It’s crunch time already.
Mike Thomas has less than two months before he meets with the UI Board of Trustees to announce funding plans for the Assembly Hall.
At that point, 80 percent of the funding must be in place. So we can be relatively certain that a major naming-rights corporation has stepped forward.
Here are aspects rattling my brain:
— The lower basin will be gutted, with students getting 1,200 retractable seats down close. That decision, coupled with 12 premium suites, 80 loges (four-people mini-suites with TVs) and 1,000 club seats, assure that everyone — that is EVERYONE — will be moved from their current seating locations.
And, in most cases, further back. There’ll be a sharp decrease in A and B Section open seating. The seats directly behind the east suites are C Section, the only seating area (10,000-strong) that won’t be changed, other than the color from gray to blue.
— The renovation cost is listed at $160 million but, in borrowing most of it via a 30-year mortgage, interest on bonds will actually run it up between $260 and $300 million. The student fee of $50 per year is also set for 30 years.
Construction costs begin immediately in March 2014, but income from the suites, for example, won’t begin until they’re available.
The ultimate construction cost is dependent upon how much money is raised initially and how much is “on the come.” Suites seating 14 cost between $65,000 and $75,000 per year, depending on whether the agreement is for 5, 10 or 15 years.
— It boggles the mind what the inside of the Assembly Hall will look like as they delay interior construction in November 2014 and again in November of 2015 for the duration of those basketball seasons.
— We’ll see larger, slanted windows pushed farther out to increase concourse size, and they’ll be installed before the old windows are removed ... a second “grand entrance” will change the east side ... player benches will be moved in front of students on the east side ... air conditioning, new lighting, rest rooms ... all this and more via a level of philanthropy that is incredible during these uncertain economic times.
Our basketball mood never ceases its swing from high to low, and back again.
It’s my sense, in talking to fans, that the UI’s all-out effort against Miami — a hard-fought 63-59 loss — uplifted Illini spirits that carry positively into the offseason. Groce is the man of the hour, quickly clearing scholarship space with the departure of three reserves, and has everyone awaiting news whether he can attract one-year veterans — like, say, Drake’s 6-11 Seth VanDeest or Seton Hall’s Fuquan Edwin — that won’t impact his offers to prep juniors.
Looking back, Groce’s Illini grinded out a 23-13 season the hard way ... with a coach-induced level of defense that caused fans to overlook the fact they finished January, February and March as one of the most erratic shooting UI teams of the modern era ... that they had inept periods down the stretch, falling short at Iowa and losing by double figures late to Michigan, Ohio State and Indiana.
If they hadn’t pulled out nerve-wracking finishes against Minnesota (51-49) and Colorado (57-49) — neither was a work of art — would the fan perception have been different? Or do our opinions swing on last-second shots?
Incidentally, Miami sub Rion Brown, who burned Illinois with five treys and 21 points, was stone cold Thursday against Marquette and finished 2 for 12 in the 71-61 Warrior romp.
In a zone
Indiana fans will be watching Cody Zeller’s next move after he failed to enhance his NBA draft status in postseason play.
Beginning with the Hoosiers’ loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament, Zeller failed to record more than four field goals in the last four games.
Will his shortcoming cause him to rethink his future?
Zeller’s ram-it-in style may not be a good fit in the NBA. He had at least five shots blocked Thursday by Syracuse and was virtually nullified by Jim Boeheim’s mysterious zone.
And how does Boeheim’s postgame comment reflect on Tom Crean and his Hoosiers?
“They never really succeeded in getting the ball in the right places. It’s not easy, but it can be done. But they didn’t know how to do that,” he said.
Indiana had one field goal in the first 10 minutes, trailed as much as 29-11, and barely reached 50 for the game.
Now, having listened to months of claims that Indiana was No. 1, we see a 10-game finish in which the Hoosiers went 6-4, edged Michigan State, Michigan and Temple by the thinnest of margins, and lost to Minnesota by 4, Ohio State by 9, Wisconsin by 12 and Syracuse by 11.
The zone isn’t for everyone, but it has certain advantages for Syracuse: (1) Boeheim has been perfecting it for decades, and he recruits to the length it requires, (2) it forces a different approach for unfamiliar non-Big East foes, (3) the zone offers a better chance to protect a player in foul trouble, (4) opposing guards find it difficult to penetrate into the clogged paint and (5) you can’t force a switch that would bring Syracuse’s tall basket defender to the perimeter.
— Chris Collins’ first job as Northwestern coach could be “recruiting” injured senior Drew Crawford, who has indicated an interest in taking his fifth season elsewhere. Without Crawford — or perhaps with him — the Wildcats would again project as a deep second-division team in the Big Ten.
— My thanks to Al Fredman and John Duxbury for sending the article about the UI’s first NCAA appearance, a 46-44 loss to Kentucky in the 1942 Eastern Regional in New Orleans. It is interesting that the two Whiz Kids whose jerseys hang in the Assembly Hall, Gene Vance and Andy Phillip, had zero and 6 points, respectively, while two sophomore runningmates, Ken Menke and Jack Smiley, had 15 and 13.
You’ve got to love the description: Illinois led by two at half but “the blue-clad lads from Old Kaintuck came back with an improved man-for-man defense that kept Menke & Co. at a distance, and the Illini could not match the Southeastern Conference kings at long-range bombardment.
“Desperate as the seconds ticked away, Smiley caged a brilliant shot from deep in the court to make the score 46-44 and it was mighty ticklish when Illinois got the ball again a few moments later and was charging down to Kentucky’s basket as the game ended.”
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.