Like he did with Lovie Smith and football, Josh Whitman's hire of Brad Underwood brings a new identity to Illini basketball

Like he did with Lovie Smith and football, Josh Whitman's hire of Brad Underwood brings a new identity to Illini basketball

Most folks in Big Ten Country might not know exactly what to expect from new Illinois head basketball coach Brad Underwood.

But it looks like Josh Whitman has done something similar with the basketball program to what he did with the football program when he hired Lovie Smith a little more than a year ago.

The football program was floundering under Tim Beckman and Bill Cubit, seemingly rudderless with a whole bunch of losing going on down in Champaign. Smith's hiring brought instant credibility and a jolt of energy to a program that desperately needed it, but most importantly it gave the Illini an identity.

Anyone who watched Smith's NFL teams, be they Bears fans or not, knew instantly what kind of football he liked to play. He was a defensive guy who made his Bears teams some of the best defensive squads the league had seen in a long time. The turnover-driven defensive mentality followed Smith from Chicago to Tampa Bay, and while it might take him a little while longer to implement it in Champaign, there's no doubt that's what he's trying to do at Illinois.

Even if you didn't watch Oklahoma State or weren't familiar with Stephen F. Austin outside of a couple NCAA tournament games, it doesn't take much digging to know what Underwood likes to do. He likes to score a whole lot of points.

So say hello to Illinois basketball's new identity.

The Cowboys were the No. 6 scoring offense in the nation this season, averaging 85.7 points a game. Illinois, in case you were wondering, averaged 72.1 points a game, good for 198th nationally.

But the difference between Smith's arrival and Underwood's might be that you won't need to expect a football-style waiting period for the new identity to take root. Underwood spent just one season in Stillwater. The year before he got there, the Cowboys averaged 66.5 points a game and ranked 303rd out of 346 Division-I teams. Meanwhile, his Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks averaged 80.2 points a game and ranked 23rd in the country.

So, while Underwood might run into some more challenging defenses in the Big Ten than he did in the Southland Conference or even the Big 12, there's a good reason to believe that Illinois can change into a very different team overnight.

And isn't this what Whitman was trying to do? That was his goal with his football hire, bringing in someone who could put a definitive stamp on a program that had lost its way or didn't have one to begin with. John Groce is a good man who couldn't win many meaningful basketball games at Illinois, and while he frequently repeated his "toughness and togetherness" line, those intangible concepts don't resonate as much as more than 80 points a game would.

Underwood might not be the guy Illinois fans expected. Though no one expected Smith, either.

Again Whitman acted fast and acted to define one of his school's major programs. And whether success comes or not, he's made a bold statement once more.

Michigan State defensive lineman Auston Robinson off team after being charged with sexual misconduct


Michigan State defensive lineman Auston Robinson off team after being charged with sexual misconduct

An ugly offseason for Michigan State's football program got uglier Friday.

Defensive lineman Auston Robertson was first charged with sexual misconduct before a statement from head coach Mark Dantonio announcing that Robertson is no longer a member of the team.

Robertson, a potential starter on the defensive line who played in seven games as a freshman last season, was charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct Friday after police said he raped a woman.

This is unrelated to an ongoing sexual-assault investigation involving three other Michigan State football players and a staff member, all four of which were suspended earlier this year.

Robertson came to Michigan State with some controversy. He was involved in another serious situation before even signing with the Spartans, accused of improperly touching a female classmate during his senior year of high school and receiving a misdemeanor battery charge. That charge was later removed from his record after completing a diversionary program earlier this year.

Dantonio had this to say in a statement Friday:

"The criminal sexual conduct charges announced today against Auston Robertson are of the most serious nature. Sexual assault has no place in our community. While there is an ongoing criminal process, we're extremely disappointed that Auston put himself in this position. He is no longer a member of our football program.

"Due to the charges he was facing during his recruitment, we took precaution in allowing Auston to be a part of our football program, including a thorough vetting, which we acknowledged publicly at his singing. This was a multiple-step process that continued through his final admission in the summer.

"Following his arrival on campus, he underwent an extensive educational process with specific prerequisites put in place for his participation as a student-athlete. This included daily supervised sessions within the football program and regular meetings with university staff addressing appropriate behavior and developmental growth. He also successfully completed his one-year diversionary program directed by the court, which included a 22-week course focused on behavior changes that began in Indiana and was transferred to the state of Michigan. Despite these measures, Auston broke our trust and expectations by putting himself in a compromising situation.

"Our players are representatives not only of themselves and their families, but also Michigan State University, this football program and all of those who support us. We will continue to emphasize and enforce the high standards of integrity, respect and accountability that I have for everyone in this program. We expect all of our players to conduct themselves in a manner that reflects the values and principles of this university."

Robertson was a candidate to start along the defensive line after recording three tackles and forcing a fumble as a reserve last season.

Despite rough spring game, Wilton Speight still tops Michigan's quarterback depth chart


Despite rough spring game, Wilton Speight still tops Michigan's quarterback depth chart

Wilton Speight is still on top of Michigan's quarterback depth chart, despite the fact that the incumbent starter had an ugly performance in the Wolverines' spring game.

Speight threw two interceptions and completed just nine of his 26 passing attempts in the spring's fanciest scrimmage. But Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters Wednesday that Speight is still ahead of everyone at the game's most important position.

"It'll always be (a competition,)" Harbaugh said in Detroit, his quotes published by the Detroit Free Press. "Still over the course of the whole spring practice, Wilton on our depth chart, he's No. 1. But it's a meritocracy. By your effort and by your talent you will be known. That's a good thing for our football team.

"We get it in camp and we go through camp, somebody that stands out and it's undeniable, that's what we're looking for, there's that one guy. Probably eight, nine, 10 practices, that's probably the range where you make up your mind on something like that. It's always going to be that meritocracy."

The challengers are John O'Korn, who was No. 2 to Speight last season, and Brandon Peters, a freshman from Indiana who had a nice spring game with 160 yards and a touchdown on just nine completions as well as a rushing touchdown.

Speight completed 61.6 percent of his passes last season, throwing for 2,538 yards and 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions. O'Korn completed 20 of his 34 passing attempts in game action last season, throwing for 173 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Peters was ranked as a top-160 recruit nationally by Rivals, a four-star prospect and the No. 6 pro-style quarterback in the Class of 2016.

Unsurprisingly for the always-secretive Harbaugh, the head coach said the quarterback competition will be ongoing and last for some time. It would be no shock to see things play out much like they did last season, when Michigan's starting quarterback was a mystery until the offense took the field in the season-opener.