Nov. 15 Illinois basketball, volleyball & football chat

Nov. 15 Illinois basketball, volleyball & football chat

Thursday, November 15, 2018 - 12:30pm

Brad Underwood's Illinois basketball team is about to jump into the toughest part of its nonconference schedule. Chris Tamas' Illini volleyball team is trying to put the finishing touches on one of the best regular seasons in program history. Lovie Smith's Illinois football team has set a goal of two more wins in its "playoff" push. Beat writer Scott Richey will answer any and all of your Illini questions in his weekly chat.

Scott Richey wrote on November 15, 2018 at 1:11 pm
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Good afternoon everybody. Sorry for the late start today. In the midst of getting lunch, well, I basically forgot about the chat. But not completely! So, without further delay, let's get to today's chat.

Illini Football Basketball Fan wrote on November 15, 2018 at 1:11 pm

Scott -

Football -

Who are possible and realistic candidates that Lovie would be receptive to in hiring the new DC? This is on the assumption that the new DC will have good leeway in developing and utilizing the current set of players.

Should Lovie/Whitman agree to make Rod Smith Associate HC with a nice bump up in pay to keep him in Champaign?

Men's Basketball -

In ranking order, who are the most likely to sign with Illinois this fall period? And spring period?

Thank you.

Scott Richey wrote on November 15, 2018 at 1:11 pm
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Illini Football Basketball Fan,

I'm honestly not sure who Lovie Smith will target as his new defensive coordinator. One thing that would seem fairly obvious, though, is it will be a coach who has run or is running at least some version of the Cover 2. I don't see Lovie veering away from his base defense (albeit shifted to include more nickel packages) any time soon. I just honestly haven't had time to deep dive on any possible options.

What I am sure about, though, is Illinois needs to pony up for Rod Smith. He's making $500,000 this season. A bump in title might happen (I see that as less likely) but a raise to at least what Hardy Nickerson was making ($650,000) has to happen if not an even bigger increase. He brought the No. 8 rushing offense to Illinois after the Illini could barely manage to run the ball a year ago. He's earned some type of raise.

I suppose at No. 1 most likely to sign this fall you have to go with Antwan January given his commitment on Tuesday night. He hasn't signed yet, but he's still got until next Wednesday to so. After that? My money is on nobody.

efrem winters wrote on November 15, 2018 at 1:11 pm


Do you think Samba Kane and Higgs will be red shirted?  

Scott Richey wrote on November 15, 2018 at 1:11 pm
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I would say Anthony Higgs is the much more likely redshirt candidate given he isn't even practicing yet. By the time he gets back on the court, roles will have been solidified without him. Now, if there's an injury that shakes up the rotation, maybe he plays. We'll see.

As far as Samba Kane goes, I'd say it could 50/50, but I'm leaning more toward he'll play this year but in very limited opportunities. This isn't strictly an Illinois thing — it applies everywhere in college basketball — but I think coaches see little upside in redshirting guys. It just means they can go elsewhere easily down the line as graduate transfers. That's my cynical side coming out.

What I do know is Kane is not ready right now, and if Adonis De La Rosa can get back to 100 percent effectiveness (he might be physically able to play, but he's not truly ready if you follow me) then there's even less of a role for Kane in the frontcourt. But foul trouble and, again, any potential injuries could change that. 

Bea wrote on November 15, 2018 at 1:11 pm

I can't find the single game box scores for men's basketball on the Illini HQ site. I've found the season stats on, but no single game there either. Can you point me in the right direction? Thanks.

Scott Richey wrote on November 15, 2018 at 1:11 pm
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I'm not sure we've ever run single game box scores here at (they are in each print edition as part of our game coverage), but you can find the box scores you're looking for right here. Just look for "PDF BOX SCORE" or "BOX SCORE" on each individual game.

teachdacc2 wrote on November 15, 2018 at 1:11 pm



A comment after reading the article  about upgrading facilities with regard to VB; I hope the team continues at Huff Hall as the atmosphere for games there is unbelievable and definitely a home court advantage.  To move to bigger arena in Champaign will take the advantage away from the team.  What is your assessment of a proposed move?  I think it hurts the WBB to play in the SFC.  Hard to get home court advantage with less than 4,000 in 15,000 arena.   

Scott Richey wrote on November 15, 2018 at 1:11 pm
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I understand the appeal of Huff Hall. The best thing about it is the intimate feeling of packing 4,152 fans in there and how close the fans are to the action ... in some cases right on top of it. However, with the recent renovations, there are a number of obstructed view seats. That's not ideal. Also working against Huff is it's age — particularly in the basement. The locker room and team room have gotten some upgrades, but they're far from brand new/state-of-the-art. The move makes sense for Illinois all around given the proposed new facility would be home to multiple teams. Of course, that's all speculation until there's actual real movement on hockey, which may or may not happen.

I would agree that State Farm Center provides exactly zero home court advantage for the Illinois women's basketball team, and I'd say you're being very, very generous by thinking there's 4,000 fans there. The announced crowd for last night's game was 1,163. That's slightly just over 7 percent of the full capacity, and those announced attendance numbers are always higher than the number of fans actually in the arena. From what I've been told since I didn't see it myself, the Illini women used to draw much bigger crowds, but it's going to take a complete reversal of fortunes (i.e. many, many more wins) to drum up that kind of interest again.

larry harnly wrote on November 15, 2018 at 1:11 pm

how many games can a player take part in and still be red-shirted?  number has increased since last season.  what are the chances of samba kane being redshirted?

Scott Richey wrote on November 15, 2018 at 1:11 pm
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Football is the only sport that changed its redshirt rule to where any player (not just freshmen) can still save a year by playing four or fewer games. In every sport, if you play your chance to redshirt evaporates. The only thing that would come into play to get the year back is if you suffered an injury before playing 30 percent of your team's games. 

I went a little deeper on Samba Kane's redshirt possibilities in a previous answer. It could still happen, but I bet he plays (even if it's not much).

Bill-e-bob wrote on November 15, 2018 at 1:11 pm

Hi Scott,

You may have discussed this already in Thursday's paper, but the Illini website did not tell us much about two new recruits for next year (I think):  Rylee Hinton (Champaign) abd Alyssa Eske (Wisconsin) (Is she a 2019 or 2020 recruit?).  Could you tell us a little more about them?  Even though Rylee plays locally, I have not had a chance to see her play; what might she be able to contribute to the team? 

Hollowell entered the Northwestern match Wed night briefly.  Is she practicing at 100% now, and can she help Hranicka back-up current starters in the front row as the season concludes and the post-season begins?

Thanks for your dedication to covering the team this season.  They certainly deserve it!

Assuming they win out during the regular season, do you think they will be awarded one of the top four seeds in the tournament?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Scott Richey wrote on November 15, 2018 at 1:11 pm
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I did in fact write about Rylee Hinton in today's N-G. (You can read that story here). In it, I also mentioned the full class Illinois will add in 2019. There will be two walk-on defensive specialists in Alyssa Eske out of Milwaukee and Madison Chi out of Irvine, Calif. I honestly don't know much about either Eske or Chi (couldn't find any stats online).

Hinton put up 286 kills (while hitting .441) and 70 blocks this season. She's got pretty good size at 6-foot-2, and she's a super bouncy athlete. The best thing going for Hinton, though, is the fact she's going to enroll early. She'll be able to go through spring practices and the four spring matches with the team and start working with the coaching staff (Rashinda Reed and Jen Tamas in particular) right away.

Emily Hollowell has been practicing. I asked Chris Tamas about her last night, and he said he was looking for an opportunity to get her in, and the third set against Northwestern provided it. Honestly, neither Hollowell or Blayke Hranicka are likely to play much beyond the end of the regular season (Saturday night at Rutgers is probably prime playing time). You want your best players on the floor in the NCAA tournament, and that's a front row of Jacqueline Quade, Beth Prince, Megan Cooney, Ali Bastianelli and Ashlyn Fleming (plus Jordyn Poulter at setter, of course).

If Illinois wins out and doesn't get a top four seed, mark me down as saying the Illini got hosed. There's no reason they shouldn't.

Arizona Bob wrote on November 15, 2018 at 1:11 pm

Who do we have recruiting Florida these days? We seem to need Floridian players to be successful (along with Texas) since we have such a tough time recruiting the Midwest. Seth Coleman (DE) is a nice project, but we REALLY need DBs, RBs (with Epsein injury prone and Corbin likely opting for the NFL) and WRs from there this year, and we don't seem to be making much progress. I believe Coach Hayes-Stoker has the most contacts there considering he coached RBs for Florida International and coached WR with the Buccaneers. Whoever it is, we need to do a heck of a lot better than intriguing prospect Coleman from that state.

Speaking of coach Hayes-Stoker, why is he having such a hard time teaching his players to concentrate and stop dropping balls at WR? Over the years I've seen many modestly talented WRs be VERY productive despite limited speed compensating by running good routes and working hard to catch everything coming their way. You can design an offense to get receivers open, but if they can't master the fundamentals of catching they're not much good to you.  

It also seems he has a tough time getting his foot in the door with quality WRs nationally, and we've been pretty much shut down for the top WRs in St Louis and Illinois. Is the problem the recruiter or the program?




Scott Richey wrote on November 15, 2018 at 2:11 pm
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Arizona Bob,

I believe Thad Ward is one of the primary recruiters in Florida. But with two full-time spots on the coaching staff now open after both Donnie Abraham and Hardy Nickerson resigned, if Lovie Smith can add an assistant (or two) with Florida connections that wouldn't be a bad move. The top high school football talent in the country is largely concentrated in Florida, Texas, California and right now it sees, Georgia. The Illini are solid for Texas and California (Rod Smith made connections there during his time at Arizona), so locking down more of Florida would be smart.

Considering how much extra work the Illinois wide receivers put in after practice either running routes with the quarterbacks or taking reps off the JUGGs machine, it's wild that drops continue to be such an issue at Illinois. Of somewhat greater concern, at least in my opinion, is how much the Illini receivers struggle to get open sometimes, but drops are a big deal. Just have to keep recruiting and recruiting, I suppose, until you find guys that can catch the ball consistently.

The struggle in recruiting wide receivers (at least in the two areas you mentioned) probably comes down to a mix of recruiter and program, with the latter a bigger hurdle to clear. The Illini have been largely shut out of Illinois' top players regardless of position for some time, and lack of success on the field isn't helping that. At least in St. Louis, Corey Patterson has landed guys. Losing one like Bryce Childress (who he coached) probably comes down to the success factor (or lack thereof).

Arizona Bob wrote on November 15, 2018 at 2:11 pm

I think we'd all agree that the OL has made tremendous improvement in run blocking, and a lot of the big gainers in the running game were achieved by the OL getting the RBs to the second level, and a big part of the gaudy rushing numbers were due to excellent downfield blocks by WRs.

More disturbing is our below average pass blocking that makes a huge difference in QB pass play. Do you think it's matter of lateral mobility limitations with our OL, or is it just that we have a problem coaching them to be more effective pass blockers?

With a good chance of Corbin opting for the NFL and Epstein and Brown chronically injured, How ready do you think RBs Sims and Norwood are to contribute highly next year?

It also seems that Lovie is putting a curiously low priority on recruitng every down RBs this year. Our Texas recruit at 5-7 and 160# is more of scatback than every down RB, and Nick Fedanzo is a tough runner but with 4.7 40 speed and not too much "wiggle", he's not going to have too many big runs in the B1G like Corbin, Epstein and Brown.

Thad Ward seems pretty good at developing RB talent both here and at NIU.

With our productive running game and our sharing the wealth on carries amongst the unit, how come we're getting so little interest from Texas and Florida RBs where they generally produce the largest numbers and highest quality?


Scott Richey wrote on November 15, 2018 at 2:11 pm
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Arizona Bob,

I would say Illinois' offensive linemen — particularly tackles Alex Palczewski and Vederian Lowe — move pretty well, but pass blocking is on a different level than run blocking. In run blocking, the O-line can just go out and be road graders, which is something I think this group is pretty good at. Pass blocking requires more technique and agility and time. Considering on most Big Ten teams, the bulk of Illinois' still young O-line wouldn't be playing yet, their pass blocking can (and probably will) develop. Run blocking just took a bigger leap between last year and this year than pass blocking.

Rod Smith spoke highly of Jakari Norwood and Kenyon Sims earlier this week for the work they've been putting in during practice, including on scout team. They might have to do more next year if Reggie Corbin leaves (not guaranteed but certainly a possibility) given, like you mentioned, how injury proned the rest of the Illini running backs have been in their careers.

Generating more interest from your big time high school football states — especially from skill players like you're wanting — can be difficult when Illinois has a 9-25 overall record and 4-21 Big Ten record under Lovie Smith to sell. It's the proverbial chicken/egg scenario, but more wins only comes with more talent, which is hard to draw without wins.

Now that high school running backs have seen what Corbin did in Rod Smith's system, though, maybe that becomes the top selling point for guys looking to put up numbers and get to the next level.

John Anderson wrote on November 15, 2018 at 2:11 pm

Did/will Antwan January sign his letter of intent now? I didn't see anything reported about that. Ho wlong is the Fall window?

Scott Richey wrote on November 15, 2018 at 2:11 pm
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As of 2:10 p.m. on Thursday, Antwan January has not signed his National Letter of Intent. Illinois is expecting it, and he has until next Wednesday to sign if he's going to do it. Of course, there's always the spring signing period, and, to be clear, he doesn't have to sign an NLI at all.

Sure, doing so locks down his spot, but it's not a necessity unless he thinks Illinois will give away his potential scholarship. Signing grant-in-aid paperwork for the scholarship is the big one.

Kid Rock wrote on November 15, 2018 at 2:11 pm

Scott,          After these first 2 games, do you see anything unexpected regarding this team?  Barring injury, do you think Kane will be a RS?  Can Tevian push Kipper for minutes? Will Griffin push AJ for tick also?  Finally, did you see Giorgi's mother at the game?  I heard she flew in to see him play.  

Scott Richey wrote on November 15, 2018 at 2:11 pm
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Kid Rock,

If we root my answer to your first question based on my initial thoughts/expectaitons on this team back when the roster was finalized this summer, I would say the way Giorgi Bezhanishvili has played would be the most unexpected. When he signed, my thoughts were more "Is this the next Matic Vesel" than anything about him being such a key contributor just two games into the season. He's an effective scorer, rebounder and passer, and his much discussed energy is one driving force for this team. I wrote this for today's N-G (read it all here), but the moment is not too big for Giorgi or Ayo Dosunmu.

Short answer ... No, I don't think Samba Kane will redshirt. See one of my first answers for the long answer.

I think Tevian Jones and Alan Griffin will push those veterans you mentioned. Even if it doesn't mean their minutes surpass Kipper Nichols and Aaron Jordan, they'll all be better for it.

I did see Giorgi's mom at the game. He looks a lot like her.

Anonymous UserJerry Storm wrote on November 15, 2018 at 2:11 pm

     Thanks for taking my chat!  I was dissapointed in the results tuesday, but there was a lot to be encouraged about too.

     I have one complaint,tho.  When I (I'm 78) played, if a player like #2 on their team had done a 180 dunk in our gym, he probably wouldn't have walked back to the bus.

                                                 THANX, STORMER

Scott Richey wrote on November 15, 2018 at 2:11 pm
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I think your feelings have been pretty much echoed by the Illinois fan base in terms of being encouraged by some things about Tuesday's game despite the loss. My concern remains the Illini's defense and their propensitiy for giving up so many easy layups and dunks.


IlliniFanSinceTheSpoon wrote on November 15, 2018 at 2:11 pm

Hey Scott,

Nice snow! Please give us a scouting report on A. January. Where is he from? Timme to the Zags as predicted. Shannon prolly to N. Carolina. (why not). No feel on Kofi, you? 1 pt - 3 boards outta Jordan vs GTown aint cutting it. It's early, but do you see Jones or Griffin getting more mins? GTown game seemed, as you say, fast to them.Sure respect BU's enthusiasm about this team. On a side football note, I wonder IF Lovie say forget it, punts, and goes to Florida. Your thought on the state of Lovie?

Scott Richey wrote on November 15, 2018 at 2:11 pm
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Antwan January is a 6-foot-11, 240-pound center from southern California (Santa Monica/Los Angeles), although he's playing his final year of high school ball at Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix. His commitment was a bit surprising given the fact he did it sight unseen (i.e. no visit). January did play with Tevian Jones, though, last year on the EYBL circuit with Cal Supreme, which also featured Bol Bol and Shareef O'Neal. Chin Coleman was the lead recruiter.

I've heard some positive feedback i.e. Kofi Cockburn to Illinois, but nothing I'd say was overly substantial. Could easily not happen as actually happen.

I would say the Georgetown game revealed something we already knew. Aaron Jordan had trouble getting his shot off against longer, athletic defenders and some of the same trouble shutting down those guys on the offensive end. Brad Underwood mentioned Trent Frazier's absence as a reason for some of Jordan's struggles. Frazier creates a lot of better opportunties for his teammates when he's playing. But if Tevian Jones and Alan Griffin keep improving, don't be surprised to see them get a little more tick.

I don't have a great read on Lovie Smith (who does?) but I don't see him bailing now. If that happened, it would probably come with some renegotiation of his buyout, and that would mean probably leaving a good chunk of that $12 million on the table. I wouldn't do that.

I just wonder how Illinois spins this season should the last two weeks of the season not deliver any more wins. Smith (and Josh Whitman) both said this year was when the results came. I get that four wins is more than two and the offense has been loads better, but that doesn't matter if you can't stop anybody.

Honeywood wrote on November 15, 2018 at 2:11 pm


Thank you for all that you do.

The Antwan January commitment seems like a really positive step in recruiting on the surface. Adding a talented, athletic 6'10 guy seems like a net positive. However (I hate to introduce negativity into the story), but with the multitude of schools he has attended, have you heard anything relating to potential academic clearinghouse issues?

Scott Richey wrote on November 15, 2018 at 2:11 pm
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I've heard nothing of the sort. I'd say the Illinois coaching staff knows what it takes to get someone admitted into the university (and probably has an even better idea now given Samba Kane's summer). 

Steve Raymond wrote on November 15, 2018 at 2:11 pm

Any word on who Kimme committed to?


Scott Richey wrote on November 15, 2018 at 2:11 pm
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I assume you mean Drew Timme. He, not surprisingly, chose Gonzaga.

Mica wrote on November 15, 2018 at 2:11 pm

What is Anthony Higgs injury?  Do you think he will see action this year or take a redshirt year?  Would he provide much help inside?

Scott Richey wrote on November 15, 2018 at 2:11 pm
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Anthony Higgs is coming back from an undisclosed foot injury. Never got any specifics out of Brad Underwood (he refrains from doing so unless it's major/obvious), and all I really know was he spent part of the fall in a boot. He wouldn't hurt Illinois in the frontcourt, but my guess is he redshirts this season given how much time he's lost by not being on the court and learning a brand new offensive and defensive scheme. 

Scott Richey wrote on November 15, 2018 at 2:11 pm
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That's it for this today's chat. Apologies again for the late start, but thanks to everyone that put the extra day to good use and submitted questions this week. I liked the variety.

The chat will be back next week in its regular time slot (12:30 p.m. Wednesday), so start thinking up what you want to ask me then. Until then, enjoy the week!