Slapdash - Sick Edition

Feb 05, 2018

I've been sick. Like, sick sick. Like, lose 5.5 lbs in 48 hours sick. Pretty much from Friday afternoon until around the time of the Ohio State game, I was in bed taking advantage of the fact that my wife is a nurse. I think I spent around 42 consecutive hours in bed?

Anyway, I wanted to get started on my Signing Day post for Wednesday (it's always a big deal for me - a blogging anniversary post), but I was too sick to type. Like, if I'm too sick to write about Illinois, I'm SICK. Thankfully, things cleared up today, I left the bed and actually watched the Ohio State game in the living room, and now I feel fine. Especially after watching the Patriots lose.

I now return to the keyboard with so many things to write about. The Ohio State game. Three football commitments today. Signing Day coming up on Wednesday. I think this post will be a quick recap of everything in my brain before I really sit down to break down the football verbals.

All Eyes On Merlin

At his first Signing Day press conference last February, Lovie Smith made a declaration: he expected his 2018 class to be better than his 2017 class. So where are we on that?

Rankings-wise, it's going to come down to one player - four-star linebacker Merlin Robertson who will choose between Illinois and Arizona State on Wednesday. If he lands Merlin, he pulled it off. If he doesn't, he didn't.

Here are the numbers. Lovie's class last year ranked 43rd nationally on Signing Day and fell to 46th once all of the rankings settled in the spring. Right now, with the three commitments today, his class is ranked 48th in the composite rankings (and that ranking will likely slide a few spots once other schools add players on Signing Day). So that falls just short of the target.

However, if he adds Merlin, the class moves to 40th nationally (with a higher point total than last year's class). At that point, yes, Lovie would have the data to back up a claim of "this class is better than my first class".

Now, in the only rankings that matter - the Tom Cruises - I'm pretty sure he's going to fall short. I have to dig into the film of the three players from today, but as of December, he was well short of meeting last year's average-Cruise ratings. Those are honest evaluations of the players when they verbal - simply my opinion (there are four-stars I've given two Cruises and two-stars I've given four Cruises) - and I think it's going to fall short of last year's class (a class I loved on film and loved even more once I saw them in person).

So.. stay tuned. The Crystal Ball seems to indicate that Merlin will head to Arizona State. And if that's the case... well, we'll talk about that on Wednesday.

Fight Club

Another good fight from Brad Underwood's team today. I know that it doesn't mean anything - as Tyler said on Twitter, this was as simple as "Ohio State had KBD and we didn't", so until we add elite talent "fight" doesn't really matter - but it's an encouraging thing for the future. These players A) play with a purpose and B) seem to know what they're doing. They might not be very good at it, and when a superstar like Keita Bates-Diop or Miles Bridges is out there on the court you can see how far we are from competing at the highest level, but you can't really say they're not fighting for it.

Let's start with KBD. I went back and looked up what I wrote when he picked Ohio State:

Keita Bates-Diop from Normal University High, #20 on Rivals' 2014 rankings, #27 on Scout, #27 on ESPN, picked Ohio State today. That. Hurts. I can stomach Chicago kids going elsewhere - everybody recruits Chicago. But a downstate top-30 kid? We HAVE to find a way to secure that verbal.

Am I being too dramatic? Probably - always am. But look at it this way. Take the 2001 team. Now, take Frank Williams (downstate, ranked in the 20's nationally) off that team. Still feel good about us reaching the Elite Eight? Or how about 2003. What if Brian Cook (ranked around 20, from Lincoln) had picked Ohio State? Take away his 20.0 ppg, and that team is probably too young to contend. Even last year's team was led by a downstate top-20 kid in Meyers Leonard. And now he's in the NBA.

My point: I don't expect four and five star kids to join Illini football - we're just not competitive. But I do expect them to choose Illinois in basketball. Some of the Chicago kids, but all of the downstate kids. We have to get them. And we didn't today.

And if any fans know about missing out on in-state talent, it's Illini basketball fans the last seven years. Sherron Collins? Helped Kansas to a national title. Jon Scheyer? Helped Duke to a national title. Evan Turner, he of "Illinois is my leader"? National Player of the Year at Ohio State. We corrected that later in the Weber years, keeping DJ and Brandon and Meyers and Jereme home, but with players like Sam Thompson heading to Ohio State and now KBD, the players that made us so great 10 years ago are moving to Ohio.

Do I expect to get an Anthony Davis or a Jabari Parker? Not really. Players from Illinois that climb to #1 nationally don't ever pick Illinois (I think Marcus Liberty was the only one in history). But I expect to compete for the Evan Turners and the Sam Thompsons and the Keita Bates-Diops. And they all picked Ohio State.

If there was ever a game for my "recruiting is basketball" stance, it was this game. Without KBD, I think Illinois maybe wins by 20. We came out on fire, endured a 10-minute drought at the end of the first half to somehow take a four-point lead late in the second half, and went into the final 3:30 of the game tied and hoping to pull out a win. Take KBD out of that game and we go into the final four minutes with a 17 point lead.

But that's how college basketball works. When you have one superstar you can endure your entire team playing like crap (and let's be honest - everyone else on Ohio State was mediocre-to-crap) and still pull out a win. One guy, with 35 points and 13 rebounds, can just single-handedly win a game. Like Frank used to do. Or Brian Cook. And, hopefully, Ayo.

Even with KBD going off and the meltdown in the final three minutes to lose, I still felt positive about this game. With all postseason opportunities gone but basically the entire team returning next year, this is about prepping for the 2018/19 season. And I felt pretty good today about how far we've come.

I know I talk about the EIU exhibition a lot, but I feel like we've seen a lot of growth since that game. When EIU made their run in the second half of that game and the EIU crowd was deafening, I wrote at the time that our players looked scared. Arguing with each other, blaming each other (well, not "blaming" but a pass would be thrown away and the receiver would look at the passer with a "what was that for?") - Brad Underwood said that night that he felt like the team had a long way to go confidence-wise.

I think they've come a long way. They stood toe-to-toe with #17 on the road and went into the under-four timeout tied and ready for an upset. It wasn't to be, but I feel like the progress we've seen since the MSU game has continued.

Next up - we MUST beat Wisconsin at home on Thursday.


Bear8287 on February 05 @ 01:50 AM CST

I left the bed and actually watched the Ohio State game in the living room, and now I feel fine.

Really? Dang you're tough.

Especially after watching the Patriots lose.

Oh, okay. Now I get it. :-D

Hope you're all the way back soon.

Bear8287 on February 05 @ 01:56 AM CST

Oh, you should probably also include Jalen Brunson. Lincolnshire is a lot more like Gurnee than either is like Chicago...

[edit] Looking back now with the inclusion of Jon Scheyer on the list (and rightfully so), going out from the city it's Northbrook (Scheyer), Lincolnshire (Brunson) and then Gurnee (Paul).

Groce's recruiting of Brunson was a total debacle, especially after thinking that he had Quentin Snider on board.

bkenny on February 05 @ 01:27 PM CST

Wait, what? "Thinking he had Quentin Snider on board." If someone verbally commits to your school, are you not supposed to think you have said player "on board"?

He changed his mind the night before/morning of, so I'm not sure what point you're trying to make here. If Snider is on board, Brunson isn't coming here and you're not chasing him down. Pretty simple.

Bear8287 on February 06 @ 12:03 AM CST

If someone verbally commits to your school, are you not supposed to think you have said player "on board"?

You mean like this one?

Quentin Snider commits to Louisville
By Mike Rutherford@CardChronicle
Aug 4, 2011, 10:39pm EDT
Quentin Snider, the rising sophomore point guard at Ballard High School who ran the show for the Louisville Magic this summer, has committed to Rick Pitino and Louisville.

Well, yeah, you got me there. In the end he did honor that verbal.

bkenny on February 06 @ 04:54 PM CST

Nice straw man you got going there.

If you can't tell the difference between a decommitment in July, 3+ months before signing day and a decommitment ON SIGNING DAY, I can't help you.

Yeah, sure got me.

Bear8287 on February 08 @ 11:05 AM CST

So you were surprised when the home town kid who grew up wanting to play for the home town team and had originally verballed to that coach and team at the last minute changes his mind and decides that he'd really rather follow that dream than play for John Groce?

Frankly, I don't really get the rationale behind dropping the recruitment of JB before having QS signed.

BU has Ayo on board, so we're not going to recruit any top-notch PG's for 2019? (JB and QS weren't in the same recruiting class. You know that right?). Not like the Illini have ever had any success with mulitple guards (cough Dee, Deron, Luther).

My feeling was the Illini had about as much of a chance with QS as they did with Demetrius Jackson. How did that turn out? Why chase a kid who has grown up wanting to play for a big name home town school and drop recruiting of an in-state guy?

It sounds like Groce actually did a pretty phenomenal job after the initial botched handling and that after JB's official visit, JB actually wanted to commit to Illinois and that it was his dad, Rick Brunson, who convinced Jalen that he should also take his official visit to Villanova. And as they say, the rest is history...

Illini fans might have learned all they needed to know about Groce's recruiting after Groce's former boss swooped in and took KBD right out from under his nose. So who was the "master" recruiter at OSU? How much better would the Illini look this season with that player from Illinois on the roster?

orangejulius on February 05 @ 11:44 AM CST

Regarding Lovie Smith, aren't we paying for a little bit better recruiting than 50th in the Nation, or should we be satisfied with what he has accomplished thus far. We're still getting lots of guys with hardly a sniff from another Power 5 school.

Also, with a 2-9 conference record, is the Brad Underwood honeymoon over yet? Will this abysmal season poison the remainder of his tenure? Since you mention talent, how does Jalen Coleman-Lands and his 40% career 3-point shooting end up at DePaul. One of our major recruiting accomplishments in the past 5 years, and what did we do (or not do) to try and keep him? He would have solved a major problem on this roster..

AHSIllini32 on February 05 @ 12:16 PM CST

We hired Lovie Smith. Not Jesus Christ. Lovie's recruited pretty darn well considering the trash fire he inherited. There's some DUDES he's recruited and this '19 class is where you're really hoping for the breakout class. You hired Lovie to steadily lead a turnaround and recruit guys we had no shot at before. We won't know about the first part for another year or two but we've already made good progress on the second part. The guys we've gotten that haven't "sniffed" another power 5 offer have turned out to be pretty good for the most part.

I hate the term "honeymoon" when talking about new coaching hires. Why would his first season (with seven games plus the BTT left) mar the rest of his tenure? JCL didn't want to stay. It's been reported that he marches to the beat of his own drum so to speak. I'm not 100% sure he would've put in the necessary work to be as good defensively as Underwood would want. Could be wrong but I doubt it.

illiniranger on February 05 @ 10:22 PM CST

Ron Zook has the 27th best class coming off a first year 2-10 campaign and the 22nd best class the next year coming off a 2-10 campaign.

I think it’s a reasonable expectation that Lovie not recruit inbthe Bottom 3 of the league. A lot comes down to Robertson. A lot comes down to Lovie doing much better with the ‘19 class and his high risk - high reward Patterson hire payoff (I agree with Robert on the risks of the Patterson hire although I think the potential payoff is worth it.)

Lovie Smith and his staff are paid too much money for excuses about needing more time. The time is now. He needs to execute.

AHSIllini32 on February 06 @ 11:14 AM CST

I'm not saying they "need more time". Lovie's first recruiting class was ranked top 40-45 depending on site. Our composite ranking last year was 10th in the conference and on par with schools like Michigan State and Iowa in terms of average ranking. I don't give a rip what Zook did. How many of those kids Zook recruited never made it campus? How many never contributed?

Lovie and staff have also shown a good ability to land undervalued kids who showed they might be pretty darn good.

Pound your fist and deal in absolutes all you want but the fact remains that Lovie is upgrading the talent, significantly so in a handful of positions, with the potential for a program changing class in '19. Will he? Who knows but odds suggest we have a better chance than not.

San Joaquin on February 07 @ 09:16 AM CST

Agreed. Lovie doing very well based on the state of the program that Beckman carpet bombed with ineptitude. Lovie also good at recognizing needs. This year, he needed QBs, OL and LB more than anything. With this class he did a good job with QBs and OL. It is a long shot but Robertson would be fantastic get as a LB. 2019 needs to be the year of the LB as the primary need.

orangejulius on February 07 @ 03:42 PM CST

You should care about what Zook did because he was the last coach to get us to the Rose Bowl. Care to guess when will be the next time we'll make it there? I've never been impressed with Lovie's game managing skills; see years 1-2 for that; so he's gotta recruit, and Class 1 was good; this class is a big disappointment. I have the sense that dreadful on the field results are a major factor here. It's not easy to recruit to Illinois; but I thought Lovie would make a bigger impact than he has.

ahamm445 on February 06 @ 11:47 AM CST

Ron Zook was already a big time recruiter and he was know for that, not his coaching. Illinois also wasn’t nearly as down back then compared to today with the last two coaches being Tim Beckman..... smh and bill cubit. I think cubit was alright but Beckman was a true joke. Lovies young guys already are better than anything either of those coaches brought in and Lovie can evaluate talent better than any coach we’ve had period. Changing schemes takes time to happen, because the players we need for our system, were the opposite of what Lovie inherited. Give him time. He understands football better than any coach Illinois could dream if having.

Joe Edge on February 08 @ 06:28 PM CST

With regards to our 'program' not just to Lovie, I like the example Josh gave when asked whether or not he was still confident. He used an analogy about participating in a race, a marathon. The really great runners are at the start line, and the average (or in our case below average) guys are sometimes nearly an hour back of that start line. AND BTW, I do believe that the hole we dug for ourselves was that deep. AND when you dig a hole with a bulldozer, it takes a long time to fill it back in with a shovel....

Schlepper on February 05 @ 03:22 PM CST

I wouldn't lump Scheyer into that group. That kid was always going to Duke and we never had a chance.

Bear8287 on February 05 @ 11:46 PM CST

From everything I've heard, that appears to be a true statement. What's a bit ironic about this though is that he played for Bruce Weber's brother at Glenbrook North...

Norcal Illini on February 05 @ 11:47 PM CST

I wish I had the same level of optimism you have. The Jekyll & Hyde play and 33 free throws to 17 are the reason for the loss. After going up 30-15 with 10+ minutes to go in the first half, we had 8 turnovers, 6 missed 3-pointers, no free throws and no points until a minute into the second half. Meanwhile tOSU scored 20 points. KBD had a great game, but better play toward the end of the first half would have kept the lead and possibly led to a win. Maybe with more experience together, this will change, unfortunately but it has been a trend all season.

Bear8287 on February 06 @ 12:25 AM CST

Overly simplified analysis, but I think it does strengthen your statement about losing the game at the free throw line.

In the B1G play so far this season the Illini are averaging 73.64 pts/game and the opposition is averaging 77.82 pts/game. On average the Illini are -4.18 pts/game.

If we look at free throws during the B1G so far, opponents have shot 296 free throws to the Illini's 192. This has led to a difference of 221 free throws made by opponents to 141 made by the Illini. The net difference per game here is -7.27 pts per game.

Minus the free throw difference the Illini are actually +3.09 pts/game. Thinking about all of the close games this team has lost so far this season it's not hard to imagine this team being more like 6-5 this season if they actually were just even at the free throw line.

Douglascountyillinifan on February 06 @ 09:25 AM CST

I haven't been able to watch as much as I would like, #dancedadproblems, so I have a question for you. Do we really foul too much or are we being called for more questionable offenses than our opponent? A case in point is the Mizzou game. The first half was a beautiful thing, the zebras for the most part swallowed their whistles and the game flowed well. In the second half, every ticky tack foul got called and it became a choppy, nearly unwatchable quagmire of a ft shooting contest. Of course i'm biased, but it seems like just about every 50/50 call this year has gone against us when I've been able to watch.

Norcal Illini on February 07 @ 11:05 AM CST

I don’t think it’s your imagination.

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