The 2013/14 Comp
I was going to write four posts today. Three were already written (including this one), and then I was going to write a fourth post after the Nebraska game. I no longer desire to write that post - I'm seeking Tyler's help in trying to understand what we're seeing, and that will be published as a Back & Forth post at a later date - so instead, let's combine my thoughts from today's game with the post that was already 80% finished. What post was that? This one. Looking back at 2013/14 and comparing it to this season.
This started as a response to Hoppy's comment in the last basketball post, but then I decided that it would probably make a better article than a comment. I've been looking for a comp for this team with such incredible roster turnover, and maybe the answer is 2013/14?
Let's begin with Hoppy's comment after the Notre Dame game:
I posted this awhile back but I'll post it again. Groce's second year only had 3 returnees and I believe...7 newcomers? Returnees were Abrams, Bertrand, and Egwu.
Newcomers were Tate, Hill, Nunn, Colbert, Morgan, Ekey, and Rice. (With Transfers Starks, Cosby, and Paul on the bench)
Even if you count Rice as half new, half returnee since he had a sit out year, that's still only 3.5 returnees and 6.5 newcomers.
That team went 18-13 in the regular season and was an Abrams floater away from beating Michigan in the BTT and probably making the dance because of it.
Have we all forgotten that a team with 3 returnees (Sr, Jr, Jr), coached by John Groce, went 18-13? Why is it that our current team of 4 returnees (Sr, Jr, So, So) can't?? Especially when being coached by BU? (A guy known for being incredibly effective at implementing his system)
I truly want to know. I just can't see this as an excuse but maybe one of you basketball minds can help? I'm hoping it's because a system like Underwood's needs time to be instilled. If we follow the Tony Bennett model, and follow on success, I'm good with it.
But the "returnees" excuse doesn't work for me. I'm holding on to the Bennett "system" excuse for dear life right now.
This is such a good point. I've been comparing this team to 1998/99, but maybe the best comparision is John Groce's second team?
Let's start with that roster. After the 7-seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, four seniors departed, and all four were in the top-7 of the rotation that year (Brandon Paul, DJ Richardson, Tyler Griffey, and Sam McLaurin). There were also four transfers after the season: Ibby Djimde to Southern Illinois, Myke Henry to DePaul, Mike Shaw to Bradley, and Devin Langford to Kentucky Wesleyan.
So yes, that's very similar to this. As Hoppy mentioned in that comment, the other three players from that top-7-in-the-rotation returned (Tracy Abrams, Nnanna Egwu, and Joseph Bertrand, plus Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice was eligible. So perhaps we should break down this comparison this way:
Tracy, Nnanna, JoeBert, and Rayvonte (all with one year learning the system) vs. AJ, Kipper, Trent, and Da'Monte (all with one year learning the system). As much as I think Trent is the best player of those eight, I think I have to give the edge to the 13/14 team. More experience, and perhaps more importantly, more experience on a bigger stage. Tracy, Nnanna, and JoeBert all returned from a 7-seed. AJ, Kipper, Trent, and Da'Monte return from a 14-18 team.
Actually, maybe Rayvonte should go here. Yes, he was practicing with the 2012/13 team while sitting out, so he didn't have to learn the system in 2013/14, but it was still his first year. He was still a "newcomer". Perhaps I should adopt Hoppy's terminology of "3.5 returning players".
Actually, if we're going to go with "transfers" in this category, it should simply be Jon Ekey vs. Adonis De La Rosa. Both were fifth-year transfers. We'll include Andres Feliz in with the "newcomers" section.
Ekey vs. De La Rosa? I'm going with Ekey hands down. Which means we're really comparing five against five here. That's probably the best way to do this if we're talking about Rayvonte Rice and where he fits. If we just compare "newcomers" and "older guys who have played a lot of college basketball", here's the two lists:
Adonis De La Rosa
Which coach had the better lineup to be successful, keeping in mind that Groce brought in Rice/Ekey and Underwood brought in De La Rosa? I think Groce had the much better lineup, boosted by the transfers he added. But this does make me pause and wonder why my expectations were higher for 2013/14.
In fact, I think I'm getting a little lost here. The idea that Hoppy presented is this: why is Underwood getting a pass for "nobody can win with a roster like this" when Groce had the same thing in 2013/14 and won 18 games? In that sense, the newcomers don't matter. Groce added Kendrick Nunn and Underwood added Ayo, Groce added Ahmad Starks (whose transfer waiver wasn't approved) and Underwood added a juco PG in Feliz. Groce had some projects (Colbert, Tate), Underwood has some projects (Giorgi, Higgs). What they did with their first class really doesn't play into this discussion - both brought in large classes + several transfers with Groce getting the slight edge because Malcolm Hill (a Weber recruit, to be fair) + Kendrick Nunn is a little bit better than Ayo + whoever you consider to be the second best player in this class.
But really, if we're comparing these two teams, it's Abrams-Egwu-Bertrand-Rice-Ekey vs. Frazier-Williams-Jordan-Nichols-De La Rosa put up against two things: strength of the program + the schedule.
Strength Of Program
My gut says that Underwood has a larger hole to climb out of, but let's investigate it. One could argue that the first-year rosters were equal and Groce coached his up to a 7-seed and Underwood coached his down to a 14-18 team, but I just don't think that's the case. Groce got a 7-seed on the strength of three seniors (Brandon Paul, DJ Richardson, and Tyler Griffey) and I just didn't see players like that on last year's roster. Leron Black, yes, but I don't put anyone else in that class.
Perhaps the best way to do this is to look at the KenPom of the four years leading up to these Year Twos With Major Roster Turnover we're discussing. Here's how it breaks down:
I think this more or less answers the question of "why are expectations so much lower?". Recent KenPom Average going into Groce's second season: 47th. Recent KenPom Average going into Underwood's second season: 88th. Yes, that's influenced by Groce putting up a 7-seed and Underwood putting up 14-18, but again, the program Groce inherited was in much better shape to win right away*.
*Asterisk of all asterisks: Neither was acceptable for Illinois Basketball. Bruce Weber inherited a program that was 8th in 2002 and 5th in 2003 and was fired when it was at 76th in 2012. That's the true source of all of this.
OK, there's one more thing to look at:
Underwood is 2-6 through eight games (!!!). Groce was 7-1 through eight games in 2013/14 and finished 18-13. Major advantage Groce, right? Well, to analyze that we have to look at schedule and I'll use KenPom again.
Alabama State #298
Jacksonville State #309
Chicago State #284
@Georgia Tech #114
Iowa State #17
@Notre Dame #55
So, yeah, this team is probably 7-1 with the 2013/14 schedule and the 2013/14 team is probably 2-6 with this current schedule. I feel like the 2013/14 team wouldn't have lost to Georgetown (Nnanna would have shut down the lane), but I feel like this current team wouldn't have lost to Georgia Tech (remember how awful that game was?).
The bigger question though - would this team have won 18 games in 2013/14? - and I think the answer is "absolutely not". So then we have to apply the handicap (the 13/14 team had a better returning roster, the program was in better shape) to finally get to a point where we can evaluate the original premise: if John Groce could take a completely new team to 18-13, why is Brad Underwood getting the excuse of "the whole roster turned over"?
It's a really good question. 18 wins was boosted by the schedule and the roster, but as of right now, this Illini team appears to be headed for something like nine wins. Actually let's run down another tangent and THEN get to our conclusion.
As of right now, I think the Illini finish the non-conference with three wins and one loss. Wins over East Tennessee State and Florida Atlantic, split with UNLV and Missouri. So that's 5-6 in the non-conference.
Then how many conference wins do you see? There were four last year, and this team appears to be significantly worse than last year's team, so are we looking at three? Two? If it's three, that's 8-23 going into the conference tournament. Eight. And. Twenty-Three. I mean, we tossed around 12 wins or 13 wins before the season and it felt so gross. To get to 13 wins now? We'd likely need to go 8-12 in conference play. Is there any possible way we go 8-12 in conference play? I can't see it.
So while Groce had the advantage of a better "five" (as described above), and while Groce had a much easier non-conference schedule, I do think Hoppy brings up a great point. John Groce coached a team that lost eight guys from the year before and still got to 7-11 in the Big Ten. Brad Underwood is coaching a team with six departures (off a roster of 11, not 13) and likely won't get anywhere near seven Big Ten wins.
Yes, to be fair, the six losses are to six top-100 KenPom teams, and Groce already had a loss to #114 Georgia Tech at this point. And yes, I should let this season play out before I make declarations like "no chance at seven conference wins". A young team like this will be better by February (a young team like this had better be better by February). So yes, we can't really compare compare until the season is complete.
But for now, with the above statistics, handing Underwood a handicap that's fair, I think the goal for him would be a 14-17 regular season. Allow for the schedules and the rosters and that would be an equal coaching performance to 2013/14's 18-13 record, in my view.
And there's no CHANCE we get there, right?