I already have a tough time imagining what next season is going to look like for the Illini. In case you needed reminding, here is our scholarship grid that shows players who will be on scholarship for the next four years.
For next year, Michael Finke, Te’Jon Lucas, Leron Black, Mark Alstork, and Mark Smith have either graduated or decided to go elsewhere.
Underwood picked up commitments from Alan Griffin, Samba Kane, Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Tevian Jones, and Andres Feliz in the last month or so, with the five of them able to begin singing TODAY.
Things are changing, and changing quickly, folks. I realize it’s near impossible to predict how a season will go. Before Underwood’s first season with Illinois, I felt like they had a legitimate shot at 18-20 wins and a potential NCAA berth. We all saw how that turned out.
So, I will do my best to throw out some info to you about what players might be on the roster in four years, who could join the team between now and then, and what the outcome of that season could possible be. If you haven’t already, take a look at Austin Jabs’ preview of the 2020-21 season. Again, this is all speculation, but it will put this brief into perspective.
Who might be around?
Here’s who we know of that could be on the 2021-2022 roster:
That’s if all of them stay four years. Ayo and Tevian have both talked about leaving school early for the NBA draft, although I think both of them will be in Champaign for two or three years. So, more likely, the guys who we know that will be on the roster will be Kane, Bezhanishvili, and Griffin.
There’s plenty of recruiting names floating around, too. Francis Okoro and EJ Liddell are probably the highest targets on the board right now for the class of 2019, and Underwood is still trying to potentially add another guy to the 2018 class. Blake Hinson, Bryce Golden and Courtney Ramey are names that most Illini fans have heard quite a bit of. Ramey seems unlikely at this point given the commitment of Andres Feliz, but, again, everything is an unknown at this point. Adam Miller, a 2020 recruit from Morgan Park, will be another name to keep in mind.
I think it’s pretty likely that the 2019-20 season, Underwood’s third year, could be a great one. Frazier, Da’Monte Williams and Greg Eboigbodin will be upperclassmen and Ayo and the rest of his class will have a year under their belt. By this point, Underwood’s culture should be pretty well established. So, two years later, I would optimistically think they could continue to improve. If recruiting goes the right way, and either Okoro or Liddell hop to Champaign and Dosunmu can convince Miller to stay home, I think the sky is the limit.
While 2022 seems far away, what Underwood is doing right now is laying the foundation for his future years. With Dosunmu, Griffin, Feliz and Jones as high-level recruits, the success of the next two seasons and promise of greatness will lure guys like Liddell or Miller to stay in his home state. If these guys come, I have no doubt Illinois will consistently win 20-24 games per year.
Gone are the days of John Groce’s lack of identity in coaching. With Underwood’s scheming, it’s all about getting the right guys, which we will see in the next two years.
Worst case scenario? Underwood can’t consistently recruit, and after Frazier/Ebo/Williams leave, with potential departures of Tevian and Ayo, there is a lack of athleticism and talent.
More likely scenario? Underwood lands some of those targets and Illinois is still in the 19-23 win range for the 2021-2022 season. Only time will tell.