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The fact Kelly Pfeifer and Eric Curry went from Champaign to Reno played in their favor considering the time difference. They got two extra hours (perhaps of rest) by traveling west. That’s the life of an official. The fact they do so many games and, for many, have done so for several years means they stay in pretty good shape. I have nothing to back up the next statement other than good sense, but I would imagine back to backs with so much travel are few and far between especially when you consider officiating is often not these guys’ day job.

Thanks for the questions this week. Nice to have you back.

1. Yeah, Taylor Kuper had a pretty good year at Olathe Northwest (where she teamed up with once and future teammate Tyanna Omazic two years ago). Kuper put up 472 kills, 106 aces and 270 digs for the Ravens this past fall. At 5 foot 9, though, I’d presume she’ll come to the Illini as a defensive specialist. That’s where those latter two skill sets will come in handy. Just as a point of reference, Brandi Donnelly was an outside hitter at Williamsville before becoming one of the best liberos in the Big Ten. Will Kuper take a similar path? Maybe, although just based on last season I’d say Morgan O’Brien is the leader to replace Donnelly at libero. We’ll see what the spring, summer and preseason have to say about that, though.

2. I’m not aware of any other transfers at this time. I wouldn’t think there would be any more to come, but that’s not to say I couldn’t be wrong. It’s been known to happen.

3. The players are working out together at this juncture, but the true start of the spring “season” is when we’ll know more about the progression of Emily Hollowell and Kylie Kuyava Deberg. Both obviously have potential,
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but I’d still put them behind the likes of Jacqueline Quade, Beth Prince and Megan Cooney for the time being. Again, spring, summer and preseason can change things.

This was not a great year to be in need of a big man given the lack of depth in the 2018 class for guys that would be considered elite bigs. A smaller pool to start with coupled with Brad Underwood having a specific type of big in mind (athletic rebounder and rim protector with some offensive skill) limited things even more. The gist I’ve gotten is the Illini coaches want someone that can play right away and won’t be as much of a project. Might have had that guy in Colin Castleton had John Beilein not swooped in late.

Definitely think spring and a grad transfer. Who that might be is still up in the air of course.

I would say Illinois would be a great opportunity for a big man (at this point likely a grad transfer) looking for playing time. The Illini coaches remain committed to adding another post player, and I would think having Orlando Antigua on staff would be a true selling point and struggles landing a big in one class (the staff’s first class) shouldn’t be overblown.

That Leron Black has turned into a go to type of scorer is a sign of growth in my opinion, but I would say both Black and Michael Finke are approaching “who they are” status. Now, playing at a high level at “who they are” can still be a very good thing for the Illini.

Greg Eboigbodin has leveled off of late, but his stretch there in early January showed the type of player he can be when he limits fouls, works the boards and rim runs persistently. The jury is still out on Matic Vesel given there’s just not enough to go on at this point, although watching him practice reinforces the “Matic can be a heck of a passer” narrative.

We’ll end with a question from regular emailer John.

Are there any players who seem to particularly click with each other, with both playing better when the other is also on the floor? I’ve noticed one combination that seems to work particularly well together, but would like to hear your unbiased, close to the floor opinion.

And the reverse. Are there any combinations that seem particularly out of sync? Where one guy never anticipates a pass from another or such?

The new starting lineup is one I think works well together, and apparently so does Brad Underwood. The combination of Trent Frazier and Kipper Nichols gives the Illini more bang for its athleticism buck than any other (unless you add in Greg Eboigbodin to that group). I like Frazier and Nichols together for that reason.

Considering Underwood freely subs and regularly plays nine guys between 17 and 26 minutes,
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I look more for complementary skill sets in whatever grouping he sends out. So many different combinations at this point of the season should have everybody on the same page. It’s only when there’s too much overlap of skill set where I’ve seen issues. The one question I seem to have more often than not is with more defense oriented lineups and the “Who’s going to score?” vibe they can give off.