Slapdash


Robert
Sep 05, 2018
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19 Comments

I'm still completely broken by the Dudek news. Any time I think about Illini football (which is all the time) my stomach twists. Which means I don't really know what to write about, and when that happens, I have a personal rule: just start writing. We call these Slapdash posts around here.

Follow The Cruises

So I've finally reached the point where I have a Tom Cruise rating for the full roster. If you're unfamiliar, back in 2013, at some point after Nick Allegretti and Mikey Dudek had already verballed to the 2014 class, I started the Looks LIke University Of Illinois series where I would rate every Illini recruit. And unlike the current star system which (roughly) rates 2% of players as 5-stars, 8% as 4-stars, 60% as 3-stars, and 30% as 2-stars (with zero 1-stars for some reason), I try to rate players anywhere from 5 Cruises to 0.5 Cruises. The film is out there, the offer lists are out there - it should be fairly easy to do an accurate rating system and differentiate between the "high chance this kid is a contributor" recruits and the "low chance" kids.

But I found that's mostly impossible for Illinois classes to be accurately rated, especially on the football side. At their core, the websites doing the ratings are "selling" them. And it would be the dumbest business model in the world if they gave an accurate 1.5-star rating to a Florida State commit - they'd lose subscriber after subscriber. So I get why they rarely give out 2-star ratings and why they bump a player when he commits to Florida State or LSU or some other team site with a massive fanbase. Accurate ratings would be financial suicide. It's a safe hedge (if a kid picks Florida State, there's a great chance that he's pretty good), so rank accordingly.

For a team like Illinois - bottom of the college football barrel for more than 25 years now - it's then very difficult to get accurate ratings. Especially when a player commits early. We've been over this before. Mike Epstein had no chance at an accurate rating after committing to Illinois as a high school sophomore. Nick Allegretti committed in March before any big offers came along. Epstein was chosen as the player of the year in South Florida (over what - 70 four-star and five-star recruits?), and Nick Allegretti was selected for the US Army All American Game, but again, they committed to Illinois early. No chance they'd be rated anything more than a mid-to-low three-star.

So I set out to produce accurate ratings for Illini football and basketball players (basketball is much more accurate, I think, given that there are basically 150 players to identify as true high-major players and then everyone else is pretty much just bunched into an "others" group beyond that). I knew that football ratings could be improved simply by finding the Allegrettis of the world and letting Illini fans know that they're getting a much better player than someone ranked 20th in the state. The information is right there. It's fairly easy to separate high-impact recruits from low-impact recruits. The recruiting game (and the money made off the recruiting game) just gets in the way.

And while it's way too early to stake this claim, I'd like to point out my Cruise rankings for the 2018 class.

Top 10 players in the class, 247 Composite (bold for players who started the game as true freshmen on Saturday):

1. Avery
2. V. Brown
3. Unije
4. Taylor
5. Tolson
6. Slaughter
7. Rivers
8. Myers
9. Pearl
10. Sandy

Top 10 players in the class, Tom Cruise Rankings (bold for players who started the game as true freshmen on Saturday):

1. Avery
2. V. Brown
3. S. Brown
4. Martin
5. Barker
6. Myers
7. Ware
8. Holmes
9. Wyatt
10. Tolson

Two things to acknowledge here:

  1. Small players get on the field before big players. As in, defensive backs play before offensive linemen. Most of those linemen need years of strength training before they're ready for Big Ten football; a cornerback can be "ready" in a month once he learns the scheme. So yes, in five years, when we look back at this class, it might be that Jordyn Slaughter and MJ Rivers were much more valuable to the team than Sydney Brown and Daniel Barker.
  2. This is a little bit lucky. I totally whiffed on guys like Bennett Williams and Isaiah Gay last year. There's a lot of "here's my scorecard on holes 4 through 6 - check it out, birdie, par, par!" going on here.

My point: having analyzed the full roster and given them ratings (well, everyone but a few of the redshirt seniors who committed before I started doing this in 2013), I feel pretty good so far about how this experiment has worked out. I really do think Alex Palczewski, 0-star nobody when we offered, is better than Reuben Unije, 4-star with an Oklahoma offer (who I gave two Tom Cruises and faced a lot of tomatoes flying my way) now that I've seen both on the practice field. I've found it to be very simple to identify which players are significantly underrated (like my last two Asamoah Awards - Mike Epstein and Quan Martin). I've had tons of misses so far, but the overall theme ("it's much easier to determine which players are future starters than the star system/recruiting sites would make you think") seems to have been proven true. Again, I'm not some fantastic film evaluator. I just realized that there were obvious things being intentionally overlooked (mostly so a Florida State cornerback recruit can get a fourth star).

Zzzzzzzzzzz

In the areas of the Illini internet where I hang out, I'm not sure I've ever seen this little interest in basketball recruiting. There's interest, yes, but compared to the last 30 years of my life (and my last 20 years following Illini basketball recruiting online), I'm not sure I can remember this little buzz.

Last year, for the first visits (Landers Nolley and Colin Castleton), there was all kinds of buzz everywhere. We all felt good about Ayo, we were all eyeing Nolley and Castleton (with many obsessing over Talen Horton-Tucker) - Underwood's recruiting was at the front of our minds.

Now? Now I'm not sure I've seen less buzz. I think it's because most fans have reached "I'll believe it when I see it?"

As you know, historically, Illini fans have followed basketball recruiting maybe three times more than football recruiting. I've observed this so many times in my online Illini life. I'll state that Nick Allegretti is making a decision soon, and the reaction will be "who?". I'll then say that Te'Jon Lucas is supposedly close to committing and someone will say "do you think a late offer from Marquette might come in and derail the whole thing for us?". It simply follows our sports history - Illini basketball lands the studs; Illini football (mostly) does not.

Which is why I'm surprised to see so little buzz around Anthony Walker's visit yesterday. Who? EXACTLY. That's my point. A player listed as a composite 4-star, whose high school teammate Anthony Higgs is already enrolled in Champaign, is possibly the answer to all of our "love these guards, but what are we doing about the frontcourt?" fears, and yet there seems to be very little buzz anywhere. Even friends who text me from time to time about basketball recruiting ("Did you see Castleton in the pressbox during the football game? Does his frame look like he can add some weight?") have been dead silent. Honestly, the only question I've been asked is "do you think we land Liddell?".

And it's not just Walker that made me think this. Alan Griffin's 5-star (yes, 5-star) younger brother visited last week (unofficially - he's a class of 2020 recruit) and I barely saw it anywhere on the Illini internet (maybe I'm looking in the wrong places, but these have been the same places for 10+ years). We have pretty good connection to a springy forward (played HS ball with one of our current freshmen) and a 5-star guard (brother of one of our current freshmen), and in my observation, the fanbase cares significantly less than the fanbase cared about Nolley and Castleton this time last year.

Is it recruiting fatigue? Boy Who Cried Wolf? Simple Illini Basketball fatigue ("wake me when we're good again")? I'm not sure what changed, but it feels like people care significantly less.

Comments

CAIllini on September 05 @ 01:37 PM CDT

I'd agree the recruiting thread at IL certainly has a different vibe than the last few years where everyone was salivating for details on each official visit and generally hopeful or at least interested. Now there's just a handful of folks arguing about how bad we really have been the last decade or so....I still check in on it, but don't expect to hear much.

Keep up the good work with your Tom Cruises, it's a nice independent data source vs. the big sites rankings.

WeatherfordForMVP on September 05 @ 06:58 PM CDT

Robert, I wasn’t following you as closely when you started the Cruises. Let me ask: what’s the story behind the “Tom Cruise” rating system? I mean, why not Mel Gibson’s or Julia Roberts? Ooh, Tom Sellecks!

Seriously, I am curious about the origin. :)

San Joaquin on September 05 @ 08:16 PM CDT

See his "Alioneye" twitter account. He has the answer posted there...

Illinimac68 on September 05 @ 08:40 PM CDT

It's from the scene in "Risky Business" where Tom Cruise's character is embarrassed in front of a Princeton rep and says "Looks like the University of Illinois."

Bear8287 on September 08 @ 05:44 PM CDT

enter image description here

Video clip here (note does contain profanity).

track on September 05 @ 08:42 PM CDT

Re basketball recruiting, compared to the past, the recruiting focus is more national as opposed to Illinois centric. So maybe the fan base doesn't have the emotional ties to recruits that we've had in the past.

Nashvegas Illini on September 05 @ 09:33 PM CDT

Thank you Robert for the slapdash. I believe in the Tom Cruise rating system and I wait impatiently ever time a kids commits to see what you think.

As for basketball, I have a hard time really understanding what we need. I know we can use more athleticism across the board but we literally just replaced the whole team and it seems like Underwood is going to recruit over guys and encourage guys to leave early. So when you say "love these guards" I think is Ayo even going to stay for a second year? Is that the position we need the most? Or do we hope we get 2 years out of Ayo and pray that we land Andy Miller in 2020?

Lou-a-villini on September 05 @ 11:45 PM CDT

It’s Adam Miller. Way to make Robert’s point.

Bear8287 on September 08 @ 05:52 PM CDT

:-D

Maybe he really meant Andy Samberg...

enter image description here

WeatherfordForMVP on September 05 @ 11:27 PM CDT

I think the overwhelming consensus is we need to get stronger in the frontcourt. But I don’t follow recruiting in either sport particularly closely.

Thanks for the Cruise explanation!

IBFan on September 06 @ 01:12 AM CDT

Just knew the TC rating of our beloved we be better/more accurate. Mom's PBJ was always better than the lunch lady concoction too. Sometimes you can just taste the love.

Groundhogday on September 06 @ 08:05 AM CDT

Interesting observation regarding basketball recruiting. I hadn't noticed but now that you mention it, recruiting really has gone silent. There is the usual bickering, but more than anything else fans aren't very optimistic about landing our current targets. No commitments to date, and it doesn't look like we are particularly close to landing a commitment any time soon. That feels unusual. And there aren't any signs we are leading for any of the guys coming in for visits which also feels unusual.

Normally there is quite a bit of excitement in the chase and arguing about who we should prioritize. After the staff whiffed on the 2017 fall class outside of Ayo, there is some trepidation about who, if ANYONE, we will sign this fall?

Sweetchuck13 on September 06 @ 08:28 AM CDT

I think another factor, at least for me, is that I've gotten tired of the "spin" from some of the writers close to the team who seem to be putting out the opinions of the staff. We had it with Groce and it seems to continue with Underwood - that the staff will let it leak to a few select writers about how confident they feel about a certain kid. And then the kid will inevitably choose somewhere else. Then we'll get the "full story" about how Mom really liked us but the coach was more influential, etc.

I know why some of the subscription sites do this, but it seems like it can only happen so many times before you get burned. At some point you need true honest assessments - not just spin. I wonder if that cycle has worn on a few other people too. In a way it was more fun when we didn't get any insight into what the staff thought - and the message boards were all based on rumors and conjecture.

San Joaquin on September 06 @ 11:58 AM CDT

Sweetchuck on to something here. Some of the local scribes will publicize complete non news ("Illinois offers X" or "pay for my crystal ball pick despite the fact that X is 100% leaning to school Y"), and then put anything that might carry substance behind a subscription, which itself turns out to be no news. Lot more fluff to wade through these days. With Underwood filling his roster so late last year, I more and more do not care about the rumor mill until they sign. By the time that happens, I can read the LLUOI posts which I often enjoy more than the other stuff anyway.

Groundhogday on September 06 @ 02:51 PM CDT

Good insight. Coaches always blow a lot of smoke, but this staff perhaps smokes too much of their own product. I get the sense they really did think Okoro was ours to lose - and we didn't even get a visit! They really did think there was a real chance the east coach elite big men would be interested in Illinois, now we never even here about those guys.

But regardless of whether writers are pawns in the disinformation game or the coaches can't assess their standing with recruits, as fans we've become really cynical.

And to be honest, it isn't just about recruiting. After all the preseason hype around Mark Smith, even AFTER the coaches watched him practice through the summer and early fall, I find it very hard to believe anything they say about the incoming freshmen.

Groundhogday on September 06 @ 08:05 AM CDT

Interesting observation regarding basketball recruiting. I hadn't noticed but now that you mention it, recruiting really has gone silent. There is the usual bickering, but more than anything else fans aren't very optimistic about landing our current targets. No commitments to date, and it doesn't look like we are particularly close to landing a commitment any time soon. That feels unusual. And there aren't any signs we are leading for any of the guys coming in for visits which also feels unusual.

Normally there is quite a bit of excitement in the chase and arguing about who we should prioritize. After the staff whiffed on the 2017 fall class outside of Ayo, there is some trepidation about who, if ANYONE, we will sign this fall?

greenbergj23 on September 06 @ 09:39 AM CDT

Yes we have a connection with both those players but i feel like the educated fan who suscribes to boards understands neither of these visits were commit watch visits. Castleton and Nolley were maybes. When Liddell comes next month (hopefully) were the last visit so something will happen after. Good or bad.

Groundhogday on September 07 @ 01:41 PM CDT

And of course now there is some doubt about whether Liddell will actually come on that visit.

Bear8287 on September 08 @ 06:08 PM CDT

Until Illinois basketball becomes "Illinois Basketball" again, it's likely to be an uphill battle. 5 years without a trip to the NCAA tourney and perennial bottom half of the conference and most recruits are going to want to see some signs of promise first.

Probably have the best shot at kids who aren't being offered by Duke, Kansas, Kentucky or North Carolina. There can even be a legitimate case why they would be a better fit at Illinois, but as a 17 year old being offered by one of those programs do you really turn it down? Who wants to be the next Malcolm Hill?

I think Brad Underwood has the potential to get the Illini back into being relevant again, but this program has been awful lately. Groce had some luxury of at least a modicum of recent success at Illinois to recruit on. BU has nada. There are some promising players on the roster and BU coaches a style of play that can be successful and that's attractive to recruits. I'm still optimistic that he can turn this around, but it might be a while before we can grab more Ayo-like ranked players.

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