NIT: #2 Illinois v. #6 Boise State Preview and Predictions + Brad Underwood Hire

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So Illinois hired Brad Underwood…

If you didn’t already know, Illinois finally hired someone, aaannnddd of fucking course its a guy almost nobody has ever heard. If you do know him, congrats, you’re officially a basketball nerd. The out-of-the-blue hire will net a total of $18 million over the course of his 6 year contract with the Illini, a pretty exorbitant sum for a coach who’s head coaching experience includes two community colleges, a team in the Southland conference (Guarantee you couldn’t name another team in the conference), and a Big 12 surprise Oklahoma State. He did do an impressive turning around the 12-20 program with wins against tournament teams New Orleans, Wichita State, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Kansas State en route to a 20-13 record and a tournament berth as a #10 seed. A disciple of West Virginia’s Bob Huggins and South Carolina’s Frank Martin, Underwood’s teams are characterized by their fast play and aggressive, no-nonsense tendencies. These factors played a huge role in the teams’ rise in points scored from 303rd in Division 1 to 6th (85.7 PPG). Personally, I love hard-working, gritty defensive teams as I’m of the mindset hard work pays off in the long run. While this seems like an intelligent hire, my selfish side hates this appointment for a variety of reasons. First off, as I mentioned in my previous Illinois basketball-centered blog, I really wanted a “big name” for the program. Someone that is a proven winner (in conferences that actually have competition), and isn’t afraid to recruit the city of Chicago, like all the great coaches of Illinois have. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what Brad’s reputation is as a recruiter, but I do know he’s no Bill Self, Roy Williams, or Mike Krzyzewski. On top of being able to recruit the inner-city, I’m worried key members of the incredible recruiting class of 2017-18 will de-commit, expecting a bigger name hire (really I’m just worried about Jeremiah Tilmon). Second, if we’re gonna pay a dude $3 million/year, he should have more to his name than a couple first round upsets and a decent system. I guess this is really harkening back to the idea that pedigree and success are key to me, but I digress. It is what it is at this point, he seems like a humble, all-around good dude so I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and remain optimistic about the future of Illinois basketball.

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NIT ROUND II

Welcome back to another edition of ‘When Will the Illini Choke?’. I’m kidding, but not really. I think this matchup against Boise State shouldn’t be taken lightly. After upsetting #3 seed Utah in the first round, #6 seed Boise State have literally nothing to lose going into their next game. For christ sake, their coach, Leon Rice, at a FUCKING LIT BOX OF MATCHES to hype up his team before a game. One would¬†think this game would be the first round of postseason tournament play, or at least a conference tournament, but you’d be wrong. Nope, regular season game, against COLORADO STATE. In my book, dudes’ a genius. Don’t know why you’d need that kind of motivation for a game against an opponent like that, but I digress. If that doesn’t hype you up for a game, nothing else can. In terms of real statistics, Boise State are pretty average across the board. They’ve got nine players who average 10+ minutes per game, and three who average in double digits in points per game. BSU looks to be a pretty big team, with three players listed over 6’10. However, only one averages over 15 minutes per game.¬†They also beat SMU and put up a good fight against Oregon, so I guess thats another positive. Like many teams in the NIT, it seems Boise State rely heavily on one player. That player is 6’7 Junior Chandler Hutchinson. While he averages 17.4 points per game, Chandler explodes when the Broncos need him most, most recently against Utah, when he scored a season-high 34 points. I feel like I shouldn’t be talking shit about this point as Illinois are pretty much the same way, with either Malcolm Hill or Tracy Abrams ‘taking over’ any big wins the Illini had in the regular season. Now onto the Illini. As expected, Illinois dismissed Valparaiso easily with stellar performances coming from Malcolm Hill (25 points) and Leron Black (13 points, 12 rebounds). It’s nice to see Illinois actually winning games in postseason tournaments again, as it hadn’t happened since the 2013-14 season when we squeaked by Boston University 66-62 in the first round of the NIT. If it seems like I’m stalling and trying to kill space, its cause I am. There’s really not much else to say, Valparaiso was without BY FAR their best player so it was obvious the game wasn’t going to be any sort of a test. While I believe Tuesday’s game will be more of a challenge, I still think Illinois have the firepower and the will to beat Boise State pretty easily. X-factor of the game is definitely going to be the motivational technique Leon Rice uses to motivate his players. If he comes out and does something reckless like wrestling an alligator or eating a box of lit matches, I think the game could be close. However, if he just gives a speech, they’re fucked. I’m sure ESPN is going to have someone reporting on Leon Hall’s every move, waiting for him to pull something psychopathic out of his bag to motivate the players, so definitely watch for that. For this one, I again have Illinois winning, this time by a score of 80-64. I-L-L.

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In other news, I’m writing this just after Wisconsin pulled off the upset of the tourney in their 65-62 victory over top-seeded Villanova. Congrats to Big 10 tournament teams for not sucking again this year.

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