Jan. 10 Illinois basketball chat

Jan. 10 Illinois basketball chat

Wednesday, January 10, 2018 - 3:30pm

When will the Illini win a Big Ten game? What starting five should Brad Underwood use on Thursday night against Iowa? How is Ayo Dosunmu doing in his senior season at Morgan Park? What Class of 2019 recruits are the Illini pursuing? Does Illinois have any chance to play postseason basketball this season? Beat writer Scott Richey is here to answer your questions, concerns and anything else on your mind in his 3:30 p.m. chat on Wednesday. Feel free to submit questions ahead of time. 

Scott Richey wrote on January 10, 2018 at 4:01 pm
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Good afternoon everybody. Sorry for the delay in getting started. I had a few things to finish up for Thursday's News-Gazette (plenty of basketball coverage). Then, I'm not sure it still counts as lunch at 4 p.m., but I needed to grab something to eat. Illinois basketball availability over the noon hour meant lunch was skipped.

Plenty of questions waiting for me, so let's get to it ...

Elmer B Fudd wrote on January 10, 2018 at 4:01 pm

Thanks for the great chat again Scott.  I can’t help but be excited about this young Illini basketball team, despite their record.   We are significantly better defensively in several categories.  We are definitely a better rebounding team, often out rebounding much bigger teams.   We are scoring more points.  Our inside game involves a 6’7” guy who is averaging 17 points a game usually against guys 3-4” taller.   We have 4 very skilled freshman that are contributing and gaining valuable playing experience.  The team is competitive in every game, granted their play has been very inconsistent.  Coach Beilein was very complimentary of the Illini after the Michigan game.  The glass is definitely half full.  Your thoughts Scott?

Scott Richey wrote on January 10, 2018 at 4:01 pm
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Elmer,

I would say (and have said) Illinois has shown flashes of what the team could be, but that higher level of play has certainly not been consistent. The Illini have picked up Brad Underwood's defense much better than I expected (that was Oklahoma State's struggle last season), and the rebounding has — for the most part — also been better than I would have initially thought. 

Offense is the issue. Underwood mentioned today that the Illini have to start becoming shot makers instead of just shot takers. Unless shots start falling for guys like Michael Finke and Aaron Jordan in particular, but also Mark Smith and Trent Frazier, Illinois is probably going to continue to struggle.

Elmer B Fudd wrote on January 10, 2018 at 4:01 pm

Scott, any news on the boys basketball recruiting front?  Reportedly, Ayo stated on twittter that Thamba was going to commit to the Illini.   Any news regarding Thamba, T Jones, etc.?

Scott Richey wrote on January 10, 2018 at 4:01 pm
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Elmer,

Flo Thamba is apparently going to commit next week and then sign in April. Illinois is still in the mix for the athletic center, but Virginia Tech is probably the frontrunner. Another big man to keep an eye on is Valdir Manuel. He doesn't have an offer yet that I'm aware of, but he's reportedly planning an official visit after his senior season.

The hunt also continues for some help on the wing. Tevian Jones is definitely a guy the Illini like, but they also just offered Jermaine Couisnard, an Indiana native taking a prep school year in Florida. Couisnard fits the bill of shooter/scorer on the wing.

IlliniFansinceTheSpoon wrote on January 10, 2018 at 4:01 pm

Hey Scott,

Look into your crystal ball, do the Illini win another game this season? Maybe time for the more productive players to get more minutes. Some of the guys are really struggling with their shots.

Scott Richey wrote on January 10, 2018 at 4:01 pm
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IlliniFansinceTheSpoon,

Illinois will win another game this season. In fact, I'm picking the Illini to beat Iowa tomorrow. They'll probably even manage to win another game or three after that if not more. Yes, an 0-4 start to Big Ten play is not ideal, but Illinois should keep improving.

Of all the players currently in the rotation, I'd say Greg Eboigbodin has definitely earned himself some more minutes. Brad Underwood likes players who do different things, which is a bonus for Eboigbodin because there's nobody else that can match what he does on the roster. 

Elmer B Fudd wrote on January 10, 2018 at 4:01 pm

Michael Finke has really struggled from the 3 point line.  He is finding other ways to contribute through his rebounding and defense.  Due to Greg E’s recent surge in production, do you think he is worthy of a start over Finke?  Really impressed with Greg E’s rebounding, shot blocking, and overall inside presence.

Scott Richey wrote on January 10, 2018 at 4:01 pm
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Elmer,

This ending up being good timing on the questions after I just mentioned Greg Eboigbodin in my last answer. Brad Underwood will be the first to say that who starts means absolutely nothing to him. He called it the least important thing today when asked a question about his lineup. I think some players care, but, honestly, I put more weight in who finishes games. Those are the guys coaches obviously trust the most to get the job done.

Long story short — just had the above on my mind after Underwood's presser — I don't see Eboigbodin starting over Michael Finke. Underwood likes to bring some fire off the bench. Eboigbodin provides that. Plus, he's just night and day different in terms of playing style to Finke, so that can throw defenses for a loop after starting the game guarding a "center" that stretches the floor. 

But even if Eboigbodin doesn't start, I can see him being a key piece in the rotation. Like I mentioned before, he can do things no other big on the Illinois roster can.

Chuckles Smith wrote on January 10, 2018 at 4:01 pm

What insight can you give us towards the recruiting of others for the 2018 high school grads, Grad trans, or  D2 transfers like Tevian Jones and Flo Thamba.  

Scott Richey wrote on January 10, 2018 at 4:01 pm
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Chuckles,

Here's the thing about Illinois' continued 2018 recruiting as a whole ... There's one thing I'd say the Illini want more than anything when it comes to filling their remaining scholarships, and that's athleticism. Freshmen like Trent Frazier and Greg Eboigbodin have added athleticism to the Illinois roster, but the Illini are still operating at a deficit there in comparison to a lot of teams they've faced or will face. 

That's why the big men Illinois are targeting (Flo Thamba and Valdir Manuel) are more the Eboigbodin mold than, say, the Michael Finke mold. Tevian Jones would add athleticism on the wing (plus shooting). The latest offer to Jermaine Couisnard was put out there for the same reason. He was a mega scorer as a high school senior at East Chicago (Ind.) Central. Illinois' pursuit of players like the ones I've mentioned make it clear that athleticism, shooting and scoring are the key areas they'd like to address on the roster.

It's too early to really know anything about the grad transfer market. It will explode this spring, and Illinois might still be in the market for another player or two. Brad Underwood's clear preference, though, is high school players.

JupiterIllini wrote on January 10, 2018 at 4:01 pm

Scott, thanks for all the Illini ariticles and insights. here are some thoughts to comment on.

Passing, this team is simply awful passing the ball. Guard dribbling 20/25 seconds to start an offensive set, reminds one of the JG era. Dribbling allows the defense to set up, where as passing and moving without the ball, gets the defense chasing. We haven't run a give and go fastbreak all year. Seems every game a decent bounce pass, would have eliminated a stolen pass or two. We had the best 3 point shooter in the nation, in Big Ten play he hasn't had an open look shot that I can remember.

I had a coach that had practices that dribbling wasn't allow! Passing is on the coach, the fix, sit on the bench.

Scott Richey wrote on January 10, 2018 at 4:01 pm
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JupiterIllini,

It's like you can read my mind during the games or something because I have moments — and they seem to be increasing in number — where I'm thinking there's too much dribbling going on. More often than not, good things don't happen on the offensive end for Illinois during those possessions.

Brad Underwood has mentioned multiple times that the goal offensively if it's not an easy, quick score is ball reversals. Getting to the "third" or "fourth" side can pull defenses out of position. The Illini know it. They just need to execute it.

In regards to Aaron Jordan, his three-point surge to start the season didn't go unnoticed. Teams are game planning for and defending against that. The fact he's very much a spot-up shooter means Illinois has to find new ways to get him open looks. More and better ball reversals wouldn't hurt.

 

Illini Basketball Fan wrote on January 10, 2018 at 4:01 pm

Scott -

How is John Groce doing at Akron? Is he under/over-performing in terms of expectations from the community and from their AD? What's the overall vibe toward him at this point?

Who do you think will be the most likely commit for the basketball team and when will that happen?

Do you think Ebo will take gradually take away minutes from M. Finke based on his recent court performances and greater long-term potential?  

Is Finke eligible to transfer as a grad student next year and play right away wherever he chooses? (That is IF he sees his minutes to be much less next year)

Football-related, what's your take on Lovie hiring the new OC and remaining assistants? Will he go slow and take his time? OR will he try to fill quickly with recruiting signing period in just a few weeks away?

Thank for you all you do : -)

 

 

 

Scott Richey wrote on January 10, 2018 at 4:01 pm
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Illini Basketball Fan,

I'll be honest. Akron basketball hasn't exactly super high on my radar. But considering the Zips had some serious roster churn with graduations and transfers after last season, I'm not exactly surprised at their 7-8 record. Just four of their top 11 played for Akron last season. John Groce is in rebuild mode.

Yes, I think Greg Eboigbodin can take minutes away from Michael Finke. Hypothetically (because that's all it is and don't read anything into this), Finke could transfer and play right away somewhere else next season. He earned his bachelor's degree last month.

I would say Lovie Smith is taking his time hiring a new offensive coordinator and filling the other two spots on his coaching staff considering the dead period ends tomorrow and recruiting picks back up again before the now regular signing day next month. I'd want a full staff to get back out on the road, but that's just me. Illinois put an extension on the job openings. Lovie could still make his hire whenever he wanted, but that extension allows more applications to be received.

 

 

Honeywood wrote on January 10, 2018 at 4:01 pm

Scott,

 

Thanks for the chats as usual. You continue to do a great job covering the Illini.

I am cautiously optimistic about the current season and aggressively enthusiastic about the future of the program with Coach Underwood.

The 2019 class targets seem pretty obvious (Whitney, Okoro, Liddell), and I'm excited about the possibility of their pursuit. But the 2018 class is becoming a bit concerning. 

Has there been any new intel on Penn-Johnson, Tevian Jones, or Taeshon Cherry? I know Illinois was known to have reached out to them and that Cherry was interested in visiting Illinois at least in part due to Ayo. Any of those three seem like they would be excellent additions, but I haven't heard any recent updates on their recruitment from the Illini side.

Scott Richey wrote on January 10, 2018 at 5:01 pm
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Honeywood,

I touched on 2018 recruiting in a couple of my other responses — particuarly when it comes to the type of player Illinois is trying to add alongside Ayo Dosunmu. You are correct in there hasn't been a lot of buzz recruiting wise, but I think that's partially to do with timing. Both Illinois and its potential 2018 recruits are in the thick of their respective seasons. Sometimes actual basketball does take precedence.

The other side of things is that Illinois got in on guys like Tevian Jones and Taeshon Cherry after the early signing period closed. Those relationships are still being built. Jones is definitely a top target. I'm not sure how the other two fit.

The fact Bryan Penn-Johnson's recruitment is still open is obviously key, but the odds are he stays out west. And I think a cautious approach should be made with Cherry given he decommitted from USC after the recruiting scandal broke in the fall. He might not have done a single thing wrong — I don't know one way or the other — but he's tied to that regardless. That might not be fair, but perception can be like that.

Anonymous User wrote on January 10, 2018 at 5:01 pm

Following some very positive comments coming out of early season practice about Mark Smith -- it seems like he has taken a step back more recently.  I was wondering if you see any of the team's practices to know whether his slump is simply working through game time challenges...or if it extends also into practices.

Scott Richey wrote on January 10, 2018 at 5:01 pm
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Anonymous,

Brad Underwood is still high on Mark Smith. I'd say for a good reason. The freshman guard has loads of potential. What he needs, though, is to continue to improve his execution — particulary on the defensive end. Defending consistently at the high level Underwood expects remains Smith's biggest hurdle. He may not be perfect in practice (who is?) but I'd say his struggles certainly are more live game situation related.

Gregg G wrote on January 10, 2018 at 5:01 pm

I went to watch a few Illini recruits in the Highland Tourney Saturday.  I was impressed with EJ Liddell.  Where do we stand in that recruitment? Has he made an official visit to Champaign yet?  Ayo was obviously still hurt so did not get to see  much from him in the few minutes he did play but his teammate Adam Miller,  in my opinion was the most talented player I saw play that day. I know he is a few years off but any idea where we stand in his recruitment?

Scott Richey wrote on January 10, 2018 at 5:01 pm
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Gregg G,

E.J. Liddell hasn't made any official visits yet because ... he can't take any official visits yet. Those can only happen after the first day of class of a recruit's senior year (although the early signing day for football has changed that for football recruits). Either way, Illinois is in a good place with Liddell having been an early offer, retaining Jamall Walker on staff and signing Mark Smith.

I got a chance to see Morgan Park play in early December against Champaign Central, and while Ayo Dosunmu played well, I was just as impressed with Adam Miller. I like that he can get his jumpshot off against anybody and the fact he's got good size for a high school sophomore point guard. His recruitment will pick up real steam next year, but Illinois is certainly a contender. Getting some extra recruiting from Dosunmu should help, too.

Scott Richey wrote on January 10, 2018 at 5:01 pm
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Going to finish up with a couple email questions from John ...

Which players do you think are significantly improving and in what specific areas?

The easy answer here is Greg Eboigbodin. His ability to play without fouling and be successul as a rim runner on offense (catching the ball still a work in progress sometimes) and rim protector on defense has all improved. 

With the emergence of Eboigbodin, we kind of forget about Vesel. How is he progressing? Are there indications that he'll be a contributor next year?

I asked Brad Underwood about Matic Vesel today. The freshman big man apparently had a great week of practice last week and has followed that up with a solid week of practice this week. Eboigbodin's improvements were rooted significantly in his confidence. Vesel's is going up, too.

What stood out the most to me from what Underwood said about Vesel was the coaches have finally gotten him to start shooting more. He's been hesitatant to shoot in his limited playing time, and apparently the same was true in practice. Was being the operative word. Because his game is so different from Eboigbodin, they can really complement each other moving forward. 

Scott Richey wrote on January 10, 2018 at 5:01 pm
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That's it for this week's chat. Thanks, as always, to everyone that submitted questions or simply followed along. There's plenty of Illinois basketball coverage coming your way this week still with tomorrow's game against Iowa.

The chat will return next Wednesday. Same time, same place. Until then, enjoy the week!

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