Jan. 4 Illinois basketball chat

Jan. 4 Illinois basketball chat

Thursday, January 4, 2018 - 10:30am

What's in store for the Illini in the new year? Even with 10 nonconference victories, Illinois has work to do in the Big Ten for postseason basketball to be a possibility. A return trip to the NCAA tournament after four straight misses? That's going to necessitate a lot of Big Ten wins in the next two months. That challenge is underway with two road games this week. While Scott Richey is traveling the Midwest, he'll also take any and all of your Illini basketball questions in his 10:30 a.m. Thursday chat.

Scott Richey wrote on January 04, 2018 at 10:01 am
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Good morning everybody. Sorry for the delay, but I was trying to get on an earlier flight out of Minneapolis and was waiting on stand by. Clearly, I wasn't successful, so this week's chat will happen on location at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Let's get to it ...

Elmer B Fudd wrote on January 04, 2018 at 10:01 am

Hello Scott! Thanks for such great coverage of Illini sports. Coach Underwood

has said in the past that he really doesn’t put too much stock in his starting five.

If you determine that your rotation of nine are at the same skill level, then I agree

with him. But, the skill level is different amongst the 9 players in his rotation and

you need to put your best five out there to start the game. The starting five should

be: Frazier, Smith, Jordan, Black, and Finke. Lucas, Alstork, Williams, and Nichols

should be the reserved. Whatis Coach Underwood’s thinking regarding this?

Scott Richey wrote on January 04, 2018 at 10:01 am
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Elmer B Fudd,

Thanks for the kind words and your regular chat participation. Both are certainly appreciated. 

You're correct in noting Brad Underwood isn't overly concerned about who starts the game. But last night's game against Minnesota went against what had been the regular rotation, as Te'Jon Lucas played just 11 minutes and Kipper Nichols only 7 minutes. A departure from the top nine playing roughly the same amount of time.

Still, doing the same thing over and over expecting things to change isn't perhaps the best idea. The regular starters have led to numerous slow starts. Even if it doesn't matter who starts, it's time to shake things up and try for some different results. Underwood appears ready to do that.

I think you were mostly right on your starters. I will not be surprised if the starters Saturday at Michigan are the same five that were on the court to start the second half against Minnesota — Trent Frazier, Da'Monte Williams, Mark Smith, Leron Black and Michael Finke.

Elmer B Fudd wrote on January 04, 2018 at 10:01 am

Scott,  the schedule makers didn’t give the Illini much a of break.   Four out of the next five Big Ten games on the road (Min, Mich, Neb, and Wisconsin) with a home game sandwiched in between with Iowa.  After these 5 games, we then play Mich St at home.    What a rough stretch for this young team after already starting 0-2 in Big Ten play!  

Scott Richey wrote on January 04, 2018 at 11:01 am
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Elmer,

Yeah, the resumption of Big Ten play didn't exactly favor Illinois. Still, last night's game against Minnesota — despite the terrible start — proved to be a winnable game. It wouldn't be outlandish to call the next four winnable either. Playing at Michigan and at Wisconsin will be a challenge — particularly against the Wolverines — but this isn't a typical Badgers team.

Even though it starts against Michigan State, at least there's a three-game homestand to finish January. That's my silver lining after plenty of travel for the first few weeks of the new year.

Elmer B Fudd wrote on January 04, 2018 at 11:01 am

Need to get Jordan more 3 point attempts!

Scott Richey wrote on January 04, 2018 at 11:01 am
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Elmer,

Aaron Jordan attempted six three-pointers Wednesday night against Minnesota. That's only two shy of his season high when he shot eight against Longwood. Of course, he made four in that blowout Illini win last month. Wednesday night he went 1 of 6 from beyond the arc.

That's not something that will happen all the time. Probably. My vantage point from the balcony at Williams Arena gave me a unique view of most of his shots. They just didn't seem to be coming off his hand cleanly all the time. 

FLBob wrote on January 04, 2018 at 11:01 am

As of today, January 4th, what percent chances would you give the Illini BB of making the NCAA tournament?

Scott Richey wrote on January 04, 2018 at 11:01 am
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FLBob,

Well, the KenPom projections have Illinois finishing the season 16-15 and 6-12 in the Big Ten. If that holds, I would give Illinois a zero percent chance of making the NCAA tournament. Just going on pure gut instinct ... I'd still say it's a pretty slim chance. Maybe 20 percent max? At this moment in time, it looks like maybe eight more wins in the regular season and then a great Big Ten tournament run (reach the championship game perhaps) might get it done. I stress the word might for a reason.

Gregg G wrote on January 04, 2018 at 11:01 am

I know they eventually get more minutes but at what point do you replace Lucas and Smith with Frazier and Williams in the starting line up?  And when do you pull the plug on waiting for Finke to find his stroke......he looks over matched defensively much of the time and combined with him being ineffective offensively seems to be a major contributor to the slow starts. Do you see them possibly trying a small starting line up with Black and 4 guards to jump start things?

Also, what is the latest on the Ayo injury? 

Scott Richey wrote on January 04, 2018 at 11:01 am
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Gregg G,

I think Trent Frazier will replace Te'Jon Lucas in the starting lineup Saturday at Michigan. At least that seemed to be what Brad Underwood was indicating. Da'Monte Williams, too, but maybe for Mark Alstork instead of Mark Smith? That would even out things defensively — Williams and Alstork are similar in that regard.

My regular Twitter browsing has pretty much revealed Michael Finke as the replacement Nnanna Egwu for some portions of the fan base to dump on. The fact of the matter is, Finke is the second leading rebounder on the team behind Black and leads Illinois in offensive rebounds. And when his shot falls, which is clearly not all the time at this juncture, he can be an offensive threat. I've also liked him being more aggressive and trying to go baseline more. He wasn't successful, but I like that he got past Jordan Murphy on the baseline and tried to dunk on Reggie Lynch. Lots of people struggle doing the second part.

That said, I can see Greg Eboigbodin — if he produces like he did last night — earning more playing time. But he's got to rebound more and show that he can be that reliable as a rim runner. 

The prospect of a four-guard lineup is out there, but that's going to be a harder thing to accomplish in the Big Ten. There's some big dudes out there still on the Illinois schedule.

Haven't heard much more about the injury Ayo Dosunmu suffered at the Big Dipper other than the tweet by his mom that it wasn't serious. The fact he was on crutches for just one game after that he missed is probably a good sign.

IlliniFanSincetheSpoon wrote on January 04, 2018 at 11:01 am

Hey Scott,

With these possible line-up changes being tossed around, does Finke come off the bench now? Love his desire, but his numbers keep declining. Finke and Alstork are an offensive weakness when both are on the court together. Other than Leron Black,  would you give a start? And about Black, that was a man's rebound putback, as Steve Bardo would say, vs Mizzou at crunch time. I missed your chat after that game but wanted to mention it. Thanks for the format to exchange thoughts!

Scott Richey wrote on January 04, 2018 at 11:01 am
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IlliniFanSincetheSpoon,

I don't think Michael Finke will come off the bench. I made note of his rebounding in a previous answer, but Brad Underwood likes what he's able to do with Finke at the offensive end. Finke just needs to get some shots to fall. Over his career, he's shown he's a better three-point shooter than he is currently.

Like in a previous answer as well, I still think Saturday's starting lineup at Michigan will be Trent Frazier, Da'Monte Williams, Mark Smith, Leron Black and Michael Finke. I could be wrong, though. It's happened before. But I think some change is necessitated even if it only has a psychological effect. That might be enough to snap Illinois out of its persistent slow starts.

Scott Richey wrote on January 04, 2018 at 11:01 am
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OK, looks like that's all the questions for today's chat. Thanks to everybody that submitted a question or followed along. Be sure to check out IlliniHQ.com for our online exclusive coverage from last night's game. We'll have more as Illinois returns to action Saturday at Michigan.

The chat should be back to its regular date and time next week with just one game on the schedule. Until then, stay warm and enjoy the week!