June 15 Ask the Sports Editor chat

June 15 Ask the Sports Editor chat

Thursday, June 15, 2017 - 2:00pm

How is recruiting going for both Lovie Smith and Brad Underwood? What games must the Illinois football team win in 2017 if it wants to reach a bowl game? When do The News-Gazette All-Area teams come out for spring sports? Anything is fair game as sports editor Matt Daniels tackles your questions in his 2 p.m. chat on Thursday. Feel free to submit questions ahead of time.

Matt Daniels wrote on June 15, 2017 at 2:06 pm
Profile Picture

Afternoon everyone. 

Matt Daniels here for another weekly chat on a warm mid-June afternoon.

Summer workouts are in full force for Illinois basketball and football, while the high school sports season for the 2016-17 school year are officially wrapped up.

Look for plenty of coverage in the next month for our All-Area spring sports teams (which started in today's paper with girls' track and field) and our Year in Review packages, both on the high school sports front and the Illini front.

Got some questions in the hopper already, so let's get going with this week's chat.

Jive Turkey wrote on June 15, 2017 at 2:06 pm

If I was a D coordinator I'd be steaming mad at rule changes over the past 5 years or so.  As a fan, I am thoroughly disgusted when I see a defensive player called for "targeting".  I'm am just as angry when it's called on an opponent as I am when it's called on the Illini.  Football is a rough game played by rugged individuals .  At least it used to be.  So my question is, have defensive coaches lobbied to get this reversed?  Many times a defensive player is ejected when it's unwarranted.  A WR adjusts to catch the ball thus causing the "targeting" essentially .  I know they're trying to make the game safer.  But it wasn't meant to be safe.  There are usually 2 types of football players.  Some want to score TD's.  The others want to annihilate the man across from him.  That's the way the game is supposed to be played!

Matt Daniels wrote on June 15, 2017 at 2:06 pm
Profile Picture

Hey Jive Turkey,

You're right. Football is a rough game.

It's also a game that has come under intense scrutiny and criticism for its safety, along with the stories we hear of former players dealing with life-altering ailments, namely head injuries.

I'm all right with the targeting rule. Sure, football is different than it was five, 10, 20 years ago, but the game is still as popular as ever.

Illinois has had to deal with targeting calls on its players, along with having targeting calls enforced by the officials on opponents.

Anyone who was in Memorial Stadium last season after Minnesota laid out Malik Turner and saw Turner get carted off the field and taken to a local hospital can recall how eerily quiet the venue was.

No one, at that moment, seemed to care much about the game. They all wanted to make sure Turner was OK. 

Illinois linebacker Tre Watson was ejected for a targeting call late in a loss at MIchigan last season, with other Illini having been called for that penalty as well in past seasons.

It's a new reality of the game that coaches and players understand and they have to adjust their way of playing. All targeting calls are reviewed by replay officials, but the simplest way to avoid this call if you're on defense is to not lead with your helmet when making a tackle. Sure, your head is going to get in a tackle every now and then, whether a running back or receive dips low, but the rugby-style tackling that some coaches are turning to might become more and more popular as the game adapts and evolves in the years to come.

Panera Guy wrote on June 15, 2017 at 2:06 pm


Thanks for taking our questions today, really looking forward to football season!

Can you give me who you think will be a breakout player for both offense and defense this year?

Also, which do you think would be a bigger win early, at home against Nebraska or on the road against Iowa? Which would you say is more likely to happen?


Thanks again!

Matt Daniels wrote on June 15, 2017 at 2:06 pm
Profile Picture

Hey Panera Guy,

Football season will be here before you know it. The local high school football season kicks off Aug. 25, with the Illini starting practices on July 31 before Lovie Smith's program opens the season on Sept. 2 against Ball State.

On the Illini offense this season, the one player I'll be intrigued to see how they perform is Mikey Dudek.

Illinois wide receivers have struggled to get open on a consistent basis when dealing with man coverage each of the last two seasons, which Dudek has had to watch from the sidelines while dealing with two consecutive ACL injuries.

How well the dynamic playmaker can recover and what kind of contributions he can make on the field this season will go a long way in helping what, at times last season, was a pretty anemic offense.

On the defensive side of the ball, Illinois will have four new regulars along the defensive line, although some returnees like Jamal Milan and Kenyon Jackson saw meaningful playing time last season.

Tre Watson has to emerge and become a leader on defense this season. He'll likely shift to middle linebacker, replacing Hardy Nickerson, and has already proven he isnt afraid to make plenty of tackles. Smith's defense relies on a strong playmaker at the middle linebacker spot, and this is Watson's chance to really thrive in that role.

If Illinois is able to beat Nebraska at home or Iowa on the road, both would constitute as big wins. Illinois has struggled mightily on the road in recent years, so a win at Kinnick Stadium against what you'd expect to be another steady Iowa team coached by Kirk Ferentz would be the bigger win. But if Illinois is able to beat Nebraska at Memorial Stadium after doing so to the Cornhuskers in 2015, with the game being on a Friday night and the Big Ten home opener, that might give the Illini a much-needed jolt for the rest of the season.

Dyslexia Untied wrote on June 15, 2017 at 2:06 pm

Which of the two new big men do you see having a bigger impact their freshman season?

Matt Daniels wrote on June 15, 2017 at 2:06 pm
Profile Picture

Hey Dyslexia Untied,

Both Greg Eboigbodin and Matic Vesel won't be expected to come in right away and average double figures in scoring, let alone double figures in minutes.

Michael Finke and Leron Black will likely get the first crack at starting for the Illini, although it will be interesting to see what lineups Brad Underwood trots out there. He has won in the past without traditional lineups, and he may have to get creative at times this upcoming season.

The key for Eboigbodin and Vesel this season, if they don't redshirt (I'm in the same mind-set as Loren Tate. You're always better your fifth year of college than as a true freshman, especially for developmental type players), is to provide energy, rebounding and defense this season. Any extra offense is a bonus.

Illinois will need to find a new key scorer this upcoming season with Malcolm Hill gone, and Mark Smith enters with lofty expectations. Te'Jon Lucas and Kipper Nichols will likely be asked to score more this upcoming season, so any points from Eboigbodin and Vesel is gravy.

But, to answer your original question, I'd see Eboigbodin getting the chance to play earlier from the get-go. He's already on campus and has played with some good teammates, both on the AAU circuit and at his high school, Detroit Jesuit. 

Vesel could have a steep learning curve coming from Europe and adjusting to the college game, at least initally. But what both players do give the Illini is some post depth, which, just a few weeks ago, was lacking.

Zekiah Swamp wrote on June 15, 2017 at 2:06 pm

I have three questions:

1) With the departure of Eduardo Lipparelli, is Mike Small going to "stand pat" given that he has Bryan Baumgarten in addition to the four others (Hardy, Meyer, Feagles and Tadiotto) who played in the BT/NCAA tournament, or is he looking to bring in an additional player in case of an injury? 

2) Given that Men's Golf only has 4.5 scholarships to offer (unlike the women who have 6.5), are the levels of financial aid provided to the individual players ever published?  The same would apply to other "non-head count" sports, i.e. every sport except football, women's volleyball and men's and women's basketball.

3) Do you know in which Champions' Tour and Illinois PGA events Mike Small plans to play this summer?  I assume he is playing in the Illinois Open, the Illinois PGA, and the PGA Professionals' National Tournment.

Matt Daniels wrote on June 15, 2017 at 2:06 pm
Profile Picture

Hey Zekiah Swamp,

Thanks for the questions. 

Mike Small's Illinois men's golf program signed two in-state products with the most recent recruiting class in Brendan O'Reilly from Hinsdale Central, who won the Class 3A state championship last fall, and local product Varun Chopra from Uni High in Urbana.

Chopra, The News-Gazette boys' Golfer of the Year the last two seasons, finished his senior season with a fourth-place finish at the 1A state meet, which came after a runner-up finish in 2015.

Both are quality golfers and quality individuals, two traits Small seems to get out of every player he signs. With the return of Nick Hardy and Dylan Meyer to lead Illinois next season as seniors, the chance to win an NCAA title is still very much a realistic possibility.

I'm not too sure about the specifics of how much financial aid is doled out to the Illinois men's golfers, along with all the other Olympic sports at Illinois who have to juggle those scholarships throughout the entire roster and can't just give a full ride to every athlete.

Small is set to play next week in the American Family Insurance Championsip, a Champions Tour event in Madison, Wis., that former Illini Steve Stricker is serving as the tournament host, and has an exemption to play in the Illinois Open later this summer. He doesn't play as much as he'd probably like to, at least competitively given Small is such a competitive person, but he understands he has to manage not only his own playing career, but also his responsibilities to the UI men's program.

Matt Daniels wrote on June 15, 2017 at 2:06 pm
Profile Picture

Thanks for the questions today, but going to wrap up the chat. 

Check out Friday's N-G for a look at what current Illini radio analyst Doug Altenberger thinks about Brad Underwood's program and then check back on Sunday for our All-Area girls' soccer team, along with plenty of other local and national sports coverage.

Enjoy the rest of the week everyone and we'll chat next week, same time, same place.