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Illini basketball

Underneath

Everything seemed so great when Illinois faced short, Division III opponents. The question lingered, though: “How will they perform against tall people?”

The sound of a basketball batted by shot-blockers, banging the side of the backboard, bounding away as time ran expired, will stick with me for a while. 

Giorgi Bezhanishvili, with three Georgetown defenders looming, was unlikely to score the needed 7 points in those final five seconds.  But the futility of that moment was punctuated by the unusual sound. It was something you’d hear in an automotive repair shop. Air-pressure versus rubber. It sounded like a tennis ball caught in a ceiling fan.

That sound represents the end of our disillusion re: this Illini team. The lack of height was always going to be a problem. Is it insurmountable?

To overcome the interior deficit, Illini guards must be nearly perfect, and Adonis de la Rosa must NOT be Mike Thorne.

Thorne is a smart, kind, gentle and funny. De la Rosa is smart, funny, conversational and pedagogical. Neither of them deserves to be insulted by any Illini watcher. But it’s important to know that Thorne’s relativism about field-goal percentage is the reason John Groce lives in Akron, Ohio.

When Thorne took the ball on the low-post, he should have converted 60% of his FG attempts, or passed to a wing. He did neither. He’d usually fling the ball toward the basket and hope for the best. That’s unacceptable.

One game into his Illini career, Adonis is following the Thorne blueprint.

De la Rosa got the ball in the low-post during the first half of Tuesday’s game against Georgetown. He lumbered around for a while, moving slowly, feeling out the defense. The defense collapsed.

One sensed an intake of breath from the crowd. No one knew what to expect, and hoped for the best.

The best didn’t happen. 

Instead, an errant 12-footer sailed within three feet of its intended target, the Hoyas grabbed the rebound, and a possession ended without a basket. Statisticians tally one missed FG in these situations. It feels like a turnover. Not getting a good look from the low post is bad basketball. 

In the second half, Adonis got the ball at the usual pinch-post position that Brad Underwood prefers, took another shot at lumbering, plowed and hooked his man simultaneously, fell to the floor, dropped the ball, never attempted a shot AND drew a charging call.

Illinois led the game at that point. But Georgetown gained a lot of confidence from that possession. The Hoyas went on a 20-8 run from that point, and that was that.

Adonis can do good things with his big body. Just a simple back screen with that big ole butt can open a pathway from the wing

In practice, he connects on a high percentage of jumpers from the elbow. That should be his bread and butter, if Illini guards can learn the pick n’ pop. 

Creating space for Illini ball-handlers should be Priority One for the bigs.

Illinois’ three-headed monster was down a head against Georgetown, and maybe that was the difference. Without Trent Frazier’s minutes, Andres Feliz and Ayo Dosunmu got tired. Before we knew it, Tyler Underwood was running the point.

Feliz rallied the troops in the second half, but ran out of gas. He tugged his shirt to signal the bench that he needed out.

Overall, Andres was great in one way, and disappointing in two ways. He demonstrated a fearless disregard for defenders. But he air-balled his threes, and he took bad angles on lay-ups.

For Illinois to be successful this season, Feliz will need to fix those two problems. At Ubben, his three-point shooting is solid. Can we assume he’s still adjusting to the depth-perception of a 15,000-seat arena? Does that man he’ll be automatic at Lahaina’s high school gym-sized Civic Center?

The bad angles were outnumbered by the good. Still pictures from the Georgetown game recall Tracy Abrams from the time of Illinois’s last Maui trip.

Abrams was cutting angles back then. He had not yet developed the tendency to go right at opposing defenses. Feliz did both against the Hoyas. The latter is a remnant of his successes against JUCO and Dominican competition. It won’t work against seven-footers.

Feliz is a guy you should trust in the closing minutes. You can put the ball in his hands, but you need him out there because he’s a pain in the ass on defense. The Illini need him to be flawless, superhuman, to compensate for interior shortcomings.

Ayo’s the guy you really want to have the ball in crunchtime. But for all the celebration of his 25-point performance, for all the glowing media coverage; one guy, Ayo, knew that he let his team down.

Ayo’s owning the loss impressed Brad Underwood, who also seemed to think it ridiculous that Ayo blamed himself. But if nothing else, it’s important to acknowledge that Ayo acknowledged it.

Blocked

You want your team leader to feel unsatisfied by his performance in a loss. You want him to recognize his mistakes in a win, too. You want him to keep learning.

Ayo and Andres might adjust. They have time.

Adonis doesn’t have time. If he hasn’t learned by now, he’s unlikely to learn. So the question is whether Brad Underwood wants to rein him in. So far, the Underwood leash seems long.

On the other hand, we know that Underwood chose to hire an officiating crew for every 2018-19 Illini practice specifically because he knows specific players need to overcome specific bad habits.

Illini fans should consider whether they want another coach who restricts his players’ freedom. it didn’t work for Weber or Groce. Discouraging Brandon Paul from driving, or yanking Aaron Jordan after a missed shot, had obvious negative psychological affects on Brandon Paul and Aaron Jordan. It took a lot of undoing to revert their learned behaviors.

But you’d think that a fifth-year senior, hired for a specific role, might be different.

Adonis de la Rosa should never again dribble the ball twice in a single possession. He certainly shouldn’t dribble the ball around the lane, looking for something to open up.

Maybe this problem won’t find a fix before the Gonzaga game on Monday, but Brad Underwood had better fix it if he wants the season to end well.

The rest of the team has flaws, but it’s the execution by these three guys that turned the spotlight on Illinois’ Achilles Heel.

AJ was a ghost against the Hoyas, but as a decoy, he was pretty effective in the first half. Kipper made great plays against Georgetown, perhaps offset by his play in crunchtime. Fans complained about his execution, but Kipper was among the best at taking the pinch-post hand-off. His strength and height make him a tough cover from the wing.

That Underwood continues to build Kipper, rather than tear him down, gives us an insight on Underwood’s psychological methods.

Da’Monte Williams was solid, and Giorgi looked better than most freshmen. You got what you expected from those guys. The daunting thing for Illinio players and fans is the thin margin for error. If you don’t get what you expect from those guys, Illinois loses. No one can have an off-night.

The good news is that Gonzaga is up next, and as everyone knows, Gonzaga rarely features annoying white guys.

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Illini basketball

Weekend 4: Things I’ve Never Seen Before

It took me an extra long time to collect my thoughts this week, largely because I still can’t believe my eyes. I waited to meet with the participants, to ask if I really saw what I think I saw.

They said yes.

Tuesday afternoon, Brad Underwood emerged from the film session and told a small group of reporters that his team had just watched Te’Jon’s oop over and over.

He ran us (the reporters) through a number of hypothetical situations. What to do with the ball if you have 10 seconds left and a two-point lead. When to foul.  How do those situations change with each additional 5 seconds, or each additional point in your favor. These are things he coaches.

At no point was a 40-foot oop mentioned.

(Photo of Te’Jon Lucas by Vashoune Russell)

Then, as Fletch finished the team’s stretching, Underwood got back to coaching. You’ll never believe what the team focused on Tuesday.

Oh, did you say inbounding plays? How did you guess?

Maryland was probably the most exciting Illini game I’ve seen in my life, for better and worse.

  • I watched @Indiana with my dad in 1989, and we both leaped into the air when Nick hit The Shot
  • I was in the last row of C section when Frank beat Michael Redd’s Buckeyes
  • I sat under the basket for the Tyler Griffey lay-up

That Indiana game was sloppy. It wasn’t artful. I feel in my gut that the 1989 Georgia Tech game was much better, but it’s not replayed incessantly, so I haven’t seen it in 28 years.

I don’t remember anything about the 2000 tOSU game, apart from Frank’s three. Perhaps it was the best ever example of competitive basketball. If so, please excuse my faulty recollection.

The Tyler Griffey lay-up will forever be remembered for Tyler Griffey’s lay-up, rather than D.J. Richardson’s amazing performance. That’s how these things work.

I attended a 1987 game in which Illinois led Iowa 61-39 at the half. I met Dick Vitale that night. I said he should have a “Windex Award”  for the guy who best cleaned the glass each game. He liked the idea. I never got paid for that.

Anyway, Iowa’s victory may have been more impressive than the 22-point comeback Sunday. I just don’t remember it that way. I think I was annoyed by Jeff Moe.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Sunday was hearing a referee say “we screwed up.”

That’s never happened before, to my knowledge.

Terry Oglesby & Kelly Pfeifer were the two stripes closest to the goaltending that wasn’t. Pfeifer has always been a chummy guy, which is unusual for the stripes.  Few interact with others.

Oglesby always seems solid to me. I will say that he was the first game participant whose performance really stood out on Sunday, even before Anthony Cowan.

I watched Oglesby swallow his whistle on a number of plays where heavy contact, audible contact, occurred. “Wow, they’re really letting them play,” I observed to a pair of fellow camerapersons.

Sure, they called fouls. But they let a lot of stuff go.

Flopping might not be a concern against Austin Peay, but legitimate charge-taking will be a big part of tonight’s game, according to Underwood.

 

Whistle-swallowing is okay with me. For one thing, it allowed Leron Black to be Leron Black. He needed some time to adjust, but by the second half, Leron recognized the parameters, and exploited them effectively.

Apart from the fact that Tom Eades-Pfiefer-Oglesby cost Illinois the game by missing one seemingly obvious call, it was a well-officiated game.

How did 12,735 people see Trent Frazier’s lay-in swatted away while three professional observers didn’t?  It’s unfathomable.

But it’s also not reviewable according to current NCAA rules. Terry Oglesby felt bad about that. So he did the unthinkable. He apologized to the heckling fan.

Here’s Jeff Butler, yelling at the refs.

Jeff and his son Connor both told me that Terry Oglesby apologized to them for screwing up, and said he’d make up for it. That’s astonishing, and discomfiting.  I spent the rest of the game watching for Oglesby to retaliate.

Jeff Butler is a member of Dave Downey’s Club 53. Butler paid enough to get his name affixed to a plaque, which itself is affixed to a wall in the bowels of the State Farm Center. There’s a lounge, snacks, booze. You won’t get to see it, sorry.

The New Aaron Jordan is actually The New Brad Underwood

The new AJ is allowed to shoot even when he’s double-teamed by tall dudes. (He made it.)

Brad Underwood might be the most intellectually nimble Illini basketball coach of my lifetime. He seems predisposed to conservatism, with a progressive demon perched on his shoulder, constantly reminding him that he needs to adapt, to keep up with new trends.

(Photo of Brad Underwood at Allstate Arena by Vashoune Russell)

Conservatism and liberalism are not at odds, despite what you’ve heard. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But when you realize it’s not working anymore, be open to new ideas.

Underwood is stodgy and open to new ideas. He proved that at OKState, when he abandoned his defensive principles and adjusted to what works for this group.

You could see that intellectual progression this week. At Northwestern, the nation’s leading three-point shooter attempted one three-point shot.

Days earlier, Aaron scored 20 on 4-of-6 from the arc. But he also opted against shooting in a number of situations where he seemed open-ish, or open enough.

I asked Brad whether Aaron was too hesitant (here at 2:30). Brad said AJ is the best three-point shooter for a reason. That’s not a cop-out. It’s a logical response.

But Illinois lost.

When AJ launched a single three versus the NUrds, Illinois lost again.

(Photo by Vashoune Russell)

And then, Brad Underwood evolved.  He stopped defending AJ’s caution, and took the responsibility upon himself to see that Aaron gets more shots, more minutes, more open looks.

It began Monday night in the first installment of The Brad Underwood Show, at BW3 in Savoy. It continued in his Tuesday presser.

Underwood shared another personal moment with the media, after Tuesday’s presser, and before the Te’Jon-centric film session. He spoke (again) about the culture of losing, and how he’s never been around a group of guys who just seemed to accept it the way this group accepts it.

I don’t think John Groce enjoyed losing. Groce prepared his teams for life lessons, and part of life lessons is failure.

Underwood is not unsympathetic. But he’s a lot more aggressive, basketball and otherwise. He’s more human, less robotic, and a lot funnier than Groce.

You can already see that dynamism within this team. It was Groce’s team, but it’s becoming Underwood’s team.

Maryland beat Illinois 92-91, the same score that ended Underwood’s season in Stillwater.   A week before that NCAA Tournament game, the Illini folded against the same Michigan team that beat Underwood. That score was 75-55.

Look for a pattern here. The Illini are likely, during Underwood’s tenure, to give up more points than they did under Bruce Weber, or any other coach of Boring Basketball That Hurts To Watch.

If this were Weber’s team, that lob would never have been thrown. In fact, nothing exciting would have happened.

The future should look like the Lon Kruger era. His teams were so exciting that we hardly noticed how great a coach we had.

Categories
Illini basketball

The Frosh We Have

Apart from Orlando Antigua’s hot pink socks, there wasn’t much excitement at State Farm Center Wednesday night.

Oh wait, that’s not true. There was that time when Chin Coleman started dancing to the great perplexion of everyone else.

And of course, there was the time the ribbon display malfunctioned.

But the basketball game was pretty boring. The outcome was never in doubt.  Augustana kicked & bobbled its way to 29 turnovers.

Even the lob dunks were mildly dull.

That’s okay. Brad Underwood wanted this game as a learning tool.  And afterward, he said he learned a lot.  I learned one thing: Matic Vesel desperately needs to make his first basket.

On this sunny Thanksgiving afternoon, someone should take Matic on a jog so he can grow accustomed to the sight of his own shadow. Then, perhaps, he won’t be so scared of it.

Okay, that might be a little harsh. But Matic is definitely playing scared right now. He looks more uncomfortable on the court than any Power 5 scholarship player I’ve ever seen.

Matic doesn’t present this posture in practice, but things are different under the bright lights with a few thousand people urging “shoot it!.”

I have no doubt that Matic will be a joy to watch in a few years, maybe even a few months. Right now, he just really needs to make that first basket. Then everything will settle down for him.

Underwood got to run some sets Wednesday. He saw how his team executed, and how an unknowing defense responded.

In the case of the inbound clear-out for Trent, everything worked perfectly.

The Frosh We Don’t Have

Keep this point in mind: If Jordan Goodwin hadn’t surprised everyone, and chosen Travis Ford over John Groce, Mark Smith would be in East Lansing.

Goodwin is shooting 5% from three-point range, and 23% overall. Smith isn’t lighting it up from distance (2-of-16) but he’s 20-of-35 from two-point range, which actually seems a bit low considering he attempts most of his shots from point-blank. Goodwin converted 16-of-25 free-throws to this point. Smith is 23-for-24.

In the long run, we’ll know which Metro St. Louis combo guard proves more valuable. Goodwin will probably improve. But I doubt Illini fans will be disappointed.

Jeremiah Tilmon is averaging four fouls per game at Mizzou. Again, that’s not an outrageous stat …

… until you realize that “per-game” is not the same as “per-40 minutes.”

Tilmon is seventh in minutes-played among the Tigers.  He’s averaging four fouls per 15.4 minutes.

Greg Eboigbodin & Matic Vesel would not be here if John Groce were still the coach. They’d be at UIC and wherever Orlando Antigua were coaching, respectively.

It’s silly to say that Illini fans should prefer either project to the top-rated recruit of the Groce era. But again, time will tell. Telmon seems as likely to become the next Cliff Alexander as he does the next Moses Malone. Vesel probably isn’t the next Dirk Nowitzki, but that’s the skill set we’re looking at.

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Illini basketball

DePaul was Not Really Demonic

It would be nice if Dave Leitao could do at DePaul what Dave Leitao once did at DePaul. The Blue Demons were irrelevant for ages. He brought them back to prominence, and then bolted Charlottesville, where he had one good year.

Now back in Lincoln Park, he’s in his third miserable year. After losing to Illinois Friday, he grimly conceded that an ongoing rivalry is not likely.

If Leitao could make DePaul a contender, a regular home-and-home would be great for the Illini. Brad Underwood says he wants a stronger schedule. There’s no reason Illinois should spend a month tuning up against directional schools.

Now, some observations from the DePaul game.

LT Williams

You didn’t realize, prior to Friday night, that Illinois has a guy on the team named LT. His name is Little T. Williams. Or perhaps, L. Things Williams. “Things” for short, or just LT.

Underwood has described both Mark Smith and LT as having “the ‘it’ factor, whatever ‘it’ is.” But only LT  has been praised for a comprehensive understanding of “the little things.”

Williams’s perseverance in a 1-on-3 drive found him rebounding his own miss, tricking three Blue Demons into performing a childhood dance, and then banking in his rebound.

 

He stymied DePaul’s second comeback with a crucial tip in. It was so quick that a few people didn’t see what happened.

LT again sacrificed his chances of fatherhood to the God of Player-Control Fouls.

This time, it was impossible to see whether LT was grinning afterward. Probably not. This time, it looked painful. And then a fight broke out between Kipper Nichols and Jaylen Butz, whose name is almost certainly the title of a gay porn DVD.

But I digress.

Remember how Doug Altenberger loved to take a charge? Remember how pumped Matt Heldman got when the ref wrapped a hand around the back of his own head?

LT is like that.

12-for-12

In the Bruce Weber era, some guys never attempted a dozen free-throws in a season.  Weber was revulsed by contested shots. He never seemed to reach the next logical step: Contested shots lead to shots where people aren’t even allowed to defend the shooter!

Illinois now has a coach whose charges charge. They attack.

So yeah, maybe it doesn’t matter that Illinois can’t hit a three.

Mark Smith attempted twelve free-throws. He converted twelve free-throws.  The twelfth rolled around the rim before dropping in. That suggests Mark was fatigued. The eleventh grazed the rim. There’s nothing odd about that.

What struck me as strange was the way the ball snapped the net on his first ten attempts. Maybe I was distracted, and missed one. But it seemed to me that Mark’s trajectory was exactly the same on each of those shots.

I sit close enough that I can hear the net snap, and it made the same sound every time. The bottom of the net moved in a straight line, backward, as the ball pulled it toward the stanchion. Then it snapped back

Mark has distinctly deliberate free-throw routine. He takes quite a bit of time to deliver the ball toward the goal. To my way of thinking, the long pause should detract from the efficiency of his muscle memory. But it doesn’t The pause itself may be a component of Mark’s nearly flawless delivery.

Is he always like this?  I wondered.

The Supporting Cast

You wonder, would this rotation expand if Brad Underwood had more available bodies? Does Underwood employ the standard nine man rotation because that’s how many guys are available?

Greg Eboigbodin saw spot minutes. Matic Vesel got none.  Vesel’s tentative debut suggests that he might need more time to feel comfortable on offense, ostensibly his strong suit.

Everyone else has played a vital role.

Trent Frazier provided crucial minutes at the point when Te’Jon Lucas (again) got in foul trouble. Aaron Jordan grabbed nine rebounds and hit a comebackbreaking three-pointer to throttle DePaul’s second second-half surge.

Last year, Aaron couldn’t get on the floor. He watched Malcolm Hill and Jalen Coleman-Lands play many minutes of basketball. So it might seem surprising that JCL transferred, and Jordan didn’t.

Friday night, the tables were turned. JCL watched from the bench as Jordan thrust the dagger.

 

Jalen Coleman-Lands the Untold Story

An unmentioned factor in JCL’s decision to transfer, perhaps irrelevant, is that Paul Magelli died during the last academic year.

Magelli and Jewell White were two prominent personalities in the JCL recruitment. John Groce specifically named White as a key figure in attracting JCL’s non-athletic interests.

Piankhi Lands and JCL spent an afternoon in Magelli’s office as the elderly don mapped out JCL’s academic course in the College of Business. COB’s association with the College of Engineering was key, because JCL showed a keen interest in micro-devices.

Magelli’s office at the BIF overlooked the fancypants atrium where future tax avoiders quaff Espresso Royale and embellish their LinkedIn profiles.

Malcolm Hill liked to hang out in Magelli’s office, too. The old guy was, frankly, a hoot. His connection to Illini basketball predates modern record keeping.  In 1985, as president of Metro State University in Denver, Magelli recruited Lou Henson assistant Bob Hull to lead the Roadrunners basketball program into Division I That never happened, but it was probably a necessary step in bringing Hull’s wife Cindy Klose to national prominence.

The atrium of the Business Instructional Facility often hosts the TechMix, where business and engineering students pitch one another on start-up ideas.

Losing mentors from both the academic and athletic aspects of his life left JCL with few familiar faces in Champaign. Conveniently though, Dave Leitao had just recruited a whole bunch of JCL’s friends to Lincoln Park. Former LaLumiere coach Shane Heirman is now on staff.

And JCL has even found a new vessel for his whimsicality fix.

Magelli was about 5’5″ and good humored. Pantelis Xidias is about that height, and free spirited.  Another  LaLu transplant (like Drew Cayce, and also like Cayce, a non-scholarship member of his team) Xidias is the guy who keeps it unreal on DePaul’s bench.

JCL  didn’t say how he got to Champaign Friday night, but he hawked balls during warm-ups and sat on the team bench, which is uncharacteristic for road games. NCAA rules prohibit transfers from traveling with the team. (That’s why Tyler Underwood sat with his family at EIU.)

If there’s any animosity between JCL and the program, it’s on an individual basis. Kipper Nichols got a big hug from JCL (which, as you know, is vital to Illinois’ on court success). JCL slapped Cayce on the ass during warm-ups. Sports Info Director Derrick Burson shared a laugh with JCL at mid-court.

Pantelis Xidias kept an eye on the Orange Krush

Aaron Jordan is arguably more likely to thrive in the charging, attacking offensive system that Underwood hopes to develop. Meanwhile, JCL can shoot threes for the Roman church, which has already provided him one paid education at an idyllic lakeside school.

DePaul might not be as good at engineering, but they do have a College of Business. Taking classes in downtown Chicago will certainly enhance JCL’s business prospects.

Basically, everybody wins.

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Illini basketball

What’s the NCAA’s beef with Trent Frazier?

What’s Trent Frazier’s beef with the NCAA? The answer is “Portillo’s.”

On August 19, 2016, the University of Illinois men’s basketball program committed an NCAA recruiting violation when Dustin Ford, Jamall Walker and Paris Parham drove Frazier and his parents from O’Hare Airport to Portillo’s Hot Dogs, and bought them some dinner.

[Courtesy of Matt Colin]
The Fraziers’ flight from Florida had been delayed, significantly. The three Illini coaches hopped into a car and drove from Champaign to O’Hare, knowing the Fraziers would miss the last connecting flight to Willard Airport, and not wanting them to be stranded.

The coaches met the Fraziers and Trent’s high school coach Matt Colin at baggage claim, just as everyone learned the bags would be delayed too, by about 45 minutes. Colin and the Fraziers hadn’t eaten in seven hours.

So everyone got in the car and drove the 7.6 miles to the corner of Dempster & Western, in Niles (not 6.6 miles to the Portillo’s at Busse & Greenleaf in Elk Grove Village, mind you).

They were in the restaurant for 15 to 20 minutes (significant). Then they went back to the airport, collected their bags,  and drove to Champaign.

It was about 1:30 a.m. when the Frazier entourage finally checked-in at the i-Hotel.

Transportation, lodging and meals are all legit expenses for Official Visit purposes. So why was this $80.29 impermissible? Because the NCAA is the second-dumbest organization in the world.

Meals are okay. Transportation is okay. But meals during transportation? That invokes a particular sub-chapter. It’s okay, but only if the food is carry-out.

Seriously.

IF you sit down while you’re eating, if you’re not trying to swallow that delicious dipped, hot & sweet gooey mess while in motion, the NCAA has sees red.

The other “problem” with this series of events, judged using the demented logic of the NCAA, is how it affected the imaginary clock which times an Official Visit. That clock can’t or does start to pretend-tick based on particular triggering events, like proximity to campus.

I’d explain the rule further, but nobody really understands it. You wouldn’t understand it. I don’t.

Because the flight was delayed, the Fraziers were expected to fend for themselves in an unfamiliar city <–or–> because they arrived on campus so late in the day, they should have paid for their hotel. There’s a magical hour at which the feisty, opinionated little clock prefers to wait ’til morning to begin pretend-ticking.

That’s the NCAA’s logic.

On the other hand, the NCAA doesn’t especially care whether this impermissible benefit is granted or not. If it did, there would be penalties. Instead, a letter of admonishment went into John Groce’s file (perhaps because he was the only staff member not present?) and the three assistant coaches all got some extra training. (What was that training? We don’t know. Let’s assume it took fewer than 90 seconds to convey.)

Trent Frazier’s eligibility was not affected. His parents were not forced to repay the university for the strawberry shortcake, small fries or beeves.*

In the end, some work was generated for administrators and administrative assistants, some of whom will still have jobs if Bruce Rauner and Mike Madigan ever agree to pass a budget.

 

*In reading the receipt, you’ll be surprised to find that no one ordered a combo.

 

 

Categories
Illini basketball

Hotel Policy & the NCAA

This week, Illini Report received a compendium of all NCAA violations recorded during the John Groce Era. There’s one big surprise. More on that next week.

Most of the violations arose through ignorance or stupidity, and mostly ignorance. That is, the “perpetrators” weren’t aware that they were committing violations, because the rules are so stupid.

Today’s story is about a rule that’s only slightly stupid, a perpetrator who is not ignorant, and policy that’s downright idiotic.

The culprit was James Haring, erstwhile Director of Basketball Operations. The crime:  reserving hotel rooms.

 

 

For the first five contests of the season (exhibitions with Wash U & Lewis; and games with SEMO, No. Kentucky & McKendree) Kipper Nichols and Drew Cayce were housed, along with the rest of the team, in one of the hotels near State Farm Center (i-Hotel at First & St. Mary’s, or the Hawthorne Suites, Homewood Suites or Hilton Garden Inn at Neil & Kirby.

That’s a violation of NCAA Bylaw 16.8.1.

There’s no particular NCAA rule about transfers staying in hotel rooms before home games. The NCAA never contemplated such a stupid policy. Why would teams pay to lodge players twice for the same night?  Their apartments are literally 1200 yards away.

But because Nichols and Cayce were transfers waiting a “year in residence,” they’re not allowed travel expenses. In order to receive competition-related expenses, the student-athlete must be eligible for competition. It’s the reason Rayvonte Rice never traveled with the team during his first year on campus, unless he could get there on his own dime (Braggin’ Rights, or the United Center game, for example).

James Haring

James Haring is not stupid. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of West Virginia, where he worked for Brad Underwood’s old boss, Huggie Bear. Moreover, he knows the minutiae that DOBOs must contemplate each time they make an outlay. Player per diems, for example were as follows for the 2016-17 season.

In-State/Out of State Breakfast $5.50/$6.50 Lunch $5.50/$6.50 Dinner $17.00/$19.00

Haring also knows the rule capping an MBB traveling squad at 15 players. (He says it’s a Big Ten rule, rather than the NCAA.) This came up in a conversation earlier this year, when I realized that Samson Oladimeji wasn’t on a road trip, and hadn’t been all year.

I asked Oladimeji about it, and he didn’t know why he didn’t travel with the team. James Haring did know: This year’s Illini roster included 17 players. Someone had to stay behind.

Samson Oladimeji (Vashoune Russell)

Nichols finished his “year in residence” in December, about the same time Oladimeji became an official member of the team. As the last to join, Samson was also the last in line for a room. So Cayce never stayed in a hotel for the rest of the season, Nichols returned to the hotel regimen when he becamse eligible, and Oladimeji never stayed in a hotel, period.

That’s pretty much the end of Haring’s whimsical violation of NCAA rules, apart from the unfortunate Letter of Admonishment added to his employee file.

But his loss is our gain, because the report it begat shines a spotlight on the terrible policy of locking up players in hotel rooms.

The men’s basketball program spent, according to the NCAA filing posted above,  an average of $43.11 per player, per night, to stay in a Champaign hotel room prior to those first five contests.

That figure may reflect the average cost for every game this year, but not necessarily. Rates fluctuate with the market, and the team had no fixed rate agreement with any of the four hotels.

For the 21 home contests this year, assuming the $43.11 rate were static, that’s $13,579.65 to house the team in rooms literally visible from their own West Quad apartments.  Add $2,586.60 for the four games played within a short driving distance (Purdue, Indiana, Northwestern and the annual United Center game). The team flies to Iowa. Why sleep there, too?

Spokesman Kent Brown points out:

No other teams do this. Football has done this for decades. Men’s basketball only started this recently. It’s a coach’s decision, but would need to come out of their budgets.

The idea behind housing a football team is that you can’t trust a football team to do the right thing. They’re football players, after all. If you don’t lock them up, drunken rape and pillaging is the inevitable outcome.

Under John Groce, basketball players couldn’t be trusted either, at least not by John Groce. Remember that time Aaron Cosby and Rice snuck out of their hotel room to see the town? In that case, the town was Minneapolis. They were both injured at the time (Rice’s broken hand, Cosby’s detached retina — neither of which happened because they went sight-seeing), and wouldn’t have played against the Gophers anyway.

After that, Groce imposed the policy for home games, too.

James Haring, far left, was a grad assistant in 2014-15. Rayvonte Rice & Aaron Cosby were suspended for this game, despite both being injured anyhow.

The problem with imprisoning the players two nights per week is not just that it treats them like criminals. It’s also that they’re not likely to get a great night’s sleep in unfamiliar surroundings. By imposing road-game conditions on his team, Groce took away one of the great advantages of home games — being at home.

The Homewood Suites are 1200 yards from West Quad. And although Tyler Griffey once said he enjoyed the jacuzzi there (as a freshman, he was housed there during semester break when the dorms closed), the train still goes by just as often, if 20 seconds earlier than it passes West Quad.

“That’s the only bad thing I can think of” Maverick Morgan said of West Quad’s proximity to the train when the team first moved into its new digs at Oak & John Streets. “It’s as close as everyone thinks it is.”

Here at 4:44

Maybe that’s why John Groce’s teams lost so many games. Over the course of five years, they never got a good night’s sleep.

Stay tuned to Illini Report for more kvetching about minor NCAA violations, and the mundane stories they spawn. Next week.

Fans of James Haring, which include most people he’s ever met, will be glad to know that he’s pursuing opportunities in college basketball. His DOBO position will be occupied by Underwood associate Joey Biggs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be leaving the DIA.

Categories
Illini basketball

It’s not that they lost, it’s how they lost

Deon Thomas and Paris Parham greeted one another on court, about an hour before the Michigan game. They  reminisced about the one game they played against each other in high school.  Dunbar beat Simeon, according to Paris. But the teams had to stay in their locker rooms afterward, until the gunplay cooled off outside.

Whatever happens to the Groce staff, Deon and Paris agreed they’d lived through worse. They’ve seen guys get shot. They’ve seen people killed.

The Groce Question was answered today, by an Illinois team that couldn’t compete with a league rival, and by John Groce himself.

Five years into the Groce experiment, Illinois is not in the same class as the Big Ten’s elite teams. Illinois is second-class. Worse, they don’t just lose. They get blown away. They’re simply not relevant in major college basketball.

The B1G’s third-class teams played Wednesday. Two of them left town before the second-class teams arrived to punish the survivors. The first-class teams will show up tomorrow, and feast on the second-class.  Except for us. We’ve already been eaten.

The Illini will be in Champaign-Urbana when real B1G basketball gets underway.

Groce, to his credit, came right out and agreed he’d do it all over again, exactly the same way, rather than “coaching not to lose,” the sin Bruce Weber admitted while trashing his players for public consumption, in February, 2012.

The Groce Question by the way, is not whether Groce will be fired. It’s not whether he should be fired. It’s whether he can lead Illinois out of the slash and burn wasteland he inherited. The answer is no, he can’t.

Weber was fired five years ago today. If Groce doesn’t follow him out the door, we’ll know that Josh Whitman doesn’t have a home-run hire waiting in the wings. There’s no way Josh Whitman could let the Groce era continue simply because he thinks Groce needs more time, or might be on the verge of something big. Everything we know about John Groce says this is the way he’ll do it, including his own words.

He said during Monday’s pre-tourney teleconference that he doesn’t make in-game offensive adjustments.  He can’t. His system is his system, for better or worse.

And you know what? Good for Groce.  He told us on day one that he’s a teacher. And at the end, he told us the same thing again, and demonstrated as much. He’d rather coach these guys in practice than in games. That’s another thing he’s said, again and again, over his five years.

It’s perhaps not the best personality trait for a Division I coach. But it’s admirable.

So expect a new coach to be announced real soon. And if there’s not such an announcement, understand that it’s because Josh Whitman doesn’t see the point in giving a five-year contract to another mediocrity from the mid-majors.  Or indeed, a super-performing coach from the low and mid-major conferences, like many from my long list. Or Cuonzo, whose NIT trajectory should eliminate him from the conversation (it won’t).

 

Yes, there’s the argument that Illinois basketball will get worse if Groce isn’t fired immediately. But that can’t be true. Either you’re relevant or you’re not. Illinois isn’t relevant.

The fanbase won’t grow. Fair-weather fans won’t come back until the weather is fair. But if this season is any indication, about 12,000 people will still turn out for basketball games.

Anybody that lived through 1989 or 2005 isn’t going to stop cheering for Illini basketball. They remember how great it feels when we’re first-class.

Saturday in Piscataway (poet, I know it) I met two Rutgers basketball fans. Possibly the two Rutgers basketball fans. Terry and Stuart graduated in 1978. That means they were students when Rutgers last made it to the Final Four.

I met them in the campustown Barnes & Noble. I was about to catch the free campus bus that runs between New Brunswick Station and the RAC. Instead, they gave me a lift.

When we arrived at the RAC, Mike Palko was just walking by. He was the starting center on that 1976 team.

These three guys still attend Rutgers basketball games, because they remember what Rutgers can be.  They believe Rutgers will be back some day.

Illini fans vastly outnumber Rutgers fans. You needn’t be 61 years-old to remember the high.  If #WeWillWin means anything, Josh Whitman isn’t satisfied with second-class. Whether it happens tomorrow, next week or next year; it’s going to happen.

 

 

 

Categories
Illini basketball

The Bret Beherns Moment

The End of The John Groce Era began in earnest on New Year’s Eve eve afternoon, when Groce betrayed a thorough misunderstanding of his dire situation. Bret Beherns tossed a softball which Groce perceived as a curve. How can the coach reassure a fanbase distraught by a 25-point loss?

Groce blanched at the question, then ridiculed it.  An hour later, his reaction was viral & universally panned.

As a group and as individuals, we talked about the Behrens Moment after Groce left the room. I told Bret it was a perfectly fine question. Scott Richey wondered whether the moment would be excised from the Official Upload (it wasn’t, but you couldn’t hear the question either, which is unfair to Bret … this is why you should always watch the Illini Report version; you get the audio).

I wondered aloud whether Groce lives in a Rebounders’ Club bubble, and honestly doesn’t know that Illinois basketball once sold a lot of tickets, at non-fire sale prices, and had more than 200 retirees attending its every move.  Has he truly not heard the criticism? If not, that would be extraordinarily Todd Lickliterish of him.

Should we tell him that it’s not just the 25-point loss? Should we tell him that he’s never had a winning conference record at Illinois, and people have begun to notice?

Bret conjectured that Groce must, by the necessity of high-profile coaching gigs, be tuned out from the word on the street.  Derek Piper and I agreed that the assistants seem to have a nose to the ground that Head Coaches don’t.

An hour earlier, as the media gathered for player interviews at Ubben, Groce’s future was already the subject of speculation. TV, radio, newspaper and web reporters huddled by the trophy cases, which display championship hardware from zero seasons of the Groce Administration.

One asked who’d be the Missouri coach next year? Another followed up with the same question, but referring to Illinois.

 

I don’t actually remember who said what. I was trying to get my A/V gear up and running, and was experiencing technical difficulties. I was also sleep-deprived, and obsessed with the thought that the next Mizzou coach would be crazy not to court/hire Jamall Walker (admittedly assuming that the next Mizzou coach is not Jamall Walker).

The tone of that conversation continued as everyone moved across the street, where a media meal (chicken & cheese quesadillas with all the trimmings plus a mixed green salad with sliced cucumber and carrot shavings, and cookies) was served in the State Farm Center’s bowels.

It carried up the two flights of stairs to the media work room, where bright lighting, microphones  and a mult box make the job of capturing coaches comments a little easier. With only a cameraman representing DIA staff, and no SIDs in the room, the conversation turned to outright complaint. I was a bystander and witness. I didn’t say a thing during Groce’s subsequent presser, either.

Two points that came across were that Groce is — if not difficult to work with — than at least more difficult to work with than Bill Self, Lon Kruger and Bruce Weber. It was mostly to do with scheduling and punctuality.

At eight minutes past the bottom of the hour, Groce entered the media work room for his 12:30 press conference.

Many media outlets rely on deadlines. Timeliness is important to these people.

Tom Crean is considered, by far and almost unanimously, the very worst B1G coach in this regard. John Groce is #2. Crean has three major conference championships and a Final Four on his résumé. Groce led a team to a 3rd place finish in the MAC’s eastern division, twice.

Sports reporters frame & characterize their subjects for the public. They guide public perception. Why would you want to irritate them?

The business model of local newspapers, commercial radio and fan-oriented websites relies on public enthusiasm for local sports. If you’ve already eviscerated their cash cow, why would you dare to irritate them?

Illini sports sells newspapers. Or, as we’ve learned these last ten years; it doesn’t. We’ll always have 16,618, but we’ll never again have 16,618.

Whether Josh Whitman or Robert Jones gives a damn about basketball; Scout.com still wants to make money. So does the News-Gazette.

But if nobody wants to read about the team you cover, it’s hard to sell subscriptions.

If you can’t sell newspapers by writing about a winning team, you turn to the next hot topic that spurs reader interest: the coaching search.  Rush Limbaugh did well when Democrats controlled the White House. Jon Stewart did well under Republican rule. We’d prefer to read about our universal and ultimate glory. But short of that outcome, we’ll rally around those willing to persecute our tormentors.

Through his tone-deaf reaction that Friday afternoon, John Groce made it a little easier for everyone to turn the page on him, and start talking frankly about his successor. He took the gloves off.

It looked like things might get messy from then on out. But snarky Groce retreated into his shell, and cheery Groce returned.  We haven’t seen a recurrence.

After the second Penn State beatdown, which insured that Groce would finish 5-of-5 seasons without a winning conference record, the same group of regulars convened in the media room to do our thing.

“I know you guys don’t know what to write any more,” I told a couple of newspaper people. The ongoing joke is that they’ve run out of things to say, because every game is the same. “But I think we’ve run out of questions to ask. So I’m counting on you guys to come up with something. That’s your job.”

“Do you have a Realtor?” posited one writer, who shall remain nameless.

Maybe Whitman will learn that he can’t find a fantastic replacement, and choose not to make a change this off-season. So far, the names being bandied about are uninspiring or implausible.  Illini fans, like all fans, value their program more than neutral observers. They think rebuilding a thoroughly broken, irrelvant program will appeal to the top five names on every other school’s list of prospective hires.

Tomorrow, I’ll publish my list. It might have some of those same names on it, but only in passing, or to emphasize that they’re not coming through that door.

Groce still enjoys a lot of support with people who matter. He’s not a sociopath.

He’s a guy who’ll eschew winning in favor of  teaching basketball players to be better people and, eventually, better players — what his predecessor called “coaching not to lose.”

That appeals to those concerned with the educational mission of the university.

Categories
Illini basketball

Musings of a Hypocrite

I know what’s wrong with John Groce’s offense: It violates all of Bruce Weber’s principles.

Every problem I complained about from 2006 to 2012 got fixed. So now I’m going to whine about John Groce not following Bruce Weber’s philosophy.

If you’re the glass-half-full type, scroll down to the bottom, where I’ll write optimistically about Groce’s offense, and how it’s really sexy when it works. I’m a glass-half-full guy myself, but only in the sense that my glass is half-full.

My glass will be empty soon. Then it will be full again. Then it will be empty again.

Apologies in advance for typos and meandering.

Weber’s short rotation

Especially in 2009 & 2010, Illinois had a lot of bodies who never played.

Weber never employed Richard Semrau as a stretch forward (his natural position). He kept James Augustine  stuck at the 5 until Shaun Pruitt came along.

Can you imagine Michael Finke being told he can’t wander more than four feet from the basket?

This wouldn’t have happened under Bruce Weber

Yes, Mike Tisdale was allowed to shoot the three. But the open secret, acknowledged by the great Skip Thoren, is that Tisdale was a small forward, not a center, not a PF.

Skip & Mary Ann Thoren watched Mike Tisdale against Wisconsin in January 2011. Skip agreed that Tisdale’s game was classic SF, apart from the dribble-penetration.

This year, Groce’s rotations are way “outside the box” to put it charitably. Guys are subbing in and out, left and right.

A long bench is not a problem, but there are ways to make it work, to make it useful.

One way is to speed up the game, to tire the other team: Throw a full-court press at them. Run them ragged. Forty minutes of hell.

Illinois doesn’t do that.

Another way is to build your ten man rotation into two cohesive units, as John Calipari did with his “two starting fives” at Kentucky.

Illinois doesn’t do that either.

The players aren’t sure why they don’t press, and they can’t answer for Groce’s substitution patterns. It’s possible, when poking at the cracks in their anti-divulging force fields, to get them to admit that constant substitutions disrupt the flow of the game.

Groce does not confine his players’ tendencies

Groce listens to his players, and allows them substantial input as well as, in some cases, final say-so on what sets to run, etc.

I think that’s great. The players like it too.

Here’s Manbun saying, after all the hair talk, that he and Leron Black sometimes decide mid-play who’ll man which position.

In theory, “freedom” improves the player mentally. He’s not just a robot following instructions. He’s a thinking basketball player. But …

“Freedom”is like sex and booze. Everybody loves it, and everyone must eventually acknowledge that too much is bad … or at least presents performance issues.

If Groce could instill, require, demand or threaten on pain of death his players to execute his ideas, Illinois might already have won its National Championship.

But Groce doesn’t correct his players. He says he’s demanding without demeaning, but he doesn’t demand enough. Maybe he should demean more.

Mike Thorne’s erratic fling shot is the second-best example. We know Thorne can use the backboard; he did it against Minnesota!

We know Thorne can dunk. He did it against … well, I’m pretty sure he did it.

After receiving the ball in the low post, Thorne should be connecting on 60%+ of his shots. That’s just common knowledge basketball philosophy. If you ask me, he should convert nearly all of those  shots. The trick with the low post is feeding, not converting.

Abrams getting his shit stuffed by three taller defenders, simultaneously, is the #1 indicator that Groce’s coaching methods — however noble and well-intentioned — do lead, and will continue to lead, to outcomes that even Groce can’t anticipate or control.

Groce talks about about “things you can control” a lot. He can, or could, control the way Thorne and Abrams shoot the ball. He doesn’t.

He steadfastly rejects this option, whenever it’s presented to him. “He usually makes that” is Groce’s go-to cliché when confronted with the concept that his players repeatedly attempt bad, easily scouted shots.

What do Illini coaches & players analyze in film sessions? you ask.

Well, I have a theory. They don’t say “hey, look at this! This never works! STOP DOING THIS!

Abrams has attempted these bad, easily scouted shots in various Illini uniforms, for twenty years or so.  You’d think someone would eventually tell him that one-on-three is bad odds, especially when the three are all taller than you. And especially-especially if you can’t jump.

He did it Tuesday, at Northwestern.

Groce has all the best intentions, to be sure. But his lads continue to fail physics & geometry tests. Groce himself continues to struggle with addition & subtraction. This is the math major, who touts his short-lived classroom teaching career.

I’m not sure Weber would have changed any of these tendencies. He and Gary Nottingham fixed Chester Frazier’s shot. But most of that credit goes to Nottingham. Making things better is Weber’s unpublished forte at Illinois. We’re still hunting for the manuscript.

OK, it’s not quite true that Groce is the anti-Weber

Sitting after the second foul. The long two-pointers. Calling timeouts when the team’s on a run. The subsequent turnover following the galling inbounding play. Changing what’s working.

There are plenty of old-school coaching formulae employed by Groce that are just as reactionary, or just as frustrating as they were under Weber.

The dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble chuck a three! problem ended on March 9, 2012. It’s not been a problem since. Groce’s offense can be hard to watch in the same way that Bill Self’s Illini offense could be hard to watch.

Guess the villain? Hint: Not the unpaid underage person.

It’s not a problem of stagnancy.

It’s that Groce’s ball-screen offense, like the hi-lo offense,  relies on action that’s not merely telegraphed, but snail-mailed in advance.  Everyone knows what’s coming.

In theory, it works anyway.

Groce’s offense is way, way more fun to watch than Weber’s

Lon Kruger was the best offensive coordinator in my #Illini lifetime. Everyone else was obsessed with the other end of the floor.

John Groce was known as an offense guy. Mark Titus called him Ohio State’s offensive coordinator (among other things). Sometimes, Groce’s offense is  (dare I say it?) Poetry in the Motion.

At Northwestern, Maverick Morgan slipped screens for dunks. Te’Jon Lucas recognized the Wildcats’ defensive actions, which practically dared Illinois to go hi-lo, and dimed his big men.

Lucas exploited over-hedging, bad reads and switching mistakes for dribble-drive purposes.

Te’Jon Lucas spotted a flaw in the Northwestern defense.

Te’Jon , Michael Finke and Tracy Abrams all noticed that Wildcat defenders failed (refused?) to close out on shooters. Abrams got the Chester Frazier treatment, and Groce’s unending encouragement proved useful. Tracy’s three rattled around for a while before deciding to play along. Tracy shook his head while running to the defensive end, as if to acknowledge that nobody, not even a 40-something college player, really understands this game.

Kipper Nichols contributed a positive statistic for every minute played. He’d have played more if Malcolm Hill and Finke hadn’t executed as well as they did.

Finke connected on 3-of-5 long ones. On his successful attempts, he could’ve written sonnets before launching , and still have had plenty of time. The defense was so elsewhere.

Some fairly simple reads were read (loosers take note) at Welsh-Ryan. There’s no reason not to  attribute that reading to Groce and his staff.

If you desperately want Groce & staff gone, take heart. This column demonstrates only that Groce’s offense can succeed.  History is on your side, suggesting that it doesn’t.

Vashoune Russell took the 2017 Welsh-Ryan pictures, and then waited for a long time to edit them because he’s essentially a very, very lazy perosn. Or overworked and underpaid. Your choice.

Categories
Illini basketball

Saturday Live with Mark Smith & Jeremiah Tilmon

Illinois’ best recruiting period of the last decade came during a time when the Illini’s on-court performance had reached a record-setting nadir.  D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul and Joseph Bertrand pulled the trigger in a 48-hour span at the start of the dreadful 2007-08 season. Meyers Leonard came aboard at the end.

So it didn’t seem odd to watch Jeremiah Tilmon cracking jokes with Mark Smith while Minnesota pantsed the Illini. These two high school superstars expect to improve their college teams. They don’t doubt that they’ll be successful. Failure is not their concern.

Talking to them about their relationship, I couldn’t keep the names “Bruce Douglas and Efrem Winters” out of my mind.

It’s hard not to think of Mark Smith when thinking about Mark Smith, but Douglas is obviously the better Illini analog. Peoria Richwoods’ Mark Smith was a small forward, not a PG. Bruce was a PG. But he was also big and quick, just like Mark Smith 2.0.

Bruce’s alley-oops to Winters remain at the top of iconic Illini moments, way more efficient than the vaunted “15 pass possession.”

Illinois’ hi-lo could use some work.

Brandon Paul’s Illini recruitment began with Tracy Webster. Mark Smith’s recruitment may end with Tracy Webster. The Thornton grad was All-Big Ten at Wisconsin. He’s an assistant to Cuonzo Martin at Cal, for now. He attended Friday’s game between Tilmon’s ESL and Smith’s Edwardsville squads.

Smith’s burgeoning cachet means he’ll be able to choose his college come April 12. Illinois has two advantages in this recruitment. First, it’s easy driving distance for his parents, who remain very involved in his life and his recruitment. Two, Jeremiah Tilmon is signed to play here next year. Tilmon and Smith have been friends since sixth grade.

Smith will also be considering the academic aspect of his future school. He and parents Anthony & Yvonne were all interested in talking more about that aspect of his recruitment. Anthony said “yes, he’s qualified” when I raised the subject of academics.

But that’s not the question. The question is what Mark wants to study, and whether he aspires to advanced degrees. When Chasson Randle chose Stanford over Illinois, it wasn’t because he wanted to inconvenience his parents, Gwen and Willie, from seeing him play college ball in person. It’s because Chasson already knew he’d want to go to medical school when basketball was over.

Because Chasson graduated at the top of his class at Rock Island High School,  his family thought he could withstand a fiercely competitive academic environment. For those aspiring to a career in medicine, Stanford is better than Illinois. Sorry loyalists, it just is.

We don’t know what Mark wants from an academic standpoint, but we do know he’s thinking about it.

One thing that doesn’t matter re: Mark Smith is “coaches on the hot seat.” John Groce is a miracle removed from being gone. Tom Crean is being e-burned in e-effigy. Bruce Weber is doing enough to keep his job for another year at K-State, but since when did we take Bruce Weber seriously?

The uncertainty doesn’t end with coaches who lose too much. Smith acknowledged on Saturday that Duke got in the mix recently. But who’d be his coach at Duke? K will turn 70 next week, while he recovers from his second major back surgery. Jeff Capel already failed at the P5 level. Maybe Chris Collins is the successor? That means Duke and Northwestern are uncertain as well.

Kansas seems like the best bet for the Smith family. It’s not a horrible drive from Edwardsville, and Bill Self is not likely to be fired. If they have an open spot for him, it’s unlikely he could do worse. As with any & all blue blooded programs, they’ll have other options for his position. Competitive recruits are rarely dissuaded by this eternal truth.

Dave Leitao might be the surest choice Mark Smith has when it comes to basketball, for both PT & continuity purposes. DePaul has been terrible since Leitao departed his first stint. Tracy Webster was unable to revive it as interim coach.

Leitao failed at Virginia, now arguably the best program in the nation. So he’s not a sure bet, either.

Frankly, it’s weird to be Mark Smith the recruit, A year ago, he figured to be a starting pitcher, not a point guard. But if it weren’t for him, there’d be very little optimism available for Illini basketball fans.

Hope springs eternal, and Mark Smith won’t have the opportunity to sign an LOI until Spring, by which time all these coaching situations will be determined.

And now, here’s that Minnesota game in a nutshell: