They're not as good as last season, but Illini still need to take them seriously.
Indiana’s Hoosiers seldom show up in disguise. We usually know what to expect. Their transformations have been clear as they swing from good to bad and back again.
Five years ago, when Indiana brought former Illini commitment Eric Gordon here for an ugly engagement, the UI somehow played a superior team to two overtimes before falling. Those guys were as good on the court as they were bad off it, and just a month later, the Kelvin Sampson program blew apart. They unraveled against Minnesota 59-58 in the Big Ten tourney and lost to Arkansas 86-72 in their NCAA opener.
Indiana was suddenly dismembered. Wiped out. The Hoosiers went 8-46 in the next three conference campaigns. They weren’t very good.
Then came Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, stars for a 29-7 club ranked No. 1 at times last season. When Tyler Griffey’s layup capped a 74-72 UI upset, the reverberations went far beyond the then-Assembly Hall. It was the UI’s biggest splash of the winter. Later on, IU, the better team, got its revenge with a coasting 80-64 romp against Illinois in the Big Ten tournament.
It’s anyone’s guess Tuesday. These rivals appear close. Hoosiers coach Tom Crean is operating without his top four scorers and his top three rebounders from last season. These Hoosiers erupted on Washington 102-84 but relived their tournament loss to Syracuse 69-52 on Dec. 3 while also falling to UConn and Notre Dame.
The three-pronged attack features sophomore Yogi Ferrell at the point, senior Will Sheehey on the wing, and 6-foot-10 Noah Vonleh performing like the Big Ten’s most valuable freshman.
This isn’t a Big Ten title contender. It is, in fact, the very team the Illini must defeat if they are to get serious about making the NCAA tournament.
And, frankly, your guess is as good as mine.
Cost of doing business
The surge of broadcast income coming to the UI Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is not all gain.
Word is circulating that by 2017 Illini revenue from the Big Ten could jump more than $15 million from roughly $25 million now to something in excess of $40 million when new contracts are signed. But UI athletic director Mike Thomas reminds that costs grow and more improvements are needed.
“We can’t forget the world we live in,” Thomas said. “The expense side is never flat.”
(1) Renovation at Huff Hall in the next two years will include locker rooms, floor and extensive seating changes, and all are the responsibility of the DIA.
(2) Student-athlete stipends are on the way. As an example, 500 athletes receiving $2,000 apiece would be $1 million in new expenditures. And the stipend might be $3,000.
(3) Scholarships for tuition, which is nearing $12 million, grow every year.
(4) Technological changes require constant upgrading.
(5) Deferred maintenance and new construction is costly, UI leaders even now studying further improvements at Memorial Stadium.
(6) Who knows what extra costs might pop up related to State Farm Center.
(7) Salaries of coaches continue to grow, and this is especially true when changes occur.
— Efficiency was the hallmark for UI veterans Rayvonte Rice, Tracy Abrams and Joseph Bertrand as they combined for 58 points on 34 field goal attempts in Saturday’s 74-60 defeat of Illinois-Chicago. They cashed 15 free throws and the UI’s only five three-pointers.
— Curt Mallory, who served as co-defensive coordinator for the UI’s Ron Zook before Vic Koenning arrived, reportedly will interview for the Eastern Illinois head coaching position this week. A Mallory staff might include former Illini squadmen Kevin Mitchell and Justin Sanders, and Zook assistant Vince Okruch.
— Chicago’s United Center attracted more fans Saturday night than the 13,017 who attended the Illini game, but the NBA crowd quickly lost energy as Dallas built a 30-point lead on the Bulls. The boring contest, which the Mavericks won 105-83, reminded that it’s another lost season for the injury-riddled, 11-17 Bulls.
— The next football games played by Maryland and Rutgers will be as members of the Big Ten. They should fit right in, having joined Michigan and Minnesota as early bowl losers. Stunning stat: Michigan led the nation in most offensive plays that failed to reach the line of scrimmage.
— My trip to Pontiac was wasted as Illini recruit D.J. Williams trudged through a rough patch that included extensive bench time. Reserves excelled as his Simeon team survived two thrilling finishes before falling to Curie 62-59 in the final. Curie’s Kansas-bound Cliff Alexander was off the charts with 37 points, 26 rebounds and 10 dunks in a 74-73 semifinal defeat of West Aurora, and 16 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks against Simeon.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.