Tate: It's anyone's guess who's best

Tate: It's anyone's guess who's best

With Rutgers the latest black eye, we are reminded that college basketball is imperfect. Not exactly a revelation, huh?

April shows up with its usual ground-shaking earthquake of developments ... players and coaches darting hither and yon ... fans complaining about bad officiating ... investigators looking into Miami and Syracuse ... and Kentucky reloading as the only fully pro operation among the reputed amateurs.

How have they pulled this off in the Commonwealth? Easy. You don’t have to make illegal payments up front when the players will be millionaires in a few months anyway. No more need to bundle and mail. No need to join the chorus for monthly stipends. Just be patient.

In something of a 2013 shocker, the Wildcats fizzled. They didn’t even make the 68-team field — lost to Robert Morris in the NIT — but they still show an injured Nerlens Noel vying for the NBA’s top draft slot, Archie Goodwin as a likely first-rounder and, according to usually reliable Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports, 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein is a first-round possibility.

And here we go again with a half-dozen or more incoming blue-chippers — the greatest class ever — joining John Calipari’s one-and-done program.

How extreme is this? Well, CBS has made it’s Too-Early Projections and puts Kentucky in the No. 1 slot ahead of Michigan State, a status the Spartans can only hold if Gary Harris and Adreian Payne decline NBA overtures.

If those two return, they’ll be resisting a rumbling tide of non-seniors going for the quick bucks ... Indiana’s Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas, Louisville’s Russ Smith (second thoughts?), Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams, Cal’s Allen Crabbe, Kansas’ Ben McLemore, Providence’s Ricky Ledo (he didn’t even play), North Carolina State’s C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown, and hold on ... the boys from Michigan haven’t even announced yet.

Oh, and did you see Phil Pressey is leaving Missouri? With Pressey and seniors Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi gone, maybe Illinois can win one in St. Louis next Christmas.

Illini on the prowl
Where are the Illini in this Mixmaster of endless swapping?

First, let’s understand why John Groce is so active in the seconds market. On Thursday, Groce received a visit from Seton Hall guard Aaron Cosby (he must sit out a year). And the UI is a finalist for arguably the nation’s premier fifth-year transfer, 6-foot-8 Josh Davis of Tulane, as well as 6-7 Jon Ekey of Illinois State.

If you don’t think Illinois needs help, check out the latest BTN report provided by Brent Yarina.

This is the first of many evaluations that will express doubts about Groce’s second UI edition.

As presently composed, the Illini — sit down, Gus Phan, and take a deep breath — come in 11th by the BTN, and only ahead of ravaged Minnesota. Below Northwestern, assuming Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb return. Below Penn State, which gets injured Tim Frazier back alongside the conference’s top two returning scorers, D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall.

Gus, before you start dreaming about the Illini surpassing Ohio State and the Michigans, consider: Illinois must first work around Nebraska and Purdue and, way up there, a fourth-rated Iowa team with five starters and ample reserves returning (assuming junior Roy Marble doesn’t lose his marbles at the last minute).

Big holes to fill
The UI squad, as presently constructed for 2013-14, is on the slender side. It needs rebounding muscle, and it won’t be easy for the lone senior, Joe Bertrand, to get stronger when he’ll spend the summer recuperating from shoulder surgery.

The ability to attract a rebounder like Davis is critical. He averaged 10.7 boards for Tulane, while picking up 17.6 points on 49.5 percent shooting. He would be a perfect fit alongside Nnanna Egwu, providing much more inside scoring punch than Sam McLaurin did.

Davis, who sat out a year after transferring from North Carolina State, topped 20 points on 11 occasions for Tulane this season. He had 19 points and 13 rebounds in a 61-57 loss at Nebraska, and 18 and 12 in a 53-50 win against Alabama. In the Conference USA tournament, Davis had 18 and 12 in a 66-64 defeat of Marshall, and 21 and 15 in an 81-68 loss to No. 20 Memphis.

And get this: Davis fouled out once all season. This is significant because Egwu was disqualified eight times in committing a team-high 110 personals.

You don’t hear much about other Big Ten teams seeking fifth-year transfers. But Illinois is in this fix because the team is short-handed with one senior, Bertrand, and no sophomores on scholarship.

The BTN’s unbiased evaluation gave us our first taste of basketball reality for 2013-14.

But get off the floor, Gus. What it didn’t consider is how much Groce accomplished in the face of similar prognostications this past season. His Illini won an NCAA game. Here are a few who didn’t: Wisconsin, Missouri, Kansas State, Notre Dame, Georgetown, UCLA, Pitt, New Mexico and, oh, yeah, Kentucky.

Prognostications won’t count. Only the results on the court do.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Bwp 5P wrote on April 12, 2013 at 9:04 am

Well c'mon MOONPIE/COWPIE......tell us everything wrong with this article!

IlliniMike05 wrote on April 12, 2013 at 9:04 am

"If you don’t think Illinois needs help, check out the latest BTN report provided by Brent Yarina.

This is the first of many evaluations that will express doubts about Groce’s second UI edition.

As presently composed, the Illini — sit down, Gus Phan, and take a deep breath — come in 11th by the BTN, and only ahead of ravaged Minnesota."

First of all, I don't think anyone was saying Illinois couldn't use some help next year. How many schools located outside of Lexington couldn't? Second, that isn't a "report." It's a way-too-early drunken (I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn't sober when he spewed this nonsense onto a keyboard) rambling from a "who the f-ck is this guy?". This is a guy who looked at rosters and took a guess. Illinois didn't drastically improve because of Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. They were essentially the same players they've always been. They improved because John Groce dramatically changed the culture, offensive and defensive schemes, and attitude of this program. Last I checked, Groce is back next year. I'm a firm believer in talent mattering more than anything but Illinois isn't losing irreplacable talent.

We're losing a pair of shooting guards who shot under 40 percent from the floor combined, and about 32 percent from three. Rayvonte can replace most of what BP3 did, and a combination of a bigger role for more efficient Bertrand and Hill/Nunn/Tate can replace much of DJ's production. I don't say this to belittle what DJ and BP3 did for this program this year. Again, I merely say this to point out that they're far from irreplacable. If I had a choice between having those two back or having Tracy and Nnanna back, I'll take Tracy and Nnanna. They play far more vital positions and they're both rapidly improving at them. If Nnanna improves as much from this year to next as he did from his freshman to sophomore year- given his work ethic and relatively low experience level, this seems likely- I wouldn't be shocked to see him become a reasonable facsimile of Louisville's Gorgui Dieng. And while Tracy might not ever be a pure point guard, neither is Michigan State's Keith Appling and he's doing OK for himself. If you look at their year-by-year development, I think Tracy is on track to be the same type of player Appling was this year.

Before we even get to potential fifth-year guys, this sounds like a better team than last year to me. Deeper, bigger, a much-improved big man and point guard, less dependent on low-percentage shooting guards to create offense. I know it's less experienced- several freshmen will have to contribute at least in small part- and we're still a ballhandler and a rebounder short, but we came within one ridiculous shot and one awful call of the Sweet 16 not having those things this year.

If you add Davis and/or Ekey (especially Davis) it's a team that'll be closer to 11th in the country than in the Big Ten. I know these are a lot of "ifs" but every single one of them is realistic. I don't think it's overly optimistic to think next year's Illinois team could be noticably better. 


Moonpie wrote on April 12, 2013 at 10:04 am

Bwp--maybe if Oracle closes his eyes and wishes very loudly, it will be 1950 again. His columns are meandering messes lacking points. He lashes out at Kentucky, but if Illinois could land some one and done players he'd be just fine with it.

IlliniMike05 wrote on April 12, 2013 at 11:04 am

Response fail. I'm not Bwp.

And you don't even read the articles, do you, you lunatic? He said Kentucky doesn't need to cheat and is bringing in the greatest class ever. How is that lashing out? And when did he so much as insinuate he wouldn't be OK with Illinois bringing in a one-and-done?


JDG613 wrote on April 12, 2013 at 11:04 am

More mindless (surprise, surprise) drivel from the village idiot, Moonpie. 

You make a claim that Tate lashes out at Kentucky (which is a wrong assessment, as has already been pointed out), but all you're doing is lashing out at Tate.

And what you somehow fail to notice is that more and more commenters are pointing out that you are a one-track show that no one....I repeat, NO ONE cares to watch.

Just give it a rest, already.

rmitchell wrote on April 13, 2013 at 8:04 am

What would we have to talk about if not for MP?




illini82 wrote on April 12, 2013 at 10:04 am

Moonpie...your schtick is getting very old. You're wasting bandwidth as well as our time. But don't go away mad...just go away.

lmaran wrote on April 12, 2013 at 11:04 am

I remember early last year when Tate wrote "Woe be upon us, with three seniors - B. Paul, DJ Richardson and Tyler Griffey who have proven themselves to be unreliable performers, etc." 

What I see is Tracy, Nnanna, Joe Bertrand, Mike Henry and Rayvonte Rice already with a full year under Groce's coaching, OK La Tulip too, with Nunn, Hill and Tate coming in to add depth in the positions that are critical for success in the way Groce coaches his game. Nunn already has a reputation as a tenacious player, including in defense, and Hill as being relentless in getting points. These guys have self-indoctrinated in Groce's style and thinking for a year now, and they will be psychologically continuing next year, rather than being complete neophytes.

This is what I see as the core of the engine driving next year's team, and who's to say this is not capable of improving on this past year's accomplishment? I won't.



IlliniMike05 wrote on April 12, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Not saying you were doing this, but I wouldn't write off LaTulip being a player. That kid can hoop. I wouldn't be shocked to see him have a Spike Albrecht moment this year.

Anyway, I totally agree. Before we even know what we're going to add- looks like Ekey's a good bet to come in and reprise the much-needed stretch 4 role of Griffey, and if we add Davis, ooooh boy, that's suddenly a really nice, versatile, deep frontcourt- I think we have the makings of a team that's even better next year.

Much like Groce said himself in that incredibly moving post-Miami speech, I can't thank DJ, Brandon and Tyler enough for how much they bought in to Groce immediately and laid a foundation for the future of Illini basketball. That said, the talent we're losing isn't irreplacable. I think Tracy and Nnanna are two of the top ten players in the league next season, and Rice can replace much of BP3's production.

This team will be better next season.

jnaour wrote on April 12, 2013 at 11:04 am

I'll just send the reply for Moonpie so there is no mystery...

Oracle Tate is olD

my life stinks

tate is old

BTW, did I remind you I hate my life?

Tate is old

Oh yeah I hate my life. 

Did I miss anything?

illinidoc wrote on April 12, 2013 at 4:04 pm

For someone so many purport to hate, Moonpie sure gets a lot of attention here.

Bwp 5P wrote on April 12, 2013 at 10:04 pm

I don't "hate" anyone. I just get tired of Moonbeam blasting anything and everything Tate writes.

I don't always agree with Tate.......but it's not worth spewing venom over! He's a writer....it's his job to state his "opinion". I don't have to agree with it........but I sure don't have to continuously rag on him like "someone" does!

HoosierIllinois wrote on April 14, 2013 at 9:04 am

It's hard too tell who will be good, but Michigan (if they don't lose too many), Iowa and Michgian State seem to be at the top.  You can't do it with freshmen unless you have good upper class leadership (like Kentucky in 2012 and Michigan this year).  Purdue has a good class coming in and returning starters.  They may be in.  Illinois?  BTN report seems about right...but there are others with us...like Indiana.