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Why lllinois will make the Final Four in 2020 (probably)

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Success might just be right around the corner.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan had an incredible season in basketball this year, and most people agree there is one big reason why: John Beilein.

John Beilein, a 65-year-old originally from New York, has been coaching collegiate basketball in some form or another since 1978. He’s meticulous, knows effective offensive and defensive scheming and gets the rights guys to fit his system.

Michigan had missed the NCAA Tournament from 1999-2008, which included Beilein’s first two years at the school. He inherited a team from Tommy Amaker, who never made the Big Dance in six seasons at the helm of the program.

And Beilein’s first two years were not good, either. In 2007, Michigan was 10-22 overall, which was the most single-season losses in Michigan history. The Wolverines improved a bit the next season, but they still missed the tourney.

Since then, Michigan has gone to the NCAA tournament eight times under Beilein, which includes two Big Ten Tournament championships and two Final Four appearances.

Why am I telling you all this?

Illinois (might) have found its own John Beilein. A guy who knows his own system, has had past success, and comes to a historically good program to bring it back up to what it once was.

I think Brad Underwood could be the guy, and we can learn from Beilein’s history to see that rebuilding a basketball program is not all that easy.

Underwood ~ Beilein

Underwood had a very similar conference record in his first season at Illinois as Beilein did at Michigan. Were you disappointed with the record this year? I was.

Admittedly, I expected too much. Illinois had a losing mentality that Underwood was constantly fighting, and although they may have won three or four games if there was a true center, it was just not a successful year.

I hate to use the phrase “trust the process,” but I think it is apt here. Just look at how patient Beilein was at Michigan. It took him into his third season to go to the NCAAs, and he even missed it the next year after that. But now he is in the Final Four for the second time in five years.

There’s been a bit of attrition on the Illinois roster recently, which I’m sure you’ve read about. Leron Black is going pro, Michael Finke is grad transferring and Te’Jon Lucas is taking his talents elsewhere. All three of these hurt in different ways, but this will at least give us the chance to see whether or not Underwood can build his own roster.

There’s been speculation about that because he’s never done it before. There’s a first time for everything. I think there’s a few guys coming in that will do pretty well with what Underwood throws at opponents.

Roster Building

Ayo Dosunmu will most certainly be an upgrade in guard play, and we still have Trent Frazier to make ricidulous shots and help run the offense. The Illini lose their scoring leader in Black, but potentially gained more size and rim-running ability in Samba Kane and Giorgi (however you spell his last name). Plus, I think Alan Griffin could really turn out to be a steal. And let’s not forget Underwood is still in the mix for Tevian Jones, who would be a huge addition at the wing spot.

I don’t want to be preemptive, but a lineup like this would make me giddy:

Ayo/Trent/Tevian/Spicy G/Kane

That’s a lot of youngins. But then mix in Kipper (who will be a junior), Aaron Jordan (who you need to believe is good for a pair of treys every game), Giorgi (who had crazy good handles for a 6-foot-9 guy) and Da’Monte (who is sure to have his legs back under him a little better this season; don’t forget who his father is).

Looking Ahead

Next year will probably be similar to this year. Success takes time — just look at Beilein’s record. He missed the tournament three of his first four seasons, so optimistically Illinois makes the tournament in 2019. But just imagine what could happen when you have had Ayo, Trent, Kane and other newcomers in his defensive and offensive systems for a year or two. I think the sky could be the limit. Maybe Underwood isn’t the guy who will be nabbing all the five-star recruits each year, but I’m not even sure that’s really Illinois basketball.

Beilein has done pretty well for himself and the Michigan Wolverines after they missed several straight tournament appearances. Illinois has missed five in a row. And now Beilien is leading Michigan to another Final Four.

Who’s to say Illinois won’t be right where Michigan is, given some time?