Brad Underwood and Co. are looking to continue a mostly strong start to the 2019-20 campaign. Kofi Cockburn, thus far, has looked as advertised. Andres Feliz appears to be the “glue guy” that analysts were claiming him to be in the offseason. Alan Griffin has shown marked improvement. If the defense can maintain better consistency (that 90-69 ending to Arizona really hurt), I like where this season is headed.
The next test: Hawaii and Eran Ganot come to Champaign on Monday night with an 3-1 record. Let’s break this down.
During the 2018-19 campaign, Hawaii went 18-13 overall and 9-7 in the Big West Conference. It’s difficult to point to a lot of quality opponents over their schedule last year. As part of the Wooden Legacy in Fullerton, Hawaii defeated Utah 90-79 but subsequently lost to Seton Hall and Fresno State. The Rainbow Warriors had two opponents in common with the Illini last season: Mississippi Valley State, whom they defeated 76-51 on Dec. 16 (the Illini won their battle 86-67 on Nov. 25) and lost to UNLV 73-59 on Dec. 22 (the Illini defeated the Rebs 77-74 on Dec. 8).
The Rainbow Warriors lost to Long Beach State in the opening round of the Big West Tournament and did not receive a berth to the NCAA Tournament. They declined an invite to the CIT for the second consecutive year, pointing health and concern for the length of the season for not participating.
This Year, so far
As previously mentioned, the Rainbow Warriors have a 3-1 record thus far into the 2019-2020 campaign. They opened the year with a 65-52 victory over Florida A&M, but dropped the next game to South Dakota 81-75. Pacific was the third and final game of the Outrigger Resorts Rainbow Classic, whom Hawaii defeated 72-67. Finally, they defeated Portland State this past Friday 83-75.
Looking forward on their schedule, the only power five conference teams Hawaii has scheduled this season aside from Illinois include Washington and Georgia Tech as part of the Diamond Head Classic around Christmastime. Depending on how that tourney shakes out, they might face Houston or Boise State as well, which could provide some interesting tests. In all ernesty, the battle in Champaign will probably tell us a lot about this Rainbow Warriors team.
Who To Watch For
Hawaii, albeit just three games into the season, gets its majority of scoring from three players: Eddie Stansberry, a 6-foot-3 senior; Samuta Avea, a 6-foot-6 junior; and Drew Bruggs, a 6-foot-3 junior. Stansberry leads the pack easily at 20 points per game, and Avea and Bruggs come in at 12.5 and 11.8 points per game, respectively.
Stansberry is not only the leader of this pack, but also the most efficient. The senior is shooting 49% from the field and is 14-of-28 from downtown. Bruggs does not seem to be much of a deep threat, but Avea is 12-of-29 in his own right. Underwood is going to need to emphasize the importance of rotation on these guys from deep, especially considering how well opponents have shot the ball from deep against Underwood’s defense the past two seasons.
Stansberry is the guy the defense is going to need to key in on. Outside of the guards Stansberry and Bruggs, Avea is the only wing player or taller that scores consistently. Zigmar Raimo (6-foot-9) averages 8.8 points per game, but the other towers on the team (6-foot-9 Bernardo Da Silva and 7-foot-0 Mate Colina) are each averaging less than four points a contest. Hopefully, this should be a matchup that Giorgi and Kofi can exploit.
I think this will be a good test for the Fighting Illini, as Hawaii comes in with good backcourt play and a solid wing scoring presence as well. Ayo, Trent and Andres will really need to step up on the defensive side of the ball to avoid another late-game meltdown that happened against Arizona.
While this will be a test, I certainly think it can be a victory for the Illini. It’s a home game and the front court easily looks to be better than Hawaii’s, while Illinois arguably has one of the best back courts in the B1G as well. Preventing open looks from three for the Rainbow Warriors will determine how close this game is with five minutes left.
Final: Illinois 79, Hawaii 71