Better than Ayo? That’s what Illinois’ coach says in defense of snubbed Trent Frazier

“A joke,” Brad Underwood calls the 15-man Naismith defensive player of the year watch list, which doesn’t include the Illini’s senior leader.

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Drexel v Illinois

Nobody in the country is better than Frazier defensively, his coach says.

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

College basketball’s 15-man Naismith defensive player of the year watch list was revealed Thursday, and Illinois senior guard Trent Frazier wasn’t on it.

Growling about the omission in a video conference a day later, coach Brad Underwood resembled a tiger in a cage, awaiting a slab of raw meat.

‘‘A joke,’’ he called it.

‘‘Obviously, nobody has a clue what defense is,’’ he went on.

‘‘I’d like to know who the committee is that puts that nonsense together,’’ he added, ‘‘but it’s obviously unintelligent people who are uninformed about styles of play and how defense impacts games.’’

And this was especially interesting: ‘‘I look at what Ayo Dosunmu is doing in the NBA . . . [and] Trent Frazier is better than him.’’

As Bulls watchers know, Dosunmu, a former Illini All-American, is highly eager and highly capable at the defensive end.

‘‘Shoot, Ayo was our third defender last year,’’ Underwood said. ‘‘Trent was always 1. And that’s no offense to what Ayo has done — because he’s elite at it, as well — but Trent always drew the assignment. And for him not to be recognized, especially with what Ayo has done, it just magnifies that, in my opinion.’’

First to 50 points wins Saturday when Illinois and Northwestern get it on at Welsh-Ryan Arena? It might be that type of a game, especially if the Illini are again without leading scorer Kofi Cockburn and point guard Andre Curbelo. (See the Illini’s 56-55 victory against Michigan State last time out, in which they somehow held on despite going scoreless for the last five-plus minutes.)

On to the rest of the Big 10 (where 10 actually means 10):

2. Curbed enthusiasm: Curbelo was back for a whisper in time before being shut down again. First, a concussion cost him 11 games. Now, he’s in health-and-safety protocols.

‘‘What else?’’ he tweeted. ‘‘Can’t catch a damn break.’’

If the Illini ever get their roster together, they really might have something.

3. Not even close: Eight seasons ago, Northwestern coach Chris Collins notched his first Big Ten victory against the Illini in Evanston. The Wildcats are 3-10 against them since and on a six-game losing streak. Rivalry? What rivalry?

Notre Dame v Louisville

Blake Wesley (0) and the Irish are on fire.

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

4. Whose Valentine? FYI, it’s already happening: Loyola’s first-year coach, Drew Valentine, is seeing his name attached to bigger jobs via rumor and speculation. You know, blogger-in-Mom’s-basement stuff. Hey, that’s how it all starts.

With Chris Mack out at Louisville, lists of potential candidates are sprouting online, and some include the guy who has the Ramblers at 16-3 overall and 7-1 in the Missouri Valley. It’s got to be too soon, right? Right.


5. Righting Irish: Five minutes ago, it seems, Notre Dame was below .500. Now the Irish are on a 9-1 tear heading into their home game Saturday against Virginia and, according to the NCAA bracketologists, in on-the-bubble territory. Not a bad place to be, all things considered.

6. A waking giant? Michigan has been — by far — the most disappointing team in college basketball. But the Wolverines have won three in a row since losing at Illinois, and that’s enough to have some national scribes and TV bobbleheads chirping about a comeback.

Let’s see whether these guys can avoid getting stuffed into a locker Saturday at Michigan State, then maybe we’ll talk.

7. Other than that, he’s killing it: The whole Fred Hoiberg coaching thing might not have a lot of legs left. Think his Bulls tenure was a hopeless mess? Nebraska is 0-9 in the Big Ten in the Lincoln native’s third season. Heave that onto the pile with his previous 2-18 and 3-16 league records, and you’ve got a steaming 5-43 fiasco.

8. Hoya destroya: Patrick Ewing is 68-70 as the coach at Georgetown. Reports suggest the Hoyas legend doesn’t completely live and breathe recruiting, which is always the concern when an all-time-great player hangs a whistle around his neck.

Sounds like the big fella has to go.

I’m not telling him, you tell him.

9. UIC’s big move: As Loyola runs off to the Atlantic 10 next school year, UIC will step up from the Horizon League to the Missouri Valley. It’s potentially a terrific maneuver for the Flames — if the school is 100% serious about competing — just as jumping from the Horizon to the MVC was a game-changer for the Ramblers.

But Belmont and Murray State also are joining the MVC, and those basketball programs are miles ahead of UIC’s. This will be one heavy lift.

10. The best player in the state: Come on down, Aneesah Morrow.

How good is the DePaul forward? No other freshman in the country can touch her statistically. The Simeon alum — averaging 20.3 points and 12.5 rebounds — entered the weekend on a three-game 30-and-10 streak, the first women’s college player to accomplish that feat since 2010. Morrow is the only freshman among the 20 candidates for the Wooden Award.

And get this: Her 30-point, 14-board performance in an 80-78 loss Wednesday to Connecticut made her only the fourth player ever to go for 30 and 10 against the mighty Huskies. The previous three — Tennessee’s Candace Parker, Louisville’s Angel McCoughtry and Notre Dame’s Jackie Young — became WNBA No. 1 overall picks.

‘‘Aneesah Morrow is incredibly good at everything,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.

He would know.

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