It Was A Good Day

Feb 7, 2021

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Whoever said history isn't fun? Ayo Dosunmu messing around for just the third triple double (21-12-12) in school history? Fun. Kofi Cockburn with a school record 8 dunks in a single game? Fun. (I actually can't seem to verify anywhere that 8 dunks is actually a school record, but it sure feels like it, and like I said - fun!) A second consecutive win against Wisconsin - this one a wire to wire beat down that snapped a seven game home losing streak against the Badgers? SO MUCH FUN.

After that two game hiccup against Maryland and Ohio State last month, this team has really found its groove. Since those consecutive losses, we've reeled off four straight wins to re-establish a solid foundation in the conference standings at 9-3, and today was the kind of dominant performance that gets one dreaming in the right direction.

Per usual, that dominance was powered by Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn.

After his struggles at Indiana earlier this week, it was a solid bet that Ayo was going to come locked and loaded today, but the intensity of his focus from the opening tip surprised even me. It was apparent early on that he was headed for a huge performance.

Historical as it turned out. Nice call Walkon!

Kofi has been a wrecking ball in Big Ten play. He finished with 23 and 14 today - his 10th double-double in conference play (in 12 games) and 13th overall. He's unquestionably the league's best rebounder, he's 5th in the conference in overall offensive rating (ORtg%), and he's developed into a fantastic low post defender. While it's almost certain that Dosunmu will be a first team All-American at season's end, it's not out of bounds to claim that Kofi may be the more impactful player. I know this - he is regularly the first name mentioned by opposing coaches in postgame press conferences. He has dunked his way into the same All-American conversations as Ayo.

Both players are uniquely singular talents, but their superpower is their compatibility. They have forged an iron clad bond off the court that shines through on the court as well. They put on a ball screen offense clinic today with Ayo performing surgery on the Badgers in the half court and Kofi destroying rims all afternoon. Wisconsin was forced to pick their poison between Ayo getting downhill or Kofi dunking everything, and ultimately they surrendered to both. Wisconsin never got closer than three possessions in the second half because those two always had an answer. If not for 18 turnovers, this game would have turned into a Minnesota level blowout.

We slipped to #22 in the AP poll after the OSU loss, but responded over the last three weeks by stacking wins and steadily climbing the polls again. Back to #19 two weeks ago and currently up to #12. After two wins this week, we are surely primed to re-enter the top 10 when the poll is updated on Monday morning. I think we'll be #6? Maybe #5?

Of course, more important are the computer rankings - as they more accurately reflect our prospective NCAA Tournament seed. Our W-L record has been lagging behind our efficiency numbers ever since the start of league play, but things are now starting to correct. Those numbers have been telling the story of a really good team, and now we're finally seeing that manifest into wins.

We've kind of evolved into an efficiency machine. We are now 7th nationally in offense and 11th nationally in defense (per KenPom), and after today's game - our seventh Quad 1 win - we sit at #4 in both KenPom and the NCAA "NET" rankings. We're not quite to the level of a Baylor or Gonzaga, but hey, there are still two other number one seeds up for grabs.

A quick study of some of the various bracketology sites leads me to the conclusion that as of now we are solidly on the 2 seed line - and quite possibly the "first" 2 seed. Considering we also have games remaining against two teams immediately in front of us - Ohio State and Michigan (maybe?) - the path to a 1 seed is right there. Such a sentence hardly seemed possible just three weeks ago after that frustrating loss to Ohio State, but here we are.

But unfortunately, now we wait. With the @Michigan postponement becoming official today, there are 10 days until the next game listed on the Illinois schedule - home against Northwestern on February 16. In the postgame press conference Brad Underwood said he did not think those 10 days would pass without the conference finding a game to bridge that gap. The most obvious possibility would seem to be a trip to East Lansing this upcoming Thursday - even though that would create a "four games in eight days" situation for the Spartans. That said, it would be four consecutive home games for them, and I just don't see any other potential options. Here's hoping something gets done, because this team does not want to lose its mojo right now.

In the meantime, it's OK to enjoy the heck out of Ayo, Kofi, and a whipping of Wisconsin. It was a good day.


+We outrebounded Wisconsin 46-19. They had two offensive rebounds all day. Yeah they missed a lot of shots which creates a lot of opportunities for rebounds, but our defensive rebounding percentage was an astonishing 95%. We lead all high major schools in defensive rebounding percentage this season. That's part of being a great defensive team. Remember those first two Underwood seasons - when we were playing that crazy high risk/reward defense? The Pre-Kofian Age? 288th in defensive rebounding percentage in 2018. 307th in 2019. This is better.

+Andre Curbelo. It was a rough day for the freshman. The book is out on him. Sag the middle, push his drives to the baseline or sidelines, and wait for him to force a pass. That's fine, and he'll grow through that, but he let his struggles on offense affect his play on the defensive end, and that does not fly with Brad Underwood. After a particularly egregious stretch in the second half, Underwood spent an entire timeout letting the freshman know what he thought of his defensive effort. Curbelo did not see the floor the rest of the way.

+We came into this game last in the conference in 3-point shot percentage defense, but third in the conference in opponent 3-point attempt percentage. These two numbers do not align. Conventional Nerdstat wisdom says the best way to defend the three pointer is to limit attempts - which we have done very well. We were due for a regression to the mean in our favor, and it came today with Wisconsin clanking away to the tune of 17% from the arc.

+Even though he struggled from the arc today (1-7), I am thrilled to welcome "No Hesitation Trent" back into the fold. We are clearly a more dangerous offensive team with him sniping away from deep.


ATOillini on February 7, 2021 @ 02:35 PM

Outstanding summary. Thanks on February 7, 2021 @ 03:49 PM

Great game and great write up as usual!

AGig21 on February 7, 2021 @ 03:50 PM

was really hoping Curb would figure out his regular style of play wasn't working yesterday and he would realize he needed to be just a plain old boring traditional point guard...what is it they say about freshmen.... I know DW has been a little banged up but I can't help but think he mentally needed to re-adjust to coming off the bench.

IBFan on February 7, 2021 @ 06:13 PM

Can you imagine what a huge letdown that was for him? Granted he got injured but then to still not get his starting spot back. Everything he’s given to the team, Sr, great shooting year and still not good enough.

IBFan on February 7, 2021 @ 06:21 PM

Happy for Ayo and the rest of the team. Maybe his parents or coaches or perhaps his own self reflection led to him striving for more and better. 30 pts and “putting ice in my veins” means nothing compared to what he accomplished yesterday. By rebounding and facilitating the break, by his assists, his defense, he improved the players around him - kudos. Hopefully team continues to improve and they can finish out Big strong and win a couple games in the NCAA tourney.

jono426 on February 8, 2021 @ 03:38 AM

Just trying to make sure I’m reading the second to last + right.

We’re good at limiting our opponents 3 point attempts, but when they shoot them, they go in at a high rate?

Walkon on February 8, 2021 @ 03:18 PM

That is exactly correct - sorry for the confusing explanation.

We were way overdue for a correction in our favor. Happy to have it come on a day when we actually allowed a bunch of attempts.

skibdaddy on February 8, 2021 @ 05:09 PM

Nice title... I was singing that song in my head.

I guess Ayo was telling Kofi before the game he would get a triple double

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