Tate | UI upset adds to dizzying hoops irregularities

Tate | UI upset adds to dizzying hoops irregularities

Michigan, oops! Kansas, oh my! Think about these Saturday upsets when you try to make sense of Illinois' unexpected 95-68 — not the win, but the margin — basketball romp over Minnesota on Wednesday.

No one in college basketball is immune to these irregularities.

Imagine the sadness at Virginia, which performed admirably in Saturday night's epic showdown against Duke's Supermen — a 72-70 road loss — in trying to comprehend the only other defeat in 26 games to UMBC (who?) in the 2018 NCAA tournament. By 20 points. No explanation. Oh, in case you forgot, UMBC is University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Some call the Retrievers' triumph the greatest upset in NCAA tournament history, the only time a 16 seed beat a No. 1.

Paranormal phenomena proliferates in a sport where migrating athletes, home-court advantages, foul disparities and the three-point gimmick lead to mysteries that frazzle the brain.

Oh, and did I mention the refs? They ejected two coaches at once in Wednesday's UConn-Tulsa game.

Case-by-case basis

— Take Syracuse. And the mysterious Jim Boeheim zone. Syracuse lost to Old Dominion at home, the Monarchs' first road win against a ranked team since 2006. Gardner-Webb also dumped the Orangemen, who later came off a loss at Georgia Tech (the Ramblin' Wreck trailed Louisville 39-8 Saturday) to shock No. 1 Duke, 95-91, in OT.

— Take Florida State. Duke, then No. 1, needed a last-second trey by Cam Reddish on Jan. 12 to edge the talented Seminoles, 80-78 ... who then lost 75-62 (!) to a Pitt team that was 0-18 in the ACC last season under now-departed Kevin Stallings.

— Take Evansville. The Purple Aces had barely enough players to field a team in a 99-60 November debacle at Illinois — the squad's best five squadmen were non-players — but they nevertheless rose up to shackle the remnants of Loyola's Final Four team, 67-48 (!) Jan. 8.

— Take UCLA. Embarrassing setbacks at home to Belmont and Liberty (73-58!) cost Steve Alford his job, after which the Bruins downed Stanford, Cal and Oregon under interim coach Murry Bartow. Then the Bruins barely showed up against USC yesterday.

— Take Missouri. The Tigers carried a six-game win streak before dropping the first three SEC games by double figures, Jeremiah Tilmon fouling out in nine minutes vs. Tennessee, and in 13 minutes vs. South Carolina. Missouri rebounded Saturday, but that breeze you felt was Tilmon's two-and-done dream going up in smoke.

— And take Kansas State. In back-to-back thrillers, Bruce Weber's gang rallied from 21 down to edge West Virginia 71-69, and then dumped Iowa State, 58-57, with a 10-2 finishing run. Yes, it can happen from one half to another. Isn't that right, Illini fans.

On again, off again

So, you see, there is no rhyme or reason to it.

My take from the Illini situation begins with the fact that regulars Aaron Jordan and Kipper Nichols have been frequently overmatched, although Jordan has a knack for drilling treys when he's open.

At the same time, Brad Underwood's excessive substitution pattern, which he deems necessary to keep defenders aggressively overplaying the passing lanes, can contribute to a lack of offensive continuity.

From a pure playmaking standpoint, the Illini are at their best when the third guard, Andres Feliz, is using his penetrating skills alongside sophomore Trent Frazier and the freshmen, Dosunmu and Bezhanishvili, otherwise known as Ayo and Giorgi.

When Ayo drew two fouls with Illinois leading Missouri, 8-4, the bottom fell out in St. Louis. When Giorgi was limited to fewer than 20 minutes against Florida Atlantic (14:43) and Northwestern (19:14), the results were two-point losses. The same thing happened Saturday to Indiana's Romeo Langford at Purdue, and to Michigan's Ignas Brazdeikis at Wisconsin, their bench time contributing to IU and Michigan failures.

Quick turnaround

Ayo has caught fire and has become a blur in the UI's transition game. Since his 1-for-5, two-point flop against Missouri, he has rattled off 105 points in five games and is receiving a fresh look from NBA scouts as a possible low first-round draft pick ... although Wednesday's six turnovers serve as a red flag.

When Giorgi is posting low and his teammates are looking for him, the half-court offense is at its best. Ambidextrous and blessed with natural foot dexterity, he scored 15 in a quality effort vs. a superior Michigan team, and he added 20 with the help of six offensive rebounds in the inexplicable dominance of Minnesota's reputed backboard muscle. Remember, the Gophers were plus-91 on rebounds going in, and the Illini were minus-60. Huh? Better recheck that.

In tackling Iowa today, it must be noted that the Illini are 0-9 away from the State Farm Center, routinely permit too many opposing layups and dunks (21 by Michigan on Jan. 10), and went 0-for-11 on treys on the last road trip to Northwestern.

So if you have a strong feeling about UI-Iowa, remember ... it's Sunday and you shouldn't gamble on the Sabbath, particularly about something nobody knows anything about.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

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