Feb. 20 college basketball chat

Feb. 20 college basketball chat

Thursday, February 20, 2014 - 12:30pm

Ask beat writer Marcus Jackson about Illinois' postseason chances, Wednesday's game at Minnesota and more.

Marcus Jackson wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm
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Good afternoon. Hope you don't mind me getting started a bit early today. I'm growing restless here at O'Hare and I've got a bus toc atch to Bloomington in about an hour. Apparently flying a plane 45 minutes south in the rain is too taxing a task for the American Airlines folks. They were so nice to give me the option of hanging around the airport for 10 hours until a later flight or riding a bus to Bloomington. Did I mention they're not even going to drop me off at the airport there?

Sorry, enough venting. These are good times for you all coming off a win last night. I'll place the shine back on that and help you bask in the glow of victory. Fire away.

Mr. Cub wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm

What's up with our team basketball shoes? Everyone is wearing a different looking nike orange shoe except for Hill, who is wearing a blue shoe. Maybe if they all looked like they are on the same team, they would play better.

Also, why were the lights on at Memorial Stadium? Certainly they weren't painting the field last Saturday night.


Marcus Jackson wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm
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I hope this isn't a legitimate gripe. Here's the deal, Nike sends a bunch of different shoes to teams throughout the year and guys pick and choose which shoe they want to wear on a given night. Some go for looks, others go for fit, comfort, etc. Illinois' guys like to mix it up. Just about every team in the country does this. Good teams and bad teams. It's has nothing to do with how they play.

Adidas and UnderArmour schools do it, too.

No idea on the stadium lights. Maybe there was some sort of function in one of the suites and they wanted the field lit up?

griff507 wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Marcus, From what you have seen and heard, do we have any body that can shoot the ball from distance coming to help the Illini next year? Recruits, red shirts, walk-on's, team managers, anybody please!

This is before the Minnesota game. Thought I should add that just in case they go off tonight! ha!

Marcus Jackson wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm
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I've seen Aaron Cosby and Ahmad Starks workout before games on a regular basis and thoe guys fill it up on the regular. I saw Starks make somehting like 36 of 50 three-pointers during one drill from all around the arc. Now, shooting in games will be difference, but each of those guys shot at about 40 percent from long range in a major conference before, so they've proven they can do it. 

Michael FInke's coming in next year and he can really shoot it. Not sure what his role will be at this point, but he's a shooter. Plus the young guys, particularly Nunn and Hill should improve in that area, too. Nunn showed it last night, though he can be streaky.

Chuck Norris wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Have you heard anything about a Demetrius Jackson transfer to Illinois?

Marcus Jackson wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm
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I've heard nothing other than the Twitter rumors and such. Jackson is back with the team at Notre Dame and it sounds as if he's solid there. Illinois cna't have any contact with him right now anyway.

Big Dave wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Thanks again for the chats Marcus. Next year will be interesting with five new players in the mix for the Illini. Based upon what you are hearing and seeing, does Starks, Cosby or Paul have a legitimate shot at starting next year? And perhaps even Black? I thought I just heard or read that during scrimmages the second team is now regularly beating the first team in practice.

Marcus Jackson wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm
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They'll have a legitimae shot and they're all good enough to start. It will be a matter of what direction the staff wants to go, who is comfortable coming off the bench, etc. Either way, there will be depth and there will be competition at all spots. The competition for playing time should bring out the best in everyone on the team. It's a good problem to have. Leron Black will also be in the mix. He's a high-energy guy with some skill.

To say they've been beating the first team regularly isn't being fair. There was a practice recently where they really took it to those guys and they'll occasionally win some scrimmages and competitions, but it's not a regular thing. But there is some talent in that group.

JimmyJack wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Hey Marcus, nice to be chatting after a win, eh?

With Kendrick's play improving all the time, I'm looking ahead to next season as many Illini fans are. Have you seen Aaron Cosby play much in practice? Any predictions on who might start next season between the two? Great problem to have!

Similar question with Darius Paul. If Hill stays at the 4 (which I think he might given the above log jam at the 2/3 positions when you add in Rice), who might win that battle? Or is Leron Black good enough to make that a moot question?

Marcus Jackson wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm
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Right now I'd lean toward Kendrick because he seems to have really thrived in that role, though the sample size is small. Cosby is good and he's more of a combo guard, making him a bit more versatile than Nunn, so they might not necessarily be competing for the same minutes. Like you said and I alluded to in a previous question, a good problem to have.

Leron Black will be in the mix at that spot along with Darius Paul. It'll be a matter of how quickly each comes along. Hill will play a lot at the 3 and some at the 4. The plan is for him to be more of a perimeter guy, but he's shown his versatility.

Deeps wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm

What are your realistic expectations for the 2014-2105 season? Who, if anyone, will step up and be a go to scorer?

Marcus Jackson wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm
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It's hard to say not knowing the full nonconference schedule or how good or bad the league will be base don some guys turning pro, etc. I will say that next year's team will be more talented and much deeper than this year's group and an NCAA tournament appearance should be expected. They're still missing that true point guard who can make everything come together, but when Tracy plays like he did last night, they're a very good offensive team and will have more options.

Rice is a scorer and he'll get his next year, too, though it might not be 16-plus per game. Malcolm Hill should continue developing into a scoring threat, too. I'd say you might have two or three guys averaging double figures and a bunch more in the 5- to 8-point per game range.

Chris 5-0 wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm

How close will we be next year in terms of personnel, to being able to run Groce true system?  Do we really have a shot at Brunson?  Seems like that ship sailed.

Marcus Jackson wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm
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It'll be close, but still missing that top-flight true point guard. Like I said earlier, when Abrams plays like he did last night, looking to set other guys up, this team is much better. He's just been asked to score so much that playing that way isn't always his focus. With more options next year, perhaps he can play that way more consistently.

Yes, there's a shot at Brunson, but six or seven other programs have a shot at him, too. If the ship had truly sailed, Illinois wouldn't be putting so much effort into him now. There's a genuine mutual interst from both sides, though I do understand the pessimism from this fan base when it comes to a talent like this.

Sweet Lou Henson wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm

If we win 1 or 2 more games in the regular season, how many wins would we need in the B1G Tournament for an NCAA bid? Possible without winning it all? 

Marcus Jackson wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm
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If you won one or two more games, you'd have to win the Big Ten tournament. A 6-12 record won't cut it at all. Even if you win out and get to 8-10, you'd likely have to win two or three games in the conference tournament to get an at-large berth. The nonconference wins weren't attention-grabbing enough to warrant much more.

Anonymous User wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Call me desperate for a positive, but last nights game made me optimistic for next year. I know we shot an uncharacteristically high percentage from 3 point, but it's nice to see what effective outside shooting can do. I think with our rosters improved ability to shoot from outside we can open up our inside attacking game and help egwu's offense. It would be great if slashers like rice and Abrams could develop like a ten to 15 foot pull up jumpshot like Malcolm hill uses to add another element to their game. Do you agree with this rationale? I know we need a top-flight pg to maximize our offense but effective outside shooting does wonders.

Marcus Jackson wrote on February 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm
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Steve Greenberg, the fine Chicago Sun-Times writer, and I were talking about that last night, particularly with Abrams. When he was really going well earlier this year, he was using the jump stop and knocking down that short floater in the lane. He seems to have abandoned that of late. Nunn is good at the mid-range stuff and Rice can be when he's locked in. 

You're right, with more shooters, everything else opens up, particularly driving lanes, there just isn't as much traffic in the paint. You'll have more guys with long-range shooting ability next season to make it work if the shots are falling.

JAK wrote on February 20, 2014 at 1:02 pm


I enjoy the chats.  Before I get to a couple of questions, just a quick comment.  I really like this team.  The losing is really tough and they are offensively challenged, but they seem like a really good group of guys.  When I think about next year I think about how much players improve between their freshman and sophmore years, and the 3 redshirts, and I can hardly wait.

Couple quick questions.

- Is TA hurt?  I seemed better last night, but just doesn't seem to have been quite right for the past few weeks?

- What's up with Joe?  Any chance we'll see him go off for 25 in any of the remaining games?


Marcus Jackson wrote on February 20, 2014 at 1:02 pm
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You're right, it really is a good group of kids. There have been years where there were some bad apples, but you've got a good group here. Hasn't been a bad guy in the bunch in my two years on the beat.

Tracy, as you know, deals with the occasional back spasm. Other than that, there's nothing major he's been dealing with other than the typical bumps and bruises you get this time of year. If there was something more, he wouldn't say anything about it. I jsut think he's gotten away from doing certain things that made him effective early. He was really good last night, though.

It looks to me like Joe has lost some confidence. I don't know if it's coming off the bench, or just not seeing enough shots go down, but he's in a serious funk. He's struggled some on the defensive end, too. But his minutes are down mainly because Nunn and Hill have been so good these last couple of weeks.

I think we all know he's capable of going nuts for 25 at any time. Not sure if we'll see it, but he's got it in him.

JCinCali wrote on February 20, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Hi Marcus,

It sure is more fun when the team wins. I noticed during the losing stretch that the team looked a little lost and listless, seemed to just go through the motions in their offense. But they've started to look more inspired recently, and especially last night. Is that due to the lineup changes? Strategy changes? Mental refocusing? Team therapy? What's your observation on the mental framework of the team? Thanks.

Marcus Jackson wrote on February 20, 2014 at 1:02 pm
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When things are going your way, like they were last night, I just think it's natural for you to have a little more pep in your step. During all the losing, the offense struggled to execute and make shots and that wears on you, but for the most part, they've done all the same things from a strategical standpoint and emotional standpoint. John Groce said something interesting last night that in practice he has athletic trainer Paul Schmidt take notes and to make sure that his positive messages outweight the negative messages at least 80 percent to 20 percent. He said he asks Paul to be brutally honest with him and for the most part this season he's been above 80. They're still approaching this thing the same way, they just played a little bit better last night.

There was also an emphasis to get Nnanna Egwu involved on the offensive end and that certainly helped things.

I did notice last night going in and out of timeouts there appeared to be more energy and again, that comes with playing well and getting things done at both ends of the floor. The lineup change has helped, those guys bring youthful energy, too.

BrianA wrote on February 20, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Where does Illinois stand with Matthews . Have Matthews or Brunson announced a timeline for there decision 

If you had to guess on the post players they are after in the class what 2-3 do they have they best shot of landing 

Marcus Jackson wrote on February 20, 2014 at 1:02 pm
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Illinois is still good with Matthews and he's still a priority. He's close with D.J. Williams, that helps. He's being courted by just about everyone, so he'll be a tough get. Just about all the guys Illinois is after these days are highly sought after and will be tough gets. That's just the way it goes.

Neither he or Brunson has given a timeline.

Marcus Jackson wrote on February 20, 2014 at 1:02 pm
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Thanks for all the questions, good stuff today. Helped get me away from this day from hell for a little while. Back to reality. My bus will be here shortly and I've got to figure out how I'm going to get from ISU to the Bloomingotn airport in a couple of hours.

Talk to you soon, enjoy that win.