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Iowa Illinois Basketball

Illinois coach Brad Underwood motions to one of his players during the first half against Iowa Thursday.

Associated Press

CHAMPAIGN – Picking through odds and ends while trying to wait a day to take a deeper dive into the plight of Illini basketball and football.

So count down these five tidbits:

ONE – As coach Brad Underwood moves forward, he knows he’ll need more size and more rim protection as he reshapes the program’s basketball roster.

One prospect was at the State Farm Center on Thursday. Making his official recruiting visit was 6-10, 260-pound Mississippi State transfer Schnider Herard.

Herard is a physical beast, which is important because right now Illinois has nothing in the way of an enforcer around the basket. The development of freshman Gregory Eboigbodin is encouraging, but a player like Herard, who is also considering Baylor and Arizona State, would make an immediate impact.

Another prospect was at the State Farm Center recently when Normal West’s Francis Okoro made an unofficial visit. He’s a 6-9, 225 junior who would be part of the 2019 recruiting class.

Like Herard, Okoro would give Illinois much-needed size.

TWO – Greg McMahon, Eastern Illinois University grad and former Illini assistant coach, has been hired as special teams coordinator at LSU.

McMahon spent 13 years at Illinois and was current Athletics Director Josh Whitman’s tight ends coach with the Illini. McMahon also spent 11 seasons on Sean Payton’s staff with the New Orleans Saints and won a Super Bowl there.

McMahon, who is from Rantoul, spent last season as an analyst at LSU.

THREE – There was an expectation that Illini coach Lovie Smith would have hired at least one, if not three, football coaches by now.

He’s looking for an offensive coordinator after firing Garrick McGee. He’s looking for a cornerbacks coach after firing Paul Williams. And every team is being allowed to hire a 10th assistant coach.

Initially it was thought that former Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who is on Smith’s staff as an offensive analyst, would be the 10th assistant. But emerging as a candidate is Cory Patterson, head coach at Trinity Catholic High School in St. Louis.

Smith has built a relationship with Patterson and has held a clinic at Trinity Catholic. Larry Boyd, the offensive tackle who became a freshman starter for the Illini, is a Trinity grad.

FOUR – Thought to be a candidate for Illinois’ offensive coordinator job was Noel Mazzone, who had been offensive coordinator for Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. Sumlin was fired after this past season.

But Mazzone, who could have strengthened the Illini recruiting presence in the state of Texas, is joining Tom Herman’s staff at the University of Texas. He’ll be involved in offensive quality control.

FIVE – Finally, an Illini basketball note.

In a three-game stretch earlier this season, Michael Finke made 11 3-pointers and Underwood called him “an elite shooter.”

But in five Big Ten Conference games so far, Finke has yet to make a 3-point basket. He’s 0-for-12 including 0-for-3 Thursday against Iowa.

“I wish I had the answer for what’s going on there,” Underwood said when told that Finke got just 21 minutes against Iowa while rising freshman Gregory Eboigbodin played 25 minutes.

“For one, Greg has gotten a lot better. Earlier in the year, if we put him in for four minutes he would haves fouled out.

“I’m not giving up on Michael, but he has to rebound the ball and he hasn’t made a 3 in Big Ten play. He’s 6-10 and we need him to play better. He’s a veteran. He’s had double-digit rebound games in this league. I have high expectations for him.

“He’ll work his way out of it.”


Executive Sports Editor

Executive Sports Editor for the Herald & Review

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