April 20 Ask the Sports Editor chat

April 20 Ask the Sports Editor chat

Thursday, April 20, 2017 - 2:00pm

The regular signing period is well underway. What moves might Brad Underwood make to round out his first Illinois roster? Can Illinois softball keep rolling in the Big Ten? Will Illinois baseball build off its Big Ten series victory against Northwestern? Which high school spring sport teams have shown the most so far? Sports editor Matt Daniels is ready to take on any and all questions during his 2 p.m. chat on Thursday. Feel free to send in questions beforehand.

 

Matt Daniels wrote on April 20, 2017 at 2:04 pm
Profile Picture

Afternoon everyone.

Matt Daniels here for another weekly chat. Big day for Illinois basketball, with News-Gazette All-State Player of the Year Mark Smith, the highly-talented guard from Edwardsville, in town on an unofficial visit.

Brad Underwood and his coaching staff are showing the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Smith around campus this afternoon with an all-out sales pitch on trying to land the most-coveted in-state prospect that is still available in the Class of 2017. Beat writer Scott Richey has covered Smith in a multitude of ways, starting back in late December at the Collinsville Holiday Tournament just before Smith's recruitment skyrocketed. He'll keep tabs on the latest from Smith up until he picks his college.

Brief rain shower just hit downtown Champaign in the last half-hour, so we'll see if that affects any area high school games tonight. Speaking of high school coverage, preps coordinator Anthony Zilis produced another Game of the Week video, while catching up with Oklahoma State football commit Hunter Woodard, on Tuesday down in Tuscola. Give it a glimpse right here

And the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon gets underway this weekend. Let's get going with any questions.

I.B. Joe wrote on April 20, 2017 at 2:04 pm

Every yr there seems to be more graduated men's basketball players who transfer for their final yr than in women's b-ball. Is that accurate or just the way its reported ? My question is since the Illini are losing a player and a recruit on the women's side if there are some quality fifth-yr transfers who could come in and make an immediate impact. If not I don't see how next yr's team will be muchbetter than the one which just got the coach fired.

Matt Daniels wrote on April 20, 2017 at 2:04 pm
Profile Picture

Hey I.B. Joe,

Don't know the official total numbers right now for transfers in men's and women's basketball, but there will be hundreds by the time it's all said and done.

It doesn't seem like the transfers happen as much in the women's game compared to the men's game, but Illinois could certainly make an argument for a starting five and a deep bench of players who have left the program in recent years.

The Illinois women's basketball team will likely struggle again on the court in the 2017-18 season. Sarah Overcash didn't play much last season, so her departure doesn't necessarily affect the Illini with her on-the-court productivity, like it did when Chatrice White transferred to Florida State.

The fifth-year transfer market is always an option for Nancy Fahey to go in filling out the upcoming roster, her first one in charge of Illinois, but she does have some experienced players back like Alex Wittinger and Brandi Beasley. If CeCe Rice can stay healthy, then she adds a different dimension to the Illini, and if promising true freshman Channise Lewis still lands at Illinois, then the backcourt becomes a strength.

Illinois has a ways to go, though, when it comes to competing with the rest of the Big Ten. Moving up the standings and not finding itself playing on the first day of the Big Ten tournament come March 2018 would be a big upgrade for the Illini.

Thom wrote on April 20, 2017 at 2:04 pm

Are the sites all set for regional hosts in NCAA softball or is there a chance Illinois could host? What does the NCAA look for?

Matt Daniels wrote on April 20, 2017 at 2:04 pm
Profile Picture

Hey Thom,

If memory serves me correct, and without spending too much time researching this, Illinois would need to get a Top 16 seed when the NCAA tournament bracket is released in order to host an NCAA regional, much like the Illinois baseball team did two years ago as part of its memorable 2015 season.

If Illinois keeps winning and playing at a high level like Tyra Perry's team is right now (Illinois takes a 32-10 overall record and 10-2 Big Ten record into this weekend's three-game series at Nebraska), then the Illini could very well find itself hosting some NCAA tournament action this season.

The Illini cracked the Top 25 in the latest Coaches Poll, and more good news exists since Illinois is 10-2 at Eichelberger Field and after this weekend's trip to Nebraska, seven of their final nine games are at home before the Big Ten tournmanent arrives May 11-13 in Ann Arbor.

Eichelberger Field is a nice venue and could easily accommodate an NCAA regional field, but we will look into the exact specifics if the need arises in the next few weeks and the Illini keep rolling.

Zeb wrote on April 20, 2017 at 2:04 pm

Think people will be talking about Hunter Woodard in a few years like they are now with Cameron Lee, a former area athlete who is an NFL prospect? Do you think Woodard's decision is a major loss for the Illini? What does it say when a local kid doesn't pick the school he grew up following?

Matt Daniels wrote on April 20, 2017 at 2:04 pm
Profile Picture

Hey Zeb,

That's a possibility. Cameron Lee may or may not get drafted next week once the seven rounds of the NFL draft finish, but the Oakwood product and former Illinois State offensive lineman certainly should get a crack at making an NFL roster after a stellar college career.

Hunter Woodard certainly has the size right now as a high school junior to potentially leave the same type of mark at Oklahoma State. Of course, going from the Big 12 to the NFL draft is a bit easier than going from the Missouri Valley Conference, which Lee is trying to do.

I think it is a loss for the Illini and Lovie Smith's program. Tuscola's Memorial Field is, at most, a half-hour drive from Memorial Stadium. And that just depends on what route you take to get there.

Oklahoma State was the first Power 5 school to offer Woodard and the Cowboys picked up one of the area's best offensive lineman who will go into his senior season with plenty of eyes on him now that he's a Division I recruit.

I think what it says is reflected in what Tuscola coach Andy Romine told our Anthony Zilis on Tuesday. Illinois has struggled to win consistently, only appearing in one bowl game in the last five seasons. High school prospects these days aren't used to seeing the Illini win and play past late November.

The rebuilding process is an ongoing one for the Illini and has been for quite some time. We'll see if Smith can stop the rebuilding process.

Alvin wrote on April 20, 2017 at 2:04 pm

I read Scott Richy's appeal for Mark Smith to become an Illini today. One question, what are the odds of Smith committing here?

Matt Daniels wrote on April 20, 2017 at 2:04 pm
Profile Picture

Hey Alvin,

Great question. Tough one to predict.

Michigan State has made a late push for Smith in the last month, with Duke starting to poke around as well. Ohio State and Illinois are the Big Ten teams who have recruited the Edwardsville guard the longest, with Smith developing a solid relationship with John Groce before Groce was fired.

Illinois can give Smith the most immediate playing time of the schools still pursuing him. Combine with him Trent Frazier and Te'Jon Lucas, and the Illini's depth at that position certainly gets upgraded, especially allowing Jalen Coleman-Lands to roam beyond the three-point line.

The pull of Tom Izzo and the Spartans might be too strong, though, with the consistent NCAA tournament appearances and the ability to churn out NBA players on a more frequent basis than what the Illini have done recently. It'd be a huge get for new coach Brad Underwood if Smith lands at Illinois, but one that seems like an uphill climb at the moment, although the Illini do have a chance. And that's all you want to have at this late stage in Smith's recruitment.

Matt Daniels wrote on April 20, 2017 at 2:04 pm
Profile Picture

Going to wrap up this week's chat. Thanks for the questions on a variety of topics, but lots to do still for the upcoming editions of The News-Gazette.

Be on the lookout for Loren Tate's most recent column in Friday's N-G, a possible update on Mark Smith's unofficial visit to Illinois and much more.

Have a great rest of the week everyone!