Beat writer Marcus Jackson takes your questions at 12:30 p.m. Wednesdays. Submit them at any time.
Good afternoon, time for another Illinois basketball chat. We're a day away from the Orange and Blue Scrimmage, the first opportunity to see the 2013-14 Illini and the only chance to see Ahmad Starks, Darius Paul and Aaron Cosby. With so much unfamiliarity with this team, I'm expecting a pretty decent crowd. I'll be here for about an hour taking your questions, so fire away.
I just love these chats. I enjoy your insight. My question is what has to happen for the Illini to be in the upper tier of the Big Ten. Is it possible for them to be let's say 4th or higher.
Thanks, glad you enjoy them. To answer your questions, something unfortunate would have to happen to Gary Harris, Adriean payne, Keith Appling, Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, Sam Thompson, Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas, Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, ... You see where I'm going with this? The league is very good at the top, it's going to be tough to crack that, especially with such an inexperienced team. Finishing seventh or even eighth doesn't mean it's a bad season, that's probably as good as it's going to get this season, there are just too many good teams out there.
When does the initial AP and Coaches polls come out for the 2013-14 Men's Basketball season? Thanks!
The AP Poll comes out on Oct. 31 and the AP All-America teams are released Nov. 4. I have to have mu poll and All-America teams in to the AP by Monday. I believe the Coaches' Poll might run a day or two earlier than the AP Poll.
I was looking at the pics from Media Day and noticed the design on the back of the orange jerseys. Is that a new design? Are there any tweaks to this year's uniform?
I didn't pay much attention to the backs of the orange jerseys last week, but if the design on the back of the white uniform in any indication, it's the same design they've had the last few years. The abstract design is something to do with Foellinger and the State Farm Center. The uniform is the same. I believe next year or the year after there might be some changes across the board with Nike rebranding.
Hi marcus thanks for the chats my wuestion today is what are your expectations from tracy abrams and joe bertrand this year I think both could have breakout seasons I think abrams has the tools to be very successful their were a few games last year where he looked nearly unstoppable he can really score in bunches and seemed to be pretty consistent joe is another story he is great but its like he has no clue how to use his talents and has been inconsistent in his yrs at illinois could he be a dark horse in the big ten this year do you see any illinois player being professionsl caliber
I'd look for Tracy to once again be a double-figure scorer, but the most important thing for him is to continue getting more comfortable in a lead guard role. Knowing and having a better feel for the tempo. I would expect Joe to be a little better from a production standpoint. In the past he deferred a lot to the guys around him, B. Paul, D.J. Richardson, etc. He'll have more of an opportunity to assert himself and if he's consistent enough, then he can have a fine senior season. I would expect you'll see him be more aggressive this season.
By professional, I assume you're talking NBA. Today, I don't see an NBA player on the roster, but that could change. Nnanna Egwu, because of his size and athleticism, could develop into one and maybe over the course of their careers, one of the freshmen does, too. But now, no. CBS Sports listed the Top 100 players in college basketball for the upcoming season and Illinois didn't have a player mentioned.
What should we expect at the Orange & Blue game on Thursday?
You'll see 14 guys playing basketball. Seriously, expect to see a competitive group that's going to really get after it and play hard. That's going to have to be one of the calling cards for this team, playing hard consistently. Other than that it's really just going to be the team continuing to figure out how to play with one another. They're still about three weeks out from the first game, so they're far from a finished product. It'll also be the only time you get to see the three transfers play, so you'll get a good look at what you've got joining the party next season.
Matt, when it comes to Ahmad Starks, I'm wondering whether a conspiracy served to deny him a hardship waiver for 2013-14 after other less meritorious waivers have been approved. Who are the people making the decision to approve or deny a waiver -- NCAA staff or a panel of persons drawn from other schools? If the latter in Starks case, were any of the panel members from other Big 10 schools? I can accept the idea that a Big 10 panel member could want to delay the Starks decision as long as possible and then deny the waiver. They already fear John Groce's recruiting and coaching acumen and want to thwart any means which could enable the Illini to move up from the middle of the pack where they are being pegged this season. :)
It's NCAA folks who review the cases and make the decisions. I wouldn't worry so much about conspiracy theories, the NCAA has just been inconsistent in its rulings and unfortunately for Illinois, one went against it. I hope the smiley face at the end meant much of your question was presented in jest.
It seems every year the Illini get tested early in their pre-Big 10 season by a low/mid major and we eek out the win. Because of our youth and inexperience, is this the year that a low/mid major upsets us? I am sure there will be some growing pains...
That's a great point. It really could happen because of the reasons you stated and I wouldn't be surprised. This is a team that I feel will get better as the season goes on, a lot like last year, so while a loss to one of those early opponents would sting, I wouldn't creep toward the ledge if I were you. They're young. Only three guys have ever started a game for Illinois, so I would try to remain patient.
MJ, the season is on the line and the Illini need a bucket, who do you want taking that shot on this team?
That's tough. Since I've seen him do it on the road in a Big Ten game, my first inclination is to go with Tracy Abrams. He's tough and he's not afraid of the moment, those are crucial qualities in that situation. Rayvonte Rice would also be a good choice. He's also tough and unafraid and he can create any number of shots himself in that spot.
I saw that recently Big Cliff tweeted "I'm still open recruitment wise." Do you think he is just trying to shoot down any rumors or do you think he is letting everyone know that there isn't a clear front runner. Is there some stirring in the media that we are unaware of?
Perhaps he's been hearing the rumblings that he's a Kansas lock and he wanted to shoot that down. Or, if you've paid attention to this recruitment (I'm assuming by your question you have), he just likes to make sure he stays on folks' minds. The way Cliff has handled his recruitment has turned some off. It doesn't bother me. Be who you are. Other guys habdled theirs differently, but that's how they chose to do it. But, no, there's no secret stirring going on. Don't think there'd be any way to keep anything a sceret anyway.
Marcus......I'm sure your starting 5 will be Abry,Joseph,Ekey,Nana, and Rayvonte, but the real question will be...Who? is the starting 5 in January and February..Will Jaylon out play Abry..Will Maverick out play Nana or Ekey....How this teams starting 5 is now may very well change by January or February...barring injuries. Also keep in mind that Coach Groce likes to have an 8 or 9 deep rotation...so starting five does not really mean much....it's like having a starting nine.
Yep, that's my five. I don't see any reason to believe it will change. Right now I don't see Tate and Morgan out-playing the guys ahead of them and like you said, even if the guys off the bench perform better than expected, they'll get minutes. The hope is to be able to play at least a 10-man rotation.
Marcus, from the practices that you have been able to observe so far and/or from Coach Groce's comments, do you have any idea as to whether or not we are going to be doing a lot of full court pressing this year? With our lack of depth in the front line and overall lack of height and brawn, it seems like we are going to have to mix it up in some fashion to get easy baskets so we can compete against the better teams in the Big 10. Include in the analysis the fact that we don't appear to have too many dependable outside shooters (Ekey? Hill? LaTulip?), I just can't see us being successful if we have to depend on half-court sets to score in the Big 10.
I haven't seen enough to know if that's a part of the plans. And if you ask Groce, he's not going to want to tip his hand and give any opponents a head's up. My guess is they'll do it some, but not on a regular basis. In order to do that, you've got to have a very deep, reliable bench and at this stage it's too early to say that you've got either. Now, off of made baskets and rebounds, they'll try to push the ball up the court as quick as possible to get easy buckets that way, but that's also hard to do, especially in the Big Ten when teams get back and set on defense. The truth of it is in order to compete, you're going to have to find a way to execute in the half court.
What is this team capable of this season? Can Coach make all the parts mesh and turn them into Big Ten contenders and a deep run in NCAA, or is that asking too much of this group of players and coaches? This team does have 5 very experienced starters (Egwu, Ekey, Bertrand, Rice, Abrams) but also many new young faces, albeit very talented ones, having high potential and ceiling. Next year this team will be much better, but what can we hope for this year??
By contending, I assume you mean contending for a Big Ten title. That and making a deep NCAA tournament run, in my opinion, is asking too much. Again, I wouldn't expect anything higher than seventh in the Big Ten with the chance to get into the tournament. If that happens, this season would be a success and that is their goal. Now, once you get into the tournament, anything can happen. A favorable first-round matchup and a crazy bounce of the ball or two and a surprise team makes the Sweet 16. But to expect that with this group which is talented, yet young and inexperienced like you said, is too much right now.
I was in Colorado recently and it brought Klee to mind. After I got back I looked up his column website. Question: What's up with his hair?
I just talked to Mr. Klee. He's watching the Denver quarterback in practice. I guess the Broncos have a game in Indiana this weekend or something. Sounds like there's a chance he — Klee, not the Broncos quarterback — will be at The News-Gazette Sports Page on Monday.
Klee says it's true that ladies love the long ball. But they love the long hair, too.
Marcus - A bit of a non-standard question for you here: What do you think will be the realistic impact of a revamped State Farm Center? We hear a lot about the importance of having state-of-the-art facilities, but most of us certainly know that there's a delicate balance (which is frequently missed) when it comes to creating a modern experience but maintaining one that's truly fan-friendly for college kids and the atmosphere they wish to have. Trying to be a player in the national recruiting scene, we lack both the program history and gameday experience that can provide the "wow" factor for kids who are also visiting Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, et al. I know you can't just create an Allen Fieldhouse or Cameron Indoor atmosphere somewhere -- and you sure as heck have to earn the banners that get raised to the rafters -- but in what ways are we able to mitigate those advantages that other programs have in this regard?
Thanks, as always, for your time.
From a recruiting standpoint, the impact is huge. Though Illinois doens't have the tradition of the programs you mentioned, playing in a fancy, modernized building means something to them. It's one of the primary recruiting pitches John Groce and his staff use with targets, the chance to play in an improved arena. That's the most important piece. Kids want to be a part of that. I've talked to a few recruits and they told me that was one of the things Illinois had going for it — improving the arena.
My feeling is the atmosphere will be improved with more students on the floor and the overall layout of the place. More people close to the court enhances the atmosphere. Of course you've got to field a competitive squad and win consistently for that atmopshere to be amped up. When Illinois is good and the Assembly Hall was full, it was pretty electric in there. When there are 13,000, 14,000 people there and the team isn't doing so well, it's pretty awful in there.
I don't know that you can ever negate the advantage Kansas, Duke, Kentucky have in that regard. But by improving the facilities, you give yourself a chance to be a factor when you're going head-to-head against them.
Hey MJ,One time you compared Austin Colbert to Mike Davis at least in body structure, do you see him having a similar career at Illinois or do you think that Colbert will have more success. I think our guards will do just fine, so my focus is more on the bigs since they usually take more time to develop. With that being said, what player would you compare Morgan to(Morgan now and/or the player you think he'll develop into)? p.s. I hope you're coming down to EIU this weekend for homecoming to see Jimmy Football. Could you see him being taken in the 2nd or 3rd round?
I haven't seen enough of Maverick myself to make my own comparison, but I know some recruiting folks used to compare him to Brad Miller. I'm not always a fan of comparing guys because they're have the same skin color, but that's the one that was out there, and not sure how I feel about that one. Brad Miller was a skilled big man who had a very good NBA career. I think the toughness aspect of Miller's game matches up with what the Illinois coaches hope to get out of the big man.
I can't make it to EIU this weekend, have to be here to get ready for the Wisconsin game, but I wish I could. I had the game against APSU on my computer with the Bears on the big screen last Thursday. I hope to get down there Nov. 2 for the UTM game. Right now, it sound slike 2nd or 3rd rounds are realistic possibilities. Jimmy Football is the real deal and people around the country have definitely taken notice. He'll have to perform well at the combine and continue having a great season.
Living in Birmingham, Al., I am looking forward to the Illini coming south to play Georgia Tech and Auburn in December. Do you know when tickets for these two games will go on sale through the University? I would like to purchase my tickets from Illinois which should reduce my chances of having to sit with fans of the opposition.
Shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or ticket man Jason Heggemeyer (email@example.com) and one of us will be able to answer you.
With T. Jones and J. Okafor set to visit Kansas, if they were to choose Kansas, what do you think the chances of Cliff Alexander following them there? 247sports analysts predict Cliff choosing Kansas but I assume that he might not be as likely to choose Kansas with someone already committed that plays the same position and has a similar game as he does. Does the Illini's chances with Mr. Alexander increase if Okafor commits to Bill $elf.
Okafor and Alexander played AAU ball together and loved it, so I wouldn't say they wouldn't like to play together in college. Okafor is a 5, Alexander is a 4. Alexander can step outside and play away from the paint. But, with two more Top-10 guys at Kansas, he might want to go elsewhere to be the man. Would that benefit Illinois? Sure, but don't get overly optimistic.
Do you see Mike LaTulip getting meaningful minutes this year? We do need 3-point shooters, but I saw him last year and he just didn't seem to have the size or athleticism to compete in the Big Ten. I'd figure that if Jaylon Tate is a viable backup (and I think he is) to Abrams that we won't see much of Mike.
I wrote about Mike earlier this week. He's up to 173 pounds (he was 150ish last season). He's learning the point guard position and if he is to get meaningful minutes, it's going to have to be at that spot. I think he will get some early and if he proves capable of contributing quality minutes, he'll crack the rotation. A lot will depend on how much Jaylon Tate is able to give you.
Lots of good stuff today. Thanks for the questions. Looking forward to the scrimmage tomorrow night. We'll have plenty of coverage from there. I'll be on SportsTalk tonight with Steve Kelly from about 5:10-6 on WDWS 1400-AM and online at WDWS.com.