Smile Politely

The seam

John Groce makes me happier every time I see him. Illini basketball has a man in charge, and he knows what he’s doing.

Last year, Illinois found a way to lose. This year, Illinois finds a way to win. 

Tuesday against Western Carolina, Tracy Abrams found the seam. He drilled his way through a persistent, hacking Catamount zone, and got to the rim. Sometimes he missed his shots, but fellow Illini followed his path, and tipped in his misses. Breaking down the defense was enough to create offensive opportunities.

I was going to ask about this phenomenon in the postgame press conference. But John Groce beat me to it. He further pondered whether anyone had noticed the side-effect of aggressive, penetrative offense.

The answer is “yes.” We saw it. Moreover, we get it. We see what happens when you take it to the other team: Good things.

Illinois won despite shooting 29% from distance. The Catamounts out-rebounded the Illini 41 to 34. Brandon Paul had an off night, hitting only a third of his fifteen shots, and one of six from the arc. Nnanna Egwu and Tyler Griffey played with foul trouble for most of the second half. There was nothing especially bad about Illini strategy. Brandon’s shot choices were awkward in spots, but we’re accustomed to that. He’s been more aggressive toward the basket this year, not waiting for crunch time to assert himself. That’s good too.

Yes, close games against Gardner-Webb and Western Carolina revealed flaws. Yes, the Cornell, Bonaventure and Nebraska wins of 2011-12 were similarly close. Yes, I assessed those games differently.

My discrimination is easy to explain: It’s depressing to watch something fall apart. It’s inspiring to watch something grow.

Bonaventure’s Andrew Nicholson was awesome in the post. Western Carolina’s Tawaski King was also awesome, but in a much different way. Nicholson was a nimble scoring machine. King is an Ultimate Fighting champ. That’s how they were different.

We’re different too. Illinois had Meyers Leonard. Illinois has Nnanna Egwu and Sam McLaurin.

What made Tawaski King nearly impossible, apart from brute strength, was the match-up zone that Catamounts coach Larry Hunter preferred to describe as 2-3. In this defense, King floated to the high-post regularly. He did the same thing on the offensive end. Frequently, that meant DJ Richardson or Brandon Paul was wrestling with King.

The zone didn’t stop the Illini from executing. It just happens that they shot poorly.Tyler Griffey, Tracy Abrams and Myke Henry combined for zero three pointers. DJ was our lone perimeter threat, hitting 3-for-8.

I was going to ask about the other seam, the inseam of Groce’s pants (which split during the game). But he beat me to that as well.

Meanwhile, in Ann Arbor, freshman Darius Paul had another monster game for the Western Michigan Broncos.

Related Articles