Jan. 24 Illinois basketball chat

Jan. 24 Illinois basketball chat

Wednesday, January 24, 2018 - 12:30pm

Nearing the midway point of the Big Ten schedule, what can be salvaged for the rest of the season by the Illini? How does a season like this affect recruiting? Can Brad Underwood's program rally in the last month of the regular season? Beat writer Scott Richey will answer any and all questions related to the Illini in his weekly chat, which tips off at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Feel free to submit questions ahead of time.

Scott Richey wrote on January 24, 2018 at 12:01 pm
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Good afternoon everybody. With Illinois and Indiana 7 1/2 hours from tip (boy, have I grown tired of 8 p.m. starts this season), this week's chat will just be part of our extended pregame offerings.

Also coming up today ... Scott Beatty and myself live from State Farm Center at 5:10 p.m. for Sports Talk. The pregame show follows and leads into Brian Barnhart and Deon Thomas on the call for tonight's game (where I'll have the LIVE! Report going). Then the postgame show featuring Beatty and newcomer Matt McCumber. Add in my coverage after the game and, News-Gazette Media has you covered in every way possible when it comes to Illinois basketball.

Plug complete, let's get to the chat ...

Illini Basketball Fan wrote on January 24, 2018 at 12:01 pm

Scott -

I applaud the Illini for their efforts in their game vs MSU last night, but we can clearly see that this Illini squad is comparable to a JV team and note that MSU is much bigger, stronger, and faster. What is puzzling me is why is Illinois unable to land more recruits that is bigger, stronger, and faster. I am sure Ayo may have had second thoughts in being part of a team that has a long, long way to go before competing with the B10 elite teams.

I want to bring up Orlando Antigua, Assistant with primary responsibility in developing Finke, Black,  Eboigbodin, et al. They've made some marked progress this year, and, unfortunately, not enough to challenge the elite teams. With Antigua's elite reputattion as a recruiter and front court player development (especially at Kentucky with placing several frontline players in the NBA), why hasn't he and Underwood able to haul in at least one or two elite rim-protectors/rebounders/shooters and also as good as MSU's frontline? Ebo and Matic Vesel, when recruited, were considered more of project players. Illini continue to miss out other top recruits who can rebound and block shots.

Will Antigua stick around or will he try to go back to an elite team (maybe return to Kentucky?) where it is easier to sell the program, especially with winning, and, thus, easier to land front court players that the Illini yearn for?

Thanks!

 

 

Scott Richey wrote on January 24, 2018 at 12:01 pm
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Illini Basketball Fan,

The 2018 class was always going to be a challenging one when it came to recruiting. Brad Underwood was hired in March. The assistant coaches, Orlando Antigua, were finalized in April. That's when they started recruiting and selling 2018 prospects on Illinois. That put the Illini coaches behind. Those prospects had longer term relationships with other coaching staffs and teams. 

It's waaaaay too premature to start questioning why Antigua hasn't landed the next Anthony Davis or Nerlens Noel or Karl-Anthony Towns at Illinois. First, the 2018 class wasn't exactly loaded with elite bigs. Perhaps the only "surprise" moves by the top guys were Simi Shittu signing with Vanderbilt (but he committed after he knew Darius Garland was going there, too) and Naz Reid signing with LSU. 

Second, Illinois is not Kentucky. While John Calipari was stacking up five-star recruits year after year and staying a national power, Bruce Weber and John Groce weren't exactly doing the same with the Illini. It's a chicken and egg scenario. Winning programs draw higher profile recruits. You have to have players — or at least a stable, successful system — to be a consistent winner. Illinois has to break in to that cycle somehow.

I don't know what Antigua's future might hold. The Illinois coaches are pretty tight group from what I've heard and seen firsthand. If anything, I'd say Antigua would probably have his eyes on being a head coach again having reached that level once already. 

ChiTown Illini wrote on January 24, 2018 at 12:01 pm

Hi Scott,

Has a school ever finished in last in the Big Ten in football, men's basketball and women's basketball in the same season (perhaps Northwestern in the 80s)?  What do you think Illinois's chances are of avoiding this triple crown of futility?

Scott Richey wrote on January 24, 2018 at 12:01 pm
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ChiTown Illini,

Yours is a question that, to be honest, is going to require more research time than I've got on a Wednesday morning. But it's an interesting thread to try and follow. Stay tuned. 

Illinois is going to have to count on its basketball teams to avoid that fate. On the men's side, the Illini need one of Iowa or Rutgers to keep losing while they, of course, win at least three of their remaining games.

The bottom of the Big Ten on the women's side looks like it's going to be a battle between Wisconsin and Illinois with Northwestern and Indiana perhaps throwing their hats in the ring, too. The Illini will need to beat the Badgers (who will need to keep losing) and then at least somebody else because Wisconsin got off the schneid by beating Northwestern. 

Khan El-Sanderz wrote on January 24, 2018 at 12:01 pm

After the MSU drubbing in the paint, I'm not sure what strategy the team will even attempt against Purdue's sizeable frontcourt.  Any updates on relief next year with either new players or surprising development of the two freshman bigs we already have?

Side note....this team is way better than their record and I'm thinking they pummel Indiana tonight.

 

Scott Richey wrote on January 24, 2018 at 12:01 pm
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Khan El-Sanderz,

There's a difference between the Michigan State and Purdue frontcourts. The Spartans — particularly Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges — are super athletic. Purdue has that in Vince Edwards, but for the most part the Boilermakers are just super big.

Illinois' defense against Michigan State that hounded the point guards and didn't let them run all of their offense kept the Spartans from trying to establish Nick Ward in the post. The Illini will have to do that against Purdue. Letting all 7 feet, 2 inches and 290 pounds of Isaac Haas get comfortable on the block will be a crippling blow to Illinois.

The big man market is a little thin at the moment for Illinois. Really thin if we're being honest. The Illini, in my opinion, are going to have to hit the transfer wire for additional help down low. Of course, a sophomore leap by Greg Eboigbodin or Matic Vesel wouldn't hurt.

I tend to agree with you that the Illini have played well enough to have more wins by now. The thing is ... they don't. Indiana might not be scary good Indiana, but the Hoosiers have found a way to win four of their last five games, including beating three teams Illinois already lost to this season.

Elmer B Fudd wrote on January 24, 2018 at 12:01 pm

Scott,  thanks for the chats and your excellent coverage of Illini sports.  Excellent effort by our team against a far superior Michigan State team.   Total opposite of what we witnesssed in the Wisconsin game.   It was especially great to see Kipper Nichols play so well.    What has been going on with Kipper?    Has there been any other issues going on with him (academic, disciplinary, coach conflicts)?

Scott Richey wrote on January 24, 2018 at 1:01 pm
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Elmer B Fudd,

I'll just start here ... Kipper Nichols, to my knowledge, has had no academic or disciplinary issues during his time at Illinois. The only "conflict" and I use that word so, so lightly comes from Nichols being a super nice guy with a laid back personality that he doesn't perhaps shed often enough on the basketball court. He did so against Michigan State. He showed the type of aggression Brad Underwood wants and did so at both ends of the court.

Elmer B Fudd wrote on January 24, 2018 at 1:01 pm

Scott,   We need a big in the worst way for 2018.  To your knowledge, what is being done on the recruiting front to secure the services of a true big guy.

Scott Richey wrote on January 24, 2018 at 1:01 pm
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Elmer,

When it comes to offers out for additional big men to add in the 2018 class, Illinois' recruiting board has just one name on it — Bryan Penn-Johnson — and it's fairly unlikely at this juncture I'd say that he's going to pick the Illini. There's also interest in Valdir Manuel, who plays in New Jersey, but he would be more of a project big. If that's not the route Illinois wants to take (and I'd say that's likely with two already on the roster), then it's grad transfers, international guys we haven't heard about yet or bust.

Elmer B Fudd wrote on January 24, 2018 at 1:01 pm

Scott, I understand that defenses are clamping down on Aaron Jordan to prevent him any 3 point shots.   Why isn’t there a more concerted effort you the coaching  to get him more 3 point opportunities?   If you watch him closely during games, most often he is floating around the perimeter with little movement.

Scott Richey wrote on January 24, 2018 at 1:01 pm
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Fudd,

Aaron Jordan had what could have been a couple of three-point attempts in the first half against Michigan State. He chose to attack the basket instead of shoot what the coaching staff considered good looks. Plus, since his incredibly accurate start he hasn't been shooting at as high a percentage. Granted it's been on fewer attempts, but Jordan is 11 of 30 (36.7 percent) from deep. That's not terrible, but it's certainly not the 50-60 percent he was shooting in basically the first two-thirds of the season.

Elmer B Fudd wrote on January 24, 2018 at 1:01 pm

Great to see Tejon Lucas back.  Very active on both sides of the ball.  Why was he suspended?  Do you see him on the team next year?

 

 

 

 

Scott Richey wrote on January 24, 2018 at 1:01 pm
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EBF,

Te'Jon Lucas missed two games for a violation of team rules. Sure, there's all sorts of rumors about what he did that may or may not be true. None of it is officially confirmed, however, and almost assuredly won't be confirmed by the team so therefore it's not reportable.

As for your second question, I don't know. I understand "everyone" thinks he'll transfer given Trent Frazier'e emergence and Ayo Dosunmu on the way, but "everyone" thought Aaron Jordan would transfer, too, after John Groce was fired. How did that turn out?

Illini Basketball Fan wrote on January 24, 2018 at 1:01 pm

Scott -

What's your gut feeling about future basketball recruiting? What players are realistic targets? Should we get the Bloomington HS stars?

Thank you

 

 

Scott Richey wrote on January 24, 2018 at 1:01 pm
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Illini Basketball Fan,

My pure gut feeling about Illinois' future (including the not so distant future of the 2018 class) is things look better down the road. Right now? Not so much with just Ayo Dosunmu signed, no clear big man target(s) and a clear sign as this season has played out the Illini need more athletes and shooters.

But 2019? That could be a huge class. I think Francis Okoro and E.J. Liddell are legitimate, realistic targets. So is Kahlil Whitney, and maybe Chris Payton now, too. Those guys would add some athleticism for sure.

Southern boy wrote on January 24, 2018 at 1:01 pm

How did Ethan Happ who plays for Wisconsin, and Bates-Diap who plays for OSU, get away from Illinois?  They both are downstate guys, we can't let these good players get away from us. 

Scott Richey wrote on January 24, 2018 at 1:01 pm
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Southern boy,

I'm not sure anybody but Bo Ryan thought Ethan Happ would turn into what he's become for the Badgers. His redshirt season helped immensely given he went up against Frank Kaminsky every day in practice and Frank whipped him into form. Does that happen at Illinois with Nnanna Egwu in the Kaminsky role? I'd lean toward not. Happ reportedly wanted to go to Illinois, but the timing of Bruce Weber's firing and John Groce's hiring didn't help things. Groce didn't show much immediate interest, and Happ soon after committed to Wisconsin.

Keita Bates-Diop is another story. I saw him play several times in high school. He was good, and even though he's taken a huge leap this season you could project him out back then as something close to this Big Ten Player of the Year caliber season. Groce offered. Thad Matta beat him out.

 

 

Gregg G wrote on January 24, 2018 at 1:01 pm

I heard where a writer was reporting that he felt there was a good chance Lucas and another upper classman would transfer. If true, isn't it a bit premature to start making these statements?   

Scott Richey wrote on January 24, 2018 at 1:01 pm
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Gregg G.,

Yes. It's an idea that's sort of floating out there in the basketball ether as a topic of discussion, but yes.

Scott Richey wrote on January 24, 2018 at 1:01 pm
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Going to wrap up today's chat with an email from a reader ...

John C.
Were you close enough to see the aftermath of the MSU injury? It looked like Eboigbodin might have been trying to get a referee's attention to say the player was injured.

And is there any word how Eboigbodin and Vesel are progressing in the weight room? MSU showed that even with everyone but Alstork back next year, those two will be critical unless a 7-foot savior appears.

Looking further down the road, when Underwood has a full team, does he like to redshirt a player or two?

 

Like a lot of things that happen at the north end of the court, I was blocked by the Illinois bench when Jaren Jackson Jr. went down. He seemed a little shaky to me when they got him on his feet. Apparently he got hit in the head again later, too. Didn't see that either. It clearly wasn't enough to stop him from dropping 21 points on the Illini.

Greg Eboigbodin was further along in the weight room than Matic Vesel, but that was just pre-Adam Fletcher. Eboigbodin put in good work there — got some gains — during the summer. Not as much is gained during the season. Even though Vesel didn't arrive until August, Michael Finke told me the freshman forward has put on some good weight and strength. There's certainly more work to do in that regard.

Will Underwood redshirt a player or two in the future? It's not out of the question. Doing so this year was not really possible with just 11 scholarship players.

 

Scott Richey wrote on January 24, 2018 at 1:01 pm
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That's it for today's chat. Thanks, as always, to everyone for the questions. Like I mentioned in my initial post, there's A LOT more Illinois basketball coverage coming your way today with the Illini set to play Indiana at 8 p.m. at State Farm Center. Be sure to check it all out.

The chat returns next week. Same time, same place. 

Until then, enjoy the week!