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Illinois Basketball Official Visit Preview

Three of Brad Underwood’s top targets are on campus this weekend.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Northwestern Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

There’s been a ton of great content put up this week by our staff previewing the Illinois vs. Penn State football game. The Friday Night Big Ten opener will be played in primetime on national television.

However, that game is merely a side dish to the main entree of the weekend: Hoops ‘Crootin.

Brad Underwood and his staff are hosting three of its highest rated targets this weekend. Oscar Tshiebwe, EJ Liddell and Terrence Shannon Jr. will all be arriving in Champaign Friday to attend the game and to spend the weekend in Champaign.

As has become tradition, the staff will be opening up the doors to Ubben prior to the game at 3 p.m. on Friday, as well as 11 a.m. on Saturday morning.

So if you’re going down to the game on Friday and are tailgating all day, take a break, and wander over to Ubben around 3 p.m. to show some support for the program and the recruits as they get a workout in. And if you have work and can’t make it on Friday but are staying the night in Champaign, stop in on Saturday morning before heading home.

I would assume that all three would be at Ubben for both workouts, but we won’t know for sure until we get closer to Friday afternoon.

Let’s dig into each player a little bit and talk about what a commitment to Illinois Basketball would mean.

EJ Liddell

The four-star PF from Belleville won Illinois Mr. Basketball as a junior. He has cut his list to Illinois, Ohio State and Missouri. The staff had an in-home visit with Liddell on Wednesday night leading up to this weekend’s visit.

This is the make-or-break stretch in this recruitment. Liddell has already taken official visits to OSU and Mizzou, so although he hasn’t set a date, a decision should be coming relatively soon for Liddell.

A commitment from Liddell would be huge for the program. In-state recruiting is always important, and the energy and excitement around the program has been trending downward since the Ayo Dosunmu commitment, which occurred 11 months ago. Most Illini fans have been familiar with Liddell for his entire high school career, and having him on board would bring with it a renewed excitement for the program, centered around a young, homegrown core of Dosunmu and Liddell.

Liddell would also fill a huge need as Illinois would love to bring in a high level talent to start right away at the power forward spot for the 2019-20 season. Out of all three visitors, any of them committing would make a huge impact on the program, but a Liddell commitment would be the most impactful.

I would expect EJ to take his visit and talk it over with his family and mentors over the next few weeks. However, I would guess that after cutting his list to three schools, and visiting all of them, that it won’t be long until Mr. Basketball announces his decision.

Oscar Tshiebwe

The five-star big man is one of the highest rated recruits the Illini are after. Tshiebwe is 6-foot-9, 230 pounds and a very complete, modern post player. He would come in and play starters minutes right away at the five for Illinois.

Unlike the two other visitors this weekend, Tshiebwe is an out-of-state recruit. Illinois is in his top four schools, but they are going up against stiff competition, including West Virginia and Kentucky. Those appear to be the schools with the most momentum in this recruitment, and Tshiebwe will be visiting both of them the next two weekends.

A commitment from a center of Tshiebwe’s caliber would solve all of Underwood’s big man recruiting woes. It would allow him and the staff to focus on the wing position and filling out the roster with other role players to compliment Dosunmu, Frazier and Tshiebwe.

Don’t expect any news this weekend, but Tshiebwe will likely be making a decision in October or early November after wrapping up his visits to UK and WVU.

Terrence Shannon Jr.

The consensus top-100 recruit hails from Chicago and will be playing at IMG Academy this upcoming season. Underwood is trying to reshape this roster with long, versatile forwards, and Shannon is exactly that at 6-foot-6.

He is a potential do-it-all forward at the college level. He will need to come in and improve his jumpshot and get in the gym with Fletch to improve his quickness, but the potential is there for him to make an impact at a high major program.

Shannon Jr. recently committed — and decommitted — from DePaul, and took a visit to Texas Tech just last week. There has been a lot of buzz and positive momentum from recruiting analysts about Illinois and TSJ leading up to his visit, which is always a good sign. A highly recruited four-star player from Chicago at a position of need would be a great way to start off the class. Illinois desperately needs to gain some momentum on the recruiting trail and Shannon would be a big win.

At this time, Shannon doesn’t have any other visits lined up after Illinois, but he also just committed and decommitted from a school a few short weeks ago so it’s hard to know what his timetable will be. However, if you’re holding out hope for a commitment this weekend, this is where I would look.

I’d imagine the staff will be making a heavy push for Shannon to pledge to Orange and Blue sooner rather than later. Hopefully, they will be able to convince the Chicago native to stay home.

So, this is a big weekend.

This is the biggest recruiting weekend of the Brad Underwood era. These are some of the best guys the staff is after in this class, and they are all visiting together. It’s important that the staff kicks off the official visit season on a strong note after having a tough time filling out the class of 2018 and is off to a slow start to ‘19.

So go out and support the program at Ubben this weekend if you can. If you see the recruits on campus, give them an “I-L-L”. Be excited. But most importantly, be respectful of the kids in person and online. The recruiting process is hard enough when coaches, families, friends and schools are involved, and there’s no need for the fans to put anymore unnecessary pressure on them.

This is a huge weekend for Brad Underwood. The program needs a shot of adrenaline. Nothing can do that better than a strong weekend of ‘crootin.