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):
2. V. Brown
Top 10 players in the class, Tom Cruise Rankings (bold for players who started the game as true freshmen on Saturday):
2. V. Brown
3. S. Brown
Two things to acknowledge here:
- 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.
- 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).
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.