Heat Checks and Hail Marys - Post Purdue Thoughts & Creed III Movie Review

Mike Cagley, Co-Host IlliniGuys Sports Spectacular

March 7, 2023

The Illini fell to the Purdue Boilermakers 76-71 after being down by as many as 24 points early in the second half. As per their habit, the Illini started poorly getting down 11-0 and trailing 47-26 at the half. The Illini ended up outshooting the Boilermakers overall but turnovers and missed free throws ultimately doomed them down the stretch.

Heat Check #1 – The First Half Disasters Must Stop

I have no idea what Coach Underwood says at halftimes of many Illini games. Whatever it is needs to be said before games begin as well. The Illini have been out of several games at the half and have come up short on rallies because the hole dug in the first half was too deep.

The Illini had another first half catastrophic collapse in West Lafayette on Sunday. They fell behind to an extent that another excellent second half rally was wasted.

What can the staff and players do to come out and play two good halves of basketball? These players are college kids. They certainly do not have any quit in them as they have battled back against large deficits multiple times this season, with Northwestern being the most successful and memorable game so far.

It doesn’t seem too long ago that the Illini were celebrating beating Texas in overtime with a second half rally. Illini fans wondered what this team could accomplish if the Illini were to play a full game at maximum effort and efficiency. Now it’s March and the same question is still unanswered.

The Big Ten tournament is upon the Illini. Ultimately, this tourney is irrelevant. It’s the NCAA tournament that is the key. If the Illini are to make it to the Sweet Sixteen, meaning they win two games on the opening tournament weekend, they have to play two complete games in succession two days apart. The only reason the B1G tournament is important in my eyes is to try to win two games, while playing four good halves.

The proof is in the pudding and time is short. They have to find a way to show up in the first half to win. There are no easy games from now on. Can the Illini string together back-to-back solid performances when the pressure is on? We shall see.

Heat Check #2 – The Illini are Adjusting

The last two games have featured less three-point attempts from the Illini. They went 7-22 against the Boilermakers, salvaged by going 6-14 in the second half. Against Michigan the Illini were 5-18 in three-point attempts during the double overtime game.

If the Illini can limit their three-point attempts – particularly by limiting the “heat check” style attempts, their percentage of makes should go up and the number of defensive rebounds should go down. Bad three-point shots are nearly the equivalent of turnovers. By eliminating long misses that frequently start opposing fast breaks, the Illini may end up with better shot selection as they are eliminating layup/dunk attempts of opponents via the fast break. An added bonus is that no one will miss the “air ball” chants when a 30-foot jumper falls short of rim and backboard.

If the Illini can take less challenging three pointers – either closer to the three-point line or three-point attempts that are less contested by defenders – the advantages of having teams guard more of the court are many. The Illini have multiple players that can create off of the dribble. Defenses that are spread out to defend the three provide more openings for drives. The advantages of replacing very low percentage three-point attempts with layups should improve the Illini offense. This in turn would take the pressure off the defense to perform almost flawlessly. The Illini are effective and efficient at making two-point shots, lean into that strength.

Hail Mary #1 – Off Topic – Quick IlliniGuy Movie Review – Creed III – Spoiler Alert

Creed III was an entertaining movie with all the of the realism you’d expect of a typical Rocky movie. The boxers take hits that would put down horses (think Blazing Saddles) and respond by asking for more of the same. Inspired by the incredibly unlikely scenarios many of us grew up with in Rocky movies, in this movie retired world champion Adonis Creed is manipulated by a former childhood friend released from incarceration to be paired against the new world champ in a title fight. I don’t know that a boxer with a record of 0-0 would fight for the title, but what do I know?

If you’ve seen Rocky III, it must be the template for Creed III. The title character of Rocky/Creed is established as a soft champion or a soft and retired champion. A key supporting character dies: Mick/Adonis’ mother. A wife has to try to connect with their distant husband Adrian/Bianca. The opponent possesses the anger and drive of the streets that the champ/retired champ used to have. And of course, the only way to settle all accounts is in the ring, in a title bout.

Jonathan Majors stars as Damian Anderson and is also the antagonist in the new Ant Man movie where he plays Kang the Conqueror. He steals this movie and appears to have been inspired by 3 parts invincible era Mike Tyson and 1 part Clubber Lang (Rocky III’s antagonist). The difference is Majors plays this without the cartoonish over the top antics of Mr. T. When he’s on the screen, the audience pays attention. Majors knows how to play menacing. He does it well in both movies.

The biggest challenges with this movie are the “real” circumstances around the prison sentence that Majors’ character served over the last nearly 20 years and the “inspirational” speech given to actor Wood Harris (Creed’s trainer) to inspire the champ before the final round of the Creed/Damian fight.

The writers managed to make Majors’ character so sympathetic because nearly all of his anger and hate for Creed was not even the retired champ’s fault. Instead, it was caused by the overprotective actions of Creed’s mother. A bit awkward to say the least.

The speech which was to “elevate” Creed’s efforts in the final round fell flatter than a balloon emptied of all air. I wouldn’t have blamed actor Harris for begging Michael B. Jordan (doubling as both Adonis Creed and the movie director) to let him improvise his own speech out of thin air. The lines he delivered were as inspiring as “do better”.

If you like the Rocky movies, this will be an entertaining diversion for a couple of hours. If you’re looking for a truer to the real boxing experience, probably best to avoid this one.

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