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Illinois loss to Indiana is a symptom, not a cure

Underwood with a perplexing diagnosis post-game.

Illinois v Indiana Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Happy Sunday, Illini Nation!

This week’s on-court showing for Brad Underwood’s squad in two road games — both losses in State College and Bloomington — leaves me wanting to go back into my dark basement, and wait three more weeks to see if my shadow scares back into the bunker before Selection Sunday.

It feels like it is happening again. Illinois plays well enough to win, despite being short-handed, and snatches defeat from the jaws of victory in another close road loss.

In fact, it did happen again. This time to No. 14 Indiana. The IU game mirrored the Iowa loss exactly two weeks prior. Illinois came out hot, built a substantial lead and let its opponent back into the contest with a late first-half lull. The Illini led the game almost the entirety of the second half in both contests, and couldn’t close the door.

This is primarily due to two factors: shot selection (which ones) and shot takers (who shoots them). Dead horses have been beaten before, but this one is fully unrecognizable at this point. Underwood has repeatedly said he just “wants good shots” to be taken.

I’ll provide a little context on this in a minute.

Underwood opened the Indiana post-game press conference with an opening statement that is equal parts perplexing and illogical.

“I don’t know if proud is the right word. Excited. Elated. Great college basketball game. Elite game. Unfortunately, we haven’t played these guys healthy. But, I’m a much bigger believer in our team now than I have been at any point in the season.” Underwood said.

This quote reads like an analyst on the Big Ten Network, not the losing head coach of a high-major program with Final Four aspirations. I can’t imagine Bill Self of Kansas or Tony Bennett of Virginia saying this after another carbon copy defeat.

It sounds like Underwood knows what needs to be fixed.

It feels like he doesn’t know how to fix it.

It looks like he’s interested in proving himself and players right, rather than fixing the issue.

Case in point: Terrence Shannon, Jr. is out for the game, and in the concussion protocol. The solution? Start RJ Melendez, who is shooting below 25% from behind the arc and coming off of a suspension for “violation of team rules.” Make it make sense.

One more thing: Melendez apparently “woke up” with strep throat Saturday. Underwood either thinks Melendez will contribute defensively, or doesn’t want to let the recently returning Luke Goode push the limits of his injured foot.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 18 Illinois at Indiana Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Neither of these theories make sense.

Melendez left the starting lineup earlier in the season because he wouldn’t play any defense, and Goode is coming off of a broken foot, not a soft tissue injury. There may be an alternate theory of which I am unaware.

Result: Melendez missed four uncontested layups before the first media timeout. Melendez also airballed a wide open three in the second half by at least a foot.

With no timeouts, who gets the final shot down three at the final buzzer? Yes, the same guy.

Freshman forward Ty Rodgers had been battling strep all week, and had not been a full participant in practice. This would potentially explain his obvious absence in the first 10 minutes of the game.

Here’s maybe the Funnest Fun Fact of All Time: Illinois’ closest win all season is NINE points, a feat they have accomplished four times.

The team also has a pair of 10-point victories.

Underwood’s team has been demolished on several occasions. Penn State twice, Mizzou, Indiana at home and Northwestern were decided with enough time to be home before the final buzzer sounded.

The Illini are 4-4 in games decided by single digits. Think about that. Only eight games have been in single digits, and the season is 26 games old. One of the losses is a 9-point loss to Virginia that Illinois led at the under-four media timeout in the second half in Vegas.

Illinois cannot shoot the ball from three. They just keep doing it, and expect a different result on the subsequent shot. It is the clinical definition of insanity.

Illinois v Indiana Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Illinois is 0-3 in games decided by five points or less. In those games, Illinois shot 29% from three and 52.2% from twos. Most of the threes Illinois takes are “open shots,” but are missed more than 70% of the time.

It becomes much easier to guard the Illini when you’re not concerned with open shots behind the arc. It’s perplexing how well they execute from two, given their embarrassing inefficiency from three.

Let’s break down how poor the numbers are for the individual players.

Photo Credit: College Sports Reference

Shannon, Jayden Epps and Coleman Hawkins:

  • From three: 30.1% on 12.5 attempts per game (.90 points per shot)
  • From two: 54.8% on 15.5 attempts per game (1.1 points per shot)

Simply put, the trio is 22.2% more efficient inside the two point line. It’s not rocket science.

Dain Dainja is electric from the field. Dainja (66.7%) yields 1.33 points per shot, but only takes 6.6 per game. It seems nonsensical to have the first trio shoot twice as many threes as Dainja shoots twos.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 18 Illinois at Indiana Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Dainja is 47.8% more efficient from two than TSJ, Epps and Hawkins are from behind the arc.

Mayer is the only legitimate three-point threat they have right now, as showcased in his day at Assembly Hall. Mayer had 24 points on 4-of-11 from three. He added eight rebounds and five blocks.

It’s glaringly obvious. Illinois shoots too many threes with the wrong players shooting them. Illinois shoots not enough two’s and doesn’t give their most efficient players the most shots.

Illinois has ONE PLAYER shooting below 50% from two: Sencire Harris at 48.3%.