Expectations were high for the talented but quickly assembled Illini. An early win over UCLA showed their talent, as well as an OT win over Texas. That win was sandwiched by losses to Maryland and Penn State, the latter a notable ass whomping. Uber frosh Skyy Clark heard the grumbles and left the team. The Illini responded with a 7-1 stretch in conference play and finished 11-9 before getting bounced in the first round of both the B1G and NCAA tourneys.
Matthew Mayer is trying to catch on with the NBA. Skyy Clark, included here for completeness, transferred to Louisville. Jayden Epps headed to Georgetown. RJ Melendez took his talents to Georgia. Brandon Lieb added a state to his school and is at Illinois State.
PG Ty Rodgers, 6’6’’ 2nd Year: The biggest question mark on the team is who will bring the ball up the court. The name I see the most among the Illinois people is Rodgers. This comes with caveats - his numbers painted him closer to a center than a point guard last year - he took one three, which he missed, and had almost as many turnovers as assists. The Illini have some options - Sencire Harris was a defensive stopper, and Terrence Shannon could just do it himself. Still, Rodgers was a top 60 prospect as a recruit, so if he can mold his play the Illini will get him on the court in some fashion. But color me skeptical.
SG Terrence Shannon, 6’6’’ 5th Year: I’m much less skeptical of Shannon, who was a bit up and down last season but mostly way up. His three point shooting wasn’t great (32%), but that just led him to give college another try. He’s an ace at attacking and getting to the line. If he can up his three point shooting, he’s fighting to be the best player in the conference.
SF Luke Goode, 6’7’’ 3rd Year: Goode was meant to be a contributor last year, but broke his foot in the preseason and didn’t get on the court until February. He is known for sharp shooting, and that has shown up in his limited minutes. With the uncertainty at the point and Shannon attacking the basket, a sharpshooter is exactly what the lineup needs.
PF Coleman Hawkins, 6’10’’ 4th Year: I‘m not sure if Hawkins will play the four or split time at center, but Hawkins didn’t come back to be a role player, so we will slot him here. He’s always been a puzzling player - ideally he can stretch defenses, but he has never shot the three well. He can be a mismatch, but rarely gets to the line. There’s always the sense that he can better than what he has shown to date, and maybe as a senior it all comes together.
C Dain Dainja, 6’9’’ 3rd Year: No mystery here. Dainja Time will man the post and get rebounds and block shots and dunk the ball. If he could get his free throw shooting to something reasonable (last year he shot 53%), Underwood would probably yell less.
PF Quincy Guerrier, 6’8’’ 5th Year: Illinois didn’t neglect the transfer portal, and out of it comes former Syracuse and Oregon forward Guerrier. It’s tough to pin down what Guerrier is - at Syracuse he was a ferocious rebounder and shot blocker. He transferred to Oregon and became more of perimeter player, though he was fairly lackluster as a wing. I’m not sure what Brad Underwood envisions for him, though he should be first off the bench as a big guy and perhaps even start at the four.
CG Justin Harmon, 6’4’’ 5th Year: The transfers wheel also gives us Harmon from Utah Valley. He could perhaps be described as a poor man’s Terrence Shannon. He is comfortable attacking the basket and dishing the ball. He did show enough passing last season to contemplate him playing the point, and for a team that is likely having open auditions for the point, you can’t rule him out.
G/F Marcus Domask, 6’6’’ 5th Year: Domask comes out the portal from Southern Illinois, where he was very productive and led the Salukis in points, rebounds, and assists. Unclear as to what his role will be for the Illini, but playing in relief at the wing seems likely, and he should be able to play a variety of positions.
PG Sencire Harris, 6’4’’ 2nd Year: I’m not sure why Harris isn’t looked as the point guard, considering he played a lot of minutes last season as a freshman. I suppose the answer is that while he was billed as a defensive whiz and lived up to that, he didn’t give them much of anything on offense. If he can show some passing at least, he could be in line to start, which would make for some very tough defensive lineups that may not be able to shoot straight.
PF Amani Hansberry, 6’8’’ Freshman: One of two freshmen for the Illini, Hansberry was a top 60ish recruit and four star prospect. The book on him is that he is a skilled but not particularly athletic big man. Tough to see a ton of minutes for him this year given the depth chart.
CG Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn, 6’1’’ Freshman: The other freshman in the class, Gibbs Lawhorn was 134th on the composite and hails from Indiana. He’s billed as a scorer more than a point guard, and with seemingly every Illini guard billed that way, it’s tough to see minutes for him.
A Conversation With Our Writers
MaximumSam: All right, Team
Chaos Illini - tell me.
BoilerUp89: Lot of talent on the roster. Shannon, Hawkins, and Dainja have all shown their capability to start in this conference. Shannon and Hawkins have to shoot better from three this year (32% and 28% last year) for the Illini to take a step forward and compete for the conference. Domask is a very useful add on the wing and should step into a starting role without issues.
I’m really high on the potential of Luke Goode and think he breaks out this year as the Illini’s 6th man. He’s an excellent shooter and a year removed from his injury should feel more confident. I’m a little surprised Underwood recruited Domask in over him. I think Quincy Guerrier will be an effective rotation player and Ty Rodgers has some untapped potential that hasn’t been realized yet.
When I first started looking at the roster, I had some questions about the PF/C positions but think I’ve answered them. Expect Hawkins to start at PF and backup Dainja at the C position with Goode/Guerrier/Hansberry to backfill the PF spot. Goode and Guerrier are better SFs than PF, but have the size to defend and would be useful stretch 4s.
He Was a High School QB: Shannon shot 210 free throws last year. With the new charge/block rules going in, he might shoot 300 this year. Underwood has talked glowingly of Domask’s grit and toughness so I expect him to be a fixture in the lineup.
Hansberry is built like a B1G big man already and according to practice reports, he’s clearly the best rebounder on the team already so I’d guess he’ll see some tick even though his offensive game may not be ready.
I just read that in our first exhibition, Justin Harmon was second in minutes played and his three point shot looked excellent so maybe he’s a thing that might happen.
Boilerup89: Good to hear Hansberry will play this year.
MaximumSam: That is interesting. I thought he might get squeezed out by the Dainja/Coleman duo. What issues are Underwood and crew facing?
BoilerUp89: 1) Who plays PG? Ty Rodgers? Terrence Shannon? Both are shooting guards. Sencire Harris didn’t show a ton of readiness last year. Starting a true freshman in Gibbs-Lawhorn would be a choice, but true freshman PGs that succeed in the B1G are rare.
2) Has the roster put last year’s chemistry issues past them? The Illini appeared to gel after Skyy Clark left the team, but with a bunch of newcomers will the Illini be able to put it together early?
3) Is there enough shooting ability on the roster? Goode and Domask are good, capable shooters. Will anyone else step up to be a credible threat? Or will the guys that shot poorly on high volume continue to do so?
If all of the above questions get answered positively for the Illini, they are the dark horse to compete for the Big Ten title with Purdue and Michigan State. If they don’t, the Illini will remain a really talented, but somewhat disappointing team.
He Was a High School QB: Ty Rodgers will play the point and he’ll be fine. When either Shannon or Hawkins is shooting well, this is a top ten team. When they aren’t, this team can lose to anybody in the conference.
MaximumSam: Yeah, I like the talent on the team a lot. Lots of returning guys and enough surrounding pieces to turn in a really game squad. Except for point guard. Illini fans are confident in Rodgers and Illinois fans are never wrong, so I will defer to them. That is a terrific pair of defenders up top, and the Illini should be an entertaining watch night in and out. I definitely see them being in the top four and if Rodgers hits contending for the championship.