Kyle Cox wrote a fun post on Mike Boynton’s first 15 games in office on Wednesday, and it reminded me that we haven’t checked in on Brad Underwood in a while. This won’t be something we do regularly, but I thought it would be fun to see how that first season at his dream school is going up in Champaign.
Illinois is currently ranked No. 87 in KenPom’s rankings. They are behind Buffalo, South Dakota State and Louisiana Lafayette.
And nearly lost to Tennessee Martin in a real game in November. Then they almost lost to Grand Canyon (!) on December 30.
But at least the entire thing has been encouraging and optimistic, right?
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Underwood has become a sideshow of his own this season and that was certainly true Saturday during Illinois’ 62-58 grind-it-out victory over Grand Canyon.
When Trent Frazier was fouled on a 3-point shot, he went to the line for three free throws. In a close game, Illinois may have needed every one. Instead, Frazier missed the first, made the second and missed the third.
Underwood pivoted on his shoe, looked at his assistant coaches and said sarcastically, “Yeah, he’s mentally ready.”
Another time, when there was one of Illinois’ 20 turnovers, Underwood tossed a handful of index cards over the team bench. They fluttered to the ground like snowflakes while he shook his head in disbelief. [Herald-Review]
I say all of this tongue in cheek, of course. I think Underwood is a fantastic college basketball coach who is going to thrive at Illinois (or wherever he is). But I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t at least a small part of me that has a bit of a chuckle at Illinois struggling in Year 1. They’re currently 10-7 overall but 0-4 in the conference.
There’s still a long way to go, obviously, and we saw the wizardry he performed down the stretch in Stillwater last year, but KenPom projects the Illini to go 6-12 in league play and not make the tournament. Most of this is due to a lack of offense. After running out the No. 1 offense in the country in terms of efficiency last year in Stillwater, Illinois isn’t even in the top 50.
But hey, there’s a long runway there for Underwood to improve. He signed a six-year, $18 million deal after leaving Stillwater. His program will grow, and, if last year is any indication, grow towards becoming a top-notch Big Ten program. So enjoy the bit of misery while you can.
And hey, at least he didn’t have to dump all those orange ties.