Up To Speed - July 25, 2022
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This is the Up To Speed of all Up To Speeds. I mostly haven't been home since the week of the 4th of July. So I'll bring you up to speed on where I've been and then I'll get myself up to speed on everything that's happened in Illini naish the last three weeks or so.
Any of the words written on the site the last two weeks were written with that view right there. That's the view from the balcony of the Airbnb where my wife and I stayed in Idaho while visiting our newborn granddaughter. My wife was able to stay a week before she had to be at corporate training in Minnesota. And since I had no practices to cover, no events to attend, I stayed in Idaho 15 days and spent a lot of time (but not too much time) with my son, my daughter-in-law, and their daughter.
I say "but not too much time" because we were very conscious of their time with the baby. I went into these two weeks with the goal of being a Milford Man: be neither seen nor heard. Since I was going to be there for two weeks, the last thing I wanted was for our daughter-in-law to feel like I was constantly "can I hold the baby now? what about now?". I feel like it's one of life's great over-help moments. She hears "what can I do for you?" from too many people too many times when sometimes she just wants to get into the normal rhythm of life with her child and husband.
So while he was at work, I was on call at the Airbnb. If she didn't want me to come over until 4:00, I didn't come over until 4:00. If she needed groceries, I'm on it. If she needed a very specific brand of herbal tea from a very specific health food store, I'm all over it. I can convince myself I'm in the special forces when I'm driving around town attempting to locate a very specific tea and then holding the baby while she makes said tea.
In the down times (and in the late evenings, like that photo there), I was out on the deck at the Airbnb looking at the mountains and writing about The 90 Illini. Last Wednesday was the day she wanted complete peace and quiet while my son was at work, so last Wednesday was when I wrote about eyeballs on televisions and butts in seats. Other days when she needed some baby assistance (or shopping trips), I didn't write much.
And on the days she did need help - even if it was just "I didn't sleep much last night so can you hold her for 2.5 hours while I nap?", Navy Seal Baby Holder reported for duty. I'm happy to report that the newest Rosenthal in the world and the 49 year-old Rosenthal writing these words are now best of friends. I told her all about the Illini (you can never start too early), and she already has two orange-and-blue articles of clothing, so we're on our way. My daughter-in-law went to Utah State, so while it's possible there will be some Aggie gear working its way into the rotation, I'm pretty sure the Illini will win. (We will win.)
Especially when I fly my granddaughter out for training camp in a few years. Wait - next year, right? Yeah, next year.
Who Let This Guy In?
One of the things I did while out on that deck at the Airbnb: vote in the Cleveland.com Big Ten media poll (which was released today). Not sure why they expanded their list and asked me (well, I have some idea), but I took the task very seriously. If I'm one of the 36 Big Ten media members voting in the poll I cannot be me and vote Kionte Curry Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. It must be done while wearing my media hat.
I also didn't want to vote through someone else's eyes. I didn't want to look up, like, Phil Steele's Preseason All Big Ten and then choose some of his top players for preseason OPOY and DPOY. I wanted to just go off my own opinions (and stat research).
I won't give you my full ballot, but I feel like I should tell you where I put Illinois in the Big Ten West since the article linked up there says that someone had Illinois 2nd in the West. That someone was not me. I picked Illinois 6th in the West. That would be something like 2-7 or 3-6, so an outside shot at a bowl if we beat Wyoming, Virginia, and Chattanooga.
And yes, I'm the only person among the 36 voters who says "we". (But maybe a third of them should, including the Minnesota 247 guy who, according to his tweet this morning, picked Minnesota to win the Big Ten West.) It's 2022, people. If you feel the "we" down deep in your soul, just use it. I'm now proof that it won't prevent you from voting in polls like this. And, if I may, I believe the "we" keeps me way more honest in a poll like this than someone who is a rabid fan but hides behind "I just cover the team".)
For Big Ten Player of the Year (offense and defense), I went with the obvious choice on offense: CJ Stroud. With as much as Ohio State has returning (especially Henderson and Smith-Njigba), he could have a once-every-ten-years kind of season. On defense, the choice seemed fairly obvious to me (although I guess it wasn't that obvious because this player finished 2nd in the poll) - I picked Wisconsin's Nick Herbig. He finished second in the poll to Iowa's Jack Campbell.
That's probably my most controversial pick. I did not have Jack Campbell in my top three. I did have Riley Moss second, so this isn't some anti-Iowa thing. I just don't go for tackle numbers when compiling a list like this. Yes, he was second nationally in number of tackles last year. But I'm of the belief that you can't just look at tackle numbers. It might just be that the funnellers ("your job isn't to make the tackle, son - your job is to funnel the ballcarrier to Campbell so he can make the tackle") were the players who made his numbers so amazing, consistently winning their one-on-ones.
Not a big deal I guess - I didn't prevent Campbell from being preseason DPOY - just thought I'd explain why I didn't have him on my list. Even though you didn't know my list until I told you. So I guess I didn't have to explain.
That's my little nickname for the little corner of Illini Twitter that lives for responses with clown emojis. Not responses to me (although I should probably get better takes because if I'm not getting clown emoji'd then I'm not really out there), but responses to people on Twitter who suggest anything bad regarding Illini basketball. Jon Rothstein tweets his preseason top-45, and he has Illinois 37th, and he gets clown emoji'd to death from this select group of Illini fans. No disrespect here (well, besides my nickname). I understand that I'm 49 and this is how Gen Z talks sports on Twitter.
I guess it's not just Gen Z. Our fans have long been known for taking offense online (even before social media). Preseason polls in the late 2000's (especially 2007 when we weren't ranked preseason after basically seven consecutive seasons in the top-25) were an affront as well. Unfortunately, that one was correct.
I don't see all of it on Twitter, but I do follow the "Fighting Illini" topic, so sometimes it will feed me quote-tweets that got a lot of attention. There seemed to be a lot of fury around Rothstein having us 37th next season. Here's three or four paragraphs (probably seven or eight) on what I think about it.
First, please allow me to put this graphic up again. Real simple. Last year's stats - if a player is gone, they get a red line:
Now think back through every Kentucky team you've mocked the last 10 years. You know the ones. They only have three players returning, they bring in a great recruiting class, maybe even a transfer or two, and then they go 22-11 and only get a 6-seed and you say "see? you have to build a program, not a one-year all-star team".
That's not what we're doing here. We're not doing the Kentucky "can a team full of one-and-done players go far in the tournament?" thing. And Brad Underwood has built a program the last five years and established a culture. But I say that to note that teams with very little coming back often provide their opponents the chance to lob a lot of "ha! you can't just reload and expect it to all continue" insults their way in November and December.
When you have as many red lines as we have above, it might take a bit. It happens to Kentucky when they add six more 5-stars and it probably happens to Illinois when we add Terrence Shannon and Matthew Mayer to the five freshmen and the four returnees. I like the potential here, but... it might take a bit.
So I see it like this. Do I think Illinois will be the 37th-best team in college basketball come March? I do not. I think we will be higher than that. Do I think we are the 37th-best college basketball team preseason? Probably. I don't know what Rothstein was going for here, but I think that's correct when looking at November. The potential is there, but I feel like we're gonna lose some absolute head-scratchers in November and December as Underwood assembles everything. And there's no guarantee it comes together in January or February, either.
This is Phase II for Underwood. Phase II will be much easier than Phase I because he has his culture established and four players ready to carry that forward to the next roster. He doesn't have to build with freshmen like he did in 2018. He's building with the returnees, the five freshmen, and two senior transfers who could finish the season in the top-25 players in college basketball. I don't believe this will be 2018/19 (with the 21 losses we saw from a roster that only had four returnees).
But I also don't think having us 37th is all that crazy. You never know how a new roster will gel. You don't know where you'll find your leaders like Trent. You aren't completely sure if one end of the court (either offense or defense) will reach "should we just throw everything out and start over?" by Christmas. There are question marks upon question marks.
I'm just an old grandpa, so you can dismiss this as me not understanding college basketball in 2022 and continue with your clown emojis if you want. But I just wanted this noted for the record. Yes, Bart Torvik has this roster 13th for next season. I do think we can eventually be the four-seed he suggests.
But it might be ugly at first.