The chat is back! Between the Christmas holiday, spending almost a week in California for the Redbox Bowl and then more travel for Illinois basketball in the last week, the chat took a back seat to my other coverage responsibilities.
But now it's back. It might not be an every week type deal, but I'll still answer any and all Illini-related questions you have. Might turn it into more of a mailbag type deal every other week. That's what this week's back-and-forth will be, as I catch up on your questions.
Let's get to it ...
Do you know if there is any particular reason why Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk has not played in recent games? — Patrick M.
Bosmans-Verdonk is out with a right foot injury, and he's been in a boot since the Michigan State game. It's the opposite leg of the injury that sidelined him this summer, and, like then, Illinois is being pretty cautious with the freshman forward out of Belgium.
Thank you as always for the time. Brad Underwood seems intent on playing Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Kofi Cockburn together. The eye test seems to show that they are a worse team when they are playing together. Is this supported by the stats or am I completely wrong? — Knight S.
Thank you for your interest in the chat and submitting a question. Always appreciate that.
Unfortunately, I don't have the plus/minus for the lineups where Bezhanishvili and Cockburn are on the court together. Individually, Cockburn's at a 6.6 plus/minus for the season, while Bezhanishvili is at 4.9. From the eye test standpoint, I'm not sure it's Illinois' best lineup, but I'm also acutely aware of there not necessarily being a better option.
Bezhanishvili still looks more comfortable — and productive — when he's playing the 5 and has back-to-the-basket opportunities on the offensive end. But there's just not another option at the 4. Kipper Nichols has had some positive moments, but they've come in small doses, and going small with either Da'Monte Williams or Alan Griffin at the 4 puts Illinois back in last year's predicament where Aaron Jordan gave up size and physicality playing out of position. Small ball is, again, fine in small doses, but tougher to pull off long term in the Big Ten.
Glad you are back. Must of been tough working out in Cali! Looks like I was right about Alan Griffin needing more minutes! He is all over the place. I don't get the same vibe about Tevian Jones. Yet! Would Benjamin Bonsman-Verdonk still be eligible for a redshirt?
And a note to News-Gazette readers, this is a good forum to unload on Scott all your questions and ideas. He has his finger on the pulse of Illini sports. — Sam B.
Many thanks for the kind words, Sam. It was tough working out in the Bay Arena. Like Alex Palczewski said, it wasn't a vacation to San Francisco. I intend on going back when I can be more of a tourist than the few spots I visited this time around.
Anyway, to your basketball questions. You were right about Alan Griffin. If not for this resurgence by Ayo Dosunmu, Griffin would be the far and away winner for best player on the team right now. As is, they can share the title. I also don't see Tevian Jones putting together a similar run as Griffin. Missing the first eight games of the season hurt Jones' progress, and that was all self inflicted. Given opportunity — albeit limited run — he just hasn't shown that he's ready to make a similar leap. Griffin's rebounding and hustle plays got him on the court and in position to get more minutes and be able to be more of a scorer and show off his full game. It's a path Jones might want to consider.
A redshirt for Bosmans-Verdonk is actually a good question and would be dependent on if Illinois brings him back from this current injury. Since he missed the Dec. 29 game against North Carolina A&T, the injury can be back-dated to the first half of the season. He's also only played in eight games, so that puts him below the 30 percent mark. We'll see.
I'm huge Brad Underwood fan and rarely question him. But would we have possibly won (the Missouri game) if he had gotten a technical foul or gotten ejected? There were times where I want him to throw a Bobby Knight chair onto the floor after a Kofi mugging. Again, the refs were great. Our boys need to learn to be tougher. But could we have possibly escaped this learning experience with a win and an early Underwood ejection? — John E.
Dipping back into the email well for this because it brought up an interesting point that I hadn't honestly considered from the Braggin' Rights game. Still, I don't think a potential Underwood ejection would have pushed Illinois toward a win.
Sitting courtside that game — and literally right on the court — meant I got a pretty good feel for the energy and emotions for both teams. Missouri's players played with an edge and honestly wanted it more. Javon Pickett, especially. I don't think Underwood going off on the refs changes that for his players. Missouri might have used it to be even more confident since it would be proof they had gotten to the Illini.
I have continually questioned why we can not execute a play after a timeout or halftime. Roughly, I saw (against Missouri) where we had the ball eight times after the team had direct coaching from the staff at ball stoppage. Of those eight times, five resulted in desperation shots with less the eight seconds to go (four with less than five), two turnovers and one (good) missed shot. We were fouled on two of the last second shots, resulting in 4 made free throws.
You mentioned the name of the top 2021 must get on the podcast. Can you remind me who you recently thought was the Adam Miller of the 2021 class for Illinois?