Happy Sunday, Illini Nation!
It was going to happen at some point. Illinois basketball and head coach Brad Underwood have been dominating several border state rivalries. After winning recently in Madison, Illinois ran its winning streak to six against the Badgers.
Underwood and his squad has similar success against bordering Iowa, winning five straight in those contests, dating back to the “Chin Coleman Dustup,” pre-pandemic. This was the moment that Illinois went from also-ran to Big Ten and Border Bully. Great stuff.
Little verbal confrontation between Fran McCaffery and Illinois assistant Ron “Chin” Coleman after the Iowa win. pic.twitter.com/YguUYJJeGO— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) February 2, 2020
Gasoline was poured on the rivalry flames this week, as all national media outlets picked up “The Orange Krush Hates Children and Iowa Has a Hospital by Its Football Stadium” story. It was petty by both sides, and extremely ridiculous, all the way around. I loved it.
If you’ve been living under a rock, stay there. That seems like that would be stress free.
If the rock has been lifted, here’s a TCR breakdown of the events. It’s a great recap.
After disposing of a Nebraska squad earlier in the week in Champaign, to move to 7-4 in conference play, Illinois traveled to Iowa to try and make it eight wins in nine games. It didn’t quite go down that way. Illinois controlled most of the game, and even had an eight-point lead with about 16 minutes left.
A terrible close to the first half gave Iowa six-straight points. Junior guard Kris Murray hit a three from the right wing as time expired. Not ideal. This followed a questionable goaltending call by Courtney Green, that contributed to an “and-one” for Iowa center Filip Rebraca.
The Big Ten officials had to announce their presence with authority in the second half. After nine total free throws in an entertaining back-and-forth first half, the whistles were blown so much in the second half that 44 free throws were attempted. Forty. Four. More on this later.
Perkins goes off for 32 points, has the absolute game of life.
Iowa has the #1 KenPom offense in America now, in terms of OER (Offensive Efficiency Rating). That’s pretty good, obviously. The main reason they made this jump after defeating Illinois is the Out of Body, Mind and Soul Game by their point guard, Tony Perkins.
Perkins is a nice player. Coming into the contest, Perkins was shooting 40.7% from the floor and 73.2% from the foul line and was averaging 10.7 points per game. He’s not asked to do all that much offensively, due to Murray the McCaffery Boys still being on campus.
Iowa also has the Most Iowa Player to Ever Iowa, Payton Sandfort, knocking down threes at a tremendous clip.
He’s not a great shooter, and isn’t an efficient scorer.
That all changed for 40 minutes against Illinois, and particularly in the last 20. Perkins raised his free throw percentage on the season by 5.1% in a single game. Nearly an impossibility this late into the season.
Here’s a look at how out of character this game was for Perkins:
- Free throws: 15-16 (93.8%) vs. 73.2% (season average). Perkins was expected to make 11.7 free throws. That’s a yield of +3.3 points.
- Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG): 81.8% (game) vs, 45.7% (season average). His field goals yielded 17 points, versus and expected 9.4 points. Another Iowa bonus of 7.6+ points.
Total efficiency points above expected for Perkins: +10.9 points
This is obviously skewed with the small sample size of one game, but this details how out of character this game was for Perkins.
So. Many Fouls. So. Many. Free throws.
We’ve seen this movie before. Illinois effectively fouled itself out of a road contest against Northwestern last month. That was the watershed game for this team’s identity crisis being eliminated.
This is an absurd number of free throws for a game: 53 total. As I mentioned earlier, 44 of those came in the second half alone. It’s terrible to watch, and it has to be terrible to play in a game at that pace. The Big Ten seems to be alone in free throw contests breaking out during conference play. It’s embarrassing.
Illinois did foul frequently in the second half.
The one foul that didn’t get called was Coleman Hawkins going for an offensive rebound in the last two minutes.
As Hawkins reached for the ball, with position, Murray fouled him a minimum of three times, scraping his arm and causing Hawkins to knock the ball out of bounds.
After a “let’s stay here call,” which happens frequently in these situations throughout the game, was used by the baseline official. With the call taking place in the last two minutes, it became eligible for review.
You can literally see the three officials looking at each other and knowing that they missed an obvious foul. Result: Iowa ball.
Note: I could not find this in any highlight package I looked through on YouTube. Weird.
Head-scratching that a tight whistle would be swallowed at a crucial time. Officials also missed an obvious travel in the last 15 seconds of the game, as Illinois had an Iowa guard trapped in the corner.
To be crystal clear: officiating did not cost Illinois this game. I have to make this point. Sometimes context gets labeled as causation.
Jayden Epps was fantastic. He’s the future of the program.
Another start, another game in double figures for the standout freshman point guard.
Stat Line: 16 points, five assists (ZERO turns), two rebounds and only one foul.
It seems like Epps has benefitted from getting early tick in the season. He has calmed down considerably in pressure moments, particularly late in games when the heat is on. He looks like a junior or a senior. Elite layup maker. Elite late-clock performer. Elite poise.
Unfortunately, his teammates don’t possess the same poise under pressure.
The rest of the roster combined for 14 turnovers, with Hawkins and Terrence Shannon, Jr. combining for seven of those. Mayer only had one turnover, and contributed four assists of his own.
Not Jayden Epps or Matthew Mayer: 3 assists, 13 turnovers. Puke.
Hawkins and Shannon easily had their worst combined game of the season. Here’s some proof.
- 3-17 (17.6%) from the floor, 2-10 from three
- Seven turnovers, two assists
- 11 rebounds
- TSJ fouled out
For context, the rest of the Illinois roster was 24-38 (63.2%) from the floor and 5-12 (41.7%) from behind the arc.
Illinois cannot withstand this horrid inefficiency from two of its starters, and expect to win.
This loss is not ideal, as no loss ever is. However, I feel better about this team after this loss, given all of the things that had to break Iowa’s way to get a two-point victory.
Baylor transfer Matthew Mayer was outstanding again, going 7-9 from the floor for 21 points, including five rebound four assists and only 1 turn. He needs more focus, along with Epps on the offensive end.
This is Illinois basketball.