Dec. 6 Illinois basketball chat

Dec. 6 Illinois basketball chat

Wednesday, December 6, 2017 - 12:30pm

Three losses that could have been wins have Illinois sitting at 6-3 instead of 9-0 as nonconference action resumes Wednesday against Austin Peay — and then Saturday in Las Vegas against UNLV. What did those three losses mean? How will the Illini respond? What lessons were learned? Those are some of the questions beat writer Scott Richey could address after hitting Winston-Salem, N.C., Rosemont and returning home to Champaign last week covering Illinois. A pit stop in Chicago to watch multiple Illinois recruiting targets opens up that avenue of questions, too. What do you want to know Illini fans?

Scott Richey wrote on December 06, 2017 at 12:12 pm
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Good afternoon everybody. It's a busy day in Illinois athletics. There's this chat then a 4 p.m. press conference announcing a new athletic facility then tonight's Illini basketball game. Be on the lookout for more from me here at IlliniHQ.com as the day progresses, including a LIVE! Report for Illinois-Austin Peay starting at about 6 p.m.

But since there's plenty of this busy day still left to come, let's get to the chat ...

Scott Richey wrote on December 06, 2017 at 12:12 pm
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Our first question comes from Twitter:

George S‏ (@GeorgeSloan6886) asks ...
Can underwood turn around this season like he did his team last year

 

Oklahoma State provides an interesting parallel for Illinois this season, and Brad Underwood had even more work to do with the Cowboys considering they finished 12-20 the season before he took over. He grabbed the Illini reins after at least an NIT appearance. Another parallel? Jeffrey Carroll turning into a legit offensive threat at Oklahoma State just like Aaron Jordan has at Illinois.

Of course, Underwood doesn't have a Jawun Evans at Illinois. Like the first-year Illinois coach mentioned yesterday during his press conference, Evans is a pro.

But I think you can look at all three losses last week and how close Illinois was to winning those and see some of what could be to come this season. Just take Sunday's game. Last year that 22-point deficit probably would have stayed a 22-point defict or even become worse. This year? The Illini had the game won before they shot themselves in the foot multiple times.

Anonymous User wrote on December 06, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Liangelo Ball drops out of UCLA and we have an open scholarship and almost no national attention at the moment. What do you say? Is it time for Big Baller Urbana?

Scott Richey wrote on December 06, 2017 at 12:12 pm
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Anonymous,

Hard pass.

While I think it could be interesting to see the clash of wills that would be Brad Underwood vs. Lavar Ball, I would have exactly zero interest in dealing with the latter. And that's what it would become. Lavar Ball has interjected himself into his son's basketball lives to the degree that it's much more about him than them.

Anonymous User wrote on December 06, 2017 at 12:12 pm

I wish we had more than 6 wins at this juncture but I am loving what Aaron Jordan is doing! I remember his dad writing on the forums about how he'd work to make himself a great player on the floor. Can you give us some insight into his workout methods that made him the shooter he is now?

Scott Richey wrote on December 06, 2017 at 12:12 pm
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Anonymous,

The thing is, Aaron Jordan has always been that kind of shooter. That's what he was known for coming out of high school. The inconsistency in his playing time and the idea that overall player development hit some speed bumps the past two seasons didn't give him the opportunity to show it off.

Not knowing when or even if you'll play doesn't do much for your confidence. Shooting is a lot about confidence. Jordan has it now. The fact he's constantly working on his game certainly helps, too. He's in Ubben every morning getting in extra workouts that focus mainly on shooting the types of shots he'll shoot in a game. 

Anonymous User wrote on December 06, 2017 at 12:12 pm

The Big Ten got crushed in the Big Ten - ACC Challenge. Is our conference really that far behind or was it just some tough luck, that's-how-the-dice-were-rolled losses?

And what do you think about all the college football coaching changes? Illini basketball losing a few games and OSU, Wisconsin, and Penn State in big bowl matchups has me thinking more about football this week.

Scott Richey wrote on December 06, 2017 at 12:12 pm
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Anonymous,

I think the Big Ten showed some weaknesses in getting absolutely hammered in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Michigan State is really good. Purdue, strange losses aside in the Bahamas, beat a couple of good teams since. Then you've got a team like Minnesota (who I've been super high on) that just lost to Nebraska (who I don't think is very good). 

Michigan State kind of stands alone at the top of the conference. The rest of it, 2-14, might be pretty much up for grabs. The ACC showed it's better last week. The SEC is better this year, too. Could be a rough year for the Big Ten come March.

As far as the college football changes ...

— Nebraska got it's guy, but I don't know if 'Huskers fans will ever be happy again since the program is not at that "compete for a national championship every season" level. 

— Texas A&M shocked me with the contract it gave Jimbo Fisher.

— Tennessee's a joke, but I'm available if they still need a coach.

— Herm Edwards could be a disaster of monumental proportions at Arizona State, but it's Arizona State so it doesn't really matter.

— The silly season is almost more fun than the actual football season.

Elmer B Fudd wrote on December 06, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Scott,  excellent coverage of illlini sports.  Keep up the great work!  These IIlini have found ways to beat themselves the past 3 games.  Terrible first half display of basketball vs an excellent Maryland team.  Three things that have stuck out to me regarding this team: 1) they can play, albeit not consistently, excellent pressure defense that elicit numerous turnovers and disruption to opposing teams trying to run their offense; 2) they can play with teams who are much bigger;  and 3) these young Illlini can score.  Are there going to be growing pains with this young team?  Your thoughts Scott?

Scott Richey wrote on December 06, 2017 at 12:12 pm
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Elmer B Fudd,

Thanks for the kind words and being a regular chat participant. 

Yes, there will be growing pains with this team. I think you saw them when Te'Jon Lucas threw an unnecessary alley oop to nobody and when Da'Monte Williams missed an open Mark Alstork on that inbounds pass. Or when Kipper Nichols turned the ball over by throwing it off his teammate's back. And to think that all came in the last 2 minutes of the game.

But the fact Illinois was in position to win Sunday against Maryland after being down 22 points in the second half speaks to a couple things you pointed out. This team can score and will continue to score. And this team can get stops when it needs to (see Alstork on Anthony Cowan in the second half) by applying a pressure defense.

The Illini just haven't put it all together yet. That still may take some time. 

Elmer B Fudd wrote on December 06, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Concerned with the play of Mark Smith these past few games.  Against the zone defense,  he appears passive and unwilling to take the ball to the bucket as compared to earlier non conference games.   Your thoughts?

Scott Richey wrote on December 06, 2017 at 12:12 pm
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Elmer B Fudd,

Brad Underwood addressed this yesterday during his press conference. Even just nine games into the season, opposing teams know what Mark Smith wants to do when he has the ball in his hands. They're shutting down even minimal lanes to the basket he could exploit and sagging off him defensively. They're daring him to shoot. It's a sound strategy considering he can finish just about anything at the rim, but he's only shooting 15 percent from three-point range. 

Smith just needs to knock down a few three-pointers every once in a while to make defenses play him a bit more honestly. That will open up more opportunities to attack the rim, which he's not seeing now because they aren't there quite as much.

IlliniFanSincetheSpoon wrote on December 06, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Hey Scott,

Hill seems to have hit the wall! I think he will be a great Illini, but isn't it time that Jordan or Nichols start? 10 zip is not the best start to a game. BTW, Thanks for the great coverage.

Scott Richey wrote on December 06, 2017 at 12:12 pm
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IlliniFanSincetheSpoon,

You are correct that a 10-0 deficit isn't a great way to start the game. That was still bugging Brad Underwood yesterday afternoon. 

I think you meant to say Mark Smith seems to have hit a wall instead of Malcolm Hill, who is actually playing pretty well in Germany right now. But Smith has hit a bit of a wall. I addressed his offensive play in my last response, but Underwood is more interested in how he defends and how he rebounds. The scoring will come, but Smith has not defended that well or rebounded that well lately. That's why he's been finishing games on the bench.

But it's worth mentioning that Smith is a freshman. They all have their struggles at one time or another. 

As far as should someone else start, well, maybe that happens tonight. If it's going to happen at all, you do it tonight against Austin Peay rather than Saturday in a road game in Las Vegas that doesn't start until 11 p.m. CST. Let the guys get adjusted to the new normal at home. If there is a change, don't be surprised if it's Da'Monte Williams for his defense. I think Underwood likes to bring Aaron Jordan off the bench as the top scorer for the second unit and Kipper Nichols to pretty much do some of everything with that group. 

Scott Richey wrote on December 06, 2017 at 1:12 pm
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That's it for today's chat since I need to head to Huff Hall soon to chat with the Illini volleyball team before they head to State College for the Sweet 16. Then off to Bielfeldt for the reveal of the next facilities project for the Illini and on to State Farm Center after that for basketball.

Be sure to catch all of our Illinois coverage in the pages of The News-Gazette and right here at IlliniHQ.com. The chat will be back next week — same time, same place.

Until then, enjoy the week!