November 24, 2020

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Big 10 Basketball Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini

Big 10 Basketball Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini

We travel south down I-57 to Champaign, IL to preview top 10 ranked Illinois Fighting Illini

Illinois Fighting Illini

2019-2020 overall record: 21-10

2019-2020 Big 10 record: 13-7

2019-2020 Big 10 Ranking: 4th

2019-2020 Season Recap

Illinois had no real expectations coming into last year. Most people thought they would bounce back from a tough 2018-2019 campaign, but most realistic Illinois fans were hoping to claw at the outer edges of the tournament this year. The Illini got there and then some. Even during early January, Illinois was playing as good of basketball as any team in the country. They settled back down to Earth at the end of the year, but then finished strong enough to fall somewhere between a 5-8 seed depending on their Big 10 tournament showing. The biggest weapon for the Illini last season was their rebounding. They ended up as the 11th best team in rebounding margin in the country. I think the Illini were a little too young and streaky to make a championship run, but I still think they could have won the big 10 tournament and even made it to the sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. 

2020-2021 Outlook

It might be time to party like it’s 2005 for the Illinois Fighting Illini! It is now 15 years removed from that squad that finished as the National Runner Up. Full disclosure: I was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs and one of my favorite college basketball memories growing up was watching that 2005 Illinois squad lead by Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head (especially the comeback vs Arizona in the Elite 8). To be clear, I do not think this 2020-2021 version will be as good as that team, but this is easily the best team the Illini has fielded since then. It starts at the top with coaching. I love Brad Underwood. He did an excellent job at SFA and he has done an amazing job turning around this Illinois squad from a cellar dweller into a legitimate national title contender. To be a National title contender, you usually need a superstar player that can take over the tournament. The Illini have two: Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn. Starting with Dosunmu, he is a preseason all American candidate and for good reason. He finished last year with 16.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG and 3.3 APG. He still has to work on his shooting and passing but he is the go to scorer and difference maker for this Illini team. Don’t be surprised if you see his name in the player of the year voting, he is that good. On the flip side of the 2 headed monster for Illinois, you have Kofi Cockburn. As a Freshman, Cockburn dominated the paint averaging 13.3 PPG and 8.8 RPG. He should be looking to average a double double this year with points and rebounds. Outside of their two stars: Illinois also returns starters Trent Frazier, Giorgi Bezhanishvilli, Da’monte Williams. For even more firepower, Underwood brings in 4-star recruit out of Chicago, Adam Miller, to be a nice complimentary scorer off the bench and maybe to start as the year progresses. With the returns of the 2 stars as well as the rest of the supporting cast, I am picking Illinois as my choice to win the Big 10 regular season this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wisconsin or Iowa beat them out, but Illinois is more talented than Wisconsin and I will not trust Iowa until they learn to play defense. Illinois is also my best bet for Big 10 regular season champion at +355.

2020-2021 Projected Starting Lineup

G: Trent Frazier

G: Da’monte Williams

F: Ayo Dosunmu

F: Giorgi Bezhanishvilli

C: Kofi Cockburn

2020/2021 Projected Big 10 Ranking: 1st

2020/2021 Projected Postseason Placement – #2 seed in NCAA tournament