March 14 Illinois basketball chat

March 14 Illinois basketball chat

Thursday, March 14, 2019 - 10:30am

What will Illinois need to improve upon for the 2019-2020 season? Will Brad Underwood's team make a run at the Big Ten tournament? What will Ayo Dosunmu decide about his future? Ask beat writer Scott Richey on any of these topics or whatever else you'd like to discuss in his weekly chat. Feel free to submit questions ahead of time.

Scott Richey wrote on March 14, 2019 at 10:03 am
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Good morning from Chicago. Illinois' overtime win late last night against Northwestern means another day in the Windy City and another Big Ten tournament game tonight against Iowa. To get you warmed up for all of that (and before I head over to the United Center to catch a few more games), I've got your Illini hoops questions to answer.

Let's get to it ...

illini 101 wrote on March 14, 2019 at 10:03 am

Hello Scott,

The basketball team was 11-19 entering the Penn State game.  Granted they were trying to avoid the first round of the Big Ten tournament.  There was not much else on the line.  Griffin played less than a minute and Jones did not appear in the game.  D. Williams and A. Jordan combined for 40 minutes, 6 points, and 7 rebounds.  It seems a coach wanting a spark or interested in developing players for next year would have found a way to play Williams and Jordan 25 minuts and split the other 15 minutes between Griffin and Jones.  If a player was hot (Jones vs Maryland) then you ride them but if not you work them all in and let them have an opportunity.  It would not surprise me if one of the two (Griffin or Jones) transferred at the end of the season.  What are your thoughts?  Kane is more of a project but he could stand to see 3 to 5 minutes a game also.  These would mostly come from De La Rosa.  Kane usually doesnt hurt us and actually gives us a little bit of a rim protector if we would let him do it instead of playing the jump the passing lane give up 100 layups defense.  But that's a question for another day.    

Thanks for your time.

Scott Richey wrote on March 14, 2019 at 10:03 am
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Illini 101,

I'll give you a couple of my thoughts on your questions and then the latest from Brad Underwood about the question all Illinois fans seem to have. 

Aaron Jordan and Da'Monte Williams do a lot more for Illinois than scoring. Jordan has been one of the team's better rebounders this season, and Williams is a mostly strong defender and the Illini's go-to guy for hustle plays. That said, Jordan is inconsistent on the offensive end and Williams is basically a non-factor. For an Illinois team that has its offensive issues at times and, despite lessening the occurence, still goes through scoring droughts, maybe Alan Griffin or Tevian Jones could provide a little life offensively.

Of course, that's all based on potential. In terms of actual production, Griffin is shooting 39 percent from the field, 30 percent from three-point range and 61 percent from the free throw line. Jones' numbers are 31, 26 and 91, respectively. Underwood has talked some about those guys going from being shot takers to shot makers.

When it comes to Samba Kane, I don't know that he couldn't give Illinois all that Adonis De La Rosa is right now. Kane isn't nearly as physical, but De La Rosa isn't doing much for the Illini in terms of scoring or rebounding. The best thing for Kane this season might have been a defined redshirt season (he needed it) because if it was out there he wasn't going to play and just spend this year getting better then there wouldn't be any debate about his playing time.

As far as transfers, who knows? About 150 players have already done so (the mid-year guys mostly), and that number probably tops 700 again this offseason. That's college basketball. Players transfer, and if it is 700-plus that's good for two per team. We'll see if the Illini have to deal with that.

Anyway, here's the response Underwood gave about playing freshmen earlier this week. It's a question I've asked and other media members have asked in a variety of ways because Illini fans clearly are interested ...

"It’s based on practice. It’s based on I want them to be as successful as they can be. It’s more about making sure they’re successful and our team is. If they can help us win, we’re going to play them."

Tom in San Diego wrote on March 14, 2019 at 10:03 am

Scott: As of Wednesday morning, you're 22-9 in your predictions for the year. Give us your tournament resume. How many Quadrant 1 picks did you make? What are your bad losses? Tom

Scott Richey wrote on March 14, 2019 at 10:03 am
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As of this morning, I've improved to 23-9. We'll see if I can avoid a 10-loss season if the Illini take care of business against Iowa tonight. But at 23-9? I'm easily a 5-seed at worst with at least seven Quadrant 1 picks. The best was easily my prediction that Illinois would win on the road at Ohio State. Pretty bold, in my opinion, considering Illinois had just one true road win in the Brad Underwood era before that.

My worst loss doubles as Illinois' worst loss. Honestly, who could have seen the Florida Atlantic result coming?

Andrew Jaske wrote on March 14, 2019 at 10:03 am

So when I watch the Illini this year, I don't really see them as a team that plays good fundamental defense.  When Lou was there, that was a hallmark.  Bobby Knight would never give us credit, but I think one of the things that griped him was that we were talented and played excellent defense - as good as the best IU teams.  I'm not convinced this style of play really produces the best defensive outcome.  Can this be taught?  Is this bad coaching?  It doesn't seem like a lack of effort.

Why can't the Illini shoot?  Our guards cannot even shoot free throws better than an average high school player.  Is anybody going to coach them up on this?  Unless we improve our 3 point shooting, our FTs, and for godssakes, layups - we'll never win.

And, finally, I think we really missed Finke this year.  Having another big body and someone tall who could shoot from the perimeter really might have helped us win enough games to at least be above .500 and going to the NIT.  With the defections last year, I'm not convinced Underwood runs the greatest program. He looks grouchy most of the time and I would be too with this inconsistency.  To me, he has one more year with the big guy (Kofi Cockburn) to get this turned around.  Right now, Penn State looks better than us - in basketball.  Fathom that.



Scott Richey wrote on March 14, 2019 at 10:03 am
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I'd say any scheme can be taught. When it comes to what Illinois runs defensively, I think it's just a matter of finding enough of the right players. As in a bunch of long, athletic guards that can cause opposing teams fits on the perimeter. A big key, though, is having a rim protector as the anchor in the post — a guy that can clean up mistakes and slow down the dribble drive opportunities that do arise when the pressure defense fails. Of course, I can't say Illinois has a rim protector on its roster (maybe Samba Kane?), and neither of the incoming big men project as that either. Still, Kofi Cockburn does take up a lot of space down low, so that could help.

I'd argue that the Illini can shoot. At least some of them. Trent Frazier and Aaron Jordan are both 40 percent three-point shooters. Ayo Dosunmu is shooting 36 percent from deep, and that's a number, if you told me a year ago he'd shoot, I wouldn't have believed it. His shot mechanics aren't necessarily perfect, but they're leaps and bounds better than from his senior season in high school. Will those guys make shots all the time? No, of course not.

Of course, free throws and layups are another issue altogether. Sort of incredible the number of both the Illini miss. For that, I honestly have no answer. Andres Feliz's potential game-winner was a doink — pure and simple.

Michael Finke certainly could have helped this team — especially if he played the way he's doing down the stretch right now for Grand Canyon. Big time performances for the Champaign native and All-WAC First Team pick. The biggest offseason key for Illinois this year is keeping that roster intact. Too many defections, and the Illini have to hit the reset button again. Program building gets a little difficult when that happens all the time.

Anonymous User wrote on March 14, 2019 at 10:03 am


 If Coach Underwood loses his job, he has no one to blame but himself for being too loyal.  He has totally lost me by continuing to give Kipper and DaMonte extended minutes and not playing Tevian Jones.  Kipper has recently showed some life, but DaMonte rebounds well but is usually 0-3 from the field with @ least three turnovers.  Jones has proven he is not only a scorer but also makes steals with those long arms.  We need his offense.  Coach Underwood should be gone after next season and we no longer have to hear about Bob Huggins and Stephen F. Austin anymore. 

Scott Richey wrote on March 14, 2019 at 10:03 am
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I suppose my answer for this question that's not a question is easy. Brad Underwood isn't going to be fired anytime soon. Probably not after next season either would be my guess. Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman appears willing to give his big hires time (as evidenced by the Lovie Smith extension).

As a side note, I'm for any and all Bob Huggins conversations. 

Hopeful fan wrote on March 14, 2019 at 10:03 am

Where oh where is Tevian Jones? How in the world has he been passed up by Tyler Underwood (who I will admit didn't play completely horribly last night)?

Scott Richey wrote on March 14, 2019 at 10:03 am
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Hopeful fan,

I was hoping somebody would be willing to note that Tyler Underwood played some decent minutes last night. Had a couple rebounds and played some nice post defense on 6-foot-10 Pete Nance, forcing the Northwestern freshman to give up a clear mismatch and pass out of the post. Of course, he had two turnovers, too. Nobody's perfect.

Still, I get it. Illinois fans want Tevian Jones. Here's what Brad Underwood said after last night's game about that first substitution where five guys came in at once and Jones wasn't one of them.

“It was more Kipper’s been good in practice,” Brad Underwood continued about Jones not getting comparable playing time off the bench. “Tyler’s been really good in practice. He gets us into offense and scraps for loose balls and takes charges. I was proud of those guys. We didn’t lose much, yet we got our guys some much needed rest.”

IllinoisFanSinceTheSpoon wrote on March 14, 2019 at 10:03 am

Hey Scott,

What's the status of A. Higgs? Health issues? Will the young man play bball again? Can you update the whereabouts of Antwaan January? I see references to 3 different high schools on recruitment sites. But it appears he is not playing at any of them. Does the Illini staff keep in touch with him? Is BU allowed to speak with you about his status? I would like to pontificate a bit on two things, rule wise, in NCAA bball. First, the restricted arc collision rule under the basket is a joke. If the defender is just standing there and the ball handler drives in and collides with said defender, how is that not a charge. A foul for standing in an area to defend. Oh, and his heel was off the floor, hanging over the arc, which goes up to infinty.            Secondly, big man inside with the ball, bangs the defender in the chest, 2-3 times, knocking him back to clear a shot. That too is a charge. The defender has a right to his spot. But don't handcheck the ball handler on the outside. Just blowin!

Scott Richey wrote on March 14, 2019 at 11:03 am
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The team hasn't publicly discussed any health issues with Anthony Higgs beyond the foot injury he suffered before the season. That said, there are other things at play, and I sort of doubt he ever plays at Illinois. Not sure about his future.

Antwan January is at Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix, but he mostly isn't play. He was in one game in November and played in more recently. This final high school season for him is more about academics, which isn't crazy when you consider he's on at least his third (if not fourth) school in four years. Since January didn't sign in November, however, no one on the Illinois staff can officially talk about him.

Pontificate away on the rules! I can't say this year has been a great one for Big Ten officials. Maybe it's the same across the country, but I watch more Big Ten basketball than any other conference, of course, and there have been some truly low moments. The whole block/charge thing has been a mess, remains a mess and probably will always be a mess.

Dale Chapman wrote on March 14, 2019 at 11:03 am

Why does Tyler Underwood play more minutes than Tevian Jones?

Scott Richey wrote on March 14, 2019 at 11:03 am
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See previous answers on Tevian Jones, although I'm not sure you'll be satisfied. There's not much of answer out there I can report beyond what I have.

Scott Richey wrote on March 14, 2019 at 11:03 am
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That's it for today's chat. Thanks to everybody that submitted questions or followed along. There will be plenty more Illinois basketball coverage right here at later today (and into the early morning hours most likely) with the Illini set to continue Big Ten tournament action at 8 p.m. against Iowa. In the meantime, feel free to persue the site. Lots of coverage from last night's win against Northwestern.

Next week's chat — unless Illinois wins the Big Ten tournament title — will be in its regular time slot at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. We'll see.