Feb. 15 Illinois basketball chat

Feb. 15 Illinois basketball chat

Thursday, February 15, 2018 - 2:30pm

February will end in a flurry of games for the Illini — especially the last week of the season with four games in an eight-day span. That will happen after Illinois heads to Indiana on Wednesday for its rematch with the Hoosiers. The first game was a win for the Illini. With beat writer Scott Richey on the road during the typical chat time, he'll answer all of your Illinois questions at 2:30 p.m. Thursday after returning from Bloomington. Like how will this season finish up? Or what's next on the recruiting front? Submit your questions early and often.

Scott Richey wrote on February 15, 2018 at 2:02 pm
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Well, I'm back in Champaign after another road trip turned into a loss for Illinois. The Illini have just a single win away from State Farm Center this season with their Braggin' Rights victory against Missouri. Otherwise? Trips away from home have been rough — yesterday's loss at Indiana included.

Anyway, the weekly basketball chat marches on undeterred. Let's get to it ...

Illinihimey2 wrote on February 15, 2018 at 2:02 pm

Ugh...this is rough to watch.  

So what you know about this new 6-7 JC rebounding machine?  I'm not sure that is their only problem but it's a start because most of the players on the roster just don't have the basketball or athletic ability that other Big10 teams seem to have.  

Bonus question if you allow it...considering how awful they are and that some players are clearly not built for this level of basketball, do you anticipate transfers to programs where the going is a bit easier and opening up scholarships that will allow the current staff to build a better team faster.

 

 

Scott Richey wrote on February 15, 2018 at 2:02 pm
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illinihimey2,

Austin Trice is, as you stated, a rebounding machine. Even if it's the JUCO level, you don't average just more than a dozen rebounds per game on accident. There's athleticism, physicality and sometimes just an innate ability to track down rebounds. While Trice is a bouncy athlete that plays above the rim and while Illinois needs more of those — particulary of the 6-foot-7, 230-pound variety to guard some of the bigger wings, smaller bigs in the Big Ten — he's not a rim protector.

Trice, on paper, would add value for the Illini given he can continue to elevate his game to the next level, which moving to the Big Ten would certainly be. But even adding the former Hales Franciscan standout wouldn't be the whole fix. Illinois could stand to add a second big man that is a rim protector.

With the season still ongoing, it's impossible to know for sure what the roster makeup might look like moving forward. Do I "anticipate" transfers? I can't say yes given, in my eyes, players are here until they aren't. But would I be surprised by a transfer or two or three? No.

 

Elmer B Fudd wrote on February 15, 2018 at 2:02 pm

Scott,  really enjoy the chats.  It appears that roster changes for 2018 are coming for this Illini basketball team.   Underwood he’s to get hit his type of players into the system.   Obvious needs are players  with more athleticism and taller players.  When coaches have players under scholarship that they feel don’t fit their system, what do they do? Do they telll the players that they are not good fits and does the player have to decide to transfer and relinquish his scholarship?

 

 

 

Scott Richey wrote on February 15, 2018 at 2:02 pm
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Elmer B Fudd,

In the bad old days, scholarships could simply be yanked given that they were renewed on a yearly basis. Now, scholarships come with a four-year guarantee in the Big Ten — something that's been on the books since 2014. 

So that's changed things. Those one-on-one player/coach meetings after the season now carry an awful lot of weight. Sometimes frank discussions will be had regarding how the coaching staff sees the player fitting in to the program moving forward. That's where the player has to decide if their current situation is still the right situation. 

Elmer B Fudd wrote on February 15, 2018 at 2:02 pm

Scott,   Over the past several games, have noticed certain players passing up good outside shots rather electing to pass the ball which usualy resulted in Frazier having to do something with the ball with 10 seconds left on the shot clock. Why do these players pass on these shots?  Is it a confidence thing?  Are they afraid of getting yanked?

Scott Richey wrote on February 15, 2018 at 2:02 pm
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Elmer B Fudd,

At this point of the season, I would say confidence — or lack thereof — might be the biggest factor in Illinois' continued shooting woes. Because as long as the shot is within the offense, Brad Underwood has given his team the green light. The number of times I hear "shoot the ball" or some variation of that from the bench during games would seem to reinforce that idea. 

But when shots aren't falling — and they aren't for the Illini — the act of putting up the shot can come with a new mental block. Illinois is one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country with five players shooting below 30 percent. And these are guys that in the past have proven to be good shooters. It's been a wild year. 

Elmer B Fudd wrote on February 15, 2018 at 2:02 pm

Scott,  a big man (over 6’ 10”) is such a huge need for this team.   One that can get up and down the floor and protect the rim.  Is this likely coming from the graduate transfer or junior college route for 2018?

Scott Richey wrote on February 15, 2018 at 3:02 pm
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Elmer B Fudd,

My knowledge of junior college prospects is admittedly rather thin. While I don't think 6-foot-10 has to be the minimum height required (bigs come in all shapes and sizes), I do think Illinois will try to tap the graduate transfer market. Two things stand out as necessities in pursuing "Grad transfer big man X" ... athleticism and shot blocking ability. Think Greg Eboigbodin, but with a more experienced and a more developed game.

BloomingtonRev wrote on February 15, 2018 at 3:02 pm

Scott, other than the obvious answer - "in the Garden of Eden" - where has it all gone wrong for this Illini basketball team?

Scott Richey wrote on February 15, 2018 at 3:02 pm
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BloomingtonRev,

If I had the answer for this — and a real solution — I'd be making the big bucks. I think it's a combination of several things. The roster as currently constructed just doesn't have the horses to keep up with the rest of the Big Ten. Even so, the Illini have been able to compete — except when their errors in execution and silly, self-inflicted mistakes have hurt them.

So that's putting some of this 2-12 Big Ten record at the feet of John Groce (and by extension Bruce Weber, whose final lackluster seasons probably made Groce's recruiting life more difficult). Runner-up finishes for a bunch of top, top prospects means absolutely nothing, although the idea of covering Jalen Brunson certainly has shown it would have had great appeal. Then part is on the players. The final third, then, has to go on Brad Underwood.

While contemplating my response to your question, I realized part of my answer could double as a question for Underwood. He made a switch defensively at Oklahoma State from his denial-based system to the pack line because the Cowboys were losing a bunch of close Big 12 games because they couldn't get stops. Has he considered doing the same at Illinois considering the team doesn't have the rim protector behind the aggressive perimeter defense? I'll ask him tomorrow. A defensive change, of course, wouldn't necessarily have any impact on Illinois making shots at the other end, which remains an issue.

To shorten up a long response, there's no simple answer to this season. At least not a realistic one I can come up with.

IlliniFanSincetheSpoon wrote on February 15, 2018 at 3:02 pm

Hey Scott,

I see more of the same with this team next season, unless Mark Smith grows 4" or Orlando Antigua suits up to man the middle. Big Man Wanted, Start Immediately. Simple fix or is it they can't shoot either? Throw out the second half of the Penn St game, I think the team still bust the effort.

Scott Richey wrote on February 15, 2018 at 3:02 pm
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IlliniFanSincetheSpoon,

Well, I'm fairly certain Mark Smith won't grow much that much more, and I believe Orlando Antigua is out of eligibility. So ... the hole in Illinois' roster that is a legitimate BIG man with rim protector in his genes remains open. It's one the Illini have to fill. Will that be the fix? Not by itself. Illinois isn't going to win (and hasn't won) many games shooting 32.1 percent from three-point range as a team. Have to make shots a little more consistently.

Kevin H. wrote on February 15, 2018 at 3:02 pm

With the team aspect of this season being a complete failure, I've switched my focus to the improvement of individual players.  When looking at the 10 players who get regular playing time, I only see 2 guys who have shown noticeable improvements from November until now - Frazier and Eboigbodin.  And Ebo's improvement basically is just from the fact he was so raw that seeing any significant playing time he was bound to have some development, but he's still aways away from being a legitimate BigTen starter.

Are these players just not getting Underwood's coaching style/philosophy/principles that they have not made major strides forward or is just as simple as a lack of ability? I'm especially concerned with the freshman Williams and Smith.  Underwood used to say how much he trusted Williams and now 3 of his last 5 games he's gotten less than 10 min of playing time and hasn't scored more than 1 fg in a game since Dec. 13.  Mark Smith continues to contribute next to nothing.  Once you get into mid-Feb, freshman who have been playing all year should look vastly improved from November.  It can be easily argued that these two guys have regressed since November.

 

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Scott Richey wrote on February 15, 2018 at 3:02 pm
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Kevin H.,

I understand your concerns. Truly. I look at Mark Smith and wonder where the player is that was dunking on dudes left and right last season at Edwardsville. He had that kind of aggressive tact early in the season, and he was able to get to the rim and either finish or draw a foul and make his free throws. I don't see that now. What I do still see is his ability as a passer and his improvement defensively — especially the latter. He's in the right spots more often and is making plays. That's a positive that definitely wasn't happening early in the season. 

Da'Monte Williams (when not hurt) still hustles and still plays hard. Illinois could stand a little more offense out of him — his 17 percent three-point shooting for the season is sort of mind boggling — and a few less mistake passes.

I understand there were a lot of high hopes for the Illini freshmen given they kind of fell in with the same "fresh start" narrative that was out there by hiring a new coach, and expectations were super high on Smith. The idea in college basketball is guys now come in as freshmen are immediate studs. Sometimes that's true, but it's not what I'd say is yet a true norm. It's way too early to give up on these guys, which I've seen out there in the social media/message board world.

Big Dave wrote on February 15, 2018 at 3:02 pm

At what point do we begin to question the lack of recruiting contribution by Orlando Antigua? He was billed as an ace recruiter, and so far it appears that he has layed an egg. He’s making considerably more in salary than the other assistants for a reason, but from what it appears, he has not made much of a contribution. Your thoughts? 

Scott Richey wrote on February 15, 2018 at 3:02 pm
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Big Dave,

I saw something similar floated on Twitter yesterday. Maybe it's been around longer. Either way, it blows my mind. Orlando Antigua has been employed by Illinois for 10 months and people are ready to throw in the towel?

Illinois has signed ONE GUY in the 2018 class. Others that Antigua led the recruitment on have chosen other places. Fine. Given four straight NCAA tournaments misses, a fifth coming and just not much national success in a dozen years, Illinois could be seen as a hard sell right now. But wanting to pull the plug after 10 months just doesn't make any sense to me.

As far as contributions go, look no further than the development Leron Black has made this season and Greg Eboigbodin's improvements. Antigua's presence is felt there. It's way too soon to say with certainity that presence won't also be felt on the recruiting trail.

Scott Richey wrote on February 15, 2018 at 3:02 pm
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Looks like that's it for this week's chat. Thanks to everyone that submitted questions or just followed along. Both are appreciated. More Illinois basketball coverage is coming this week, with another game Sunday against Nebraska. 

Next week's chat is still up in the air. I'll be making my way back from Michigan State next Wednesday, so look for the chat to likely be that evening or before next Thursday's game against Purdue. I'll get the word out when it's finalized.

Until then, enjoy the week!