What do I do when things are going well for one of my teams? I immediately start projecting it out to the future. "Is this sustainable?" is the number one question in Illini land the last 10 years. And we've gotten four consecutive NO's. Seriously - the last four "now we're getting somewhere's" have ended in "NOPE":
- 2011 Basketball 9-seed in the Tournament. NOPE. Stayed on a roll right up through BP43 (knocking off top-5 Ohio State in January of the next season on the strength of 43 points from Brandon Paul and finding ourselves ranked 22nd the next week) but then lost 11 of 13 and Weber was fired.
- 2011 Football 6-0 and ranked 16th. NOPE. Lost 16 of the next 19 (1-6 to finish the 2011 season and then 2-10 the next).
- 2013 Basketball 7-seed in the Tournament. NOPE. Missed the Tournament the next year, haven't been back since (ouch, that still hurts so much).
- 2014 Football 6-6 Heart Of Dallas Bowl. NOPE. Beckman scandal, Cubit interim year 5-7, Not Ideal, we didn't bowl again until this year.
After the Wisconsin win (basketball, not football, and I love that I have to point that out), I've opened myself back up to the very real chance that this is a Tournament team. Hold serve at home the next two games and we'll be looking at a 5-2 start in the Big Ten. And that's significant because when the schedule came out, we all looked at the @Maryland-Michigan-@Michigan State-Purdue-@Wisconsin start and covered our eyes expecting something like 1-4 or 0-5. Somehow, we're one 32-foot heave from 4-1.
Which means all of that "I'm at a breaking point" stuff I wrote after the Missouri loss (meaning we lost every significant non-conference game) has been put to bed (for now - just wait until Saturday) while I embrace the possibilities of where this goes. And that always leads to one thought - if we dance this year, can we do it again next year?
I mean, it doesn't require us to dance this year, I guess. But I'm looking for our Sisyphus experience to end and for the boulder to begin rolling down the other side of the hill. Can we watch it start to roll next season?
Let's start with what is going out the door. For the purposes of this exercise, I'm going to assume that Ayo declares for the draft. My mock draft of choice is Sam Veccine with The Athletic ($$), and he released a mock draft this morning that had Ayo going to the Clippers in the second round. He notes that Ayo hasn't helped himself this year but that some team will probably take a chance given his speed and ballhandling in transition. Many of us began to doubt Ayo leaving earlier in the season, but if there are more games like Wisconsin coming, he's absolutely gone.
That would mean that three players go out the door - Kipper Nichols, Andres Feliz, and Ayo Dosumnu - and five come in: Adam Miller, Andre Curbelo, and Coleman Hawkins plus sit-out transfers Austin Hutcherson and Jacob Grandison. Let's put a pin there and come back to it.
The second part to looking a year in advance is "what players currently on the bench will push for more minutes?'. Alan Griffin is the obvious answer given his January breakout (starter next year?), but there's also Tevian Jones and even Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk (who might be headed for a medical redshirt with his foot in a boot). I'm getting to a point here so I should just skip ahead and get to it.
2020/21 is about the guards and wings. Right now, there are players playing out of position as our "wings" (Da'Monte, some Feliz, a little Kipper here and there). Next year is all about who takes those spots. Let's go about it this way.
With Underwood, as I've written before, I'm gone away from saying stuff like "he's the point guard" or "we'll see him at power forward" and just grouped players into three groups: guards, wings, and bigs. Right now, the rotation looks like this:
Guards: Ayo, Trent, half Feliz
Wings: Da'Monte, Griffin, half Feliz, and a tiny bit of Jones
Bigs: Giorgi, Kofi, Kipper, and a tiny bit of Hamlin
That's not perfect, of course. There are many layers here. Are we four-out/one-in (meaning Giorgi is sometimes playing on the "wing")? Is Feliz really a "wing" when he's on the court with Ayo and Trent? When Da'Monte and Griffin are on the court at the same time, who is a "guard" and who is a "wing"? We started the season with Feliz as a "wing" and now he seems to be almost exclusively "spell Ayo or Trent".
So the best way to put it, I think, is that the parts will be interchangeable but we're looking for 3 guards, 3 wings, and 3 bigs to make up a rotation of nine guys. This season, it looks like this (with Jones, hopefully, pushing for more and more minutes):
Kipper graduates, but I'm not really sure if the third big matters all that much for next year (since the "bigs" category will be so dominated by Kofi and Giorgi). It's either Kofi/Giorgi/Hamlin or Kofi/Giorgi/BBV or Kofi/Giorgi/Hawkins. And it might even be Kofi/Giorgi/Jones if the staff wants to move Tevian Jones into a Kipper Nichols role. The point: we have some knowns there.
OK, we're finally at the point of this post. What does next year look like? All eyes on the six non-bigs in the rotation. Will the team go forward or step back? Depends on those six.
Three spots are taken: Trent Frazier, Alan Griffin, and Da'Monte Williams. Even if Da'Monte is just "defense off the bench" at that point, he'll still be a big part of it given how much the coaches love him.
The other three spots? The spots that will determine if next year is better or worse than this year? It all comes down to five players and their battle for those three spots:
Trent will be Trent. We know what we'll get. Alan Griffin has shown tremendous promise and might be a rock-solid starter on the wing at that point. Da'Monte we know - no offense at all, but defense and rebounding. The other three guys in the rotation need to provide three things:
Rock Solid With The Ball
Wing Who Can Do Some Big Things
Find that and I think we can possibly be even better next year. And here's how I see those three battles:
Rock Solid With The Ball: It's Curbelo and probably only Curbelo, I think. Get ready for 27 minutes per game as a true freshman, kid.
Lights-Out Shooter: This is probably a battle between true-freshman Adam Miller and junior transfer Austin Hutcherson. May the best shooter win.
Wing Who Can Do Some Big Things: This is a Tevian Jones/Jacob Grandison battle. The enigma who has fans chanting "free Tevian" every game vs. the Holy Cross transfer who is reportedly a power forward in a guard's body.
That's the 2020/21 season as I see it. Find Big Ten-ready players in those three spots and we can be better if Trent, Griffin, Giorgi, and Kofi all take one step forward. Fail to find replacements for Ayo & Co. and we take a step back.
OK, I've cleared that out my head now. I always have to do this so I can concentrate on the current season. That continues tomorrow with Rutgers coming to town. Let's get to 4-2 in the Big Ten, shall we?