Some Illini Musings

The big news of the day for the Orange & Blue wasn’t good.  Top Point Guard prospect Demetrius Jackson chose to stay close to home and play for Notre Dame.  Jackson has been the focus of Coach John Groce’s recruiting efforts for months, the kind of versatile, athletic guard needed to run Groce’s system.  We’ve been hearing for several weeks that Illinois led, that he was on his way to Champaign.  For Illini fans, it’s a familiar hoops recruiting refrain when it comes to top prospects, and it goes a little something like this:

It’s known as the Illini Hoops recruit nutpunch.  Go on down the line:  Derrick Rose, Eric Gordon, Shaun Livingstone.  All too familiar the last 6-8 years.  Painful.

Now sports-writers and recruiting gurus have already assured us it was monumental to even be considered by Jackson after only recruiting him since the Spring.  They’ve written that Coach Groce will get players.  And yes, his staff held onto Malcolm Hill and landed Chicago shooting guard Kenderick Nunn.  But this latest nutpunch still smarts, if only because we kept hearing it was going to be us.  As an Illini fan, I should be used to it.

Getting an elite point guard would have seriously sped up the post-Weber bball reclamation project, but now we’ll just have to show some patience.  There remain a number of high quality players for the taking in Illinois, some of which are even considering the state school.  Many of these players are big guys and wings, however, and Groce needs more guards to run his system.

On the football front, Tim Beckman’s team has struggled to 2-2 in September, including a pair of blowout losses to up-tempo spread offenses.  Illini fans are getting that Groundhog Day feeling with which we’ve become all too familiar.  But we should take some solace in the fact that we’ve already played the best team we’ll see all year in Louisiana Tech.  Yes, I believe they are better than anyone in the Big 10 and the Beemsville prediction matrix places them as BCS party crashers by the end of the year.

Two troubling themes from the first month are 1) Injuries, and 2) Apparent disorganization and confusion (especially on defense).  Of course the first directly affects the second, and the Orange and Blue have been seriously dinged up.  We don’t know for sure, because Coach doesn’t discuss injuries by policy, but Robert over at A Lion Eye has a pretty good list of the walking wounded:

  • OL Graham Pocic – out (#1 O Lineman)
  • OL Hugh Thornton – out (#1 O Lineman)
  • QB Nathan Scheelhaase – (Starter)
  • WR Darius Millines – out (#1 WR)
  • S Supo Sanni – out (Pre-season starter)
  • S Steve Hull – out (Pre-season starter)
  • LB Houston Bates – out (Starter)
  • K Nick Immekus – out (Starter)
  • LB Houston Bates – out (Starter)
  • TE Evan Wilson – out (#2 TE)
  • LB Henry Dickinson – out (Possible pre-season starter)
  • WR Devin Church – out
  • OL Corey Lewis – out
  • LB TaJarvis Fuller – out
  • OL Jake Feldmeyer – probable (Starter)
  • TE Jon Davis – probable (Starter)
  • CB Terry Hawthorne – probable (Starter)

That’s a lot of key pieces out or hurting – about half your starters.  For a team like Illinois, with depth issues from day one, this could prove disastrous.  The situation amplifies the lack of cohesion any team faces when implementing new systems and a new coaching staff.  And that staff hasn’t looked very good either.

On defense, Tim Banks has so far shown he’s no Vic Koenning.  The dual-offensive coordinator tandem of Billy Gonzales/Chris Beatty haven’t called plays before at this level.  Their lack of creativity has been painful to watch – but again, this could come down to lack of healthy playmakers.  Coach Beckman could only look on with envy as Arizona State and Louisiana Tech put on a spread offense clinic – which is, he’s stated, how he’d like to play.  Still, let’s see something from this team.  Let’s beat a declining Penn State team for a start…

One saving grace is the fact that the Big 10 is pretty suck this year.  As bad as it’s been in recent memory.  This gives us some hope that the Illini can somehow get bowl eligible again and keep Beckman’s summer recruiting momentum moving.

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