Another eventful college basketball offseason is almost behind us. We’re just weeks away from the best sport in the world returning to the forefront of our daily lives.
Maybe I’m the only one who takes college basketball that seriously, but regardless, the season is almost here.
When your mental health for the next 5 months is reliant upon 18 year old kids putting a ball through a hoop pic.twitter.com/qEhrBV1TYq— Tom Herman To Arkansas Campaign Comms Director (@strait_vibinn) November 7, 2022
Let’s go over some big storylines heading into the 2023-24 Illini basketball season.
The Point Guard Position
I’m sure most of you are sick of hearing about the Illinois point guard position. I am too, but it’s undoubtedly going to be a big story this season.
Compared to the other position groups on the team, the point guard group definitely has the most question marks surrounding it.
But with the way the college basketball world talks about Illinois basketball and its point guard problems, you'd think the situation would be comparable to the Chicago Bears and their history of quarterbacks.
Ayo Dosunmu won the Bob Cousy Award three seasons ago. Trent Frazier was great in the role two years ago.
Having a bunch of freshmen play point guard last year didn't work out like we wanted it to, but it’s not as if Illinois has never had a good point guard.
Skyy Clark, Jayden Epps, Sincere Harris, and Ty Rodgers all playing point guard last season was an absurd plan looking back at it.
Ty Rodgers appears to be the starting point guard this year. At 6-foot-6, he may not be the most ideal fit for the position, but having Ty start also isn't a complete doomsday scenario.
Rodgers actually has a decent amount of experience playing the role, and he hasn't been bad at it. We saw exciting flashes from him towards the end of last season once he broke into the rotation.
There’s no denying his shooting is a concern, which also makes floor spacing a concern. He shot less than 40% from the free throw line and didn't attempt a three-pointer last year. But Rodgers is a phenomenal athlete, he's great in the paint, and he may be the best defender on the team.
Sencire Harris and Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn should be serviceable backups to Rodgers. I wouldn't be shocked if Shannon played some minutes at point guard too.
It may not look pretty at first, especially considering the tough non-conference slate, but I think Rodgers & Co. will be solid when Big Ten play rolls around.
Will Coleman Take THE Leap?
Coleman Hawkins has greatly improved every year he's been in the program. His opportunities have of course increased every year, but it’s not hard to see how much he's grown as a player since his freshman year.
Coleman had a legitimate chance at being drafted last year, but he opted to come back to college for his senior season.
Now, Coleman is viewed as the clear-cut second best player on this Illinois roster. He’s probably the second option on offense after Terrence Shannon.
He had a great year last year and could've gone to the NBA. He has potential to be so much better this year. The NBA scouts know it too; this isn't just a die-hard Illini fan hyping up a player.
There's no reason Hawkins shouldn't be an All-Big Ten performer this season.
He has three years of experience under his belt. He’s the premier player in the Illini frontcourt. There should be less drama in the program this year.
I think Coleman is due for a real senior season breakout and some well-deserved national recognition.
How Will The Transfers Fit?
With the way college basketball now works, this will be a storyline for every team every single year.
Marcus Domask, Quincy Guerrier and Justin Harmon all transferred into the program this year and look to be instant contributors.
All three are fifth-year players, so they instantly provide an unreal amount of experience to a team that was one of the youngest in the country last season.
Domask is a guy who can do just about everything on offense. He averaged nearly 17 points per game at Southern Illinois last season. Domask should be in position to start some games at the 3 and will likely play at least 20 minutes a game.
Marcus Domask. Remember the name.— Mid-Major Madness (@mid_madness) November 24, 2022
32 points tonight.pic.twitter.com/nNI4SB7iEG
Quincy Guerrier comes to Illinois after two year stints at both Syracuse and Oregon. He transitioned into a stretch-four at Oregon and shot 4 threes a game. He should provide instant offense and solid size at the 4 for the Illini.
Justin Harmon is an athletic, slashing guard from Chicago. He transfers into the program after two seasons at Utah Valley. Harmon loves to get to the rim, but can also hit the three ball at a decent rate. He won't start, but will be a valuable backup guard off the bench.
One thing to note is that all three guys shot right around 35% from 3-point range last season. 35% isn't an elite number, but having three guys in that range will certainly help a team that shot 30.9% from beyond the arc last year.
I don't think this transfer class has the star power of last year’s class, but these guys are all experienced and seem to have bought into the culture.
Success in March
The last three storylines all converge into this final storyline. It’s the defining factor of a program’s success.
Will the Illini finally win (more than one game) in the NCAA Tournament?
Reliable point guard play, a big breakout year from Coleman, and good seasons from the three transfers would give the Illini a really good chance at a Sweet 16 run.
Terrence Shannon will be Terrence Shannon. I think it’s safe to say we know what we’re getting out of guys like Dain Dainja, Luke Goode, and Sencire Harris. Surprise contributions from Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn, Amani Hansberry, or Niccolo Moretti would be more than welcomed.
Success in March is likely going to come down to point guard play more than anything else. Coaching will be a big factor as well. And good matchups in the bracket. That’s assuming the team makes the tournament in the first place.
March Madness is called March Madness for a reason. Let’s worry about winning games once March rolls around.
In the meantime, I’ll be listening to One Shining Moment on repeat. I love college basketball!