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Blame Brad Underwood for Illinois’ resurgence

Tough love has changed “me” to “us”.

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

The reports of the demise of Illinois basketball and head coach Brad Underwood have been greatly exaggerated.

Two weeks ago, half of Twitter and all of Facebook wanted BU cast aside and put on the pile, along with John Groce and Bruce Weber.

After all, he yells at players and gets mad. How dare he do such a thing? Who does he think he is? What year does he think he is coaching?

Underwood is a blowhard that is in over his head. Dain Dainja is terrible and Matthew Mayer is a prima donna. Coleman Hawkins sucks.

Continental Tire Main Event - Virginia v Illinois
Whiny baby Underwood yells at a scholarship athlete to do their job in front of an entire group of strangers. What a pathetic display.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Well, would you look at this? Now, our moron coach has run off the biggest recruit since he got here, in Skyy Clark. Players these days hate being yelled at and treated with disrespect. This is the proof.

You want to know what all of these theatrics and histrionics have gotten Underwood? I even questioned it at times. Here’s what it has gotten him.

Terrence Shannon, Jr. is a sure fire First-Team All-Big Ten performer. When he took a breather at the 11:00 mark of the second half, Illinois went on a huge run.

Shannon told Underwood to “LEAVE ME OUT. THEY’RE COOKING.”

It seems like it “became about us” after “being about me” rather quickly. Maybe it was addition by subtraction, maybe it was something else.

Underwood just put Hall of Famer Tom Izzo in the freezer.

Take a few minutes and listen to the post-game press conferences by both head coaches.

Izzo detailed complaints on the abbreviated schedule by the Big Ten and lamented injuries during the game. He did give Underwood some credit, and noted the “addition by subtraction” of the newly departed Clark, although he did not mention his name or blame anyone for the public rift.

Another thing that Izzo discussed was missing “a lot of open jump shots” that they normally make. Michigan State did not make a single three-pointer, attempting only seven on the game.

Three of those came in one possession in the second half.

Underwood detailed being completely satisfied with all of the jump shots Sparty took and noted that Illinois had not held a team without a three-pointer in 15 seasons.

Underwood mentioned running the same play “about 15 times in a row.” It kept working, so he kept going to it. Simplicity at its best.

Underwood also changed the way they guarded ISO actions by Michigan State the last 12 or so minutes of the game. They showed early and didn’t allow straight line drives, as they had in the first half.

Dain Dainja also did a much better job of drop coverage on ball screens by keeping his body more square to the action and forcing shots farther away from the hoop.

Dainja also had his best offensive night against legitimate competition, scoring 20 points and going 4-of-5 at the charity stripe. He also added eight rebounds.

Dainja grabs a late-game board. His improvement since the beginning of the season is remarkable.

Underwood said at the press conference that this was a point of emphasis during halftime.

One other thing you may have noticed is the demeanor of Underwood for the vast majority of the game. This is a departure from what we saw when the team was struggling. It’s almost like he only yells and gets mad when he needs to yell and get mad.


Make every single game an Orange Out. Each one.

The visual atmosphere inside of State Farm Center when the best fans in college basketball show out out is unmatched.

Case in point:

Packed in like orange sardines, State Farm becomes intimidating both visually and audibly.
TCR // Brandt Dolce

What a sight for sore eyes that causes sore ears. The fans were a large part of the victory over Michigan State to even its conference record at 3-3. Illinois (12-5) has consecutive victories over Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan State.

The second recommendation is to the fans themselves.

Stop doubting Brad Underwood when he yells at someone.

When Underwood screams and yells and shakes his fist at a player, the visual is not appealing, particularly when bad body language by the player is a direct result of the public shaming.

Most coaches don’t do that anymore. BU must engage in a degree of animosity and aggression because that’s who he is as a coach. He can be intimidating. I’m sure every single player that has ever played for him has hated him at some point.

When you beat Greg Gard, Fred Hoiberg and Tom Izzo in a span of seven days by a combined 45 points, maybe the positivity of those tirades starts to show a bit. But, hey. Don’t just take my word for it.

I’m a 40-year-old columnist that has only had one interaction with Underwood.

The original poster boy for the “Real Housewives of Champaign” mantra of the internet trolls, Matthew Mayer, would like to share his thoughts. Here’s Mayer on the Michigan State game.

“It felt great. I just got a good little bucket, and then Coach Underwood started running plays for me. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve seen at running plays for people that are hot. We were just running the same play every single time for like 15 straight possessions.” Mayer said.

Mayer bangs a three in the second half to propel the Illini to a much-needed conference win. Mayer dominated the second half, after Terrence Shannon dominated the first one.
Fighting Illini Website

That doesn’t sound like a guy that has given up on the season or has been pouting. Mayer did admit that he “maybe shouldn’t have” publicly made his comments, with a wry smile. Mayer even admitted that Underwood is dominant and demanding. That’s okay.

These are grown men building relationships and figuring each other out. This is not your local daycare. Layoff the incessant need to coddle players and make sure their feelings don’t get hurt. You’d be surprised how much criticism a human being can take when they know it’s coming from the right place.

Illinois has started the past three seasons (2021, 2022 and 2023) with a 9-5 record. The previous two campaigns ended with a combined record of 29-7. This season is off to a 3-0 start.

Underwood gets his teams to improve throughout the season. Now, it’s a matter of improving the length of time in the Big Dance.

That is a legitimate concern no matter where you find it. Even if it is Twitter or Facebook.

This is Illinois basketball.