Illinois lost Michael Finke and Te’Jon Lucas this week after both players opted to transfer from the program and play elsewhere next season. The Illini have already lost Mark Smith to the transfer market, Mark Alstork to graduation and Leron Black to the professional ranks.
That’s a lot of points, rebounds and minutes between those five names that Underwood will have to replace.
Underwood has five-star guard Ayo Dosunmu coming in next year and has received verbal commitments from SG Alan Griffin and big men Samba Kane and Giorgi Bezhanishvili (AKA Giorgi-B AKA G-Bez).
You can check out the full scholarship grid here: Illinois Hoops Scholarship Grid.
At the moment there are three current open scholarships. This post will hopefully put some color around that chart and how Underwood may fill the rest of it out. Let’s first look at the depth chart as it stands.
Dosunmu - Williams
Jordan - Griffin
Nichols - Giorgi-B - Vesel(?)
Eboigbodin - Kane
If you want to say Dosunmu is a point guard you would be correct. If you wanted to say Nichols will play more at the three next year, you would also be correct.
These lineups will be flexible and, dare I say, positionless. Frazier and Ayo will both start and play a lot of minutes together, and Kipper is going to be playing plenty of minutes where he’s guarding the other team’s power forward.
Where are the Holes?
Guard/Ball Handler — As that depth chart stands, Frazier and Dosunmu are the only players that could be classified as a PG. More importantly, they are the only players who have the ability to not only bring the ball upcourt against pressure, but initiate offense off the bounce. Hopefully, with a full offseason and a sophomore leap, Williams can develop into an alternate ball handler, but that’s more of a wish and definitely not a sure thing for now.
Wing — Underwood would love to slide an immediate impact player in at the starting small forward spot. That’s no slight to Jordan or Griffin, but more firepower is needed from that position. Aaron Jordan is going to be incredibly important to next year’s team. He is currently the lone senior and will need to become a great leader. Jordan is built to be the perfect “3 and D” sixth man to this team. If he could play the role of Michigan’s Duncan Robinson, that would open up plenty of possibilities for next year’s team.
A Big Guy Brad Can Trust — Illinois will have more height next year. It would be impossible for them not to. The combination of Kane, Eboigbodin and G-Bez should be able to provide more rim protection and a semblance of an inside presence. However, those are two freshmen and one sophomore. Young bigs need some time to develop. Those guys are all going to play — because they’ll have to — but they are also going to foul, make defensive errors, and may not bring the tenacity to the boards that Underwood demands. Luckily, with those three in the fold, Underwood doesn’t need to go find a 6-foot-10 grad transfer. He will want to find an forward who he can trust on defense down the stretch and who will play hard and grab boards. And if he has any kind of low-post offensive game, consider that a plus.
How can Underwood fill them?
Before we get into recruiting wish lists, it’s important to keep in mind class balance. Illinois already has four incoming freshmen. They still have three open scholarships, with potential for more (*Matic*). If three elite level freshmen want to come in, I’m sure Brad would oblige. But that’s unlikely this late in the game.
If I were a betting man, I would say Illinois adds one more freshman, maybe 2 at the most, and fills the rest of the board out with upperclassmen transfers by way of JUCO or the graduate transfer route.
Let’s start with some of the high school targets.
Tevian Jones — This is the guy. I’m no scout or recruiting expert, but I love Jones’ tape. Tevian Jones is a four-star 6-foot-6 wing with long arms who can stroke it. His style, skill and body is what the sport of basketball is moving toward. He looks like the type of recruit who has legitimate NBA potential. He would come in and immediately fill the “Wing” need outlined above. A starting backcourt of Frazier with Dosunmu and Jones flanking each side over the next 2-3 years would rival any backcourt in the Big Ten and the country. That’s a three-headed monster with versatile, gifted offensive talent, and the combination of quickness and length to make Underwood’s pressure an absolute nightmare. Jones decides where he will be attending on April 11.
If you couldn’t tell, Jones is at the top of my wish list.
Blake Hinson — Hinson is a 6-foot-7 G/F who has recently reclassified from the class of 2019 to the class of 2018. Hinson is also a football prospect, and if you’ve seen him play, you’d understand why. He’s a big, strong forward who also has terrific guard skills, including great range on his jumper. Hinson projects as a wing at the pro level, but will most likely be playing a lot of 4 in college based on his build and size. Hinson’s strength and skill at the 4 would be a great compliment to Eboigbodin and Kane. He is a freshman, but he definitely checks all the boxes (besides experience) for the “Big Guy” need.
Courtney Ramey — Ramey is a top-50, 6-foot-4 point guard. Ramey is the type of talent where you throw that class balance stuff out the window. Very similar things could be said about Ramey that I said about Tevian Jones. A starting backcourt of Frazier/Ramey/Dosunmu would be terrifying. Jones is more of a true wing and Ramey is more of an initiator on offense like Frazier and Dosunmu. All three are point guards, but Ramey and Dosunmu have the size to play the wing on defense, and each brings a different versatility to the offensive end. A lot of schools are after Ramey, and Illinois may be considered a long shot at this juncture, but things can change and they would obviously love to add him to the fold.
Let’s pivot to some potential transfers that we’ve heard floating around.
Andres Feliz — If Illinois can’t land Ramey, expect Underwood to make Feliz a high priority, if he isn’t already. Feliz is a 6-foot-2 JUCO PG at NW Florida St. He averaged 20 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds on 61 percent from the field and 42 percent from three last season. Those are some gaudy numbers. He would a be a perfect guy to slide into the young guard rotation of Frazier, Dosunmu and Williams. He gives Underwood another primary ball handler, another go-to scorer, and a playmaker, in addition to some collegiate experience and class balance.
Jordan Caroline — Caroline is a 6-foot-7, 235-pound Champaign native, and he put his talent on full display during Nevada’s run to the Sweet 16. With his personal success and the Wolfpack’s team success I would be surprised if Caroline chose to leave Nevada. However, I won’t rule out him wanting to come home for his final season if Coach Musselman leaves for greener pastures. Caroline would be the ideal “Big Guy Underwood Can Trust”. He would come in and be the starting 4 (or 5 if Underwood wanted to go small). Caroline is undersized as far as height is concerned, but his strength makes him a tenacious rebounder and strong presence down low. He’s a great athlete who can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim if given the opportunity. He also shot 33 percent from three last year. Even if Caroline isn’t available, he’s the type of graduate transfer Underwood will be hunting for.
Austin Trice — Trice is a 6-foot-7 JUCO forward from Wabash Valley College in Illinois. Trice is a top-end athlete and rebounder. Even though he’s not a completely polished offensive player, he would bring the tenacity, effort and energy that Underwood wants to play with. Illinois wouldn’t be asking him to come in and make jump shots or score 10 points per game, but Trice could contribute valuable minutes, rebounds, energy and dunks at the power forward position for next year’s team.
It’s important to remember that these are just a few of the options we are aware of at this time. There are sure to be more names that come on the scene in the coming weeks. However, it’s encouraging to see that there are still very intriguing and talented targets left for Underwood’s staff to pick up this late in the game.
Some Final Scenarios
Dream World of Rainbows and Lollipops: Jones, Ramey, Hinson and Caroline
Jumping for Joy: Jones, Feliz, Hinson or Caroline or unknown fifth-year big
Be Worried: We can’t land at least 2 of the 6 targets listed in this post.
I have absolutely no knowledge or information on how any of this will play out, but I think that “Jumping for Joy” scenario is possible and what I’m thinking/hoping will happen. At least it’s what I’ve talked myself into. I’d feel great about getting Jones and Feliz. Then adding an upperclassman forward will be the cherry on top. There might be enough on that roster to accelerate this rebuild.
Make it happen, Brad.