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Illinois Basketball 2019-20 Review: Andres Feliz

Andres may be the most important player on this year’s team not enough people talked about

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

When Andres Feliz committed to Illinois on April 8, 2018 — yes, just two years to do the day — all Illinois fans knew was a name, some tape, and his ranking as one of the best JUCO point guards eligible to transfer to a D-I school. Two years later, it’s hard to ignore the significant impact Feliz made on Underwood’s Illini teams. I would contend that he was an integral force in the significant turnaround the Illini made this year, from a team that set an Illinois record for losses in a season in 2018-19 to a top-25 ranking and almost certain top-seven seed in this year’s big dance.

By the Numbers

Friends of mine have referred to Feliz as the “junkyard dog” or “bulldog” of this Fighting Illini team. I couldn’t help but adopt those nicknames into my vocabulary, too. Feliz was perhaps one of the most consistent players over the past two years, and he filled up more than just the score from a statistical perspective.

This season, he finished the year playing in all 31 games, averaging right around 29 minutes per game, and shooting 46% from the field. In his junior campaign, Feliz averaged 8.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. This year, he improved just about every statistical aspect of his game, ending the season averaging 11 points, five rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game. This put Feliz as the third-leading Illini scorer, behind Dosunmu (16.6) and Cockburn (13.3), and just ahead of Frazier (9.1). But it would not be hyperbole to say that perhaps the season would look much different were it not for having Feliz in the lineup day in and day out.

Impact on the Illini

While Feliz was not the most athletic guard on the team or the best outside shooter, he made his impact known all over the court. He was second on the team in rebounds, behind, of course, Kofi Cockburn’s 8.8 per game. He was also second in assists behind Dosunmu, third in free throw percentage, and fourth in minutes played per game.

Do you remember the Michigan game? No, not the second one with Ayo’s buzzer-beater over Zavier Simpson. I’m talking about the first one, at home, where Illinois knocked off its first top-5 team in what felt like forever. Feliz finished the game with 13 points, but perhaps also had the most important bucket of the day. With a double-digit lead already slipped away, and less than 1:30 on the clock, Feliz dribbled into the lane and put up a floater in front of Michigan’s Jon Teske, good for the and-1. (Skip to 4:26 to see the highlight below)

From there, Illinois would not relinquish its lead and won 71-62. The first top-5 win for the Illini since 2013, the same year the Illini were last in the tournament.

To me, that is Feliz’s impact in a nutshell. Buckets when we need them most, tough rebounds, and hustle plays.

Andres’ Best Game

Feliz had several games where he was in double figures and made a huge impact on the court. The Michigan game was one. The other that sticks out, in my mind, is the Indiana game. It was the third-to-last regular season game, and coming down the stretch Illinois really needed to string together some wins after a four-game losing streak had put the team in jeopardy of missing a top-four seed in the B1G Tournament.

Watch the highlights below. Feliz is all over. He hit jumpers, floaters, and-1 layups, and even had a steal and an assist make the highlights. In my opinion, this earned him player of the game. But what made this his best game of the year was what happened with just 10 seconds left.

It didn’t make the highlight reel, but Feliz was able to snatch a loose ball on the sideline after Indiana fumbled the ball for long enough that Frazier could call a timeout. Indiana could have regained the lead on the possession, but Feliz’s steal led to two free throws for Illinois on the other end and a narrow one-point win.

What We’ll Remember

There’s a lot that we will remember Feliz for, or at least should; he was the ultimate “glue guy,” or “bulldog” player. He came up with timely buckets, boards, assists, and steals when the team needed them most. Feliz was wiling to put his body on the line, too. (See above)

Perhaps what he should be most thanked for is his belief in Underwood’s plan for the 2018-20 Fighting Illini teams. Feliz’s junior year was nothing to write home about, as we’ve established, but his willingness to be part of a struggling team and help it ascend to its former glory is. I firmly believe, even with the star power on the 2019-20 Fighting Illini men’s basketball team, the season would have turned out much differently were it not for Andres Feliz. There are a few pretty good high school players coming to Champaign next year, and they have big shoes to fill.

Here’s to you, Dre.