Illini basketball

A Visit with Da’Monte Williams (plus pictures & captions)

Posterity may remember Saturday’s contest with the Coyotes of South Dakota. More likely, posterity will forget it.

Illinois ran out to a 14-0 lead thanks to four USD turnovers, including steals from Jaylon Tate and Malcolm Hill. From that point forward, the Coyotes outscored the Illini by two.

The player of the game might have been Khalid Lewis, who consistently put his teammates in good position to score. Or it might have been Michael Finke, who continues to be super entertaining to watch.

But Malcolm Hill scored a career-high 34 to go with 11 rebounds and five assists. So there’s really no argument.

Frank Williams’s son Da’Monte watched from the first row with his mother, Tanejah Branson. Paris Parham pointed them out to Dee Brown, who duly sauntered over to welcome Williams to the Illini family.

Lots of people used the F word, and Illinois improved to 7-and-5 on the year. It went like this.

Illini Basketball

I feel good about Illini football. Is that weird?

Bill Cubit won his umpteenth press conference Friday by offering a non-existent carrot cake and exposing non-existent five year coaching contracts.

The carrot cake was offered to Mark Tupper, who was not physically present, but e-attended. The contract talk answered the $64 question: How can Cubit recruit when he has, essentially, no job security?

As always, Cubit was the most candid coach ever queried by attending media . (Loren Tate was absent.)

How does he recruit with no guaranteed future at Illinois? Pretty much like everyone else, he said. Everyone knows that five year contracts are meaningless. If you don’t win, you get fired.  And if you do win, and you’re at a place that’s accustomed to winning, you still get fired. (See Richt, Mark)

Cubit implied that his final two hires are currently working at other programs, preparing for bowl games. (See his entire press conference here.)


Talking with Mike LaTulip a year ago, I offered the concept of two “head” coaches running a program, one for offense, and one for defense. Illini football would be awesome with Lou Tepper and Ron Turner both in charge, right? As long as the staff included a charming recruiter as well?

Mike seemed to think it was an interesting idea, but he’s not averse to outside-the-box thinking.  The football industry, on the other hand,  is completely inside-the-box (until a guy like Bill Walsh comes along and revolutionized everything). No one would ever go for such an idea, right?

And here we are a year later, with the offensive coordinator now permanently ensconced in the lead role, with a single defensive coordinator ready to autonomously run his side of the program.

Cubit is obviously good with people. And he praised Mike Phair’s aptitude for in-home recruiting visits. That puts them ahead of Tepper, who was kinda nerdy, and Turner who hated recruiting.

But they do have charasmatic assistants as well. Nathan Scheelhaase and Jeff Hecklinski have buckets of charm.

Hecklinski is a presence. He embraced the opportunity to meet the media and talk about himself, his past and his return to Champaign. He also made it clear that he loves Michigan, where he coached under Brady Hoke.

That professed love might rub some people the wrong way, but screw them. The tribalism among sports fans is just as disturbing as it is among displaced Palestinians and Israeli settlers, but lacking any objective or historical causation (Bruce Pearl excepted).

Hecklinski’s wife Tiffany, the daughter of abrasive, foul-mouthed former Illini O-Line coach Mike Deal —”whatever stories you’ve heard about him, they’re probably true” — beat colon cancer (barely) in Ann Arbor. Hecklinski said he wouldn’t have a wife, and his children wouldn’t have a mother, but for the University of Michigan.

Hecklinski, Scheelhaase and O-line coach AJ Ricker have their work cut out for them. As Cubit said Friday, the Illini offense was really great last year, except that it couldn’t score, which Cubit seemed to tacitly acknowledge is kind of a big deal.

Can Scheelhaase establish a running game? Can Ricker solidify a line that loses a couple of key players? Can Hecklinski — ostensibly the tight ends coach but a lifelong QBs coach — teach his charges to hold on to the goddamn football, or Wes Lunt to be patient in the pocket (assuming there’s a pocket to stay in)?

The only problem with Bill Cubit is the only problem with John Groce. So far, neither has demonstrated prowess in the one area of expertise that earned him the job. Cubit’s offense has been boring and non-productive. Groce’s recruiting has failed to ignite the program or the fanbase.

But whereas Groce remains a bit of a mystery to the Illini media pool, Cubit is an open book.

On the elevator ride to field level, following Friday’s presser, Cubit confided that he always worked for coaches who played golf. It’s something he actively looked for in a coach. Not because he loves golf, but because he knows what having a hobby implies about a boss: He’s not in the office every hour of the day.

Cubit recalled interviewing with Gerry Faust at Akron. He wasn’t sure whether Faust was a golfer, so he just asked him. Once it was confirmed, Cubit accepted the job.

Illini basketball

Pure Speculation – The B1G Twenty

Here’s a hunch: Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney wants two Big Tens. Twenty schools total, one east and one Midwest. He needs to add six major television markets research institutions to reach that presumed goal.

Here’s another hunch: Most of those six will come from the eastern seaboard.

The first three of these six television markets research institutions are no-brainers because of their long traditions of excellent academics and athletic success:  #8 Atlanta Georgia Tech, #9 Washington Virginia, and #24 Charlotte North Carolina.

Luring these schools from the A.C.C. might require a better deal than Delaney offered Rutgers, which isn’t even getting the reach-around  in its initial membership phase. But consider that Purdue’s payout for last year was $12 million more than Florida State’s, and you can see why those schools would join Maryland in leaving.

Delaney won’t go west of the Rockies, so #2 Los Angeles UCLA is out of the picture. But what about #5 Dallas and #49 Austin Texas?

UT is a prize jewel for academic and athletic purposes. But it has The Longhorn Network. That’s either a good thing, or a bad thing. It’s certainly an impediment to joining the B1G at this juncture.

#10 Houston Rice is excellent academically, but it’s tiny so probably hasn’t produced enough eyeballs. University of Houston is at the opposite end of the academic spectrum, ranked #187 by US News (tied with Nevada, South Dakota State, UNC-Greensboro, & Western Michigan). On the one hand, its alums almost certainly spend hours mesmerized by television. Delaney might not stoop that low.


Penn State counts about 123,000 viewers alums in the Philadelphia metro area (#4). But college basketball in Philadelphia is always focused on The Big 5 — Penn, La Salle, Saint Joseph’s, Temple, and Villanova .

Temple is the biggest, and the only (quasi-) public school among the five. If Delaney wants to shore up viewership in Philly leaven the B1G’s highfalutin brainiac reputation, Temple would take over last place among B1G schools in the US News rankings (tied with Kansas but still ahead of Arizona and DePaul). Temple makes more sense than University of Pittsburgh, which is considerably smaller (but much higher ranked, academically). But Pitt is certainly a good option.

No university in New York City (#1) combines athletic prowess with outstanding academics. The New York market is considered immune to college sports, being rabidly obsessed with pro teams. So don’t look for Fordham or Columbia to join the B1G.

But I think Delaney would love to reel in #7 Boston Harvard. The Ivy League is a great concept, but it doesn’t make any money. Besides, the Ivy League exists mostly in the mind. If Harvard joined a major athletic conference, it would still be a member of the Ivy League as a matter of history and reputation.

Boston College would enter the B1G as the third-highest ranked institution, for academic purposes. But BC is tiny, less than half the size of a typical B1G land-grant behemoth.  Moreover, it’s hard to envision the B1G entangling itself with a Vatican school. Much of Rome’s American college sports is internecine, although the West Coast Catholics and the Big East both recently adopted quasi-Christian members in BYU and Butler, respectively. (WCC member Pepperdine is Church of Christ, while recently rejoining Pacific is Methodist.)

Delaney is a product of east coast parochial schools.  Maybe he has a fondness for mother church, but you’d think we’d have seen it by now. Boston College’s defection from the Big East demonstrates Rome’s willingness to prioritize money over brethren. As Garrison Keillor wrote in Pontoon “the money you spend there goes in part to pay for diamonds for the Pope’s shoelaces.”

The B1G is currently #2 in revenue, behind the SEC. But that’s mostly the result of TV contracts.

We estimate that the SEC generated a staggering $347 million in TV money last year. Nearly $300 million of that total came from ESPN

The onus on Jim Delaney is to cultivate the Big Ten Network so its revenue exceeds ESPN payments. Surely the proceeds of a wholly-owned network, given sufficient market share, should eclipse the fractional outlay any for-profit network could afford to disburse.

The coup-de-grâce in defeating Bristol would be to make BTN accessible to anyone on the Internet. In the old days, you couldn’t watch TV without an expensive distribution system. That’s not true anymore, but major networks seem slow to recognize that fact.

Live sports is not the Holy Grail of TV anymore, largely because people are fed up with ever-growing subscription fees. But live sports is still the most reliable path to viewer eyeballs. Advertising revenue need not be marginalized into a subscription model.

I’ll drop the strike-through gimmick to make a serious point. There’s no way Delaney could capture the top ten TV markets in the United States, no matter whether those eyeballs are watching via traditional television or smartphones.

But it’s not hard to imagine 8 of the top 11 markets claiming a hometown B1G team. And revenue opportunities grow larger if there’s no need to negotiate an exclusive contract with a regional carrier: There may be no B1G schools in Los Angeles and the Bay Area (#6), but there are literally millions of B1G alums in those markets.

The 2018 Big Ten Basketball Tournament will be played at Madison Square Garden, in dreary old Manhattan. Perhaps, by then, East Coast Bias will be the B1G selling point.


*Wild-card: #29 Nashville #15 ranked Vanderbilt, the only school in the SEC that cares about academics.

Illini basketball

Pictures of 15,349 Empty Seats

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Illini basketball

Pictures & captions – Yale

A possibly exhausted Malcolm Hill had a shitty night, but still wound up with 20 points and 7 assists.

Hill missed 6-of-7 attempts from deep. Two of his inside attempts were highlight-reel rejected. The one three he did make hit the front of the rim, and bounced over. “Oh fuck!” he yelled as he released the front end of two free-throws. The ball traveled about 14 1/2 feet, enough to graze the rim.

Malcolm played 35 minutes. One of his rare breathers was interrupted, in the first half, when Kendrick Nunn committed his second foul. Malcolm had to run to the far end to take over.

Finals begin this week. The team now mimics football’s disturbing policy of spending the night before home games in a hotel (because we can’t trust you, student-athlete). And Malcolm, the lone rotation fixture to remain injury-free (fingers crossed) continues to play four positions, often during a single game.

This is your December 10 nutshell.

Illini basketball

Pictures & Captions – Catamounts

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