Jan. 9 Illinois basketball chat

Jan. 9 Illinois basketball chat

Wednesday, January 9, 2019 - 1:30pm

Illinois' losing streak continued Sunday at Northwestern in another winnable game that turned out anything but. However, about an hour after that 68-66 defeat the Illini landed five-star center Kofi Cockburn. Talk about the gamut of emotions for Illinois fans. Of course, that provides plenty of fodder for this week's chat. Interested in what's next on the recruiting front? Curious about what this team might actually accomplish this season? Beat writer Scott Richey will answer all of your questions starting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Scott Richey wrote on January 09, 2019 at 1:01 pm
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Good afternoon everybody. Thanks for waiting an extra hour for this week's chat. Of course, our regular 12:30 p.m. start wouldn't have worked today. That was right in the middle of Brad Underwood's pre-Michigan press conference. I'll have the typical pregame coverage in tomorrow's N-G and here at IlliniHQ.com, so be sure to check that out.

Of course, I've still got work to do on that and a Sports Talk appearance with guest host Steve Kelly coming at 5 p.m., so I'm going to just jump into the chat. 

Let's get to it ... 

Bwp5p wrote on January 09, 2019 at 1:01 pm

Hey Scott,

is there something eating on Trent Frazier? I thought he was very lackluster against FAU, seemed to lack ANY energy, enthusiasm, intensity. I thought it looked similar at IU and NW. I realize he was never a Dee Brown rah-rah guy..........but geez...........in my 55 years of watching the Illini...........he just seems to me like he's either sick, hurt, or Unhappy! I'd just like to see some intensity........FIRE out of him, if he's supposedly the Leader. Even Ayo showed some fire yesterday!

Thoughts?

Bruce

Scott Richey wrote on January 09, 2019 at 1:01 pm
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Bruce,

Funny you should ask that. Got a chance to speak with Trent Frazier today after practice, and he was very frank about the struggles he's going through. I'll have a story on that in tomorrow's N-G. Long story short, he's just not playing with much confidence in himself. It's pouring in from the coaching staff and teammates, but he can't seem to harness it. He's determined to do just that, though. We'll see if he can tomorrow against Michigan.

Khan al-Sanderz wrote on January 09, 2019 at 1:01 pm

Thanks for all the chats.  Rabid fans need intelligent tempering and you do an excellent job with that....politely.

 

Fantastic news with picking up Cockburn.  How does that affect the other bigs on the roster?  It seems BU likes to play with one big and then wings/guards.  Georgi seems a natural 4 so perhaps then BU goes with a more traditional lineup with Higgs acting as a backup 4.  But is there room for Cockburn, January, and Kane at the 5 without someone getting upset and bolting?  And if BU sticks with the one big concept, that puts five players at the big position.  To be fair, if they bolt, they bolt; best to pick up the best players at all times and let them determine who plays on the court.  Thoughts?

 

 

Scott Richey wrote on January 09, 2019 at 1:01 pm
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Khan al-Sanderz,

Glad I can be a voice of reason. As for your question, I think with the addition of Kofi Cockburn you might see Brad Underwood play two bigs with more frequency next season. He did it a little at Indiana with Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Adonis De La Rosa playing together, and he said today he likes that pairing and wants to try and get them more minutes together moving forward.

I think a Giorgi/Kofi combination could be interesting ... particularly the high-low game they could run. Giorgi is a good passer, and using him in the high post or on the perimeter could open up his game more. Same with a Giorgi/Antwan January combination.

There's going to be an actual battle for playing time in the post next season. That's a good thing. Illinois needed bigs. Next year it will have them in spades. Could said battle lead to more roster churn? That's certainly a possibility, but you just never know with that stuff until it happens. We'll see.

Mica wrote on January 09, 2019 at 1:01 pm

Now that Kofi Cockburn has committed to the Illini, have the chances increased that Antwan January will seek to sign elsewhere for more playing time?  It seems like he wanted to keep his options open as he did not sign during the early signing period.

Scott Richey wrote on January 09, 2019 at 1:01 pm
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Mica,

I'm not sure Antwan January was in any position to sign with any team in November, and I wouldn't say that adding Kofi Cockburn means he changes his mind about Illinois either. Cockburn is not a 40 minutes per game guy. There will be playing time available. 

Anonymous User wrote on January 09, 2019 at 1:01 pm

Do you have any stats or any news how Antwan January is doing this year ? Do you know where illinois ranks in big ten and nationally as far as youth. And what teams are younger than illinois in big ten. Is Higgs making progress or practicing ? Do you know what the biggest increase in wins for a team from one year to the next is ?

Scott Richey wrote on January 09, 2019 at 1:01 pm
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Anonymous,

I'll tell you I've scoured the web for any statistical update on Antwan January and haven't found it. He's listed on every Hillcrest Prep roster I can find, but I've yet to track down any reliable stats for that team. The Hillcrest Twitter account also hasn't tweeted anything about him lately either. But I'm still hunting.

KenPom tracks how experienced teams are. Here's how they calculate it:

"The experience value is in terms of years of college experience where a player’s eligibility class is assumed to determine this. For the purposes of the calculation, a freshman has zero years of experience, a sophomore has one year of experience, etc.

– Like the average height calculation, the experience calculation weights the experience of each player on the roster based on minutes played. Players that have played less than 10% of their team’s minutes are not included."

Illinois currently ranks 292nd nationally and 11th in the Big Ten in that metric ahead of Penn State, Rutgers and Maryland. Meaning there are 291 more experienced teams in the country than the Illini.

Anthony Higgs still isn't practicing.

I just speed read through the entire Illinois basketball history. The biggest increase in wins was 19 between the 1906-07 season when the Illini went 1-10 and the 1907-08 season when they went 20-6.

The next highest jump was 11 and that took a national title game run in 2004-05. The Final Four team in 1988-89 made an eight-win improvement from the year before. In terms of regular seasons, there were four other eight-win improvements by the 2008-09, 1999-2000, 1968-69 and 1950-51 teams.

IlliniFanSinceTheSpoon wrote on January 09, 2019 at 1:01 pm

Hey Scott,

Great guys both, but not gettin much lately from AJ and Kip, though Nichols put up some numbers vs N'Western. AJ did not get a shot off! Is it time D. Williams starts? He is all over the court. And more mins. for Griffin and T. Jones? Not just 3 mins. either, let's see what they got. Do you think A. January de-commits now? Can you give us an update on Finke and the other transfers? How's Leron Black?

Scott Richey wrote on January 09, 2019 at 2:01 pm
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IlliniFanSinceTheSpoon,

Aaron Jordan putting up 20 points against Florida Atlantic and then just two in his next two games as Illinois got back into the Big Ten is a concern. His career production has regularly dipped in conference play, but this is more than just a dip. 

Da'Monte Williams doesn't want to start. He's more comfortable coming off the bench, and Brad Underwood is fine using him in that way (although he did start the game Ayo Dosunmu was held out for being late to shootaround). In short, I would say, yes, it's time for more minutes for Tevian Jones and Alan Griffin, and that's especially true if Jordan keeps struggling. 

I don't think Antwan January decommits, but recruiting is weird and fickle and you never know what's going to happen. Even with Kofi Cockburn committed, Illinois could use another big. There's room for January.

When it comes to last year's transfers, Te'Jon Lucas and Greg Eboigbodin are both sitting out a year at Milwaukee and Northeastern, respectively. Michael Finke has started 10 of the 12 games he's played for Grand Canyon (he missed three in December) and is averaging 8.3 points and 4.6 rebounds. And Mark Smith, of course, is averaging 11.7 points and 5.4 rebounds at Missouri.

Leron Black was initially going to play in Israel before getting a training camp invite to the Toronto Raptors' G-League team. After being cut during camp, he signed with Argentino Junin in Argentina. He's averaging 15.3 points and six rebounds through four games of his pro career.

 

cspan63 wrote on January 09, 2019 at 2:01 pm

Has Kofi Cockburn's commitment changed Antuan January's status?  Is it likely to?  Absent early departures and/or a change in the status of January, there is only one available scholarship remaining.  Who do you believe is the most likely to accept/receive the final spot?       

Scott Richey wrote on January 09, 2019 at 2:01 pm
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cspan63,

Check out some previous answers for more on Antwan January. In terms of the last remaining scholarship, it's going to go to a wing. Which wing is the question.

When I spoke with Rivals' national analyst Corey Evans earlier this week he still felt Illinois was in a good place with Terrence Shannon Jr. and figured the former Lincoln Park standout would come back to the state after his prep year at IMG Academy. So that would mean either Illinois or DePaul. Christian Brown, who is teammates with Kofi Cockburn at Oak Hill Academy, is also a possibility. 

Kaden Archie's transfer from TCU is also intriguing, and there's still time to get him on campus before the second semester starts if that's the way Illinois wants to go and if Archie wants to be an Illini this time around.

Anonymous User wrote on January 09, 2019 at 2:01 pm

Our athletic director seems pretty involved with our basketball team right now. Has/can a athletic director ever asked for a meeting with just the players? Just to get a feel or sense about how they feel about coaches and or the direction of the program? Seems like some of the players body language indicates something is going on and not for the best. Your thoughts

Scott Richey wrote on January 09, 2019 at 2:01 pm
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Anonymous,

If he wants to do that, I'd think that would be under Josh Whitman's purview since he's the boss. Just based on what athletes from different Illinois sports have said, Whitman engages with them fairly regularly. I'd say he has a sense of things with basketball. Also, I'm sure a 4-11 record and zero Big Ten wins isn't helping the body language you're reading.

Anonymous Jim wrote on January 09, 2019 at 2:01 pm

Happy New Year Scott, what about Brad Underwood gives you hope that he is the right guy to bring the program back to what it used to be?

Scott Richey wrote on January 09, 2019 at 2:01 pm
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Jim,

Landing a commitment from Kofi Cockburn certainly helps, especially when you consider that's back-to-back classes with a five-star recruit for the first time since Lon Kruger got Frank Williams and Brian Cook. There are also flashes of what this team could be in games. Brad Underwood has also won everywhere else he's been.

That said, it hasn't worked yet at Illinois, and this season (save for a dramatic turnaround in the new year) is shaping up to be one of the worst in modern program history. Recruiting wins are good. Actual wins are better.

Pogo in Springfield wrote on January 09, 2019 at 2:01 pm

The Cockburn commit has us all excited.  Do you think this makes A. January more or less likely to play for the Illini next year?  In my view...more.   Also, some boards are posting rumors of Higgs having a serious health problem beyond just a broken bone in his foot.   Do you see him in future Illini plans or are you even allowed to address the issue?  Sure needed his size and athleticism this year but it he would seem to need much all-around improvement.   Finally, we have seen Georgi transform in the last handfull of games into the Illini version of Ethan Happ with the ball in the paint.   How hard has he worked to accomplish these vastly improved skills and who was his primary coach in that regard?  I assume Antigua has given him much coaching on handle and footwork.   He has really become a dependable inside threat since his first few games.  Thanks for the job you do well to keep us informed.

Scott Richey wrote on January 09, 2019 at 2:01 pm
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Pogo,

You're the first in today's chat to think Kofi Cockburn makes Antwan January more likely to be an Illini. I tend to agree with you.

There's not a lot of clarity on what Anthony Higgs' situation is right now. I've been asking. When I have something I can report, I certainly will. 

I'm sure Orlando Antigua has helped shape Giorgi Bezhanishvili's game since the big man got to Champaign this summer. But give his high school coach and AAU coach and his coaches back in Georgia and Austria some credit, too. Then there's Giorgi himself. Some big men just have a knack for the footwork and skill set required to score around the basket. 

Scott Richey wrote on January 09, 2019 at 2:01 pm
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That's it for this week's chat. Thanks, as always, to everyone that submitted questions or followed along. Now I jump back into getting your Illinois-Michigan pregame coverage finished for tomorrow's N-G (plus video here at IlliniHQ.com). Then there's game coverage tomorrow night for Friday's paper and the College Basketball Extra on Sunday. Lots to look forward to.

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

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