Illini Wonk
Saturday, October 29, 2005
  Orange & Blue Scrimmage
I'm heading out of town for the weekend, so if you're looking for a recap of Friday's Orange & Blue Scrimmage, try Mark Tupper's blog.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
  Beefing up the Illini front line
While watching Illini Madness a few weeks ago, I noticed that Illinois is likely to have a different look on the basketball court this year (how's that for a news flash?). One of the biggest diferences could be in the amount of size the Illini have at their disposal. Charles Jackson and Shaun Pruitt looked like they're ready to throw their weight around.

On his blog, Mark Tupper said that if there’s one player causing an early buzz, it’s Shaun Pruitt. Brett Dawson blogs that Pruitt has a slight edge for the remaining starting spot. If he makes a significant contribution this year, that will suprise more than just Tupper. It could also lead to a lot of disappointment over his decision not to redshirt last season.

In another more recent post, Tupper says that Augie still isn't 100 percent, which is a concern. Pruitt and Jackson might be big, but they would not be able to make up for Augustine, last season's Big Ten Tournament MVP. It is not a stretch to say that Illinois' success this year depends on a healthy James Augustine.

Farther down in the post, Tupper says that Brian Randle might lead the team in rebounding. That brings me back to the discussion about size. In addition to the beef, 6-8 Randle and 6-10 Warren Carter will bring a new dimension to this year's team. Their length could be a big asset on defense and on the glass. Randle could also be the Big Ten Defensive POY, but the bigger unknown is with Carter. Back on the first post, Tupper said that the coaching staff is kind of waiting for Warren Carter to step it up.

It remains to be seen what this size does to the three-guard offense. Will Coach Weber put three or four of these players (Augustine, Pruitt, Jackson, Carter and Randle) on the floor at the same time? If the big men are playing well and the inexperienced guards are struggling, does he have a choice? The first few months of the new season will be interesting indeed.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
  Illini Wonk Preseason College Basketball Top 25
A new college basketball season is almost upon us and that means it's time for the wild speculation otherwise known as preseason polls. Illini Wonk will be taking part in the crap shoot this season, having been asked to participate in the College Basketball Bloggers Top 25.

I do this with some major reservations. First, preseason polls are notoriously inaccurate, even from the people who draw a paycheck from college hoops. Second, it's hard for me to make these selections without having seen any of these teams play. I tend to dwell on who they lost and not who they have.

However, the masses want the picks, so here's mine:

1. Michigan State
2. Texas
3. Duke
4. Villanova
5. Kentucky
6. Connecticut
7. Boston College
8. Oklahoma
9. Gonzaga
10. Illinois
11. Arizona
12. Memphis
13. Iowa
14. Louisville
15. UCLA
16. Indiana
17. Stanford
18. West Virginia
19. Alabama
20. Wake Forest
21. Washington
22. George Washington
23. Wisconsin
24. Iowa State
25. Nevada

Well, there it is. I'm not sure how I feel about it, but I'll at least throw it out there so readers can make fun of me later in the year. Expect it to change significantly in the early weeks of the season. If you disagree with me, leave a comment below.

I will continue to post one of these each weekend throughout the season (time permitting). One thing this blogger will try to avoid is the way the mainstream pundits seem to look at polls. They set their preseason poll. Then, if someone wins they move up a spot or two and if they lose they move a spot or two in the opposite direction. As far as I'm concerned, if one team is playing better than another, they deserve to jump over them in the polls even if they both won.

Stay tuned. The season starts soon!
Sunday, October 23, 2005
  The Blogosphere heats up over Collins
Illini Wonk has posted extensively on the recruitment of Sherron Collins, who ultimately chose Kansas over Illinois. The post-portem of the battle for Collins has stirred up a little

Mark Tupper touched a nerve with his blog post: Collins decision puzzling, to say the least, the day after Sherron Collins committed to Kansas over Illinois and Iowa. In the post, Tupper speculated on the roll of Collins' coach Anthony Longstreet played in his recruitment. To say he touched a nerve might be an understatement. This blogger can't recall EVER seeing a post with 158 comments, which is what Tupper's post contained when I published this post.

Tupper's column drew a curious response from Longstreet in which he denied having influenced Collins' decision and dished out some harsh words for Tupper. Among other things, Longstreet was quoted by as saying:
“Is this the first time a kid has changed his mind when he was wowed by something? This is a 17-year old we’re talking about. What exactly does Mark Tupper know about relationships? I’m telling you, it’s like falling in love. Is Mark Tupper an expert on analyzing love and human relationships? If so, tell him I’d like to see his credentials,” Longstreet stated. (This was a premium story on Rivals and it appears that someone created a blog specifically to post this story. Probably not legal).

That was followed by a column from Tupper in the Decatur Herald & Review, where he wrote:
I tend to believe that Collins had an idea where he wanted to attend college, then had someone else forcefully steer that decision in another direction. That would be less bothersome if the person doing the steering were a player's parent. But kids without solid parental backing seem to be more vulnerable, and, based on what I've been told by those who know him, Collins falls into that category. Some coaches want to help with the recruiting. Some want to influence it. A few want to control it.
Someone from the Associated Press apparently picked up on the story from Rivals and wrote this, with Longstreet bringing out the straw man:
Longstreet added to the Web site (Rivals) that if anybody thought he was paid by KU they should "produce the canceled check." Tupper, to be fair, never suggested KU committed any violations in landing Collins.
Who would have thought that this recruiting battle could have turned out stranger than the one over Brandon Rush? Since much of the recruitment of high school basketball players occurs away from the spotlight, we'll probably never know if anything shady happened. For that reason, it can't do much good to dwell on this anymore. Illini Wonk will have news of another recruiting target later this week.

UPDATE: Thanks for the link (and compliment) from the excellent Deadspin. As if this blog wasn't good enough on its own, we find out that it's run by an Illinois alumn who used to cover Fighting Illini basketball for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Friday, October 21, 2005
  Roger Powell, Jr. waived by Seattle
The Reverand Roger Powell, Jr. was waived by the Seattle Supersonics yesterday. With the end of his basketball career looming, he will be remembered as one of the nicer players to wear the Illinois uniform and a key part of the most successful team in the history of Fighting Illini Basketball. This blogger will never forget Powell's second half performance in Illinois' win over Louisville in the Final Four.

Unlike many college basketball players who don't make it in the NBA, somehow you just know that Powell is going to do well no matter what he does. Perhaps he will go into the ministry full-time? Whatever it is, I'd like to say 'good luck, Roger. We'll be praying for you.'
Monday, October 17, 2005
  Weber loses Sherron Collins to Kansas
I wasn't going to post anything on this until I looked at my traffic and saw that EVERYONE is coming to Illini Wonk for the latest news on the Sherron Collins recruitment battle that Illinois coach Bruce Weber apparently lost to Kansas' Bill Self. Collins is the #1 rated recruit in the state of Illinois, and will be the second straight that Self has landed at KU. Collins made the decision after attending "midnight madness" and before he made an official visit to Illinois or anywhere else.

Illini Wonk posted on this a few days ago and among other things said:
Much has been made about previous recruiting "losses" that Illinois coach Bruce Weber has suffered at the hands of Self, but this is really the first time where it is one-on-one. The end result will tell a lot.
Well, the end result tells this: Bruce Weber lost a recruiting battle to Bill Self. Period. Illinois Prep-Bullseye has the relevant recap:
...Collins also became sold on Kansas head coach Bill Self's recruiting pitch. Simply put, Self had told Collins from the beginning that he believed that he could be "the missing piece to the puzzle" in terms of getting the Jayhawks back to the Final Four.
If Collins was "sold" on the recruiting pitch of one coach, it means that he wasn't buying the other one: that of Bruce Weber. What exactly is that pitch? In the Chicago Sports Review, a quote from Charles "CJ" Jackson reveals Weber's pitch to his only ranked (121) freshman recruit:

"[Weber] looked me straight in the eye, and he was like, ‘Most coaches are going to guarantee you 30 minutes a game,” Jackson says. “Coaches are going to tell you you’re going to play 15 at least as a freshman. They’re going to tell you that you’re the number one player coming up next season. I’m not here to tell you that.

“I’m here to tell you that you’re a good player, and we want you on the Illinois basketball team, but we don’t need you. Our success will not depend on you coming here or not. We would love to have you, but how much you play depends on how much you’re willing to work and how much you’re going to deserve. I’m not going to promise you anything.’

One coach promised nothing and one coach promised the Final Four. Maybe that's the right thing for Weber to do. Maybe Illinois will continue to go to Final Fours with two and three star recruits, while Kansas will continue to exit in the first round with four and five star recruits. But one thing is certain: Self's method of recruiting works better than Weber's with the top recruits.

No doubt the national press will begin to pile on Weber's lack of recruiting and indeed Gregg Doyel has already got the ball rolling with: Self pulls another fast one on Illinois.
  What the Illini madness revealed
I hope you tuned in to watch Illini madness on Friday night or were one of the reported 13,405 who attended the first ever event in Assembly Hall. I watched every minute (except the women's basketball), from the highlights of last season to the final buzzer of the scrimmage.

I'd been meaning to post some thoughts for a few days and then almost decided not too since Mark Tupper had essentially the exact same thoughts I did on his blog here and especially here.
But, I decided to add my two cents, so here are a few random thoughts that came from the event, starting with the players:

Now a few thoughts on the event itself:

In case you didn't see the event, you can check out the official photo gallery. Less than a month till the start of the season. I can hardly wait.

UPDATE: Illinois Loyalty posted some great pictures from the madness.

Friday, October 14, 2005
  Let the Illini Madness Begin!
Today is Illini Basketball Madness - the first day of the 2005-2006 Fighting Illini basketball season. Media day press conferences will be carried live on the official web site. To watch, click on the link at There was an online chat with Dee Brown earlier today and a transcript is available.

The Decatur Herald & Review is reporting that prized recruit Derrick Rose will be in attendance.

Lindsey Whillhite has a preview for the Daily Herald. The Daily Illini reports on this year's move to Assembly Hall.

UPDATE: In his media day press conference, Bruce Weber had a lot to say about this year's team. A few excerpts:
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
  Illini Madness is coming!
The basketball season officially kicks off Friday night and sports columnist/blogger/author Mark Tupper has previews on his blog and in the paper. According to Tupper, Eric Gordon will be there. For more information on Gordon, see this post from Illini Wonk. Tupper lists other recruits that will be in attendance as well as what he'll be looking for from those on the court.

UPDATE: The Chicago Tribune weighs in on Midnight Madness with: Brown, Illini get set to rock 'n' roll.
Saturday, October 08, 2005
  Preseason Polls
Over at College Basketball, hoops blogger Yoni Cohen has a composite listing of the preseason top 25. The Illinois Fighting Illini are ranked anywhere from 11 by Slam Magazine to 25 by ESPN commentator Andy Katz. Their composite ranking is 14. Here are the polls:

Slam Magazine: 11

Gregg Doyel: 16 Comments: Dee Brown's broken foot was great luck for the Illini. With Brown, the Illini will challenge for the Big Ten title.

ACC Handbook: 18 Comments: Big Ten Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Dee Brown returns, as does Big Ten Tournament MVP James Augustine.

Athlon: 18

Yoni Cohen: 20 Comments: James Augustine and Dee Brown return for last year's runner-ups. Augustine got better as last season went along. Brown, more importantly, is likely to blossom into the Big Ten's best player with Luther Head and Deron Williams gone. But unless Bruce Weber finds or develops three additional starters, the Fighting Illini may not have enough fight in them for the long Big Ten season. Achilles' heel: Depth. Augustine and Brown are Illinois' only proven commodities. In addition to Rich McBride, two of the following players — Chester Frazier, Jamar Smith, Calvin Brock, and Brian Randle — must step up.

Street & Smith's: 21

Lindy's: 22

Andy Katz: 25 Comments: Credentials: Dee Brown, Big Ten player of the year; James Augustine, a developing post presence; Bruce Weber, one of the top rising coaches in the game; confidence that they can't be beaten in the Big Ten; an awesome home court that ranks with the best in the country; Orange, plenty of orange, to blind opponents. Reason: The Illini could go a lot higher if Brown is able to become Mr. Everything at the point. Moving on without compadres Williams, Head and Powell won't be easy, but Brown has the confidence to forge ahead. If his broken foot is healed, Brown should be one of the hardest players in the nation to chase from end to end. The question is, what kind of help will he get from newcomers Chester Frazier and Jamar Smith or redshirts Calvin Brock and Brian Randle? If they all come through with productive seasons, the Illini could be a factor in the Big Ten again. Red flag: Experience outside of Brown and Augustine will be an issue. This team won't be feared anymore on the road. Everyone will be looking for payback and the Illini will have to be able to handle the surge of emotion every time they are on the opponent's court.

Recently, Illini Wonk posted one that Yoni didn't have in the composite list:

Dick Vitale: 13 Comments: For those downgrading coach Bruce Weber's team, watch out. Guard Dee Brown is first-team All-Solid Gold, and the newcomers will help out.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
  Bill Self and Sherron Collins
A few weeks ago, Illini Wonk posted a story about the recruiting battle between Illinois and Kansas over Crane High School Senior Sherron Collins. Written by Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated, the article gave us some new and interesting insight into the recruiting pitch that Bill Self is giving to Sherron Collins. According to Collins' high school coach:

Self thinks "Sherron is the missing piece to Kansas making the Final Four." And Collins said Self told him the Jayhawks "want a point guard like me to run the show."
Now, a story from Illinois Hoops gives us another look at Self's recruitment methods, specifically in competition with his former employer, the University of Illinois. Chikosi Walker of Illinois Hoops writes:

Self’s pitch has included telling Collins that Illinois is a great program, but Kansas is that much better. In fact, that’s the reason he left Illinois to take the Kansas job. Self feels Collins should do the same. Self has told the star PG that last year’s record-setting Illinois team was recruited by himself. What impresses Collins most about the Jayhawks is the tradition and the freshman class currently on campus, which includes four prep All-Americans. Self has also told Collins that he is the missing piece to a national title at Kansas.

Much has been made about previous recruiting "losses" that Illinois coach Bruce Weber has suffered at the hands of Self, but this is really the first time where it is one-on-one. The end result will tell a lot.
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