Get Old, Stay Old

Feb 28, 2019

I always have to adjust to the fact that I'm so jealous of Purdue fans for the programs they get to follow. I grew up seeing them as "beneath us" (in both sports), so adjusting to admiring their lofty status (as compared to us) is difficult. As much as I hate to say it, in the press conference last night, Matt Painter described how I see college athletics better than maybe any coach I've heard. This statement does not mean "Brad Underwood doesn't get it" - I think he'll get there - but Painter seems to absolutely get it.

In talking about Illinois in the postgame press conference - noting that the final score didn't indicate how much of a dogfight this game was for them - Painter talked about what Underwood would need to rebuild the Illinois program. I couldn't agree more with these words:

"You've got to be able to get old and stay old. That experience really, really helps guys. I think they've obviously made a huge step. This was a dogfight. You can look at the final score, but this was a dogfight. That's the way it is when you play his teams."

Referencing recruiting, he continued.

"If you have a step back or you're just starting (your program) or whatever, it's because you get a good class, and then maybe you don't get quite the class that you want, and then you get another good class, so there's a gap in there. And so I never look at how good a class is in terms of how it gets ranked. I think it's one of the dumbest things ever. And you guys always pay attention to Illinois and beat that drum and 'gotta get a kid from this area, gotta be ranked here' - that stuff doesn't lead to wins. That stuff doesn't lead to production. That doesn't lead to championships. Getting your guys, two or three classes in a row, and them sticking together, caring for each other and playing hard, that's what wins. And I think they're on the right path."

There's a lot to break down here. I'll start with the first part: Get old, stay old.

How is Purdue going to win the Big Ten this year after losing four senior starters from last year? How on earth can a team start 6-5 and then (most likely) go 17-3 in this Big Ten? Well, get old, stay old. And how do you stay old after losing four senior starters? You have guys like Ryan Cline and Grady Eifert who are fully bought-in to your program and are willing to wait around for four years to make a difference.

Grady Eifert's minutes: 2.5 as a freshman, 2.9 as a sophomore, 8.3 as a junior, 24.9 as a senior.

Ryan Cline's scoring: 3.9 ppg as a freshman, 5.4 ppg as a sophomore, 4.0 ppg as a junior, 12.3 ppg as a senior.

Yes, you have to have a Carsen Edwards. That's indisputable. You're not going to win the Big Ten without recruiting a Carsen Edwards (who was a great find - not even a top-100 recruit). But the key to this whole thing, more than recruiting rankings, more than coaching acumen, is "get old, stay old". Get players who fit into your program and keep them around. Purdue lost four starters and remained "old", led by two seniors, two juniors, two sophomores, and one freshman. Their top recruit, point guard Eric Hunter Jr? Barely plays. Doesn't have to yet.

Now let's apply that to the second part of Painter's quote - the part where he's talking specifically about Brad Underwood. What's he saying? He's saying that once the Illini "get old", they'll be there. Once Brad Underwood is able to find guys for his system, stack classes, and keep guys around, we'll be a hellish opponent to face. Seems very "well, duh", but let's break it down further.

What's the main reason this season started 5-14? To me, it was the departures. Specifically, the departures of Mark Smith, Greg Eboigbodin, and Matic Vesel. That's a bit unfair, but lets go down another level and break that down.

Brad Underwood gets the Illinois job. He inherits a recruiting class of Trent Frazier, Da'Monte Williams, and Jeremiah Tilmon. With the coach he committed to having been fired, Tilmon immediately flips to Missouri. Underwood doesn't have much time as 90% of all recruits have already signed somewhere, but he fills the open scholarships with Mark Smith, Greg Eboigbodin, and Matic Vesel.

If those players are still here - and yes, I know that saying Vesel was a high-major player is a major stretch - but if those players were still here, this season starts better. Senior-year Jalen Coleman-Lands and senior-year DJ Williams probably out-perform freshmen like Alan Griffin and Tevian Jones. It wouldn't be as healthy for the program in the long run, and Griffin and Jones appear to be much better fits for this system than JCL and DJW, but I'm just looking for the math here. If "get old, stay old" is the key, we get an F in "get old" and an INC for "stay old".

Which is why this whole thing pivots on keeping this 2018 class together. Every player that Underwood added in 2017 already left. If that happens again, or if even half of the players look elsewhere, we're sunk. We have to get old.

And then we have to stay old. That was the key to the entire Lou Henson run. Once it was built (and it took a long time, to be fair - NIT the fifth season, NCAA Tournament the sixth), it lived off of being old. There was always a junior or senior you could point to and say it was "their" team.

In fact, the breakout season for Illini basketball (1983/84 Elite Eight team) had a great example of a Ryan Cline or a Grady Eifert. 1982 was a bit of a breakthrough - fifth season for Henson, and finally the postseason (the NIT) with a team led by three seniors: Craig Tucker, James Griffin, and Perry Range. They graduate and is the program going to fall back? No. Now it's junior Derek Harper's team. He has an outstanding season in 1983 and leads the team to it's first NCAA Tournament bid since 1963. But then he's off to the NBA early. Is it over? Nope. Quinn Richardson took a redshirt during that 1983 season and returned as a fifth-year senior in 1984. He and Big George Montgomery combined with the super sophs (Bruce Douglas and Efrem Winters) to lead Illinois to the Elite Eight.

And honestly? That line continued for the next 25 years (with a brief hiatus for Bruce Pearl to do his damage), all the way through Warren Carter. WarCat had very similar numbers to Ryan Cline's numbers above. 1.2 ppg as a freshman, 2.2 as a sophomore, 4.8 as a junior, and then 13.7 as a senior, leading that 2007 team (which had lost Dee and Augie the previous year) to the NCAA Tournament. Each year, for nearly 25 years, the roster was set up to stay old.

And then that disappeared. I'm not here to document Bruce Weber's recruiting struggles again, but just note that it stopped with WarCat, and WarCat was at the end of the line of Bill Self recruits. For whatever reason, we stopped with "get old, stay old". Weber lost it, Groce couldn't rebuild it, now it's Underwood's turn.

To be honest, the early returns haven't been great. He added three recruits his first two months (albeit the "I'll take anyone still available" variety) and all three were gone after his first year. The guys who would have been seniors on this team (JCL, DJW) were gone after his first month of practices. Michael Finke went off to Grand Canyon to play with his brother. Leron Black left after his redshirt junior season. This could have been an "old" team, but player departures killed that.

And if there are more player departures this offseason, we'll be sunk again. The key to this whole thing - just listen to Matt Painter - is to stack classes. Get Griffin and Jones to their senior seasons. Add a wing with Kofi and January and keep them around. Have a solution when Ayo decides to turn pro.

Just keep stacking. Get us some experienced juniors and seniors. Get us to another 1983.

And then go on another 25 year run.


DB50 on February 28 @ 11:45 AM CST

Painter is dead on. Does anyone know how long it took him to get Purdue to relevancy or did he just pickup when Keady exited?

Markschnake1 on February 28 @ 08:03 PM CST

It depends on when you classify him as taking over the program, as he was a Co-HC with Keady his first year.

His co-HC year and then his first year as HC garnered similar records to us this year, sans the strength of schedule.

The next year they got into the tournament. Shortly after that he brought in his top 5 class and they became very relevant.

illini_dave34 on February 28 @ 11:53 AM CST

one of the best articles you've written recently. Aaron Jordan is that senior guy this year. Next year? Likely no one. I don't see Kipper playing a major role.

Then in 2020-2021, it's Trent and Damonte.

In 2021-2022, it's Tevian, Alan, Giorgi, and Samba

Bear8287 on March 02 @ 04:33 PM CST

Aaron brings a lot of intangibles to the game too. Did you know that he is 2nd on the team in blocked shots and rebounds?

I've heard announcers mention his 3 point shooting and for some reason I had the impression that he wasn't shooting as well this season. May have figured that one out. Aaron is 50 for 122 from 3 pt range (41.0%), but he's shooting 20 for 68 (29.4%) from inside the arc. How does someone shoot nearly 12% better from 3 than 2? If he's inside the arc are all of the coaches saying "no, no, no"? :-D

The Illini will miss Aaron's hustle next season, but hopefully some of the younger guys (Tevian Jones, Alan Griffin) will be ready to make that sophomore leap.

illiniranger on February 28 @ 03:51 PM CST

i feel like this analysis is cherry picking a few quotes without any data behind it to support the conclusions. i am going to look at how many txfers the average B1G school has over the last 4-5 years and see if PU is really an outlier or not.

illiniranger on February 28 @ 04:05 PM CST

First, there's no real definition here of "getting old". Let's assume it means years in a coaches system. If "getting old" means that, then i think total number of txfers is out is a good look at how much roster churn that coach deals with having to integrate new players (whether the new guys are FR or txfers in). Also Robert kind of hints around that transfers matter, he alludes to it in (paraphrasing) "if there are bunch of transfers again we start over."

so i did a little looking. PU had 6 transfers from 2015-2018. The mean number of txfers across the league was 5.785. The median was 6. The mode was 6. Illinois had 8 txfers. Nebraska had the most with 10 followed by Michigan, Illinois, and RU with 8. the least was MSU with 2 and MD and UW tied with 3. Totals below. The conclusion i would reach is that some teams do well with a high amount of turnover (Michigan), some do well with a moderate amount of turnover (PU), some do well with a low amount of turnover (MSU and WI). I don't think the data supports a strong conclusion that PU is actually more experienced than other teams that play B1G championship caliber basketball. I think the data says that little roster turnover can help (like at MSU or UW), but is not a pre-req for success as shown by the relative success of tOSU, PU, and UM over that time who are essentially average to above average in terms of roster turnover.

Total Transfers: IL - 8 IU - 6 IA - 6 MD - 3 UM - 8 MSU - 2 MN - 6 Neb - 10 NW - 5 OSU - 5 PSU - 5 PU - 6 RU - 8 UW - 3

Robert on February 28 @ 05:44 PM CST

I see more than eight Illini departures. There were none in 2015 and then...

Before the 2015/16 season: Aaron Cosby to Western Kentucky, Austin Colbert to Old Dominion

2016/17: Kendrick Nunn to Oakland

2017/18: DJ Williams to George Washington, JCL to DePaul

2018/19: Michael Finke to Grand Canyon, Greg Eboigbodin to Northeastern, Te'Jon Lucas to Milwaukee, Mark Smith to Missouri, plus Leron Black and Matic Vesel left early for professional reasons (although I'm not sure if Vesel had much of a choice).

So that's 11. Which, by your numbers, would be the most in the league. But my point is not "whoever has the least number of departures will win the Big Ten", if that's what you're suggesting.

"Get old" doesn't have much to do with "years in a coaches system". Perhaps you're conflating that with things I've written about football? There's no changing offensive coordinators in basketball, so my basketball complaints are never really system based. Years in a system helps in basketball, but muscle memory is less important (at least in my opinion). Players can adapt much quicker.

To me, "get old" just means to stack classes. (And, obviously, to stack classes the players need to stay.) When Nunn is dismissed from the team or when Black decides to leave early, get married, and turn pro, (or when all three players from your first spring class are already gone), you're not "getting old". As I said in the post, if we have another offseason like last offseason, I think we're sunk. The most important thing that faces Brad Underwood (in my opinion): keep the 2018 class together.

illiniranger on February 28 @ 07:52 PM CST

Few points:

1, You have a hard time with survivorship bias. “Look at this guy from Purdue or this guy from Illinois that was good as a Senior”. But you don’t mention the guys that are meh as a Senior. You have to look at all the outcomes. If you want to bring up two kids from PU that worked out you have to bring up the kids that didn’t. What do those %s look like? Then you have to compare that to txfers to find the kids self-selecting out.

2, The point of the numbers is just to show that there are multiple ways to success. One reason MSU has low turnover with txfers is that some of their guys declare early. One reason WI has low turnover is they are good at recruit and develop. One reason UM has high turnover is Beilein is kind of boom or bust in recruiting and he’s recruiting over kids fairly often. I think this narrative of “get older” works for PU, but it isn’t REQUIRED. Hell Painter turns his roster over right at the 50th percentile. I don’t know that he really even understands that. Coaches will build these stories around their programs as a way to keep everybody from going crazy.

There’s no yellow brick road to success. It’s way more ephemeral than that. It is the Art of Command.

Bear8287 on March 01 @ 10:52 AM CST

It is the Art of Command.

Hmmm... does that have anything to do with coaching?

IlliniHimey on February 28 @ 09:49 PM CST

Remember when that dill hole Doug Bucshon said that Illinois was a tourney team this year?

Chukwuwumba on March 02 @ 09:33 AM CST

Painter’s comments need some context. He has never built a program before. Was at southern Illinois with Weber for 5 years, took over as head coach using same offensive philosophy. Moved to Purdue, then took over with same offensive philosophy. Never had to start over (though I’m sure helped with SoIll) Get old and stay old is great when it is built. But how to get to that point? That’s the issue.

This has been discussed over the past few years. Change the culture, buy in from players, get the right recruits to fix the system, stack classes. We hope for expedited change, but will it take until this class is seniors to be built???? Need other recruits this class besides Kofi who will contribute over time in case Kofi is here for year or two only.

mrmill on March 02 @ 01:51 PM CST

I don’t really get why anyone is disputing anything written. Purdue has become like Wisconsin. They always seem to be relevant. Both always have experienced teams that get better as the season goes on. They always seem to have under recruited guys out perform their rankings and unheralded upper classmen step up. Of course it’s a combo of coaching and culture. But if it was easy - everyone would do it.

Of course Gard and Painter has an easier job than Underwood. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to keep something rolling. Just look at our last two coaches if you need recent examples of that.

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