Slapdash - Sick Edition
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.
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.