I am a roster projector. I've been like this for decades. When a new basketball recruiting class signs, I'll immediately "so then in 2020 when these freshmen are juniors he can be the backup two guard and maybe get minutes at the three...". But it's getting really hard to do that with all this player movement.
Since we do this "large class every other year" thing, let's look at those odd-year classes (because there was only Finke, Black, and Lucas in the even-year classes). The 2013 class saw three players make it all the way through (Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan, and Jaylon Tate) but two (Kendrick Nunn and Austin Colbert) did not. The 2015 class only has one guy left (Aaron Jordan) as Jalen Coleman-Lands and DJ Williams transferred while Darius Paul was kicked off the team (a second time) after smashing Ferrari windshields on the Europe trip. And now the 2017 class has already lost its first player: Mark Smith.
To compound that, there might be some filler recruits on the roster right now and I can't exactly put them on future rosters. For example, last summer, desperate for a big man but out of options given that the 2017 recruiting cycle had closed, Brad Underwood looked to Slovenia to find Matic Vesel. Is Vesel a player that fits in the future of this program or a filler recruit who won't last four years? I'm not sure we can answer that.
To make things even worse, there might be more transfers than Mark Smith. This article suggests there might be "as many as four other players transferring". (!!) And if that's the case, man, I won't be able to project a roster for at least 24 more months. At that point we're basically 2008-09 Indiana (or 2017-18 Pittsburgh) - everyone leaves, you're completely starting over, there's maybe seven or eight scholarship players on the roster with the majority being first year players, and something like 6-25 (IU) or 8-24 (Pitt) should be expected.
But let's not talk about that. Let's act like everything is fine and rumors are just rumors. Let's talk about what losing Mark Smith means. I think it's a massive loss.
If you've read my basketball posts before, you know where I'm going: RSCI. I live by it. Get a decent number or RSCI top-100 recruits, you win. Fail to get many RSCI recruits, you lose. 2005: eight RSCI recruits. By 2008, down to two. Also, down to 14 wins.
Next year's team was going to have five: Leron Black, Jalen Coleman-Lands, DJ Williams, Mark Smith, and Ayo Dosunmu. JCL and DJW left. Now Mark Smith is leaving. And we're back to two.
Yes, it's not that simple. DJ Williams staying in Champaign instead of transferring to George Washington probably didn't cost us a bunch of wins. It's not as simple as "every RSCI Top-100 recruit will get you more wins than every 3-star recruit". Trent Frazier (unranked) was better than Mark Smith (ranked).
But accumulating a large number of top-100 players is the single best way to win. We won when we had Bruce Douglas and Efrem Winters and then we won when we had Nick Anderson and Marcus Liberty and then we won when we had Frank Williams and Brian Cook and then we won when we had Deron Williams and Dee Brown. Land highly-ranked players (like Ayo), pair it with good coaching, win.
Which is why losing 2017 Mr. Basketball in Illinois is a big blow. Yes, his numbers dropped dramatically once he hit the Big Ten portion of the schedule and he lost his starting job. Yes, he was supposed to be a shooter but only shot 23% from three. Yes, the main takeaway from his freshman year was "can muscle his way to the hoop against DePaul and Marshall but once the competition increased, that door was closed". I understand all of that. He entered the Wake Forest game averaging 12 points per game and finished the season averaging 6 points per game. I get it.
But he was just a freshman. And he was Mr. Basketball with offers from Kentucky, Duke, and Michigan State. And freshmen almost always get better. And he'll now do that "get better" thing somewhere else.
Look, on the surface, for next year, I guess it's not that big of a hit. If there's a place where we had depth it's at guard. Assuming everyone else stays (I can assume everyone else stays, right?), you lose the Marks (Alstork and Smith), you add Ayo and Alan Griffin (Ayo will play a lot, Griffin maybe just a little), and you keep on keepin' on. The future of the backcourt is Ayo + Trent with Da'Monte as the glue guy. If Lucas can provide assists and defense (and Griffin can provide three point shooting), great. But the future rests on Ayo + Trent.
Still, I thought Smith was going to be that get-to-the-free-throw-line bulldozer we've been missing. And I still think he's going to be that guy - just somewhere else. And that's really depressing.
Which is where I land at the end of this internal back-and-forth. It's depressing. It means next year will be worse. And if we don't find a comparable player in the 2019 class (that 2019 freshman would have to be better than junior-year Mark Smith), it might mean the next three seasons are worse because of this decision. Ten months ago I'm driving to Edwardsville for his commitment ceremony and celebrating with my friend Ben at a bar afterwards (I was so geeked up that I bet Ben we'd make the Tournament this year because of Smith's verbal). And now he's gone and we're 14-18 and I hate everything.
Something good happen. Soon. Please.