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A moment of clarity for Brad Underwood

Underwood’s squad treats Big Ten home opener like an NBA exhibition.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

“Inexcusable. Let’s start there.”

This is how Illinois basketball coach Brad Underwood started his post-game press conference after his team was demolished by Penn State in the team’s Big Ten home opener.

“The first possession of the game is a blown coverage because nobody wants to move,” Underwood said.

It was mostly downhill from there.

It seemed like Illinois was an NBA team with a big division lead and they showed up to play the game because they were contractually obligated by the schedule. It was overtly palpable that they were going through the motions.

Defense optional. Effort optional. Execution optional.

The one word to describe Illinois basketball yesterday: meh.

Honestly, the crowd felt it from the jump. There was more anxiousness than intensity in the building. Illinois fans are always waiting for the other show to drop.

Illinois (7-3, 0-2) drops to the bottom of the Big Ten standings, albeit only 10% into the conference slate. Record aside, and who the team has beaten so far in 2022, let’s take a look into the anatomy of a season that is already rife with “what ifs” and “could haves.”

Could have beaten Virginia and Maryland, but didn’t. What if Luke Goode was healthy? Would Illinois be undefeated? None of these scenarios matter.

We could unpack what went wrong with the game from a strategic standpoint, and lack of execution of either game plan, on either end of the court. Here’s a look at that.

It looks like there is little-to-no leadership at the player level on this roster.

Don’t take my word for it. Underwood wasted no time calling out specific players, particularly Terrence Shannon, Jr.

Here’s BU in response to a question on Shannon’s leadership during the calendar week.

That’s my ball coach. No sugar-coating and no thinly veiled threats or misdirection. Want an apple? Pick it from the tree. Underwood is a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) type of coach.

The Illinois fan base packed State Farm Center to the gills on Saturday, to show support for the current game and pending conference season, but also to provide post facto support for the team’s come-from-behind win against No. 2 Texas at the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden earlier in the week.

I have been an Illinois basketball fan since right around 1988, when I was 5-year-old in rural, downstate Randolph County. Ask my wife, ask my Dad, ask anyone that knows me, and how closely and passionately I react to every Illinois basketball game and play.

I have uttered things so vile at the 4K screen that my wife gets embarrassed. And, it’s just us. At home. No one else can hear. It’s like a disease that overtakes my body, mind and soul.

Underwood was all of us in that press conference.

If they would have let me or you take the mic after getting pummeled with that type of effort, the press conference would have sounded similar. In my case, it likely would have been pulled from all media due to the FCC regulating the language contained therin.

Here’s a snippet of said Underwood rant.

Penn State shot the eyes out of the basketball yesterday, and it seemed like the Illinois defense purchased tickets to the show just like the nearly 16,000 fans who made their way into the arena.

The arena needs to add another 8 people to the official attendance at State Farm Center.

Underwood checked nine players into the game yesterday.

Sencire Harris is the only Illini that didn’t stand around and watch.

According to Underwood, and anyone that has watched the season unfold to this point, there is a lone player that plays with the type of intensity, integrity and intelligence that is needed to win basketball games consistently, at this level: Sencire Harris.

Penn State v Illinois
Sencire Harris blocks Jalen Pickett of Penn State as Picket tries to bully his way to the basket. Harris gave up 60 pounds to Pickett, but efforted his way to this block.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

“It’s about every day guys. Every day. Every day. We’ve proven we can beat really good teams. To have one of our players say it in the locker room, “Man, we just lost to Penn State.” That was our attitude for two days. That’s why I’ve had this game circled,” Underwood said.

“We have one guy that plays hard consistently, every day. One guy. Period. One guy. One guy...Sencire, that plays hard every single day,” Underwood said.

When asked about the hockey subs and various lineups he employed in the second half, Underwood was just looking for anyone to play hard and not have “97 other agendas.”

To wrap this bad boy up, the sky is not falling. It is not the end times. Illinois was soundly beaten by a very good basketball team that could easily find itself in the Sweet 16, if Penn State makes it to the Big Dance.

Underwood has seen enough of this, and he admitted at the end of his presser that he had totally failed his team, a la the late Texas baseball coach Augie Garrido (look up that video if you have a chance).

In the grand scheme of things, this may be just what the doctor ordered.

Illinois is still going to win the national championship in 2023. Start designing the banner.

This is Illinois basketball.