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NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Northwestern Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

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Illinois didn’t get beat against Northwestern. It lost.

Make a layup and you win by 15. Or more.

Happy Thursday, Illinois Land!

Brad Underwood and Illinois basketball made it two losses in a row at Northwestern.

This game possessed several iterations as it progressed. Initially, it was a black-and-blue slug fest with the officials refusing to call anything but blatantly obvious fouls. Neither team reached the bonus in the first half.

Here’s Ethan Holesha with the recap of the specifics of the overtime loss.

Not fun to watch. Not easy to watch. A classic Big Ten game, in a bad way.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Northwestern
Quincy Guerrier gets awarded two points in overtime on a Northwestern goaltend by center Matthew Nicholson. Great photo!
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

After halftime, the shot-making of both teams (particularly Northwestern) rivaled a medium-level NBA contest. It was aesthetically pleasing. In many ways, this was the most entertaining Big Ten contest of the season.

Illinois had a chance to win outright in regulation, with Marcus Domask missing a twisting fadeaway from 14 feet with about four seconds left. More on this later.

The shots falling could be attributed to offensive prowess just as much, if not more, than lack of defensive gameplan or execution of said plan.

Having said that, Underwood made few adjustments to the decisions on how they were going to guard ball screens.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Northwestern
Ryan Langborg gets to the bucket for a basket.
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

For most of the game, Illinois played ball screens in drop coverage (man guarding the screener drops into the middle of the lane and stays even or better with the screener) to force Northwestern and point guard Boo Buie into tough, contested floaters and runners.

The loss this season, in some ways, is worse than the previous defeat in Evanston.

I’ll give you a few reasons below.

Illinois showed a lack of ability to make easy shots at the rim, and the defensive gameplan in the second half was suspect. Shannon guarding Buie at the end of regulation was perplexing at the time, and even more so the next day.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Northwestern
Hawkins was spectacular on offense, and all-around once again. This is the first Illinois bucket of the game. Pretty coast-to-coast.
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
  • Championship aspirations: Illinois had legitimate thoughts on a regular season Big Ten title, despite a putrid home loss to hapless Maryland. The team sits at 5-3 in conference play, a full two games back of Wisconsin and 1.5 games back of Purdue. Wisconsin does not come to Champaign this year.
  • Full strength: Terrence Shannon, Jr. played in this game. Without the All-American, key Illinois players were forced to play 35+ minutes. The same situation happened in this game, but unnecessarily. I’ll get to more on that in a minute.
  • Pulverized on the defensive end: Underwood made very few, if any, defensive adjustments the entirety of the game. Northwestern shot 10-of-14 (71.4%) from three in the second half and overtime. That equates to 2.14 points PER SHOT. Illinois would have literally been better off not guarding them for uncontested layups on those 14 attempts.
  • Shots at the rim: Illinois was 13-of-35 (37.1%). For context, the national average is right at 65%. At the national average, the Illini get another 10 buckets, and win the game easily by double-digits. Despite 20 offensive rebounds, Illinois couldn’t muster any consistency from inside the arc. Here’s a breakdown. This is the ballgame.
  • Illinois 2P%: 20/52 (38.5%)
  • Northwestern 2P%: 27/51 (52.9%)

Here’s an example of an easy hoop that NU got. He’s not going to miss from there.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Northwestern
High percentage look. Another dunk on a butchered switch on a pindown by the Illini.
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of the day with the dust settling and the smoke clearing, Northwestern made shot after shot after shot. This could be considered a “hat tip” game. Given the fact that Illinois missed 22 shots at the rim, it’s hard for me to come to the conclusion that this was just “one of those games.”

It wasn’t. Illinois lost this game much more than Northwestern won it. To be clear: I’m not taking anything away from Northwestern. Facts are facts.

In his second game back, Shannon showed flashes in transition of the player he was prior to Braggin’ Rights. It will take him another 10 days or so to get his elite game shape back into form. If I know this, Underwood should, too.

Illinois basketball remains in the college basketball spotlight, with the overwhelming majority of that shining on off-the-court issues involving Terrance Shannon, Jr. and his ongoing court case in Kansas.

After returning from his six-game suspension by order of a preliminary injunction by a federal judge, Shannon came off the bench in a win against Rutgers in Champaign last Sunday. Underwood reinserted TSJ into the lineup for Northwestern.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Northwestern
Shannon points indiscriminately into the distance.
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Shannon played 40 minutes in only his second game in 35 days. He looked understandably exhausted by the middle of the second half.

TSJ’s stat line: 40 minutes, 12 points, 3-8 from the floor, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 turnovers, 1 block

This begs two points.

  • Starting guard Ty Rodgers played only 16 minutes in this game.
  • Underwood had Shannon guarding Buie with no help at the end of regulation.

Here’s the resistance that Shannon provided Buie on an easy bank shot at the end of the second half.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Northwestern
Not much defense by Shannon on this play.
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Back to the bullet point above on Rodgers. It seems like he’s starting as a matter of principle at this point. Rodgers played only 16 minutes in this game, yet was able to grab seven boards and score six points.

I say this essentially every game in the TCR Slack chat. If Rodgers could make an uncontested layup. he’d average 20 and 10 now.

If I had three eyes I’d be in the circus.

Nevertheless, this is the second consecutive game that Rodgers has started and played most of the first 15 minutes, and barely any minutes after that point.

Let’s finish this bad boy off with a look at the final defensive possession in regulation and the final offensive “possession” that followed.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the final 45 seconds of regulation.

On defense, Underwood assigned TSJ to guard Buie. Northwestern came out in a 1-4 set, as expected. Buie drove left, casually jump stopped and shot a two-foot bank shot off the corner of the box.

I threw up in my mouth a little bit.

You could obviously tell that the Illini and Underwood were concerned with the hot shooting from beyond the arc and employed a “no threes” defense. They also employed a “no defense defense.”

On offense, Domask stood at the head of the key with the ball, and dribbled into traffic shooting a twisting fadeaway that clanked off the rim harmlessly.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Northwestern
Northwestern coach Chris Collins had the easiest final 30 seconds of a game in his life. Easy layup, easy defense.
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Underwood called a timeout to draw this play up.

I threw up in my mouth a little more.

In overtime, Northwestern torched Illinois for 20 points, including three threes.

Coleman Hawkins continued his stellar play with 22 and 13, including two more steals.

Domask had 22 points and six assists.

Final thought on this game. Here are the effective FG% (made threes get 50% more credit).

  • Illinois: 48.2%
  • Northwestern: 63.0%
  • Northwestern's FG% was 14.3% higher than Illinois’ eFG%

Now that the primary goal of winning a regular season Big Ten Championship is all but off the table, the Illini can focus on the most important goal of all: winning games in the NCAA Tournament in March/April.

Three things to watch for this weekend against Indiana:

  • Ty Rodgers’ status in the starting lineup?
  • Does Illinois make layups pregame?
  • The development of Shannon’s game shape progression?

Please take The Scientific Poll.


What was the biggest issue in the loss?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    Missing layups
    (397 votes)
  • 16%
    Ball screen defense
    (203 votes)
  • 12%
    Northwestern made shots
    (149 votes)
  • 15%
    Lack of converting 20 offensive rebounds
    (186 votes)
  • 24%
    (302 votes)
1237 votes total Vote Now

This is Illinois basketball.