End Of The Season Mailbag II

Mar 26, 2021

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I need to learn how to make these shorter. If I'm going to write 2,000 words, there's no reason I shouldn't be able to answer 6-7 questions, not three. Maybe I'll try that with this mailbag post. Instead of answering three questions, I'll answer five. Five! (Which probably just means it will be 4,000 words.)

To the questions:

First off, we would have a sellout streak of six going right now if it wasn't for 190 of you. We sold out five of the final six games last season. But the current streak is only two because the third-to-last home game (Nebraska last February 24th) came up 190 short of a sellout. We sold 15,354 tickets and capacity is 15,544. Look deep inside your heart, people, because when this sellout streak reaches 30, it won't be 34 because of your "I'll just watch it on TV" decision that night. I'm sure you're rightly devastated. Well... good. Don't let it happen again.

I don't really think this will start a sellout streak, though, so it doesn't really matter. Conference games, yes, but we're going to play some America East team at 8:00 pm on a Tuesday night in November and it's not going to sell out. The old streaks (like the 60 consecutive sellouts from 2005 to 2008) usually had those nothing games on the weekend. Once the Big Ten Network started, start times began to get spaced out to try to fit in as many network games as possible and so random Tuesday nights get something like Penn State-UTSA at 5:30 EST/4:30 CST, Indiana-Coppin State at 7:30 EST/6:30 CST, and Illinois-Wofford at 9:30 EST/8:30 CST. When there's an 8:30 game against Wofford on a Tuesday night in November, I'm not sure it sells out even if we're #4 in the nation.

To the larger point, though, yes, I think the crowds will be back. Partly because of no attendance this year, partly because Illinois crowds always come back when we have a season like this. Hottest ticket in town again.

I have to answer this way because if I don't it will be the first comment: if Kofi returns, Kofi is the next All American. I know that wasn't your question, but I needed to do some comment prevention there.

Beyond that, seems to me that the spotlight shines on Curbelo and Miller. For Belo, Rothstein has already said he'll be an All American in a few years, so there you go. Rothstein said it, I believe it, that settles it.

For Miller, I think he's the best stock purchase on the team right now. Freshmen are freshmen, and his 8.3 ppg and 34% from three were perfectly fine on a team with a 20 ppg scorer and a 17.7 ppg scorer. He showed all the signs you want him to show. Defense got better, driving the hoop got better, finding the spaces to catch and shoot got better. He basically had Kendall Gill's sophomore season this year, so now we just need him to have Kendall's junior and senior years.

Still, I should probably note that All Americans are rare. We just went 15 years without one. So for someone to make one of those teams the next few years would be a really massive deal. If Belo or Ace gets there in the next three years, that's huge for us. (And I really think one of them will do it.)

It's weird. My "please God, no" team was Iowa. I have not watched a single moment of basketball since we lost (and will not the next two weekends), but I did have a massive amount of anxiety during the Iowa game. I had checked Twitter, and I saw that Oregon had jumped out to a double digit lead, and then the next hour and a half was "please lose please lose". If Iowa finally made the Final Four in a year where we were a 1-seed but lost in the second round, I'm not sure I'd come out of my house for a month.

My Michigan hate is different. This is their fourth straight Sweet 16. They were in the national title game in 2018 (and 2013). I don't have much "I hope Michigan loses" left because they consistently win in the Tournament. For whatever it's worth, I didn't have an ounce of anxiety when Michigan was playing their second round game. I'm not sure I even checked the score until well after the game had ended? And even then it was just to see if the Big Ten was going to do an insane "nine teams in, zero make the second weekend" faceplant.

I do carry residual 1989 hate, and I spent seven hours at the Big Ten Tournament writing about the Michigan Man in media row, but come on - they do this every year. When they bow out, there's no way I can HAHAHA MICHIGAN LOST when they have 20 NCAA Tournament wins since 2013 and we have two. I save my "oh God I hope they lose" for Iowa & Indiana and treat Michigan with "every. freaking. year." disgust. I'm guessing they make the Final Four and the final statement on who was really the best team in the Big Ten will be shoved in our face. Simply preparing myself to accept it.

As I tweeted earlier this week, I did click on the story and counted the ads on that page: 24. Twenty four.

That's really my only emotion towards that story. I'm not "upset" that they made such a preposterous claim. It's just a function of how it all works these days.

I promised to keep these brief, and this subject could honestly be a 1,800 word essay, so I'll try to keep this to just a few paragraphs. Actually, maybe bullet points would be better. I can force myself into concise thoughts with bullet points.

  • Newspapers used to run the world. It was the only conduit to information. And there were thousands of ways to monetize the information. And even ways to monetize "here's a thing in people's hands every day" (like coupons in the Sunday paper and classified ads all week).
  • That went away with the internet. We don't need to rehash the missteps of the newspaper industry the last 25 years, but I think you all get the point that "there are now hundreds of ways to get this information, not just the one or two newspapers in my town" really damaged the industry.
  • It was very difficult for the newspaper industry to understand "if you present the information with the advertising, people will see the advertisements while looking at the information and then we all get paid" didn't work the same anymore. For decades, there were dozens of attempts to get the information online and then WHAMMO there's the advertisement next to it and CA-CHING there's our check.
  • After a time, desperation took over. There were two ways to still make money with this "information next to ads" model. One, make faux news stories that look like ads. SHE WAS FIRED FROM HER JOB FOR WEARING THIS AT WORK. Get. That. Click.
  • The second was the sensationalize the information. I don't need to tell you the direction political websites went with that stuff. But I should point out that for sports, Skip Bayless became aspirational. Outlandish is the point. "What an idiot" is the point. People will click on a lot of stuff to feel "what an idiot" vibes. And clicks mean you can purchase food for your family.

So when I see an article like that, and I see 24 individual advertisements on the same page, all I focus on is the "write something sensational that will get people here - don't really care what it says or if it's even intellectually honest, just get them here". The point is the $0.03 made off each viewing of each of those 24 ads plastered all over the page, breaking up the article into nine sections, making the page unreadable.

Newspapers as NASCAR makes me sad. This was basically having two drivers get in a fight

I can. It won't be another 16 years. And I have the perfect solution: follow recruiting differently.

I'm not saying "don't follow recruiting". I'm saying follow it differently. Maybe the best way to describe it is Goldilocks.

The porridge that's too hot is following recruiting the way the internet wants you to follow recruiting. Tease good news tease good news tease good news BLAM sorry, bad news, something changed. The most forgivable sin on the internet is to suggest a recruit is choosing the good guys. You never reach The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Ever. You can suggest that there's a wolf 34 consecutive times, watch the townspeople come running, and then say "sorry, wolf went somewhere else" and the people will forgive you because they really want to believe there's a wolf out there. Next wolf, baby. Another AceWolf.

Because of this, Twitter is full of misinformation. There's so much hedging I think I'm a Landscape Architect again. There's maybe a 50/50 chance a recruit picks Illinois? Tweet something like "hearing about great things coming for Illinois basketball". If it happens, presto, you're an insider. If it doesn't happen, nobody cares. You can do it 10 straight times before the first "aren't you the guy who says this every time?". People really want Illinois to land great players so "want to believe" just becomes "believe".

The porridge that's too cold is the grizzled "I never get my hopes up until they sign" guy. Who is usually also the "recruiting doesn't really matter" guy. It matters, and he knows it matters, and he hates that we keep losing recruits, so he oppos. Live for the "see, I told you so, every recruit goes somewhere else". It's the fan that shorts the stock. Glee comes from fans getting their hopes up and then a recruit going somewhere else. The "I TOLD YOU SO" feels too good.

There's a "porridge just right", though. Especially right now. Come, join me, will you? Here's all you have to acknowledge:

  1. Recruiting is very important. The "meh, I'll check in next fall when the roster comes out" guy and the "I trust in this staff 100% and every 2-star they bring in will be a superstar" guy are both just emotionally hedging. Recruiting is important and should be evaluated.
  2. Beware recruiting information which is being teased to get you to pay. "But Robert, isn't that all recruiting information?". Not really. There's a way to read these things where it seems obvious that EJ Liddell just isn't interested while so much hype is being sold around his interest. There's a way to have a good feeling about Andre Curbelo and a bad feeling about Oscar Tshiebwe. I don't subscribe to any recruiting services and I don't have any sources. I just sit back, only observe the public, not-being-sold information, and form my opinions. (I should also say: some recruiting information is being sold not for money, but for clout. Ignore that information the most.)
  3. Flee from sketchy insider info. Some of you know this, but often when someone emails me "you don't know me but I know this person who knows that person who said that Chaundee Brown has committed to Illinois", I email them back and ask them to not share any more information with me. Could be solid info, but I have no desire to sort through to find out if it is. I will listen to someone I know, but 90% of those seem like the person is going for a "I shared info with an Illinois media member" thrill. And I'm not sure there's ever been a single one of those that proved correct.
  4. Realize there are no insiders. This is probably the most important one. There might be people who speak directly to Brad Underwood and Stephen Gentry and know the inside scoop on every recruit (again, I don't know because I don't subscribe to anyone and I don't follow it all that closely). But even if that were the case, that's a relationship that can be manipulated. Coaches might leak something as a trial balloon. Reporters might exaggerate to get you to peak behind a paywall. My point: there's not a way to "follow" recruiting. Every single ounce of information is murky.

I'm not trying to trash anyone trying to make money with recruiting info (although I am basically trashing everyone offering that info for free in the world's biggest clout hunt). I'm just saying that it's an impossible thing. Recruiting IS fluid. It would be an impossible thing to cover (which is why I don't).

BUT, because it's fluid, some national Rivals writer can play fast and loose with the facts, knowing that the "recruiting is fluid" will let him out of any blind-guess-passed-off-as-inside-info he makes. And the fans suffer for it. I'm a fan, so I refuse to play.

So, finally to the question:

Looks like we just missed out on another 3 recruits.

I'm being completely serious when I say that I have no idea which three you're talking about. I'm not sure I could even name three who are on my "could be close to a decision" list. I'm guessing the kid who picked Arizona State yesterday would be one, and one of my group texts has been talking a lot about Burnett and Tre Mitchell, so are those the three?

Larger point, though. None of my "time to pay attention to recruiting" trip wires have triggered this week. Maybe some things are imminent, but nothing has really made my personal "watch from 5,000 feet" radar.

Can you assure me that it won't be another 16 years until we have a team that good again?

With the emergence of so many Underwood recruits the last few years, I'm honestly at a 3 when it comes to recruiting panic. You have two highly-ranked cornerstones (Belo & Ace) and I expect this staff to build around them well. I look at it this way:

I looked at the KenPom Player of the Year rankings a few weeks ago and saw what might have been one of the greatest college teams ever. The list included Ayo Dosunmu, Kofi Cockburn, Drew Timme, and EJ Liddell. We landed both Ayo and Kofi, finished second to Gonzaga on Timme, and third to Ohio State and Missouri on EJ. Final three for four of the top 10 players in college basketball this year. OK, top-15 since EJ fell off the rankings.

None of those players were 5-stars. Not a single one. Composite rankings: Ayo 32, Timme 43, Liddell 44, Kofi 46. Yes, two of those players were from Illinois and obvious players we would recruit, but our staff's focus has consistently been on players who turn out to be outstanding college players. I believe Andre Curbelo is the next one on this list.

That's not "then every 2-star we land will be a superstar", but it does make me feel great about the plan here. Andres Feliz (no other offers) and Alan Griffin (discovered when ranked around 200) make me feel good about Goode and Melendez. Transfer idents like Grandison make me feel good about finding Curbelo's backup somewhere in the next month.

I know that comes off like TRUST THE STAFF and it probably means I'll be praising some unranked 2-star soon, but really, I'm not at all panicked because of how things have gone the last 24 months. We seem to have a staff that has a great eye for both "that's a top-10 player ranked 46th" and "that's a perfect role player to fill in around him".

So I'll sit here at 5,000 feet and just wait for the next "recruit coming soon" trip wire to active.


IlliniJoe81 on March 26, 2021 @ 01:43 PM

If Kofi returns...oh wait you covered that.

Recruiting has changed forever with the transfer portal. It's now 12 months a year and you can't project your roster more than 12 months into the future.

This staff is good at roster churn. We can miss on 3 recruits and be in on 3 more later. They seem to be able to find and develop talent. So we'll be okay. I still had a meltdown when I thought we were 24 hours from landing Enoch Boakye and then ASU swooped in the way they did. A month from now there will be a new must-get guy.

So, yeah, trust the staff.

To me, it feels like 2000-2005 Illinois basketball is back. Even the soul-crushing defeat in March felt familiar. I think the fans understand this and SFC will be filling up on a regular basis.

I don't see any non-Kofi guys on the radar achieving All-American status. All Big-Ten, yes, but not quite at that next level. I think we'll have more depth of talent and more versatility going forward. This year's team was a little bit "do that thing you do really well" and when it didn't click things got ugly. Future teams will have less dominant pieces but more ability to actually run a system. Systems win in March. Underwood can do systems but when you have Kofi and Ayo you maximize their talents and get a 1 seed. Work the system next year.

Giovantischixstripz on March 26, 2021 @ 05:51 PM

I think Curbelo has a chance in 2 years. He might not even deserve it, because the turnovers might still be higher than we'd like, and perhaps the lack of shooting (if he doesn't improve, he could improve a lot) has a negative impact on the offense that doesn't show up in the box score. But at the end of the day, I think he'll average something like 16, 8, and 6, with a ton of ankle breaking dribbles, a couple triple doubles and highlight reel passes that get him on ESPN and up his All American buzz. I hope this doesn't come across as complaining, because I am thrilled we have a guy flashy enough to get overhyped All American buzz, and partnered with Miller developing into a lead scorer and the solid role players around I think we will be really good again.

Efrem on March 26, 2021 @ 02:09 PM

Three days into spring football and nothing posted on that?

I'm shocked. I thought you'd be on your third article revisiting the three deep by now

Robert on March 29, 2021 @ 11:26 AM

I've written about the practices I attended, but I've only done so on the Slack channel. That's the best place to share thoughts about practice, I think. Delivered directly to subscribers.

I'll still write stuff here (currently writing a football article), but as I said at the launch, most of the practice reports will go on the Slack. This just happened to be the first time media has been allowed at practice in well over a year.

ditkanate on March 26, 2021 @ 02:40 PM

Since the Michigan question was mine...

Robert: "It's weird. My "please God, no" team was Iowa..... If Iowa finally made the Final Four in a year where we were a 1-seed but lost in the second round, I'm not sure I'd come out of my house for a month."

Believe me, I was right there with you on this. The only reason I didn't mention them was that they've already lost. Part of what's been helping me deal with this is the Big Ten as a whole not living up to expectations (as you wrote about in Part 1). If the B1G had 8/9 teams in the sweet 16 with us being the 1 team out I may have had to quit sports altogether.

The Michigan hate, though, isn't just general Michigan hate. It is THIS YEAR's Michigan team hate. Their conference champ confetti party, Juwan wanting to fight Turgeon and all his comments afterward... I don't know. They "won" the regular season, we won the BTT and I wanted to win the NCAA tournament. Or short of that, at least go farther than Michigan. The fact that the entire B1G is out, and their Liversless team is still in.... We are better than them and now it doesn't matter and they've won the argument. Feelsbadman.

So when you say

"I'm guessing they make the Final Four and the final statement on who was really the best team in the Big Ten will be shoved in our face. Simply preparing myself to accept it. "

That is the part I'm having trouble with. Accepting it. And I don't think they even need to get to the Final Four. They made the Sweet 16 and no one else did. It's done. Every win from here on out just shoves the knife in deeper. At least for me. I'd like the stabbing to end, and as long as Michigan is still playing it just won't.

Brave Illini on March 26, 2021 @ 04:01 PM

I am just bucking up and moving on. S__t happens, and for many reasons, many unknown. I am tired of not winning, but I'm also tired of suffering for not winning, and so am over it and ready for football. Then will be ready for next basketball season, both enthusiastically.

iluvrt on March 29, 2021 @ 09:34 AM

Robert - for End of the season Mailbag III, all I get is a bunch of computer code and an error message. ??

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