Up To Speed - 01-07-22
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I've been down with the sickness for the last 72 hours or so. I did test negative yesterday, so I'm not stricken with Covid, but whatever this is knocked me on my butt. My head and chest are at war with each other, each trying to decide which one wants to be more congested. I watched last night's game in bed, with the TV on mute, fist-pumping to Kofi dunks while enjoying the sound of silence as my ears have joined the congestion train and both feel like they need to pop. I will stop describing my illness now.
I'm upright this evening and feeling better, so let's maybe get me up to speed. Two things to get caught up on - one basketball, one football.
Let's go back to June. Kofi had just given his "I'm 100% in on the draft" quote and message boards were alive with "that's it, he's officially gone, let's discuss our options" talk. The discussion was mostly "can Omar Payne make a junior-year leap and be the big to replace Kofi in the middle?". Tre Mitchell had just picked Texas, and the rest of the transfer market was fairly thin at that point, so the discussions were "is Payne the guy?" and "can Hawkins be the five?".
Then Kofi pulls his name out of the draft but keeps his name in the transfer portal. We lose our minds. Had you done a poll at the time, even including Illini fans, votes would have been 84% "he joins Orlando Antigua at Kentucky". But then that began to fade, and Illini fan confidence began to build again, and on July 16th, he announced he would return to Illinois.
I very vividly remember this tweet from Jeff Borzello:
Illinois transfer Kofi Cockburn set to announce his decision on Friday. Best transfer since the introduction of the portal. https://t.co/Ek4ENDKgEf— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) July 13, 2021
If last night's performance proves anything, it's that. The transfer portal was introduced on October 15, 2018, and Kofi Cockburn is the single best player to ever be available there. A true All American who can elevate a team from nothing to everything. College basketball's #1 draft pick for the 2021-22 season.
We've all been discussing Kofi's 28 minutes last night. Plus-28 in a game you won by 12 is just insane. It's as "one single player won this game" as you can get. But instead of talking about his 28 minutes, let's talk about the other 12 minutes.
If Kofi was +28, then in the 12 minutes where he was on the bench, Maryland outscored Illinois by 16. It was some Omar Payne (5 minutes), some BBV (2 minutes), and some with Coleman Hawkins playing the 5. More or less every lineup we discussed back in June.
It doesn't work exactly like this, but let's pretend like it does. Last night's game delivered this message:
- An Illini team without Kofi Cockburn would lose to Maryland by 16.
- An Illini team with Kofi Cockburn would beat Maryland by 28.
Actually, both numbers would increase if he played 40 minutes. Let me use my "I'm just really bad a math" shrug and apply the minutes to those numbers. He played for 70% of the game and sat for 30% of the game while Trent played all 40 minutes. Let's assume Kofi played 40 minutes and project the score based on the minutes he played. I'll grab my calculator.
If Maryland outscored Illinois by 16 in the 12 minutes where Kofi was on the bench, then over 40 minutes, that would be (beep beep bip boop beep) 53 points. If Kofi doesn't play last night, Maryland 96, Illinois 43.
If Illinois outscored Maryland by 28 in the 28 minutes that Kofi played, then that math is very easy. If he played 40 minutes Illinois would win by (beep beep bip boop beep) 40. So if Kofi plays all 40 minutes last night, Illinois 90, Maryland 50.
I know, I know - it's bad math because nobody plays 40 minutes every game. But I'm trying to make a point here.
That point: Without Kofi Cockburn, Illinois might not be a Tournament team this year. With Kofi Cockburn, Illinois could get to the Final Four.
Someone @'d me on Twitter today asking me to write about this subject. I planned to on Wednesday but I'm the whiniest sick person on the planet. There are seven year-olds who handle chest congestion better than me.
Actually, I probably shouldn't say that I "planned to". I usually wait until news is announced, not reported. I've been over this a dozen times (especially during coaching searches) - I just hold any and all reactions until something happens.
But A) I'm feeling better now, and B) someone asked me my opinion on this, and C) Jeremy's report is everywhere now (I've never thought it wasn't true - I just always wait until 99% becomes 100%), so I'll break my rule and write about it. My thoughts:
Blindly, I don't like it. And you know why. Since the day Mike Locksley left to take the New Mexico head coaching job, I've had one request: keep an offensive coordinator for four years. We had just seen the success of installing Locksley's offense, recruiting to it, and then watching it pay off in 2007 and 2008. So now do it again. Install an offense - any offense - and recruit to it.
LOLOL. My phone buzzes. It's an email from the football SID. A statement from Bielema on Tony Petersen being let go. I need to go change "Petersen Report" above to read "Petersen Out". SWEAR TO GOD this happened right now. Go check the timestamp of my tweet when I put the "Maryland 96, Illinois 43" out on Twitter (6:38 pm on Friday evening) and the timestamp on all of the "school announces that Petersen fired" tweets (email came at 7:01 pm). Between then and now I wrote from there to here.
OK, so where was I? Right. Tony Petersen has been fired. And I wanted him retained just like I wanted every other coordinator retained. All because of my outdated, archaic "please just install one offense and keep it for years like Wisconsin, Iowa, and Kansas State did when they rebuilt their programs" stance. I don't really think I need to repeat my reasoning. I've written about this so many times. When I wrote about it this fall (saying "I'm not a FIRE PETERSEN guy"), I used the example of Pitt.
Pitt hires Mark Whipple as the OC in 2019 and installs Kenny Pickett as starting QB. In 2019 (using SP+), with Pickett at QB and Whipple as the OC, they finish 109th in SP+ offense. In 2020, the offense is 86th. Every Pitt fan on the planet wants Whipple fired. Their defenses ranked 12th and 27th those two seasons yet they were a combined 14-10 because the offense was awful. But, Whipple was retained.
This year? Pitt's offense is 4th in SP+. Same QB, mostly the same line and same receivers, 4th-best offense in the country (and 11 wins). Whipple is then hired as the Nebraska offensive coordinator.
That's simply the thing I've always argued. It's why I blindly ask that all offensive coordinators be retained. Please, someone build a Thing. And then try to maintain that Thing. I know the transfer portal has changed the rules, and Nick Saban changes his offensive coordinator hourly, but I started screaming this in 2009 and we just kept trying new coordinator after new coordinator (and failing). I must go down with the ship.
So I'll just say this. If the other reports are true, and Barry Lunney Jr. from UTSA is the next offensive coordinator (would make total sense - he was Bielema's tight ends coach at Arkansas), then please keep Barry Lunney Jr. in the offensive coordinator chair for four years. Just to see what happens. Install his offense, recruit to it, and see where we are in 2025. If we do that, even if he's not any good, I'll bet the offense is humming.
Maybe this is the best way to close this out. Since 2008, here's the list of Illini offensive coordinators:
Chris Beatty/Billy Gonzales
You see that and say "holy crap what a putrid list of coordinators". I see that and say "holy crap we had 9 different coordinators in 14 seasons". And next year will be the 10th coordinator in 15 seasons.
Please, I'm begging - make that stat change to "10 coordinators in the last 18 seasons".