Depth Charges

Depth Charges

It’s pretty late and I’m pretty tired - so I’m going “SOC” style with this post-gamer. I’m just going to ramble for a while until I start falling asleep here at my desk.

So yeah, that was a great college basketball game. The only problem is that I HATE losing great college basketball games. All the attention and none of the glory. I mean if you went to all that effort, then you might as well have gone and won the dang thing. No one on the NCAA Tournament committee is going to speak up with “Yeah, the Illini have a 7 seed resume, but that sure was a heck of a game between them and Northwestern - we should probably bump them a line or two.” Meanwhile, Northwestern has a solidly better tournament profile than we do right now and that’s intensely annoying. Sure, it’s only January 25, but you really have to feel like we’ve let things slip away a bit with the Maryland loss and now this one. I had absolutely zero problem with the final play/shot in regulation either. It just didn’t drop. Brad Underwood liked it as well - he even claimed that Marcus Domask shoots “95%” on those shots. That seemed a tad hyperbolic, but still, I’d take that shot again given the opportunity.

Still, ultimately I was thankful for a great basketball game. Immersing myself in an absolute stomach cruncher (15 ties and 18 lead changes!) was a nice break from all the internal conflict most of us have been working through over the past week. I was keenly interested in how the Northwestern student section would respond to Terrence Shannon, Jr., but after about 5 minutes of game time, all that stuff just kind of faded into the background - for me anyway.

Full credit to Northwestern though. After getting absolutely overwhelmed in Champaign three weeks ago, they had all the shotmaking going tonight. They made a bunch of tough two point shots in the first half (at least half a dozen were rim shots that bounced their way through the rim) and then flat lit us up from the arc (7-11/64%) in the second half. Our defense prides itself on chasing teams off the arc, but we kept switching ourselves into mismatches the entire second half and Northwestern just kept knocking down shots. Afterwards, Brad Underwood would lament his choice to employ a “switch everything” defense in the second half after playing more drop coverage in the first half - saying that “we blew more switches than we have all year long.” Of course, we didn’t do ourselves any favors in going 15 of 35 at the rim. That’s how you end up with only 19 second chance points on 21 offensive rebounds.

So from my view - that’s your ball game. We missed 20 layups and they made 10 second half/OT three pointers. Fortunately I believe both of those numbers to be outliers. I still firmly believe this is a Final Four caliber team (or at least will be once Shannon works his way back to his pre-suspension level of play).

What I do NOT believe is that depth was an issue tonight and nor do I believe that depth is a concern moving forward. I get that fans are going to draw battle lines on this issue, but I can save you all some unnecessary angst. This is a seven man rotation. It just is. No amount of pining is going to get you any more than spot minutes for the likes of Dain Dainja, Nico Moretti, Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn, or Amani Hansberry - barring injury (or if something changes with Shannon’s status).

Actually, I think Brad Underwood himself would like to have a longer bench. I believe him when he says he’d like to get Dainja more involved, but then again, I’ve also sat 15 feet from him at the SFC and watched him look back at his coaching staff in bewilderment after yet another blown defensive assignment - and throw his hands up as if to say “I just can’t play him”. Ditto DGL.

He has proven himself more than willing to go deeper down his bench in the past, but this is not that year. He just doesn’t trust those guys. You can look at any metric you would like to make a case for expanding the rotation, but it’s not going to matter. And that’s honestly just fine.

There are a litany of teams who have had NCAA Tournament success with short rotations. For example, I’m sure Illini fans could think really hard and come up with at least two. And for those worrying about players who might be upset with playing time and transfer out - well that would be the absolute worst possible justification to play a guy more minutes.

The core of this team is grown ass men. These 23 year olds can handle heavy minutes night in and night out just like Dee, Deron, and Luther did in 2005 and Nick and KB did in 1989. (See what I did there?)

So all in all a frustrating night for sure. No one is even talking about depth and this post-game article goes in an entirely different direction if Marcus Domask’s last shot in regulation goes down. But the best thing about January? We get another one in just two days. See you in Champaign on Saturday.