Looks Like University Of Illinois - Alan Griffin
Recruiting is everything yet recruiting is nothing. Recruiting is the main reason the four teams in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament are the four teams in the semifinals (yes, even Penn State), yet teams all over the country are going to get to the Sweet 16 simply by recruiting marginal players, putting them in a good system, and winning a lot of games.
This kind of thing allows for every fan argument. Land a five-star? Your fortunes are set. The vast majority lead their teams to big things. The reason Illinois basketball stopped being Illinois basketball is because we haven't had a Bruce Douglas or a Nick Anderson or a Frank Williams or a Dee Brown in so, so long. That was 100% recruiting. Get them to come to Illinois, win games.
But there's also the Wisconsin or Wichita State or Gonzaga argument. Great system, great coach, simply find the players and win the games. Five-stars? Sure, that would be nice, but it doesn't really matter. They have specific traits they're looking for, they find those traits, they coach them in their system, they win games.
Fans always use the second one for the first. You land a five star (the first group), you brag. You land an unranked no-star, you point to Wisconsin and Gonzaga and you say "rankings are meaningless". There's always a way to spin things positively.
Yet when we look at our 14-18 basketball team which recently completed its season, we see one thing: we didn't recruit well enough. These players can't shoot. They're not really athletic enough. They're not bouncy enough to block shots. At the time when the players signed, we (I) said things like "Te'Jon Lucas might just be the point guard John Groce has been searching for the last few years", but then, when you realize he can't shoot and teams don't even have to cover him at the three point line, you realize once again that recruiting is everything. Villanova landed Jalen Brunson, we landed Te'Jon Lucas, and that's 90% of everything right there.
In October, when Ayo Dosunmu picked Illinois, I was here to celebrate our own Brunson. Finally, a five-star. Finally, a big-time Chicago guard headed to Champaign. So, so many recruiting misses over the last 15 years which left us in the hole we're in.
But there were also misses. Specifically, Landers Nolley and Colin Castleton. Landers Nolley, a shooter who shoots and is headed to Virginia Tech, and Colin Castleton, a tall shooter who also shoots and is headed to Michigan. Land those two guys and we feel so much better about the future.
Because as we saw this season, shooting is everything (that we're missing). Illinois currently sits 263rd nationally in three point shooting percentage, just ahead of Georgia Southern and Alcorn State but behind Arkansas Pine Bluff and Sam Houston State. Underwood inherits the Oklahoma State roster, puts them in this system, and they shoot 40.3% last year (6th nationally). He inherits the Illinois roster this year, installs the same system, and they shoot 33.2% (263rd).
This was Tyler's main talking point in our Back & Forth posts. I went back to our B&F post after we started 0-4 in the Big Ten and he absolutely nailed it:
So although the offensive scheme is starting to bear fruit, that scheme is just about all we have. We simply don't have the shooters or shot makers to overcome a bad possession, or to find points when a defense is having success against the scheme.
In fact, this is a historically bad shooting Illini team. The current clip of 31.6% from the arc would be the second worst percentage in the last 17 seasons. In conference play it's an impossibly bad 24.7%. Like literally impossible - the worst three point shooting team in the country over the past three seasons still shot 26%.
The hope is that Ayo + sophomore leaps will make up for that, but I would caution that those leaps aren't nearly as dramatic coming from guys getting heavy minutes already as freshmen. You'll probably see fewer mistakes, but I'm just not confident that we're going to suddenly see a bunch of sophomore sharp shooters.
So basically my hedge is that this roster still desperately needs shooters. Like three of them.
The good news: Alan Griffin is an Illini because he can shoot. The bad news: Alan Griffin is mostly unranked and only has one other high major offer (St. John's), so he probably doesn't have the athleticism needed at the highest level. We play at that highest level, in a high level conference, so, um, that's probably going to be a problem.
So I think we have to view this as Plan B Landers Nolley. And I'm going to track Griffin's numbers alongside Landers Nolley's numbers at Virginia Tech because that's pretty much how this whole thing works. Land Landers Nolley, win this many games. Miss our on Landers Nolley and land a poor man's Landers Nolley (Griffin), and you only win this many games.
(Note: I've already said I'm going to do this for football with MJ Rivers' numbers vs. Quincy Patterson's numbers at Virginia Tech. So I guess I'm going to be visiting the Virginia Tech statistics page a lot over the next few years.)
Now, all of this sounds really negative and that's probably unfair. This is a kid who looks the part - tall, lanky, sweet stroke with a high release point - of a high major shooter. Long arms and big hands are everything in college basketball, and he has them. Plus an NBA pedigree given that his father was a starter on the Mavericks' 2006 NBA Finals team.
AND he has a younger brother who looks like he will be a high-major recruit in the 2021 class. If Adrian Griffin is going to plan all of these flights to Champaign to watch his son play, why not just keep the same clothing and continue doing that right up through the 2025 season? We might be building a long-term connection here.
For now, though, this is a project recruit. We missed on Nolley (and others), we desperately need shooters, and he's the one we landed on after scouring the country for uncommitted kids these last few months. The player comp here is probably an Aaron Jordan type - use his length on defense to guard guys taller than him and even though he's not the most athletic, work some things on offense to get him open threes.
But I can't go very high on Tom Cruises. I have to be honest - this is a project. And projects just don't usually work out at this level.
Alan Griffin - one and one-half Tom Cruises