The Florida Atlantic Owls are a young team comprised of mostly underclassmen, who played on the road in Champaign without their leading scorer — and overall best player — Jailyn Ingram. The Illini may also be a young team, but they had a week to prepare for the Owls, with all of the usual starters healthy and in the lineup.
The quality of play that we saw today at home against an inferior opponent was completely inexcusable.
Let’s start with what I guess we could call the “positives.”
Ayo Dosunmu and Aaron Jordan: C+
Ayo and AJ played hard all game and led the Illini offense with 21 and 20 points respectively. Dosunmu also forced overtime with a buzzer-beating three, in what was one of the few moments that provoked excitement from the home crowd.
Ayo Dosunmu for the Overtime pic.twitter.com/IPLSUBQxD6— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) December 29, 2018
Everything Else: F
Remember when Brad Underwood graded his team’s progress this season as a B-? That took a step back Saturday.
This team has major structural problems, and the blame must be placed squarely on Underwood’s shoulders. Whatever he’s trying to accomplish, whatever schemes he’s trying to implement, whatever culture he’s trying to instill in this program...it isn’t working at all. Yes, this team is still very young, but the level of play is not improving and the issues that resulted in this loss are not new. Underwood needs to make significant changes to ensure that the Illini play competitively against much better competition between now and the end of the season.
Among the most notable issues, Underwood must figure out how to maximize the output of Dosunmu and Trent Frazier when they’re on the court at the same time. Frazier only recorded 9 points against FAU, and we all know that Trent is capable of so much more. Losing Giorgi Bezhanishvili due to foul trouble late in the game was pivotal. He and Samba Kane may be freshmen, but their lack of improvement in terms of playing defense without fouling is very much on this coaching staff. The back-breaking fouls committed by various players 30-40 feet from the hoop are also an indicator that the coaches have not instilled discipline in the roster.
This game distinctly reminded me of Bruce Weber’s loss to UIC at the United Center, and the string of lifeless losses at the end of the John Groce era (i.e. Rutgers). Underwood must make significant changes to improve this team’s competitiveness if he wants to avoid the fate of his predecessors.
Expectations for this team are reasonable, and few were clamoring for Illinois to compete for a conference championship this season. But this team is regressing quickly with Underwood at the helm, as each game seems worse than the last, and it certainly seems like last year’s team would beat the current roster.
If Underwood isn’t able to figure it out soon, then Josh Whitman will find himself facing some very difficult decisions in March, with the 2019-20 season one with plenty on the line.
For vintage inspired, high quality, and well-designed University of Illinois apparel, check out Fourth and Kirby, and look for the TCR Collection while you’re at it!