Ask beat writer Jeff Huth about either Illinois sport during his weekly 11 a.m. Thursday chat. Submit questions any time.
Welcome to our weekly chat on Illini volleyball and women's basketball. We'll get started in a few minutes.
-- Jeff Huth
In your honest opinion, do you think we win it all DeBruler's senior year if she doesn't get hurt?
This is a great question and one that I certainly mulled during that 2010 season. You might remember that before DeBruler suffered that season-ending ACL tear, Illinois ended Texas' 25-match home winning streak and later defeated Penn State, ending the Nittany Lions' 65-match Big Ten winning streak. At the time of those matches, Texas and Penn State each were ranked No. 2.
Clearly, that Illinois team, with DeBruler in the lineup, was capable of beating any team in the country. Those two matches, I think most people would agree, were proof of that.
Does Illinois win it all if DeBruler isn't injured? That's an unanswerable question because of the single-elimination format of the NCAA tournament. All it takes is one night when things aren't clicking -- or one night where the opponent is on fire -- to end a run by even the best teams. However, it sure would have been fun to see how that tournament would have played out with the Illini career kills leader available and leading the attack. As it was, Illinois still reached the Sweet 16 before losing a five-set battle at Texas.
Can you shed a little light on what the mood is in Illini volleyball practices? I don't see a ton of killer instinct or intensity on the court and I wonder if that is more a sign of the individuals we have on the court now or our system.
While I don't want players who cannot get over a mistake, it would be a welcomed site to see an Illini volleyballer look ticked off after a mistake...and then follow it up with a huge kill to win a rally.
I wasn't able to make it to practice this week because of other work duties. What I have seen recently, though, is a team that is still working hard and remaining positive about things even as the season hasn't played out as they -- and Illini fans -- would like.
I've never been big on trying to interpret body language during an athletic competition. Some players internalize the disappointment and even anger. Others show it more readily. This may be a group that it doesn't come to the surface as much.
Here's what I do wonder: This team has one senior in its regular rotation: libero Jennifer Beltran. From what I have learned from her, from Kevin Hambly and from other UI players is that she takes her leadership role seriously and is about as vocal during a match as a player can be. But is such a small senior class (serving specialist Courtney Abrahamovich is the only other senior) having an impact? Does this team need other, more widespread leadership voices among the players?
This volleyball has no heart. Exhibit A - last night's monumental letdown at Northwestern. After comfortably cruising out to a 2-0 match lead, the Illini folded like twigs and let the KIttens walk all over them. This team has no pride to choke like that. My hats off to NW who didn't give up and fought to the end unlike Illini.
I hear your disappointment, and I'm sure it's shared by all Illini volleyball fans. The circumstances of Wednesday night's loss were crushing. Toughest loss of the season, by far, for the team and its supporters to swallow.
You had to anticipate that Northwestern would push back hard after losing the first two sets. That's when you expect Illinois to regroup and counter-punch and end it. The Illini didn't do that.
Kevin Hambly has talked a lot about how all this team needs is more confidence, and the only way to get that is to win matches. Illinois had been going in the right direction lately, even in losses to Purdue and especially to Penn State. But the performance at Northwestern definitely was a step back. But that's been the pattern of inconsistency that we've seen this entire season.
We can talk about how all the Illini need is to get on a run, but the clock is ticking ever louder on this season. And what happened at Evanston isn't exactly encouraging for those who've continued to hold out hope that this team will run off the string of wins it needs to get into the NCAA tournament.
One question each for b-ball and volleyball.
First, what is with Hambly's program right now? There is no consistency in play, and it is frustrating to see the national runner up from 2 seasons ago struggle to even make the tournament at this point.
Is it a talent issue or is Hambly simply not as good as we had thought.
Second, I love what Bollant is doing with the womens b-ball program, but I have concerns that we still don't have the personnel to play his up-tempo style. Who are the key players to push the tempo on offense this in the upcoming season?
Love your chat name!
Regarding volleyball, Hambly insists that talent is not an issue. He said that again last Sunday after Illinois defeated then-No. 17 Ohio State. I'd say that's true at some positions, but not at all.
Also, there is a difference between talent and performance. If you are a physically gifted and talented athlete, but it's not translating into great play on the court, what does talent matter?
In addition, we referenced earlier in this chat that this is hardly a senior-laden team. If you don't have that, in my opinion, your juniors and even sophomores need to perform and compete at a level beyond their years and experience. What I see are some of the key players on this team being too inconsistent in their play to elevate this team to where a lot of people expected them to be. Maybe this is all growing pains toward a break-out season next year. Illini fans will need to hope so if this season continues on its current path.
Since Hambly did guide this program to a national runner-up finish and, until last season, had a stratospheric winning percentage, I'm inclined to believe coaching isn't the issue. However, I think these past two seasons are reason for Hambly and his staff to critically re-examine everything about the program. This might just be a two-year blip for Illini volleyball, but it's clear that fans are getting nervous about the mighty tumble things have taken since 2011.
Regarding basketball, I think Illinois does actually have the personnel to play up-tempo effectively. A year ago, Bollant played to the strengths of his personnel, but most particularly those of center Karisma Penn. The team's best player was most effective in the half-court. With Penn and, to a lesser extent, Adrienne GodBold gone, this group is more suited to pushing hard up the court in transition. What should be most encouraging in this regard is the presence of projected starting point guard Sarah Hartwell. Bollant has said multiple times that she is that rare player who had really push the pace on the dribble but stay fully in control of the ball while on a near-sprint.
Ivory Crawford is another player who can thrive in an up-tempo attack. And although Illinois is smaller than many teams in the post, Bollant has always preferred 4s and 5s that can get out and run on the break. He appears to have that with Penn's potential successors. And don't be surprised if Bollant goes with a guard-heavy lineup (five?) at times this season. Coaches always want their best players on the court, and with this roster, that currently appears to be the guards and wings.
We've run out of questions/comments so we'll wrap this up. Talk to you next week.