Heat Checks and Hail Marys - Purdue and Tuesday

Mike Cagley, IlliniGuy

January 19, 2022

There's a lot that has been said about the Purdue game. It was one of the greatest games I've watched at the State Farm Center/Assembly Hall - and I've been going to games there since 1979. The game was entertaining on multiple levels:

  • One level of intrigue was the matchup between the two best teams in the B1G - I can say that as I picked the Illini to win the conference and Purdue to finish 2nd. On MLK Day, the two best rosters clashed and the game went into two OTs to determine the winner. Aside from producing an Illini victory, it was clearly an instant classic - and we will see it as a staple for repeat showing on the Big Ten Network for a long time.
  • Another level of intrigue was the matchup between the two best coaches in the B1G. On one end of the court was Matt Painter. Coach Painter has been able to win year-in and year-out. He recruits teams that continue the Purdue tradition of physically tough defensive-minded players that was established by coaching legend Gene Keady. The long-term personality of Purdue basketball remains unchanged for decades. One the other end of the court was Brad Underwood. Coach Underwood has had to rebuild the Illini program from the ground up after the end of the Weber regime and the total failure of the Groce era took the Illini program down to levels not seen in decades. The culture has been reversed as evidenced by the fact that the Illini have won 20 0f the past 22 B1G games - and done so without preseason All-American Andre Curbelo starting one game. These are two excellent coaches.
  • A final, and unwelcome, level of intrigue was provided by the B1G referee crew making inconsistent calls, making it nearly impossible for players to know how to play from possession to possession, and keeping one team's All-American on the bench for most of this clash. The only way to sum up B1G referees is an old cliche: "it is what it is" - not much else to say.

While the Illini couldn't pull out the victory, the team laid down more building blocks for the foundation of success for the rest of the season.

  • Andre Curbelo showed the Illini are very dynamic scoring machine when he's on the court. And he only played 5 minutes with Kofi Cockburn on the court with him. They could've been more explosive had the "dynamic duo" been able to actually accumulate additional minutes together. Oh yeah, and Curbelo only practiced for two full practices prior to the game. How will he look when he gets his conditioning back to normal levels?
  • Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk, who is called BBV for short, or the Big Bossman by this writer, proved that he can play excellent defense when needed. Purdue's talented "Twin Towers" represent a lot of size and talent. It's rare when the 6'8" and 235-pound (at least) BBV is significantly outsized. He was Monday - and he played well on defense. While his threat as a scorer is extremely limited, BBV is an excellent passer and used that skill to pass up an easy layup and the team ended up scoring on an open three-pointer. If he makes a different decision, maybe we don't go into overtime. Now, how does BBV maintain this higher level of play. If he does, he's another weapon for the Illini.
  • The Illini team proved that even under challenging circumstances, they don't quit. You really can't coach this into a team, this trait takes time to develop. Over five years, it's become a part of the culture that has been built in tandem by Coach Underwood and players like Da'Monte Williams, Trent Frazier, and Ayo Dosunmu. We now know for certain it's also a part of this team, this season.

One other event happened, though it was on Tuesday. The program announced the fact that Dain Dainja enrolled in classes at the U of I. Dainja is a former four-star prospect out of Brooklyn Park, MN. He redshirted last season at Baylor and playing three games this season before entering the transfer portal. This enrollment may not do much for this season's team - or maybe it will via practice.

Dain Dainja courtesy Illinois Athletics

Dainja is certainly a player with unrealized potential. What better coaching staff to help draw that out of him than the Illinois staff? One can see the year-to-year development of players like Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier and Kofi Cockburn and only imagine what could be done to develop Dainja. Add in the physical transformations that the country's best Strength and Conditioning Coach Adam Fletcher can produce - and one can see why Dain decided the Illini are the basketball program for him.

Dainja is a 6'9", 270-pound forward/big with a 7-foot, 7-inch wingspan. He possesses excellent ball handling skills, a soft shot, and good passing skills. To those with imaginations, the Illini could look a bit like Purdue does this year, assuming Kofi returns. Kofi could be backed up by Dainja to make a very potent 1-2 punch at center. Or Dainja could make a run for playing time at the power forward position. If Kofi exits to try his luck in the NBA, Dainja will help man the post with Omar Payne.

If Dainja can live up to his potential, today the Illini have accomplished a long-term win that many might've missed. And if he plays well in practice this season, he could help this year's team improve as well. It's a win-win for the Illini.

 

 

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