March 7 Illinois basketball chat

March 7 Illinois basketball chat

Wednesday, March 7, 2018 - 1:00pm

The first transfer domino has fallen, with Mark Smith reportedly opting to leave the Illini. So what's next for Illlinois? What recruiting moves does Brad Underwood still have to make? Is there a big man on Illinois' recruiting horizon? Were there any positives from a disappointing 2017-18 season? Beat writer Scott Richey will answer these questions and any more you have in his weekly chat at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Scott Richey wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm
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Good afternoon everybody for our first offseason basketball chat. Thanks for being patient with the slightly delayed start. Had to knock something out with Scott Beatty for Scott & Scott on SportsTalk later today. Tune in at 5 p.m. on WDWS 1400.

Shameless plug complete, let's get to the chat. Lots of questions waiting for me.

Khan El-Sanderz wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm

Was Smith leaving even a surprise?  There were going be less minutes next year and he appeared to be losing minutes as the season went on.  Any news on recruiting a big?

Scott Richey wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm
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Khan El-Sanderz,

Can I say yes and no? Even with all the rumblings leading up to it (for like a couple months), I thought maybe Mark Smith would decide there was still a place for him at Illinois. So in that regard, a small percentage of yes. But mostly no. He looked increasingly unhappy as the season progressed, and what he wants (ball in hand all the time) is not something he'll get at Illinois.

Illinois seemed to be leaning away from another prospect big for a time, but that might be the direction the Illini are headed again with offers to guys like Valdir Manuel, Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Samba Kane. They're still mining the JUCO ranks, too, with real interest in Austin Trice and will be in to see him today. The grad transfer market is probably still a month from being at full steam, but that's certainly a possible avenue to land a big, too.

Tony Clifton wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm

What's the full 411 on the new recruit Griffin?  Was that part of the writing on the wall that Smith saw?

Tony Clifton (I'm really not Andy Kaufman)

 

Scott Richey wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm
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Tony,

Alan Griffin is an intriguing add in my opinion. He wasn't recruited that heavily, but he put up good numbers this season for a good team and is a finalist for New York's Mr. Basketball. Two things stand out to me. One, he can shoot. That's important. Two, he comes from a basketball family. I like that background, and he's got a younger brother that seems like he might be a serious high major target in the 2021 class (just food for thought).

The real writing on the wall for Smith, perhaps, might have been the Courtney Ramey recruitment. Illinois is going after him hard, and there's more overlap with Ramey and Smith than Griffin and Smith.

Illini Basketball Fan wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm

Scott -

What is the probability of assistant coaches turnover during this off-season ( mainly - Antigua, Coleman, & Walker)? Are they likely to stay at Illinois for at least another season? In your observations during practices, do you see good chemistry among them and Underwood?

Thank you.

Scott Richey wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm
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Illini Basketball Fan,

Giving that zero probability doesn't give me any wiggle room to be wrong, but I would be truly surprised (shocked, even) if the coaching staff changes. Per your second questions, it's a staff that never coached together before but they knew each other. There's good chemistry and good relationships there.

Illini Basketball Fan wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm

Scott -

Why is Underwood unable to land any further commits beyond Ayo at this time? Could Ayo be willing to ask for release if he sense something is not 'right' at Illinois? (meaning that he will give up one year of eligibility at onset)

It seems like most schools having more commits lined up than Underwood. Is it a 'systems' problem or a personnel problem (coaching and/or recruiting) or an institutional problem?

Thanks!

Scott Richey wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm
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Illini Basketball Fan,

Well, Brad Underwood did get a commitment from three-star guard Alan Griffin. You can read more about him here.

I actually just spoke with Ayo and his parents yesterday. They're all 100 percent on board with Illinois and looking forward to next season. After Morgan Park wins a state title, of course. That's still the goal right now. 

The first true recruiting class for a new coach is always the hardest. There's an opportunity to get in on guys, but you do so against programs that have multi-year relationships already built. That's one part of the challenge. Finding the right players to fit the system is another. And then there's the whole thing that Illinois has zero buzz and zero national appeal right now. So there's work to be done.

William Spearman wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm

Who else is projected to leave,and do not say that there are not rumors.
I am sure that I am not the only disgusted with the program. The team could not shoot 3s and he unloaded Coleman-Lands.

Scott Richey wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm
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William Spearman,

I would say no one is projected to leave. Your word choice makes it seem like it's preordained. I would say there's speculation that some players might follow Mark Smith out the door for various reasons. The rumors really run the gamut from Leron Black to Matic Vesel and a couple others.

I don't know that "unloaded" would be the right way to describe Jalen Coleman-Lands' transfer. If he didn't want to be at Illinois, Brad Underwood wasn't going to force him to stay.

Anonymous User wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm

Pure speculation. If John Groce hadn't been fired, and the team would've consisted of Frazier & Lucas at PG, Coleman-Lands, Jordan & DaMonte Williams at SG and a frontcourt of Black, Finke, Tilmon, Nichols & DJ WIlliams (assuming Pickett wouldn't have been in the rotation), would that team have been better than this year's team? I didn't get to see Tilmon (except in the Braggin' Rights game). Would he have been enough difference guarding the rim and scoring inside to have made a team which could've been close to .500 in a really off year in the Big Ten? What's the ceiling for Eboigbodin? Any thoughts on which of the bigmen who were just offered (Manuel, Plicelli, Bezhanishvili, Kane or Trice) might choose Illinois, and if so, can they make a difference next year?

Scott Richey wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm
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Anonymous,

I honestly don't think the scenario you laid out would have meant an entirely different outcome to the season. That team, like the real one, would have still had to deal with not having Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan and Tracy Abrams. Would Leron Black have made the same leap under John Groce and Co. as he did under Brad Underwood and Orlando Antigua? Would Aaron Jordan have the same kind of season (really strong at least early)? I don't think so.

I think Greg Eboigbodin's ceiling is pretty good rebounder/shot blocker that can finish around the basket. Has to work on his hands offensively (catching the ball is crucial), add a few post moves and then show improvement at defending without fouling. 

Austin Trice would make a difference next season in rebounding should he choose Illinois (which could happen). Is he limited offensively? Yeah, but he's athletic, plays above the rim and he can rebound like crazy. Those are good things. 

I don't know what the odds might be on the rest of the recently offered bigs choosing the Illini. Samba Kane can run the floor and protect the rim, but he's really raw offensively. Giorgi Bezhanshvili doesn't have quite the athleticism but is more skilled offensively for sure. Valdir Manuel is kind of in between. But they're all projects in one way or another. A grad transfer big man is still a viable and maybe needed option.

Illini buckeye wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm

Do you know and can explain why Mark Smith says he did not fit the system?

 

Scott Richey wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm
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Illini buckeye,

Well, those are the words Mark Smith used when speaking with a pair of "hometown" newspapers for the Edwardsville native. I don't know that I can explain them. The thing is, he does fit in the system as a guard that has the potential to both shoot and attack the basket while also being a good passer. Lot's of checkmarks there for what Brad Underwood wants. I think the real issue was his role in the system is not what he (or those close to him) considered a fit.

larry harnly wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm

rumors are abundant several illini might leave in addition to smith.  do you believe the rumors?   is there  a chance black will leave to play overseas?

Scott Richey wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm
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Larry,

Well, there is the whole "Where there's smoke, there's fire" thing, but until any of these rumors move to actual news I'll keep an open mind.

Leron Black is going to graduate. His fiance is, too, from what I understand. Making money playing basketball might make more sense to him than playing another season at Illinois. We'll see, but, yeah, I think there's a chance. 

Elmer B Fudd wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm

 Really impressed with the play of Tejon Lucas since his suspension.   He really improved on both sides of the ball and seemed to thrive in the starting lineup along side Frazier.  If anything,  I thought he passed on some open shots that he should have taken.  Your thoughts on his play and future with this team?

Scott Richey wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm
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Elmer B Fudd,

Te'Jon Lucas figured out a way to be productive even after his jumpshot basically abandoned him. The way he attacked the basket (and also defended) is what Brad Underwood wanted from all of his guards. Moving forward as things stand now, I would imagine his playing time takes a hit with Ayo Dosunmu coming. If Courtney Ramey jumps on board? Huge hit to Lucas' playing time would be my guess.

 

Elmer B Fudd wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm

What are your observations of Matic Vesel as a player in both practice and games?  To me, it appeared he should have been redshirted, but the numbers on the team may have dictated otherwise?  What do you see as his future with this team?

Scott Richey wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm
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Elmer B,

My main takeaway after one season of Matic Vesel is he's a guy that wasn't ready. Brad Underwood has said the smaller roster meant a redshirt season wasn't in the cards, but I think that still would have been a good call. Underwood mentioned several times of the improvements Vesel was showing in practice, but it never came out in his limited playing time. I don't know how he fits moving forward without a serious leap.

Scott Richey wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm
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Elmer B,

My main takeaway after one season of Matic Vesel is he's a guy that wasn't ready. Brad Underwood has said the smaller roster meant a redshirt season wasn't in the cards, but I think that still would have been a good call. Underwood mentioned several times of the improvements Vesel was showing in practice, but it never came out in his limited playing time. I don't know how he fits moving forward without a serious leap.

Elmer B Fudd wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm

Considering how young and inexperienced these young Illini were, they were competitive and in most of their games.   There were 6 or 7 games that they could have won.   Some positives were:  1) significantly improved team defense; 2) improved team offensive scoring; 3) creating turnovers on defense; 4) improved total team offensive rebounding;  and 5) overall play of Frazier, Black, Nichols, and Lucas.   Could we have expected much more from Underwood and his staff considering they were hired about a year ago?

Scott Richey wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm
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Elmer,

I never saw this team as an NCAA tournament team, and if I remember correctly I had Illinois ranked 10th in the Big Ten in the preseason. My expectations weren't as high as, say, fans' expectations. That said, I think if you take the three overtime games Illinois lost in the Big Ten and the buzzer beater loss at Nebraska and flip those as wins (because they were certainly winnable games) then people look at this season a little differently. But they were losses, so 14-18 and 13th in the Big Ten is a disappointment.

Anonymous Jim wrote on March 07, 2018 at 1:03 pm

How confident is the staff about landing Tevian Jones?

Scott Richey wrote on March 07, 2018 at 2:03 pm
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Anonymous Jim,

I think they're confident, but with the knowledge it will still take some work to make it happen. Getting Tevian Jones on campus for a visit this weekend is a pretty big/good step. But he does have five other high major offers and then offers from Nevada, UNLV and San Diego State I put at that level, too. 

I would be concerned with Arizona the most. Maybe the turmoil there will make the Wildcats less palatable, but the fact Sean Miller has ZERO commits for 2018 and is losing Deandre Ayton, Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier in addition to his seniors means Arizona is desperate for talent. A little like the Illini in that regard, I suppose.

 

IlliniFanSincetheSpoon wrote on March 07, 2018 at 2:03 pm

Hey Scott,

Ironically, my question this week for you, after the Griffin commit, was what to do with six guards. Smith's transfer tweaks the numbers somewhat. Regardless of the reason he bailed, always a lot of intrigue, I wish Mark Smith the best. Moving on, are the Illini really in on Courtney Ramey, another guard? Am I wrong to think if it comes down to IL or MO for recruits, Counzo gets what he wants?

Scott Richey wrote on March 07, 2018 at 2:03 pm
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IlliniFanSincetheSpoon,

Yes, the Illini are really in on another guard in Courtney Ramey. At the top of the things they like about the Webster Groves (Mo.) senior is how he competes. That he's a bigger point guard that does multiple things well and is averaging 21.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game helps sell Ramey as a possible piece to the puzzle, too.

As far as an Illinois-Missouri battle for Ramey, which may well be repeated multiple times the next few seasons, there's reason to be leery of the Tigers right now. They have buzz. Cuonzo Martin has them in the NCAA tournament in year one, and he's given Missouri some recruiting cachet by hiring Michael Porter Sr. and then getting his sons. I don't know that Martin "gets what he wants," but he's a proven recruiter.

Mike Ammons wrote on March 07, 2018 at 2:03 pm

Does Brad Understood have to consider his coaching style may need some fine tuning. He is really hard on guys for their best interest, but not all respond well to his coaching style.

Ps. I like his style but it could be coming off as too hard for some 4 stars and 5 stars especially when you not winning and being benched for every mistake. I don't want the negative stigma of BU being rude or more to his players. No Bob Knight in Illinois comments.

Scott Richey wrote on March 07, 2018 at 2:03 pm
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Mike,

I don't think Brad Underwood will be changing his style. It's who he is. But the demonstrative, demanding aspect is just a part of who he is. Does he demand a lot of his players? Yes. Does he have their backs? Also yes. I think back to the game at Nebraska. After Michael Finke put Illinois on top with that four-point play, Underwood was the first one in for a chest bump. He was pumped. Plus, as he's at Illinois longer, he'll recruit guys that fit what he wants to do and buy in right away to what he wants to do.

Pogo in Springfield wrote on March 07, 2018 at 2:03 pm

Is Kane a real sleeper of a project?  What we all want to know is does he have the physical presence in rebounding and defense to take the team to contention in the B1G?   It is hard to buy that a 3-star big could do that, but if he can defend without fouling, likely impossible for a frosh, and be a vicious rebounder able to move guys away and grab the rock consistently, could he really help this next?  Just looking to find out your opinion from what you know.   

 I have been watching the Illini since the days of Manny Jackson and would love to see meaningful NCAA games again.  I think Coach BU has what it takes but he needs players and absolutely must be able to get the elite players from Illinois to join him.   Do you see the roots of this happening any time soon.   Ayo was a good start, but guys like Bates-Diop, Okafor, and Parker must eventually see the the lights are just as bright in Champaign as anywhere else.  Thank you.

Scott Richey wrote on March 07, 2018 at 2:03 pm
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Pogo,

I would say Samba Kane is a sleeper defensively (like his length and athleticism) and a project offensively (it's just not there yet). He's also pretty skinny. That wouldn't necessariliy affect his shot blocking capabilities, but it will make life tougher on the offensive end. The Big Ten is like the last bastion for almost every team in the conference having a powerhouse big man. I don't know much about him other than some video I've watched, but at this point I don't see him having a serious impact next season should he pick the Illini? Some impact, sure, but he's a work in progress as a basketball player.

In my opinion, you can't evaluate Brad Underwood now. He wasn't building from rock bottom, but the Illini were at least within shouting distance. How he fills his roster for 2018-19 will be important, and then that 2019 recruiting class could have serious long-term effects. That's where landing guys like E.J. Liddell and/or Francis Okoro (Illini would prefer "and" in that scenario I'm sure) becomes the No. 1 priority.

Khan El-Sanderz wrote on March 07, 2018 at 2:03 pm

How solid are the remaining players committed to the program - Assume Frazier 100%, Black 90%, Jordan 90%, etc.?

 

 

Scott Richey wrote on March 07, 2018 at 2:03 pm
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Khan El-Sanderz,

Here's the thing. I haven't had a chance to speak with the players since the season ended. No media member has as far as I'm aware. I don't want to assume anything. The offseason is called the "silly season" for a reason. Let's just say I don't expect Mark Smith's departure to be the only one.

Scott Richey wrote on March 07, 2018 at 2:03 pm
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That's it for today's chat, which was a really good one for our first of the offseason. Thanks to everyone that submitted questions or followed along. Be on the lookout for more offseason basketball coverage this week, including a Sunday feature on future Illini guard Ayo Dosunmu. 

The chat will be back next week in its usual timeslot. Until then, enjoy the week!

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