Gangnam Style media timeout entertainment was faster, funnier, and overall a much better application of ritual child abuse.


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