Spring Mailbag III

May 16, 2017

So my wife and I get this Blue Apron box and I'm all "I'm going to surprise her with a nice dinner" and then I screwed up the RICE. I nailed the Tandoori chicken and I screwed up the RICE. I'm seriously going to struggle to fall asleep tonight because I screwed up the rice. Brumby is an accomplished cook. Maybe he can give me lessons.

I don't really have a point. Just needed an intro. Let's start with a basketball question:

@ALionEye expectations for next years basketball team with roster as it is right now

-- The Illini Breakdown (@IlliniBreakDown) May 10, 2017

This is a great (and timely) question because of the podcast that was published today in which Brad Underwood said that he sees this as a Tournament team. I was all "whaaaaaaaa?"

First off, at the end of the season, I wrote about the five younger players who had emerged (Te'Jon, JCL, Kipper, Leron, Fink3) with lots of "you know, next year might not be as bad as I thought". At the end of 2015/16 we thought 2016/17 would be a senior-heavy season, and then Nunn was kicked off the team, and then Thorne's role diminished, and then Tate found the bench permanently, and we were left with three seniors and the five players mentioned above. So instead of a complete overhaul a la 2013/14, we have a little more to work with.

But I'm still surprised to hear the coach say that he sees a Tournament team. It might just be coach speak - no coach is going to say "yeah, I see maybe a 10-win season" - but he seemed very upbeat about a quick turnaround. Meanwhile, I'm stuck on...

  • 9 players total after the DJ Williams transfer, and one of those 9 (DaMonte Williams) probably won't be 100% at the beginning of the season (ACL surgery).
  • Of those 9 players, there are 7 guards/wings and 2 forwards. What happens when one of those two forwards gets in foul trouble?
  • There are no seniors on the team. 4 juniors, 2 sophomores, 3 freshmen.
  • New coach putting in a complete scheme overhaul. It will take a bit to pick up what Underwood is trying to do.

I appreciate the optimism from the coach, but when the preseason magazines come out (are there still magazines?), I think Illinois will be picked between 9th and 12th in the Big Ten. 9th-12th isn't a Tournament team. As of now, put me down for 17-18 wins.

But I'll say this - if he does make the Tournament? And then returns everyone and (hopefully) adds a highly-ranked class of freshmen? Look out above. Illini comin'.

@ALionEye Why can't we have nice things?

-- dsmen (@dan_dsmen) May 10, 2017

Because of something you did.

Honest answer - I don't know, but it still amazes me when I think about the passage of time. I started the blog in early 2009, it's now May of 2017, and I've still never written about a "good" Illini team. Football or basketball. I have the 2010 Texas Bowl (6-6 team) and the 2013 NCAA Tournament (a team that was 8-10 in the Big Ten).

What am I saying "I have" - WE have. That's our fan experience. We don't get nice things. Haven't had a nice thing since the 2008 Rose Bowl. A few nights after the Rose Bowl, at some bar in Manhattan Beach, I watched the basketball team lose badly to Ohio State (in a season that finished 16-19). And we haven't had a nice thing since.

(Being a St. Louisian, every time I type "nice things" I think of the Carol House Furniture ads and their "because you like nice things". And that makes me think of their Christmastime advertisements where they change the words to "Twas The Night Before Christmas". But they don't care about poetry at all, so they just cram a bunch of words into a sentence and then end with a word that rhymes. If you ever see me driving around St. Louis at Christmastime and I'm pounding my hand on the steering wheel it's because there's a Carol House Furniture ad on the radio and Brook Dubman is saying "Carol House Furiture because you like nice things" except it's supposed to be the last line of Twas and for that to work the emphasis would have to be "ca-ROL house fur-NI-ture be-CAUSE you like NICE things". Drives me insane.)

I'm way off course - back to the mailbag.

@ALionEye If you had a young son, would you let him play football? If not, do you feel any guilt watching others play.

-- BDSAE (@BDSAE) May 10, 2017

Great question. This might go long.

I have three boys. I married a single mom so I jumped into parenting when the boys were ages 8, 10, and 12. The youngest played football. And had a concussion. So I have some experience here.

I'll first talk about the concussion experience. It happened at football practice when he was.. 11 I think? Football practice for his JFL team, gets hit after he left his feet, the back of his head hits the grass. He got up woozy, the coaches took him out immediately (impressive), he sat the rest of practice, we took him to the doctor the next day, the doctor diagnosed a concussion. Doctor recommended 2 weeks and then a re-evaluation (seemed extreme but we went with it), no practice or games for 14 days (destroyed the kid), a re-evaluation by the doctor showed no signs of any symptoms, that was that. He played in junior high and high school and never had another concussion. (And yes, I realize that football injury concerns aren't just concussion-based.)

Did we ever consider that football might be too violent for him? Honestly, not really. And that really wasn't my call per se (I know many would see this as "blogger who likes football has son who plays football", but my wife started him in JFL football when he was 7 and she was a single mom). The concussion was a scare but we simply followed doctor's orders. Our son said he "felt fine" 48 hours later but we held him out the full two weeks, got the re-evaluation, and then let him return to practice. Our middle son had a knee thing for cross country and we did the same with the doctors. Our oldest was probably the biggest "health concern" and that was from him cutting weight for wrestling (and not following orders from his coaches, instead trying to cut all the weight 48 hours before a tournament). I had a long phone call with the coach (who was on our side) and we figured out a system to prevent him from going to the extreme.

I know others have their own stories with youth sports and injuries, and those are mine. With three boys I spent a lot of time around youth sports, and in my experience, hockey was the sport with the most injuries. And the worst concussion story I heard was from a soccer dad (no head gear, collision, bad situation). For football, I was satisfied with the awareness of head injuries (11 year-old concussion at JFL practice was immediately identified) and the doctor's plan for monitoring additional concussions (he never experienced another one).

Like anything with our kids, we weighed safety vs. allowing them to try their hand at things they wanted to do. The only real bright line we drew: no four-wheelers at friends houses out in the country. They begged and begged but we said no. I'm just not OK with a 13 year-old operating a vehicle at those speeds.

So no, I don't have any reservations watching football. We weighed it and came to a comfort level. From my experience, concussion protocols (any injury, really), all the way down at the JFL level, are really solid.


HiggsBoson on May 16 @ 06:54 AM CDT

It's been awhile since I lived in St. Louis, but I had to laugh at the Carol House bit. Ah, memories.

I don't think Underwood is just doing coach speak here. He strikes me as someone who fully expects to win with every team and will adapt as need to win with who he's got. They say that past performance is no guarantee of future results, but so far, so good on Brad Underwood teams making the tourney.

danny on May 16 @ 08:05 AM CDT

You mention the team doesn't have any seniors. Kinda true, Black and Fink3 are red-shirt juniors. Based on years in school, it would be 2 seniors, 2 juniors, 2 sophomores and 3 freshmen. Just saying!

Groundhogday on May 17 @ 11:35 AM CDT

The problem is, as noted by Underwood, these guys in aggregate haven't logged that many minutes. ~5000 minutes total, where a team might have ~7000 minutes for a single season and Hill logged over 1100 minutes last season alone.

Career minutes for returning players.

  • 1739 JCL
  • 1305 Finke
  • 1217 Black
  • 642 Lucas
  • 286 Nichols

(Underwood doesn't even mention Jordan, so probably not more than a practice guy.)

Joe Edge on May 16 @ 12:42 PM CDT

Better to have sons who play 'organized' ball, than those that play sandlot ball, if injuries happen.... but in reality neither is very good... and FB is probably on borrowed time now....

LOL Robert... Rice is the easiest thing in the world to make....

1970 John on May 16 @ 09:50 PM CDT

Underwood saying we're a "tournament team" is him throwing down the gauntlet. He could say "we're a good team" or something weasley, but either you make the tournament of you don't, and having said you will, is risky. Because if you don't, the people who remember that sort of thing (us, for example) will remember it.

DB50 on May 17 @ 08:29 AM CDT

I really like the idea of Underwood dreaming big as a "tournament team". Will it happen? Who knows but I predict at the end of the season the Illini will be an ascending team that most teams would like to avoid. There will be growing pains.

Groundhogday on May 17 @ 12:47 PM CDT

It seem to me that we would need three things to become a tournament team:

  1. Mark Smith is a very special freshman.
  2. We land a couple of experienced grad transfers to fill gaps.
  3. Returning players really thrive in Underwood's system.

I'm actually fairly optimistic about point 3. The returning five key guys actually fit Underwood's system better than Groce's system. And several are at the point where you might expect a jump. Nichols and Lucas enter their 2nd year. Black and Finke are both redshirt-juniors, often when big men are ready to shine.

Underwood positively drools over Smith, but I'm always wary of expecting too much of freshmen.

Sure would feel better if we landed Alstork and Agau. But these are competitive recruitments, and no sign we are in the inside track.

Sweetchuck13 on May 17 @ 01:14 PM CDT

I like Underwood's comment. I think we definitely have the pieces to be in the middle of the B1G pack and a tournament team. Remember that this year's team absolutely underachieved. With the talent they had and just some average coaching, that's probably a 23-24 win team. We'll miss Hill and Maverick, but there's some pieces to work with, especially on offense.

I'm also expecting a fairly significant lift just from Underwood's pure coaching ability. As far as Illini coaches go, he reminds me most of Kruger in that I think from a tactical perspective, we'll have an advantage and we'll see some slight tweaks and adjustments not only during the season, but during games as well. That can make a mediocre team into a tournament team right there.

I'm not going to be angry and call the season a failure if we don't make the tourney, but I bet we're more likely to make it than miss it.

rml on May 18 @ 07:55 AM CDT

You don't need to be a great team to make a 68 team field. Having pretty good talent with pretty good coaching is generally enough. No, we probably don't have enough talent to make it with last years' coaching, But Underwood has made it every year, I haven't looked at his old rosters, but would be very surprised if this is the worst talent he's every had. He thinks we have enough talent for his level of coaching to get there again, and I'm delighted all around.

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