I haven't done one of these in forever - a hastily thrown-together post covering everything and nothing at all. Everything has been so topic driven lately (will we fire the basketball coach, we fired the basketball coach, who will we hire, we hired BU, what does it mean) that I really haven't had the opportunity to say...
When you don't know what to write about, just start writing.
The Spring Without Football
I'm a creature of habit, so over the last 8+ years of doing this I've developed a groove:
- August is go-time. Football football football.
- Given my proclivities, I stay with football until it's finished, which means I'm usually slow on the basketball uptake.
- Once football is finished (usually in early December, sometimes in late December) I switch to basketball.
- All basketball all the time until it is over (disappointingly in early March every year now).
- Then straight to spring football until it's over mid-to-late April.
- May is "recovery month" where I write very little and reintroduce myself to my wife and kids.
- June starts some preseason football stuff which is slow until August when I hit the gas.
This year, basketball is finished (it went a little long with, you know, the whole coach thing), so now I turn to... see that spring football wrapped up three weeks ago. I didn't miss it - I drove up for two practices - but it was barely spring football. It was... 44 returning players plus four early-enrolled freshmen going through some football drills for 14 practices until they canceled the last practice and went bowling because how can you really practice with one quarterback and three receivers?
This was not a surprise. I think I wrote about it as far back as August - with that much roster overhaul, how could they really even do more than position drills this spring? - but it's still jarring to be finished with basketball and turn around to find that... there's nothing to talk about until August.
I supposed I should still do my normal routine - I need to publish a post-spring depth chart and I always do a spring football mailbag - but it's still odd that it's still March and nothing will happen until August. I want to dive back into football and they already drained the pool.
It's amazing to me that Brad Underwood gets a recruiting test in his second week on the job. Normally, it's "build relationships with that first class and maybe land a key player or two but the second year is when recruiting really takes off". Now, he arrives on campus to find that Mr. Basketball in Illinois is still available. Illinois was his first major offer (in January of this year) and now Michigan State and Kentucky are checking in.
Which means that Underwood has a chance to put a huge stamp on the program (and answer the Big Recruiting Question) before he even picks out drapes for his office. If he could land Mark Smith, it would send a gigantic NEW SHERIFF message throughout the Big Ten. We've landed, what, three Illinois Mr. Basketballs this century (Dee in 2002, BP3 in 2009, Jereme in 2010). Landing one less than a month on the job would be really impressive.
Will it happen? If I had to bet on it, I wouldn't. Given what we've put on the court the last 10 years, Michigan State can stroll in and say "come be part of multiple Final Fours, not a rebuilding effort". That's going to be used against us until it's not, and I can see it working on a lot of recruits. We're past the point where we can point to 2005. Mark Smith was, what, five years old at the time?
So while I don't expect us to ace the quiz, man, would it be awesome. Prove you can recruit against the big boys and land a guard that fits in this offense all in one verbal. Perfect opportunity.
Slow And Steady
I wrote that piece in February about (my guess at) Lovie's approach to the 2018 recruiting class. I called it Low And Slow. My point: I think I've learned Lovie's approach to recruiting, and it's going to be very s l o w.
Especially with this class. As of now, by my count, we can bring in 12 players in the 2018 class (compared to 26 last year). The number will go up (there's always attrition), but it's not going to reach 26. Probably won't reach 20. Might not even reach 17.
Taking those two items - less than half the scholarships we had to give out at this point last year, a coaching staff that was very deliberate about their recruiting class last year, not even offering their Plan B recruits until the last two weeks in January - I foresaw a very slow and deliberate approach to this class.
Did I think we'd enter April 1st without a single verbal? No. Would I have said I would be OK with most of the top talent in Illinois verballing elsewhere while we are plodding along? Probably not. But I'm sticking to my guns.
My current view of things: the rabbit left the starting line and ran way ahead. In a few months, possibly in the fall or winter, Lovie the tortoise will round a bend to find the rabbit napping under a tree. And that tortoise will cross the finish line with 16 solid, scheme-fitting recruits (while the rabbit will be scrambling around trying to figure out why so many players flipped on Minnesota in the last two weeks).
Slow and steady wins the race. At least that's what I'm telling myself.