Up To Speed - 12-29-21
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Remember, Up To Speed means that I get myself up to speed, not bring you up to speed. I mean, you might need to be brought up to speed. But more often than not, people reading my words are 10 times more up-to-date on Illini goings-on than I am.
That's intentional, of course. I don't follow any of the Illini news people that you follow. I don't visit any other sites (besides, you know, researching recruits and whatnot). I can't tell you how many times I've gotten a text from someone saying "what do you think of the new linebacker who verballed?" only to respond with "some linebacker verballed?". I will forever be in the dark because in the dark is the only way to write with purity of thought.
Just the other day I got a text from Tyler with his reaction to the cancellation of tonight's basketball game. But I didn't know what had happened so I had to ask Tyler to get me up to speed. He's probably at his desk at his real job filling in the guy who does this for a living, telling him "Illini are going on a Covid pause".
I can't tell you how often this happens. Your twitter feed: 10 accounts tweeting the same news about some Illini assistant coach being hired by some other program. My twitter feed: a bunch of national writers talking about some random bowl game. So one of my group texts will say something like "I can't believe he'd leave Illinois for Temple" and I'll quickly google things like "illini assistant coach temple" to find out what happened. I've pretty much been a poseur my entire life.
But a man must have a code, and mine is "purity of thought above all else." I need a clean brain to write the way I write, so I stay in the dark to keep my brain clean. Which means I'm often behind. Which means from time to time I write Up To Speed articles. Which I will do now.
So here's my story. My middle son and his wife came home for Christmas. They brought with them the best present imaginable - news that there will a new Rosenthal in the world come July. I told them Isaiah Williams Rosenthal (or Isiah) if it's a boy, Jordyn Poulter Rosenthal if it's a girl. They'll get on board eventually.
My daughter-in-law had to fly back yesterday, but my son had the whole week off and he will fly back on Sunday. He needed to fly directly to the regional airport by their house, but he just couldn't find a cheap flight from Chicago, Indianapolis, or St. Louis. But then I had an idea. I'm taking the train from Champaign to Minneapolis on New Years Day (to cover the Illini game on the 2nd), so what if he rode the train with me and then flew out of Minneapolis? Sure enough, a flight from Minneapolis to said Small Regional Airport was less than half the cost of a flight from Chicago, Indy, or St. Louis. Bingo.
It worked out perfectly. I already had a hotel room booked, and I always book two beds in case Carmen randomly shows up, so all I had to do was add a second train ticket for my son. And before you get all "trains are expensive, aren't they?", $83 one way from Champaign to Minneapolis. Almost positive I'd pay more for gas, and this way I don't have to hold a steering wheel for eight hours.
Anyway, so we take the train on Saturday, stay in Minneapolis, my son flies home Sunday morning, and then I cover the game on Sunday. Perfect plan... until the Illinois-FAMU game was canceled and the Illinois-Minnesota game was moved to "questionable". If that game were to get canceled, well, my son would still need to get to Minneapolis to catch his flight, and he'd still need to stay in a hotel, so... I'd probably just go with him and then turn around and head back? I've been looking forward to this New Years Day train ride with Son #2 for weeks - I don't think I should cancel just because of some technicality like "there's no longer a basketball game to cover".
And I remain hopeful that there will be a basketball game to cover. Both the Illini men's and women's teams went on pause, and today it was announced that the women's game for Sunday is postponed. So if they want to announced four days in advance that a game is being postponed, and they did that for the women's game but not the men's game, uh, game on? I'm going with "game on" until I hear otherwise.
Which might not be until two days after it's postponed because, well, you know...
Don't get me wrong, I still wish it was Illinois and not Rutgers going to the Gator Bowl. I would have loved to squeeze in a flight to Jacksonville on Friday before flying back and getting on the train to Minneapolis. But the way this bowl season is playing out - NC State is getting ready to play and then OPE, UCLA's defensive line room tested positive game canceled - maybe it's best that Rutgers got the 5-7 spot?
It's funny how much my thoughts towards a potential last-minute bowl game have changed in the last week. One week ago right now I was "someWAY, someHOW, get the Illini into the Gator Bowl". Now, with 50+ college basketball teams going on pause (including Illinois) and five bowl games canceled, my attitude is significantly less enthusiastic. How many Rutgers fans are packing for a last-minute trip to Jacksonville right now and saying "uh, what if Wake Forest has to cancel in the next 72 hours"? I'm back to last year's "pay more to make sure all travel plans are 100% refundable" at this point.
And besides, I still like the current postseason Illini football vibes and the bowl would put them at risk. As I noted a month ago (actually, maybe this was in a newsletter so it didn't appear here), this is the complete list of seasons in the last 20 years where Illinois went into the offseason with a win in the final game (either final regular season game or bowl game):
So this isn't my usual "Illinois isn't playing so I don't want to watch any bowls" Bowl Week. I'm very happy going into the offseason after a 5-7 (4-5) year which ended with a 47-14 blowout in the hat game. Had we received that last-second Gator Bowl bid, and then scrambled around trying to get the players back to campus, and then practiced three times, and then played #20 Wake Forest, we might have lost 47-14 and gone into the offseason with yet another "oh man we had some momentum there but we lost it" feeling.
This way, good vibes only. When I rest my head on my pillow I still drift off to sleep mumbling "only 18 minutes and 38 seconds into the game we led Northwestern 28-0 and the game was already over". And then I picture that maniac Northwestern strength coach shuffling around on the sideline all sad and lonely. And then I smile and drift off to sleep.
In The Grandison Scheme Of Things
Before the season I tweeted some tweets on Twitter about Evan Miyakawa's website and how it's one of three that I regularly check (KenPom, Torvik, and Miyakawa). Here's two back-to-back tweets including something I said about Jacob Grandison:
You can sort the player list by conferences. Here's the Illini starting five (Big Ten player rank):— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) October 26, 2021
If Jacob Grandison ends the season as one of the top 15 players in the B1G then yes, this team has unlimited potential.
I figured I should check in on those numbers again now that the non-conference portion of the schedule is complete. Let's see where Grandison stacks up in the Big Ten using Miyakawa's Bayesian Performance Rating:
This is one of those things where you say to someone "guess the top eight players in the Big Ten using the BPR ratings on EvanMiya.com" and they might get seven of the eight in the first 10 names they guessed. But then it would take them, what, 30 more guesses before they'd say "Jacob Grandison"?
Now, this is just one metric, so I'm not saying "Grandison should be first-team All Big Ten", but... can we talk about what January and February might look like if Grandison really is the fourth-best player in the conference? I'm not sure we really even need to talk about it. It would be a short discussion. I'd just say "Illinois will win the Big Ten" and that's that. It would require a healthy Andre Curbelo returning to the lineup (and playing at his expected level), but at that point, I think we could say that Kofi + Belo + Grandison is better than Purdue's Big Three of Williams + Ivey + Edey. And then a Purdue fan would play the Stefanovic card and we'd play the Trent card and they'd shuffle through their deck looking for someone else and we'd drop a Plummer bomb and it would be over.
Long way to go between here and there, obviously. It's possible that Grandison finishes the year 19th in these ratings (and 30th in others). The schedule is about to get a lot tougher. But that's the thing I'm keeping an eye on here. If Jacob Grandison continues playing like this - 12.8 ppg including 51% from three - then that changes the outlook here.
Keep him at that level and get Curbelo back at a second-team-All Big-Ten level while Kofi pushes for national player of the year?
Here for it.