CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — It wasn’t pretty, but that’s what exhibition games are for. Illinois took down Illinois Wesleyan, 83-67, on Friday night at State Farm Center in its first real matchup of the season. The arena was partially full, with the Orange Krush coming through behind the benches, and even though the game against the Division III Titans does not even count on the stat sheet, there is still a lot to unpack.
First things first, welcome to Champaign, Andres Feliz.
As a sophomore at Northwest Florida State, Feliz averaged 20 points per game, six rebounds, and six assists, all while shooting over 60 percent from the floor (yes, you read that right) and over 40 percent from behind the arc. He wasted no time introducing himself to the Illinois fanbase by showing that those numbers aren’t a fluke.
The JUCO product finished the night with 20 points and five rebounds and drew five fouls as well, something head coach Brad Underwood says Feliz has a knack for. What’s more impressive is that all eight of his buckets came at the rim. Whether he was beating the Wesleyan defense back in transition, or just attacking the hoop, he showed that he can use his body to finish among bigger guys.
Feliz didn’t even get his outside shot going, missing both of his three-point attempts, but still showed he can be an instrumental part of Underwood’s second-year offense. He crashes the offensive glass hard for a guard, and he’ll be rewarded with easy buckets for it. When he puts it all together, there’s no reason that he can’t be one of the most talented guards in the Big Ten.
Trent Frazier is a guy who burst onto the scene at the beginning of conference play last season after a slow start, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case this year.
It was Frazier who nailed the pull-up three to start the game, and it was Trent who hit back-to-back jumpers when the Illini offense started to stall in the second half.
He ended with 19 points and five assists, but also turned the ball over four times. The turnovers shouldn’t be an issue yet, as these were some of the first reps for the team against other guys, but it could be a long non-conference season if he can’t take care of the ball.
Frazier is going to be one of the top guards in the conference again this year, except this time he’s going to be the one at the top of opposing scouting reports. He’ll have to find ways to impact the game when defenses make him their biggest priority.
Ayo Dosunmu came to Champaign with a lot of expectations already set.
As one of the highest-rated recruits in recent memory and being an in-state guy, any success he has as an Illini will be all the sweeter for fans. He racked up 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the floor, but also turned the ball over five times with just one assist. Again, it was a sloppy game and there were likely a lot of jitters in his first time suiting up in front of the home crowd. I wouldn’t expect to see him turn the ball over five times with just one assist again.
Underwood talked about Da’Monte Williams’ skillset a lot last year and how he just always seems to be in the right place.
DMW does the little things like drawing charges, which he did twice Friday, but what I was most excited to see was his bounce. Williams went down with an ACL tear his senior year of high school and didn’t ever seem like he recovered 100 percent last season. He looked much more explosive Friday night, even just attacking the glass. If he can find his shot, then Williams has the opportunity to play a different, but essential role for the team.
This recap wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention Giorgi Bezhanishvili, however.
The freshman showed a lot of potential AND personality in his first game as an Illini. In the first ten minutes of the game, not only did he showcase his range while nailing a three, but he also found time to scuffle with a Wesleyan player and pick up a technical while he was at it. He didn’t stop there though. The Georgian made sure to wave his arms up and pump up the crowd, before taking a seat to “Giorgi!” chants. He’s sure to be a fan favorite for a while, but Underwood said he’s going to need his big man to play more than just 14 minutes so he’s going to have to stay out of foul trouble.
For a freshman, G-Bez showed a lot of promise. More than once, I saw him shouting instructions to others in the press, or standing up on the bench, pointing guys to their matchups. Buy Giorgi’s stock while you can.
My biggest concern after tonight was the defense.
The fullcourt pressure looked really good at times, forcing Wesleyan into quick turnovers. The major issue with the pressure was that it took too long to transition to their man-to-man defense. Too many times Wesleyan was able to find an open shot on the perimeter, taking advantage of it more than not (13-of-25 from deep.) In the halfcourt, the perimeter guys were too much of a liability, as Wesleyan was able to beat Illinois backdoor too much for too many easy buckets.
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