I cropped out about 243 pounds. - Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
Will Leitch returns with his weekly (sort of; it's more "sporadically reappearing") Illini Basketball Power Rankings.
Hey, everybody, glad to be back. The last one of these I did was after the Minnesota game. I was scheduled to do one last Friday, but honestly, the last thing I wanted to do after the Northwestern loss was think one second longer about Illinois basketball. This is a sensation I suspect you understand.
Anyway, because sports is a diversion created to make humans happy and distracted from the drudgery and sorrow that often accompanies the rigmarole of everyday life, I'm going to just pretend the Wisconsin and Northwestern games didn't exist. We're going to talk about that 20-point road win last night. That all right? I suspect that is all right. To the big board!
1. D.J. Richardson. (Last week: 5.) I mentioned my D.J. Richardson problem in the last installment of this succession of riveting cliffhangers, but boy howdy did he have it going last night. Thirty points, 6-of-9 from 3-point range, even four rebounds for good measure. I loved that bashful little "all right, so I'm pretty goddamned hot tonight" grin after he hit that final 3-pointer to reach 30. As "analyst" Eddie Johnson -- the first Illini player whose name I ever knew -- explained last night, it was because he had "touched" D.J. before the game. So:
D.J., we need you to show us where on the Illini doll that Eddie Johnson -- no, not that Eddie Johnson -- touched you, so that he might touch all of our shooters there, repeatedly, so that they may shoot 66.6 percent from 3-point range. You're doing it for all of us, D.J.
2. Nnanna Egwu. (Last week: 3.) Honestly, at this point, I'm pleased if the Illini get 10 rebounds total, so to see one guy do it was just thrilling. Egwu still has a bit more confidence in his mid-range jumper than I do, but I'll watch it all night if he keeps rebounding and fighting like that. I also think he might the literal opposite of a human being than Andre Almeida. I'm not even sure they're the same species. Anyway: I'm pretty certain that, if he keeps at this rate, by his senior year Egwu is going to be one of my favorite Illini of all time.
3. Brandon Paul. (Last week: 2.) On the opposite end of that spectrum ... all right, so Paul gets a bad rap from Illini fans sometimes, in large part because he can do things that no other Illini can do and therefore is blamed by us for not doing them all the time. BUT STILL. When Paul drives the lane strong -- and isn't just looking to be bailed out by a foul call -- you can see why people still see him as a potential late first-round pick. (And why Illinois could beat Gonzaga and Butler and Ohio State and have it not seem all that crazy.) But when he's just throwing up 3-pointers because, I dunno, he's sleepy, I guess? ... it would drive any Illini fan insane. I think you can make an argument that the Ohio State game last year and the Gonzaga game this year have broken Paul a little bit: He keeps waiting for everything to align perfect for him, and when it doesn't, you can see him just sort of give up a bit, wasting possessions left and right. I'd like to say this will change, that he'll grow, but he's a senior now: It's just who he is. When he explodes, there's nothing like it; when he doesn't, it's like bashing your head repeatedly with a large wooden block, only somehow more blinding. We just have to hope the explosions are timed to games in which the Illini play great teams. Sunday would be a nice one.
4. Tracy Abrams. (Last week: 1.) It feels like Abrams has more terrible calls against him than anyone on the team, which is unfair but also a consequence of his occasional recklessness. We don't want to curb that, though. He should really spend most of his offseason on his 3-point shot, though. Also: Did he really take only one shot last night? Also: Don't be hurt.
5. Joseph Bertrand. (Last week: 4.) My favorite thing about Bertrand is that when he's focused, he seems to be everywhere on the floor even when he isn't scoring. He had eight rebounds last night, and on six of them he appeared to have been dropped from the rafters. I get excited every time Bertrand does anything. Maybe we need to bring out that doll again.
Where on the doll does Joseph Bertrand touch me? Everywhere. The whole doll.
6. Sam McLaurin. (Last week: 7.) I've accepted that I'll be screaming "No!!!!" every time he shoots, forever, but that toughness Paul Klee had been telling us so much about finally showed up last night. Still: Two points, four rebounds, one block, and we're all considering it one of his best games as an Illini.
7. Tyler Griffey. (Last week: 6.) Last night, Griffey proved that he still has utility even when he's not making shots. Which is good, because I'm starting to think he's never going to hit another 3-pointer the rest of his life. I love how Groce kept him in late hoping he'd hit one to prove that he could again, but I sorta think they could have played 90 minutes last night, and Griffey would have still missed every 3-pointer. Even with this slump, by the way, Griffey still has a better 3-point shooting percentage on the season than D.J. Richardson, Tracy Abrams or Brandon Paul. And through it all, I agree with Robert at A Lion Eye: The instinct on all this is good.
8. Mike Shaw. (Last week: 11.) Hell yeah he's getting a boost for hitting the only trey hit by anyone other than Richardson last night.
9. Myke Henry. (Last week: 8.) Loved the way @IllinoisLoyalty described Henry's box-out technique: "face your man, grab your man with both hands with your back to the basket." It's a theory!
10. Kevin Berardini. (Last week: 13.) I have no recollection of this, but the box score says he had two rebounds in one minute. You gotta put a body on Kevin Berardini.
11. Mike LaTulip. (Last week: 10.) Without fail, every time LaTulip comes in in the first half, I feel like something important is happening. I have no idea why.
12. Devin Langford. (Last week: 9.) His drive late in the game was one of the worst drives I ever seen in my long history of watching Illinois basketball. And I once watched Steve Roth try to take a guy off the dribble.
13. Ibby Djimde. (Last week: 12.) A 6-foot-8, 245-pound dude has played only 15 minutes all season for a team that desperately needs heft and strength underneath. That can't be a good sign.
So: Let's go get a win Sunday, all right?
Will Leitch is a contributing editor at New York magazine and the founder of Deadspin. He graduated from the University of Illinois in 1997, barely, and has only missed three Illini games in 13 years. Follow him on Twitter @williamfleitch.