Slapdash - Colorado
Sitting in a coffeeshop in Colorado right now. My wife and our friends rented bikes and headed out to circle this lake. I tried to warn them that someone stole all the oxygen up here, but they wouldn't listen. So while they search for air to breathe, I'll head to my happy place: writing about our football program that hasn't been ranked since 2011 and our basketball program that hasn't been ranked since 2014. I'm telling you - if we're ever good at anything again, I won't know how to write about it. This entire decade we've had two NCAA Tournament wins (2011 and 2013) and two bowl wins (2010 and 2011). This should just be my first sub-heading.
2019 is more than half over. Which means we start a new decade in less than six months. I was thinking about this while hiking in the mountains yesterday (see, I don't always skip the exercise). This decade is almost over, which means we're going to forever debate which decade was worse - the 1970's or the 2010's. No Illini fan ever thought the 70's could be matched, but somehow, we did it.
A decade. A DECADE. It's just insane that we've not been good for a decade. We were in the Sugar Bowl in 2001, the national championships game in 2005, and the Rose Bowl in 2007. And now we've been bad for an entire decade. A DECADE.
The 1970's saw zero bowls and zero NCAA Tournaments, so that's always been the decade of awful, but in six months, will we be able to say "no, the 2010's were somehow WORSE"? Let's check some math.
Actually, before we check the math, let's discuss the framework. For starters, you can't really say "no tournaments or bowls" because you couldn't just go 6-6 and make a bowl (or go 19-13 and make the NCAA Tournament) in the 1970's. And the schedules were much more difficult. You didn't play Akron, UConn, and Eastern Michigan as your non-conference schedule for football. So were're kind of comparing apples and oranges here. BUT, here are the numbers.
Illini Football in the 1970's: 38-67-4 -- .362 winning percentage
Illini Football in the 2010's: 40-71 -- .360 winning percentage
AND DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME.
Illini Basketball in the 1970's: 129-129 -- .500 winning percentage
Illini Basketball in the 2010's: 181-159 -- .532 winning percentage
(Does it not continue to BLOW YOUR MIND that Illinois Basketball is 181-159 the decade after going 252-91? THIS IS A THING THAT HAPPENED.)
I think we need to see this football season to make the final call. If it goes south, then yes - I think we will have topped the 1970's for awfulness. Basketball is close (more conference games now, which is "tougher", but way more non-conference home wins against the Savannah States of the world now compared to the 1970's), but I really do think that this decade is worse. Especially when you figure in the lead-in. Jake And The Fat Man getting bad ratings on a Friday night is one thing - Jake And The Fat Man getting bad ratings after Magnum PI on Thursday night is so much worse.
Every time I struggle with how hard football recruiting can be (meaning, if you're not building depth at every position, you're kind of screwed), I think about how easy basketball recruiting can be. I feel like I write this every summer, but let's do it again.
I think this is an NCAA Tournament team. We can talk about that in another dozen posts, but for a moment, let's assume this is an NCAA Tournament team and then Ayo declares for the draft. There are then, obviously, some holes to fill. We'd still return a lot, especially with Trent entering his senior season, but we would need some immediate help.
And, to me, it would be so easy to add that help. We would lose Ayo + Kipper Nichols and Andres Feliz. So then just do this:
- Add Utah transfer Donnie Tillman (a 3-4 guy like Kipper who would hopefully bring more to this scheme than Kipper). Tillman is allegedly deciding between Rutgers and Illinois in the next few weeks. He was the Pac-12 sixth man of the year and would be a big boost to the 2020/21 team.
- Add Chicago Morgan Park point guard Adam Miller. The next great Peoria player who moved to Chicago as a high school sophomore to better prepare for Division I basketball. He would somewhat seamlessly replace high former high school teammate (Ayo). And his crystal ball is currently 100% Illinois.
- Add Trinity Catholic big man Ryan Kalkbrenner. He has burst onto the scene this spring (and burst into the top-100). We were his first high major offer this spring but he has since added Missouri, Ohio State, Xavier, Purdue, and others. He's probably (hopefully) that rim protector that Brad Underwood has been looking for. And his crystal ball is currently 100% Illinois.
Just add those three and we keep on rolling. We would need more guards in the 2021 class (Trent and Da'Monte would be graduating), but that's a problem for 2021 and beyond. The team taking the court in November of 2020 would be something like:
Guards: Trent Frazier (SR), Da'Monte Williams (SR), Alan Griffin (JR), Adam Miller (FR), (plus additional 2020 guard)
Wings: Tevian Jones (JR), Donnie Tillman (JR), Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk (SO)
Bigs: Giorgi Bezhanishvili (JR), Samba Kane (JR), Kofi Cockburn (SO), Bernard Kouma (SO), Ryan Kalkbrenner (FR)
That's enough to keep it rolling. And from here it looks so easy to get there. Just beat Rutgers for a transfer and then land the two guys you lead for in the Crystal Ball - one from Morgan Park, one from Trinity Catholic, two high schools that have been very good for us the last few years.
I know it's a lot harder than this, but it all seems so simple to me. Just land the guys we're supposed to land (would it kill us to wrap it up early?) and keep on keepin' on.
(You know, assuming we "keep on" this winter.)