Dec. 20 Illinois basketball chat

Dec. 20 Illinois basketball chat

Wednesday, December 20, 2017 - 12:30pm

Just two nonconference games remain on the schedule for Illinois, which has lost five of its last seven. The first of those two? This Saturday against Missouri with Braggin' Rights on the line. It's a game that has a bit more hype to it than the last couple. While that hype has taken some hits (Michael Porter Jr. out with an injury and the Illini losing five of seven), there's still plenty on the line. Like a marquee victory for the Illini. Or maybe the recuiting edge for Belleville West's E.J. Liddell. Before that, beat writer Scott Richey will answer any and all Illinois basketball questions in his 12:30 p.m. Wednesday chat. What's on your mind Illini fans?


Scott Richey wrote on December 20, 2017 at 12:12 pm
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This is going to end up being a pretty quick chat it looks like. Just one question submitted here and one via email. Plus, I'm keeping track of the early signing period for Illinois football. And have a radio spot to tape (listen to SportsTalk at 5:10 p.m. for the full show) pretty soon. Busy day per usual here at N-G headquarters.

Anyway, on to the chat ...

Bill-e-bob wrote on December 20, 2017 at 12:12 pm

All in all the Volleyball team had a solid, impressive season this year, I think.  How would you describe the overall achievements/successes of this team? 

We showed that we can beat the top teams, besting Minn. and Washington.  Next step is doing that consistently!  What areas do you think we must most improve on in order to reach that goal?  Do our current players have the potential to make the necessary strides forward? 

Do you think that our solid bench players will get a fair chance to show what they can do during Spring Ball, e.g., Deberg, Van Dyke; Hallowell; and even Walters and Smith?  Given what you know about her recent play, will Kuper come in and be ready to take over for Brandi, or will there be a real battle with O'Brien at libero?

If all goes well, with Brown here for a year under Tamas and Poulter, she should be ready to go in at setter in 2019.  Beyond our current recruits, do we need additional help at Middle Blocker after Ali B finishes?  Do you think we can recruit a Rettke-type player to counter-act that trend among other top teams?

Thanks, as always, for the chats!

Scott Richey wrote on December 20, 2017 at 12:12 pm
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I would say Illinois volleyball making it to the Sweet 16 was a major success. I thought getting back to the NCAA tournament was possible because of Jordyn Poulter, Ali Bastianelli and Brandi Donnelly coming back, but the Sweet 16 wasn't something I necessarily expected given the coaching change and all the new players. Pretty great building block for Chris Tamas in year one.

I think the one thing that could put Illinois over the top is a truly terminal (as in all the time) pin hitter. Jacqueline Quade and Beth Prince could still grow into that. Megan Cooney impressed me, too, at opposite.

Spring is the best time for players to challenge for spots, although with bascially the entire team returning next season the players that didn't get much time this fall will really have to step up their games. The returning starters can't slip up either. 

I would say Taylor Kuper will compete for a defensive specialist spot, but Morgan O'Brien definitely has the leg up at libero given she filled in for Donnelly when she was hurt. It took a couple matches, I think, for O'Brien to get comfortable in that role, but she played well.

Considering the three 2019 commits are all middles (or can play that spot), it looks like Tamas has addressed that need for the post-Bastianelli days where Tyanna Omazic will be leading in the middle. A Dana Rettke-type player would be great. For any team. There's just not enough 6-foot-8 stars out there to go around.

Scott Richey wrote on December 20, 2017 at 12:12 pm
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Another emailed query from regular correspondent John:

In some ways, this freshman class seems comparable to Groce's first. Can you do a deep dive and compare overall and individual freshman stats for this point of the season then and now? And a comparison of grad transfers at this point?

A deep dive this may not because this year's freshmen class is playing a much more signicant role than John Groce's first in 2013-14. I'm using that class instead of the one before because the only freshman brought in for 2012-13 was Mike LaTulip as a walk-on.

The 2013-14 group saw Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn and Maverick Morgan play in all 35 games, while Jaylon Tate played in 33 and Austin Colbert in 22. Hill and Nunn had the more significant playing time and ultimately ended the season in the starting lineup the final 12 game and averaged 4.4 and 6.2 points per game, respectively.

Brad Underwood's first class is getting much more playing time. Mark Smith is a regular starter, and both Da'Monte Williams and Trent Frazier are playing significant minutes off the bench. There's really no comparison to the two. 

In terms of early grad transfers in the Groce and Underwood eras, they're a little more comparable than I initially thought they would be heading into this season. Sam McLaurin was brought in to a fill a role in the post, and he did so admirably starting about half the games in 2012-13 and averaging 3.8 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.

Mark Alstork has also been more of a role player after transferring from Wright State. I didn't necessarily expect him to match his scoring levels with the Raiders given the move from the Horizon League to the Big Ten, but he's honestly made more of an impact defensively and with his passing than he has as a scorer. Mark that down as unexpected (at least to me).

Scott Richey wrote on December 20, 2017 at 12:12 pm
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And that's it for today's rather short chat. Thanks to the two participants. Here's hoping for more next week. Yes, the chat will be in its regular slot two days after Christmas. After all, the Illini play Grand Canyon on Dec. 30. More Illinois basketball coverage is coming before the holidays, though, with the Braggin' Rights game on Saturday. Keep an eye out for that.

Happy Holidays!