I know what you’re thinking. Yes, we are really going to talk about the next four basketball seasons. Why not? We’re in that limbo period between basketball and football. Volleyball is over (we’re coming back for you, Final Four). Baseball and softball appear to be off to good starts, so that’s a plus!
My mind has been pretty focused on the 2019-20 season for both our basketball and football programs. It seems that year three for Underwood and year four for Lovie would be about the time we should see some marked improvement. Other important sports (such as volleyball) have already proven to be elite. It’s time for the revenue sports to buck up.
If you forgot about our scholarship chart, here it is (this might be helpful in predicting our roster breakdown):
So, let’s take a look at the possibilities for the next few years:
I am most compelled to say that there will be a large leap next season as compared with others. As of now, we are looking at the following roster:
Departures: Aaron Jordan
Additions: Kofi Cockburn, Antwan January
Of course, this is the ideal world where Ayo stays for one more season and guys like Alan Griffin and Tevian Jones stick around. I am optimistic that Kofi and January actually end up coming here, so I think we could see a lineup like this:
Starters: Ayo, Trent, Alan/transfer wing, Tevian, Giorgi
Bench: Andres, DMW, Alan/transfer wing, Kofi, Samba, January, Kipper
Again, this is a potential lineup. Brad might think that Giorgi at the four with Kofi at the five is a better starting lineup. Either way, I never thought we’d have a surplus of frontcourt depth, but if we nab both those recruits as we are planning, that’s exactly what we’ll have. January (6’11), Kofi (6’11”), Samba (7’0”), and Giorgi (6’9”) make for a pretty exciting post presence.
Let’s not ignore how superb the guard play was for much of this past season. Trent, Ayo and Andres make for a rare three-headed monster that compliment each other surprisingly well in terms of style of play. Trent is great off the dribble. Ayo might be the best finisher in transition in the conference. Andres plays like a total bulldog — I love seeing him go right at defenses, even thought is just a bit over six-feet tall. The one we still need to see development from is Da’Monte Williams, who seems to be timid on offense. His defense is versatile, but he has not found a rhythm on offense like he did in high school.
Admittedly, losing Aaron Jordan will hurt this team. While he was not necessarily the bucket-getter that Ayo or Trent was, he provided serious rebounding and leadership ability. I am hoping Griffin and Tevian seeing the floor more will help make up for Jordan’s three-point shooting.
What is this team’s ceiling? They are certainly talented enough to make the NCAA Tournament, barring serious injury or unexpected transfer. Of course, as an Illinois fan, nothing comes easy. I think that this team’s combination of size and athleticism will get them close to, if not more than, 20 wins and .500 in the Big Ten. Kofi should be able to pick up the rebounding load we’ve been missing for so long. If Giorgi can develop his outside shot, his game will be much more effective with Kofi or Samba on the floor. If Samba plays 12 minutes per game, he can easily average one to two blocks per game. And I have no doubt that Trent and Ayo will play well together sooner than they did this year.
The real difference from last season to this will come from consistency. If the offense can avoid four-plus minute scoring droughts each game and the defense can hold opponents to more difficult shot selection and fewer layups, there’s a real chance next year could be special. I am not sold that this defense will work as well as Underwood wants it, but there’s a reason he’s making millions of dollars and I am blogging about it.
Yes, 2021 is a real year.
The 2020-21 season is where things start to become even more difficult to predict. What if Underwood is fired before then? What if Kofi only stays one year, and Tevian is ready to go to the NBA after a stellar sophomore season? Can Trent stay healthy? Who will come in to replace Ayo and Andres after they leave?
So. Many. Questions. I’ll do the best I can, but don’t @ me when this prediction and analysis is horribly wrong. Let’s just try a lineup for starters:
Starters: Trent, Alan, Tevian, Giorgi, Samba
Bench: DMW, January, Higgs (maybe?), ??, ??, ??
This team could, given the right circumstances, be just as good as the previous year’s. Again, it all depends on what comes in and what goes out. Adam Miller could come in to replace Ayo, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he outdid Ayo’s freshman year. Caleb Love and DJ Steward are two other high-octane guards Underwood will be looking at, and there is plenty of front court recruits to bring in, although it may not be as high of a need with Giorgi, Samba, and Janaury still in the picture (hopefully).
All things equal, it’s pretty likely this will be Trent’s team. It will be his senior season, and he will probably be working his way down the top-10 list of all-time Illini scorers. I am hopeful that it will end better than Malcolm Hill’s season did, but it’s hard and almost futile to predict this far in advance.
I’ll do it anway. This will be a top-six team in the Big Ten with between 20 and 23 wins, and you can expect a six seed in the NCAA tourney. Let’s make it better: an Elite Eight run to finish out Frazier’s career. Thanks for everything, Trent.
Oh boy, now things are really getting dicey. What does this team look like?
Starters: ??, Alan, Tevian (??), Giorgi, Samba
Bench: January, Higgs, ??, ??, ….. ???
Hopefully we get Adam Miller to come for Trent’s senior year, becuase that would be the bomb. Maybe if Alan sticks around for this, his senior year, he can convince his brother to join him and continue the legacy.
At this point, I am not sure Underwood will still be coach. All my predictions have been based on better-than-average scenarios, and things are bound to go wrong. This year, the team will likely dip for Giorgi’s senior season with the departure of Trent. Tevian might already be in the NBA, but Adam Miller or Adrian Griffin could add some firepower to the lineup.
Why am I even doing this?
Bench: Brad Underwood Jr.
Illini to the Final Four.
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