Jan. 31 Illinois basketball chat

Jan. 31 Illinois basketball chat

Wednesday, January 31, 2018 - 12:30pm

February will be a busy month for the Illinois basketball team with eight Big Ten games remaining on the schedule before the conference tournament in New York City. Will the Illini fare better in February than they did in January? What positive steps forward have they taken? How does the recruiting front look? Beat writer Scott Richey will answer these questions and more in his weekly chat at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Scott Richey wrote on January 31, 2018 at 12:01 pm
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Good afternoon everybody. It's been about a month since our weekly chat followed a pair of Illinois victories. One more, and the Illini will be on a winning streak (which would be the first since they won six straight games to start the season). But let's think silver lining here. A week ago at this time, Illinois didn't have any Big Ten wins. Now the Illini have two.

With several questions awaiting me in the chat hopper and a Deron Williams story to complete (should be in tomorrow's N-G), let's get to it ...

Anonymous User wrote on January 31, 2018 at 12:01 pm

Will Mark Smith be successful at the college level? He has been very underwhelming so far. Seems to be a tweener, with no true position.

 

Scott Richey wrote on January 31, 2018 at 12:01 pm
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Anonymous,

Mark Smith has all the potential to be successful at the college level. What he needs is a dose of confidence. His defense (i.e. not fouling on defense) more than anything is keeping him off the court. Inconsistent playing time hasn't allowed him to find a rhythm offensively either. But he's not the first bigger Illinois guard to take some time to develop. Malcolm Hill was almost a non-entity for two-thirds of his freshman year. Deron Williams had better rebounding and assist numbers, but he struggled to score, too.

When it comes to position, it's actually OK to be a tweener again with basketball trending postiion-less. The fact Smith is a bigger guard (should he lock in defensively) is an advantage. He has the potential guard multiple spots. Add in his abilities on the offensive end, which have yet to be fully realized, and he's a fit for what Brad Underwood wants to do. 

Not that you're among the group that has already given up on Mark Smith (or maybe you are) but the fact that's happening blows me away. I honestly don't understand it. 

Elmer B Fudd wrote on January 31, 2018 at 12:01 pm

Scott,   Great win against Rutgers.   Finally played two halves of basketball.  Would you say that this is the most complete game that they have played this year?

Scott Richey wrote on January 31, 2018 at 12:01 pm
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Elmer B Fudd,

I don't know. The win against Longwood was pretty solid all around. But in the Big Ten? Absolutely it's the most complete game Illinois has played this season. The opponent certainly helped (Rutgers' offense was abysmal), but the Illini's second half was on par with their first half against Missouri, which was also strong. Was it a true 40-minute performance? Not quite. A couple stretches in the first half without a made shot and 12 first-half turnovers marred the proceedings a bit. Trent Frazier going "bonkers" as Brad Underwood put it covered up those inefficiencies. 

Elmer B Fudd wrote on January 31, 2018 at 12:01 pm

Scott,  that’s two good games in a row by Kipper.   It’s great to see him play so well and in the starting lineup.  Is he beginning to scratch the surface of his potential?

Scott Richey wrote on January 31, 2018 at 12:01 pm
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Elmer B,

I'd contend it's three good games in a row by Kipper Nichols. He might not have scored quite as much against Indiana, but him getting to the free throw line in the second half (and making all seven of his attempts) definitely helped. Brad Underwood would say and I would agree that Nichols has barely scratched the surface of his potential. 

Underwood mentioned this last night. Nichols can make shots, create space on offense and rebound some. It's when he does other little things like take charges and hit his defensive spots every time that his full potential will be on display.

Elmer B Fudd wrote on January 31, 2018 at 12:01 pm

Scott,  Love your chats and keep up the great work!  Defense and rebounding are two areas that this Illini team has excelled at this year.  Against Rutgers they out rebounded a much taller Rutgers team 29-26 and had a 10-9 edge in offensive rebounds.  They also created 25 turnovers!   It is fun to watch the defensive intensity and the havoc they create.   Can you remember any former Illini team that has been so good defensively?

Scott Richey wrote on January 31, 2018 at 12:01 pm
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Fudd,

It's a good thing this Illinois team can bother its opponents into a bunch of turnovers because there are still holes defensively. Rotations aren't always there on help side, and the Illini rank in the bottom 15 percent in the country when it comes to blocked shots. Greg Eboigbodin is probably the only true rim protector on the team, and he's still finding his way.

Illinois has actually had several solid defensive teams in the past 15 years. Here's the top ones ranked by KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions adjusted for quality of opposing defenses, the site of each game, and when each game was played).

2004-05 ... 4th
2008-09 ... 4th
2006-07 ... 5th
2002-03 ... 7th
2005-06 ... 12th
2013-14 ... 14th
2001-02 ... 16th
2010-11 ... 23rd
2007-08 ... 29th
2016-17 ... 35th
2005-06 ... 39th

For a reference point, this year's team ranks 80th.

 

IlliniFanSincetheSpoon wrote on January 31, 2018 at 12:01 pm

Hey Scott,

Do you see Frazier, Lucas, Nichols, Black, Finke as the best five to be out there? Alstork and Williams the next two in? Spot in others as game dictates. Forget the shared mins. gig, play the best.                       What's the word on Ayo, up or down? Not being selected for McDonalds team is meaningless to me, you?Do you know what star rating Deron Williams got coming out of Texas? One more thing, glad to see Bruce  Weber doing ok at K-State. I'll admit I pulled for Ducky when he was here.

Scott Richey wrote on January 31, 2018 at 1:01 pm
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IlliniFanSincetheSpoon,

The one adjustment I might make from your five is Mark Alstork in for Te'Jon Lucas. From there, sub as needed. The order doesn't matter much after that top five. The Rutgers game isn't a great reference point because it was a blowout, but if you look at the Indiana win the minutes were not quite as spread out. Trent Frazier, Leron Black and Te'Jon Lucas all played 30-plus. Then the next group of five played between 14 and 22. 

Regardless, Brad Underwood is going to use an 8- or 9-man rotation. It's just his preference. 

Ayo Dosunmu is still out with an ankle injury. When he returns isn't exactly clear. I know lots of people got worked up about him not being named a McDonald's All-American. Was he deserving (since it came before his stretch of missed games)? Sure. Are there a bunch of other really talented guards in the 2018 class? Yes. 

Deron Williams was ranked as a four-star prospect and the No. 8 point guard in the Class of 2002. The guards ahead of him per Rivals? In order, Raymond Felton (UNC), Dee Brown (Illinois), Anthony Roberson (Florida), Marshall Strickland (Indiana), Bryan Hopkins (SMU), Elijah Ingram (St. John's) and Gerry McNamara (Syracuse).

Considering Bruce Weber was on the hot seat last season, I'd say a 16-6 record and a fifth-place standing in the Big 12 is pretty good. The Wildcats are just outside of the top 25 even, with 24 of 65 voters on board. One voter has them as high as No. 15. (Full disclosure: I'm not as high on K-State).

Anonymous User wrote on January 31, 2018 at 1:01 pm

Does Brad Underwood ever smile? I saw a photo in your photo gallery of him scowling ... during a 31-point victory. That said, I do love the man's fire!

On to a real question: What do you predict will be the Illini's record the remainder of the season? Think there's an Oklahoma State-like turnaround in their future?

Scott Richey wrote on January 31, 2018 at 1:01 pm
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Anonymous,

Brad Underwood does smile. I've seen it. Even in a 31-point victory, he still wanted his team to follow the scouting report and not commit silly fouls. The first didn't always happen late in the game, and the second happened a bit too frequently.

If you mean turnaround to reach the NCAA tournament, then no. A stronger finish than start to Big Ten play? Sure thing. I think 4-4 over the last eight games is a good baseline. Better than that would be a sizeable step in the right direction in my opinion.

 

Bill-e-bob wrote on January 31, 2018 at 1:01 pm

Hi Scott,

A few VB questions!  I do not know how up to date your recruiting announcements are (these are always welcome and invaluable), but it seems  that we have two self-announced recruits that I haven't read about yet from you:  Maddie Whittington (6'3" OH from Stillwater MN, and Alyssa Eske (a 5'3" L/DS from Wisconsin).  Can you tell us any more about these players and confirm that they have announced for Illinois? 

Also, those who missed the Team Banquet might want to know that Marjike Van Dyke has transferred from Illinois to Louisville, and also Annika Gereau is in the process of transferring, no destination known as yet.  Have you heard of any other possible transfers?

Have you had a chance to talk to Tamas since practices restarted?  Does he have any more specific goals than to keep getting better day by day and match by match?  (So far that is working pretty well for him!)   What would you say Hollowell and Deberg need to do to challenge for more serious playing time in August?  (The emergence of Cooney and Omazic has been wonderful to watch; I think these other two players have the same potential.)

Will you be able to  continue convering Volleyball in the late summer and Fall?  Or is someone else designated to take over for you?  You have done a great job covering the team since coming to C-U!

Scott Richey wrote on January 31, 2018 at 1:01 pm
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Bill-e-bob,

I will admit that a full immersion into basketball season leaves little time for much else on my schedule. The two players you mentioned have, indeed, committed to Illinois. Alyssa Eske seems like another solid back row option in the 2019 class out of Milwaukee King. Maddie Whittington is a 2020 commit missed this past season recovering from knee surgery, but it looks like she projects as the type of pin hitter needed in the Big Ten.

Haven't heard of any other possible transfers. Also haven't talked much with Chris Tamas since the end of the season. He's been out recruiting (or taking some well deserved time off), and I jumped right from volleyball/football to basketball. Things truly spin up come spring. 

Spring should be good for both Emily Hollowell and Kylie DeBerg. It will get them extra reps where they can work on adding some quickness to their attacks. The attack point (good size at the pin) is there and so is the power potential. Still, I think they'll be behind Jacqueline Quade and Beth Prince. Like you, I'm also high on Megan Cooney and Tyanna Omazic's potential.

The plan is to keep covering volleyball in the 2018 season. Our staff isn't the deepest, so my time will be split between volleyball and football. Appreciate the kind words and support, though. Always means a lot.

 

Anonymous User wrote on January 31, 2018 at 1:01 pm

Scott,

 

love your work! If you were Forced to choose one, Who would you take between MJ rivers and Coran Taylor? 

Scott Richey wrote on January 31, 2018 at 1:01 pm
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Anonymous,

Thanks for the kind words. Maybe not so much for making me choose quarterbacks. Toss aside for the moment the fact M.J. Rivers is actually the only quarterback signed. He'd win straight away in that situation. Still ... I think I go with the Texan. He and Coran Taylor both have a nice combination of size and speed, but I like what Rivers was able to accomplish this season after transferring to Frisco Lone Star and making a jump up several classes. He proved he could compete at a higher level. Now he's got to do the same in the Big Ten.

Scott Richey wrote on January 31, 2018 at 1:01 pm
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That's it for today's chat. Thanks to everyone that submitted questions or simply followed along. Be on the lookout for more Illinois basketball coverage this weekend as the Illini (and I) head to Columbus, Ohio.

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