I think this is post number nine in May. My record (for fewest posts during this month where I unplug my brain from Illini athletics as best I can) is 11 I think. So I don't think I'll break the record. I think I'll just do a slapdash post to rid my brain of the things its thinking about.
Just saw a tweet come across saying "100 days until Illini football". Normally this tweet fills me with anticipation each year. Right now it just fills me with dread.
Mostly because this season means something. There was no dread the past few years because the team had very little chance of winning. I was in "learn" mode where I wouldn't really watch the games to watch the games - I wanted to learn if we had capable backup cornerbacks for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. It's a lame way to sports - "I totally don't care if we win or not" - but that's been my mode since we started playing the freshmen midway through 2016. This is a full-fledged rebuild, we're the youngest team in the country, Vegas thinks we'll win three games, I'm gonna watch the backup corners.
This year, well, this year (and next year) are why we rebuilt the way we rebuilt. You play Tymir Oliver and Stanley Green before their ready in 2016 so that they're anchors to your defense in 2019. You play 22 of the true freshmen from your very first recruiting class in 2017 so that in 2019, you have 22 juniors with more experience than 90% of the juniors in the Big Ten. The whole point was to kick-start the program with experienced players running the same system year after year.
And so as each bad thing happens - the starting QB transfers, the best player on the team is in the hospital with a "several spinal injury", the players transferring in decide to not transfer in - I'm filled with more and more dread. This is a season that means something and here we are watching everything go wrong. And I'm not just talking "bad news". This is the offseason where the head coach hired his son and our best recruiter left for Temple.
So it's weird for me to be so filled with dread when Isaiah Williams, Marquez Beason, and Shammond Cooper arrive on campus in a few weeks. Remember the summer of 2007? We were coming of a maddening 2-10 season (the Ohio loss that October just about broke me), but we were pretty excited with Arrelious Benn and Martez Wilson arriving on campus. Nobody expected nine wins, but I think most people went into that season with some "maybe if everything comes together we can win six!" summertime optimism.
The biggest difference between that and this, of course: the November before the 2007 season, we surprised everyone by hanging with top-ranked Ohio State, losing 17-10. The November before the 2019 season, we surprised no one by losing to 6-4 Iowa 63-0. A 2-10 finish (and those awful back-to-back losses to Ohio and Indiana in October) didn't leave the fans feeling positive going into 2007 -- even though 93% of all Illini fans will now tell you they could see 2007 coming, trust me, they couldn't -- but there wasn't a 63-0 hanging over the program. That, combined with Rejus and Tez, allowed for the typical "maybe this is the year" spring/summer optimism.
I haven't felt any of that this spring. Maybe once the talent is on the field in August I'll see it. Maybe seeing Beason, Williams, and Cooper (plus transfers like Sydney and Betiku) will put me in the mood. I mean, I'm me - one long run each from Reggie Corbin and Mike Epstein at camp and I'll be right out there with "first ever dual 1,000 yard rushers on the Illini??".
But for now, unfortunately, it's mostly dread. What else is going to go wrong? Writing the big football preview last summer, I would have told you that on May 23rd, coming off a 4-8 season (I predicted a 4-8 season), I would be crazy excited to write the 2019 preview. 63-0, Jeff Thomas, Miles Smith, Bobby Roundtree, and MJ Rivers transfer later, I'm just not there.
Which is probably good? Illini football rebounds happen when we don't expect it. And right now, I just don't expect it.
Shoutout to the women's golf team for their 9th place finish at the NCAA's, one spot out of 8th and a berth in the match play portion. This was their first-ever trip to the NCAA Championships, so to finish 9th out of 24 teams, that's an incredible accomplishment. It's worth noting that they did this with one senior, one junior, and three freshmen. So it's quite possible that with four of the five back, they can be right back there next year.
This was the hope, of course. That the dominance of the men's program the last ten seasons, leading to the Demirjian Indoor Facility and the Lauritsen/Wohlers Outdoor Facility, would help boost recruiting for the women's program as well. That certainly appears to be happening.
And with the men's tournament starting tomorrow in Arkansas, it's quite possible that it might be a long summer for the men's team at the Lauritsen/Wohlers facility. They need to do better than 9th this weekend (and as the 24th-ranked team, it's a longshot) or the ladies will have the honor on the teebox all summer.
Which is great. I already covered why this was always going to be a down year for men's golf (short version: too young and inexperienced), so having the ladies finish higher (if they do finish higher) could make for a fun offseason. And if the men's team want to try to prevent it, well, gotta go out and make the Match Play on Tuesday.
The best news: both might be top-10 programs next year. The women's team loses one senior, the men's team loses none. So next May could possibly see twin Match Play appearances. And given that both tennis teams return a lot and should be top-15 programs next year, well, Country Club U rolls on.
You guys will be proud of me. I now regularly check two nerdstat sites, not just one. I check KenPom and I check T-Rank (Bart Torvik). I still don't know what any of the categories mean (adjusted tempo? what?), but I like the methodology. Here's what has separated the good teams from the bad teams in the past, here's where the teams stand today based on those metrics, discuss.
Also, projections. I love projections. With most of the NBA decisions settled, here's the projections for the Big Ten next year (national ranking in parentheses).
Michigan State (1)
Ohio State (19)
Penn State (24)
Yes, his projections for 2020 have Illinois 17th in the nation and fourth in the Big Ten. That would be, like, a five-seed.
What goes into these numbers? Good question. He explains the methodology here. This is my TL;DR for that:
You take the players returning (Michigan fell a bunch because they don't have many stat-producers returning), project their stats for next season, look at "momentum" of the program, look at the history of that coach and the length of time at this program (he has some modifier for coaches in their first three years), and presto, the numbers spit out a ranking. I totally butchered that.
Why is Illinois so high? So much production returning, I'd imagine. Here's his projected stats for Illinois next season (points - rebounds - assists):
Ayo Dosunmu 16.1 - 4.5 - 3.9
Trent Frazier 14.7 - 3.0 - 2.9
Giorgi Bezhanishvili 11.4 - 6.2 - 1.2
Andres Feliz 9.5 - 3.3 - 2.5
Da'Monte Williams 5.3 - 3.8 - 1.4
Kipper Nichols 6.6 - 3.5 - 1.4
Kofi Cockburn 4.9 - 4.0 - 0.5
Tevian Jones 4.5 - 3.1 - 0.6
Alan Griffin 3.4 - 1.7 - 0.8
Bernard Kouma 2.3 - 1.4 - 0.0
I can get down with that. He added Kouma instead of Samba, but whatever - that's probably somewhere close to what the 10th-man (a big) will provide.
Add it all up, add all of the other teams up, put it all into the giant nerdstat computer, whizz, whirrr, bangg - it spits out Illinois, 17th-best team in the country. Is that too high? Probably. As a man desperate for something, anything, to cheer about, I don't care. The Big Three lead us to a five seed? I can get down with that.
So yeah, maybe there are... expectations next season?