Nov. 23 Illinois basketball, volleyball & football chat

Nov. 23 Illinois basketball, volleyball & football chat

Friday, November 23, 2018 - 12:30pm

The busy month of November continues, with Illinois basketball just gearing up, the Illini volleyball team putting the finishing touches on its NCAA tournament résumé and Lovie Smith's football team down to one final game. Beat writer Scott Richey will answer any and all Illini-related questions in his weekly chat starting at 12:30 p.m. Friday.

Scott Richey wrote on November 23, 2018 at 12:11 pm
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Good afternoon everybody. As you can see, I didn't forget about the chat today. Wednesday? I honestly didn't even think about it for one second until I realized about 4 hours too late that I didn't do it. I'll blame it on a 10:30 p.m. tipoff Monday for Illinois in Hawaii. That threw my internal clock off the entire week (and a holiday in the middle of the week didn't help that).

Anyway, I will be answering your questions today. Thanks for your patience.

Let's get to it ...

Sangman69 wrote on November 23, 2018 at 12:11 pm

Congratulations to Coach Tamas, his staff, and the players for such a great season! Hope they can keep it going.

So how did the NCAA grant eligibility to Mark Smith without sitting out a year?

Do you see John Holecek ever coaching at Illinois, possibly as the new defensive coordinator? Seems like he would be a good recruiter in the Chicago area.

Scott Richey wrote on November 23, 2018 at 12:11 pm
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I honestly don't know why/how the NCAA granted immediate eligibility to Mark Smith. The waiver has been applied so inconsistently this offseason. Missouri, of course, got one for Mark Smith and didn't for Dru Smith (who maybe had a better case given his coach was fired at Evansville).

Then Marcus Carr didn't get one at Minnesota after leaving Pittsburgh because Kevin Stallings got fired (and that situation was a mess), but Matthew Moyer does get one at Vanderbilt after leaving Syracuse (where Jim Boeheim is still there). Moyer's from Ohio, so it's not like he's closer to home or anything in Nashville.

I don't get the NCAA.

Unless something drastic/dramatic happens, John Holecek will not be the new defensive coordinator at Illinois. One, he's had other opportunities (Tim Beckman and Bill Cubit both reached out) to coach at Illinois. He turned them down, and the fact he has two sons now in the Loyola Academy football program, I don't see that changing in the immediate future.

And here's where I won't earn any fans ... I don't understand the obsession with getting former Illinois players on the coaching staff. If they're a good fit in terms of experience and ability and recruiting (just because Holecek coaches in the Chicagoland isn't a guarantee he could recruit it or even want to), fine, but it seems to me that a portion of the fan base almost sees that as a requirement. I just don't get it.

UIGBPFAN wrote on November 23, 2018 at 12:11 pm

Please recap in Cliffnotes style why Illinois didn't land Horton-Tucker? I'm sure a lot of us are more than curious now. Thanks ... and darn! Illini might be undefeated and ranked with that human tank.

Scott Richey wrote on November 23, 2018 at 12:11 pm
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The thing about Talen Horton-Tucker's recruitment is the full, honest-to-God truth probably never sees the light of day. There's different versions. One is he was going to Iowa State all the time. The other is he wanted to go to Illinois, but the Illini coaching staff pulled his scholarship because of outside pressure to do so. That's basically the short "answer" for a situation that had a bunch of moving parts and, again, we probably never hear the full answer.

Jupiter Illini wrote on November 23, 2018 at 12:11 pm

Scott, thanks for all your efforts to keep us UP on Illini sports.

Our basketball offense looks about the same as last year. Dribbling, dribbling and dribbling, with no thought of what to do next. No cutting to the bucket, hit an open man, or drive and dish. Spacing the floor doesn't seem to be a concept Underwood teaches, keeping players away from possible double teams. What % of our poessions do we come up empty, as no shot?

Another grip, hero ball. Its seems to me, we jack up shots, drive and get tiedup, because its my turn. No idea of game score, time, what is working, who's hot and etc. Really poor mental approach, I don't see any team concepts.

My advice to Frazier and Dosunmu, "you can love the spotlight, but if you want to be a winner, understand you don't have to always be in it".

Scott Richey wrote on November 23, 2018 at 12:11 pm
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Jupiter Illini,

You're only real question in there is the percentage of possessions Illinois comes up empty without even a single shot attempt. That stat might be part of what Synergy keeps track of, but I don't pay for that service. I can tell you that Illinois turns the ball over on 18.4 percent of its possessions. That puts the Illini a little above average compared to the other 352 Division I teams (it, in fact, ranks them 137th).

Anonymous User wrote on November 23, 2018 at 12:11 pm



  Personally, I think the basketball program is going nowhere fast for the following reasons:

 * Coach Underwood totally burns these kids out.  For example: Have you ever heard of a player (let     alone the best player on the team) getting a concussion during a walk-through??? I'm sure he had the team practicing in the morning before yesterday's game and they totally ran out of gas.

* I strongly believe this type of mentality resulted in a number of reasons 'why' some of the players left the program.

* Until Coach Underwood quits trying to act like Bobby Huggins it's going to be the same-o.  He needs to just be himself which may result in more wins and getting more commitments from key prospects (unfortunately, I do not see him changing his style).

Scott Richey wrote on November 23, 2018 at 12:11 pm
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-- A collision with Giorgi Bezhanishvili in the Monday before the Georgetown game led to Trent Frazier's concussion. I think there's an assumption that concussions have to come from some big blow to the head. While that certainly can contribute to the concussion risk, even less significant hits can cause them, too.

-- Publishing your question in the chat changed the "when" of when it was submitted, but if I recall correctly it was between the Gonzaga and Iowa State games. I'm fairly certain the only thing that happened between those games was film review, sleep and breakfast. The charged environment and energy required to almost knock off Gonzaga before a short turnaround probably attributed to your "ran out of gas" observation.

-- You could be right.

-- Only because you brought him up, Bob Huggins has won 845 games in his career. 


ScottyDogg wrote on November 23, 2018 at 12:11 pm

Is Samba Kane healthy but just not ready to play yet? If the coaching staff deems that he's not ready for minutes yet, is he not ready from the strength/conditioning standpoint, or is it moreso a need to development his skill level?

With Anthony Higgs, is it safe to assume he is not ready due to injury? Is he reasonably expected to red shirt at this point?

Has Antwan January actually signed his LOI yet? If not, is there any concern about that perhaps not happening?

Is there any talk about a possible second signing in this early period, or will we all just need to sit tight for the late signing period?


Scott Richey wrote on November 23, 2018 at 1:11 pm
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Samba Kane is healthy. He is also definitely not ready to contribute in any meaningful playing time, and it's a combination of strength and how raw he is as a player. 

Anthony Higgs is out of the boot he wore earlier this fall, but his return is still limited by the foot injury he suffered. I would, at this point, expect him to redshirt.

Antwan January didn't sign in the early signing period (that ended Wednesday). I'd say there's always a concern if you have to wait four-plus months for the next opportunity. That's especially true because he didn't visit Illinois before committing, and his high school-hopping the last four years makes things more difficult in compiling the requisite academic paperwork. Kane only went to two high schools, and you saw what happened this summer when he had to leave Illinois and finish up a required course.

Since the early signing period passed with nobody signing, Illinois is once again putting the majority of its eggs in the spring signing period basket. Or, in the case this year, all of the eggs.

Mitchell W Sutton wrote on November 23, 2018 at 1:11 pm

Scott, Do you know if the Illini will play in a preseason tournament next season? Who are the Illini recruiting for men's basketball in the classes of 2019 and 2020?

Scott Richey wrote on November 23, 2018 at 1:11 pm
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No word on a Thanksgiving week tournament for Illinois next season, but odds are Illinois will play in one based on the last 10 seasons. The rundown ...

2009 - Las Vegas Invitational

2010 - 2K Sports Classic (NYC)

2011 - Cancun Challenge

2012 - Maui Invitational

2013 - None

2014 - Las Vegas Invitational

2015 - Emerald Coast Classic (Niceville, Fla.)

2016 - NIT Season Tip-Off (NYC)

2017 - None, sort of. Did host multiple games in C-U for Global Sports Invitational

2018 - Maui Invitational

Seems to me like it's time to head back to Las Vegas, although that could be my personal preference coming through.

When it comes to 2019 recruiting, the options have really dwindled from the 50-plus guys that got offers. At this point, I'd say the Illini are really only involved with Kofi Cockburn (a long shot perhaps), Tristan Enaruna and Terrence Shannon Jr. I would expect more names to be added to the list as the season progresses.

Illinois' 2020 recruiting is a little more straightforward. Chicago guards Adam Miller and D.J. Steward are the clear priorities. Then there's Caleb Love (a two-guard) and Cam'Ron Fletcher (a wing) out of St. Louis. In total, Illinois has offered 34 guys in the 2020 class. Only two of those have committed, with point guard Zeb Jackson to Michigan and big man Bayron Matos-Garcia to Mississippi State.

IlliniFanSinceTheSpoon wrote on November 23, 2018 at 1:11 pm

Hey Scott,

Happy Thanksgiving! What a turkey of a game vs Iowa St. after a great effort vs the Zags.Too much Bill Walton, got stale. Offense appeared to be guards racing down the court, pass the ball round the perimiter, then launch a 3 as the shot clock expires or guards drive to the basket and toss it up. Guess when shots dont fall, it looks futile. Try a screen, pop a mid-range jumper. Sure players are weary, but that 2nd half was the Ole' defense. Kane and Jones could help with a few mins. Plus side, De La Rosa seems to be moving better and Griffin needs more mins. Finally, to address the elephant in the room, no need to revisit the pulled scholly to THT, water under the bridge. But as Steven Bardo says, that was a MAN's game! THT is 17 yrs old?

Scott Richey wrote on November 23, 2018 at 1:11 pm
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I was in the minority when it came to Bill Walton on the call for all three games in Maui. The fact I have eyes and can see what's happening and he made me laugh on several occasions meant I enjoyed ol' Bill more than most. But I get it.

The defense was, like you said, the issue in Maui. Brad Underwood's system doesn't really work all that effectively unless there's someone to protect the rim. Illinois, in fact, ranks 344th out of 352 Division I teams allowing its opponents to shoot 61.3 percent on two-pointers. That said, I don't think Samba Kane would have made a difference.

Adonis De La Rosa's also not a shot blocker, but he did seem to move better as the tournament progressed. That's a good sign. Alan Griffin got more minutes against Xavier and struggled. But I wouldn't read too much into that. He earned that playing time, and it was also just his fourth career game. He's going to have rough moments to go with the good ones.

Talen Horton-Tucker is, in fact, just 17 years old. He'll turn 18 on Sunday. I was very high on his potential last year for that reason. He was only 16, of course, in his final AAU season and when his senior year started at Simeon, and he was straight dominating dudes.

Anonymous User wrote on November 23, 2018 at 1:11 pm


It seems we passed on the chance to sign a really great player when THT wanted to come to Illinois last year. From what I recall, that was done to appease his AAU coach, who was angry that THT left his AAU program. At the time I wondered why we kowtowed to an AAU coach when a kid really wanted to join our program. I still wonder. What do you think?  Shouldn’t a kid be able to go where they want to go?



Scott Richey wrote on November 23, 2018 at 1:11 pm
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I have a feeling Talen Horton-Tucker is going to go down as one of the great "What ifs?" for Illinois basketball. Like I mentioned in a previous response, it's a slim chance we're ever going to know the full story of his recruitment. From what I understand, he did want to go to Illinois. He's well on his way to what looks like will be a really successful career at Iowa State, but the narrative aroud his collegiate career (at least for a while) will be marred by whatever happend with him and Illinois. Even the speculation has to be tough for a kid (again, he's 17 years old) to go through. The same is true for Illinois' Ayo Dosunmu, who gets lumped into that story.

Scott Richey wrote on November 23, 2018 at 1:11 pm
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That's it for this week's chat. Thanks for waiting a couple extra days and a special thanks during this Thanksgiving week for everyone that regularly submits questions or does so even just once or simply follows along. As Kevin Durant said, you're the real MVP.

The chat will be back next week in its regular time slot (as long as I remember). That will be after Illinois basketball plays this Sunday against Mississippi Valley State and then this coming Tuesday at Notre Dame, so there should be plenty to discuss.

Until then, enjoy the weekend!