After an impressive win against Ottawa this past Friday, Kansas is a whole different beast.
The preseason No. 1 team in the country will take on the No. 25 Illini in a ranked exhibition game Sunday in State Farm Center.
Illinois was able to get its feet wet against Ottawa late last week in a 116-65 victory. They were able to spread the ball out and had seven players with double digit points.
“I thought we did a lot of good things,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “I loved the fact we had 26 assists.”
Despite that, Underwood knows there’s still a lot of areas his squad can improve on. Illinois was not as stingy on their perimeter defense as they would’ve liked.
“I was very disappointed in the fact we gave up five threes,” Underwood said. “Most of those were on very poor closeouts.”
In the first exhibition of the season, there were bound to be some bumps in the road for the orange and blue. However, Underwood still praised some of the new faces for the Illini. Specifically, the big time transfers Illinois was able to land.
“The one thing I’ve appreciated about these three veteran transfers is that they’re all very detail oriented,” Underwood said. “They practice the right way, they don’t waste time or movements.”
Grad transfer Marcus Domask impressed in his first game for Illinois, scoring 8 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and being +40 on the court.
“The game’s slow and easy, you can tell he’s a coach’s kid,” Underwood said. “He’s just got a feel and an instinct that is very good.”
The guard/forward averaged 16.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg and 3.8 apg for the SIU Salukis last season and is looking to improve Illinois in their efficiency from behind the arc.
“There’s nothing he can’t do,” Underwood said. “Elite passer, he can shoot it, he can post, he can score.”
Outside of the seasoned vets, the freshman made their mark in Illinois’ first on court action.
Amani Hansberry recorded the team’s only double double with 14 points on 7 of 9 shooting as well as 12 rebounds.
“He’s got an old man game, and I don’t mean that in any kind of bad way,” Underwood said. “He’s just got a maturity about him that he understands the game.”
Dra Gibbs Lawhorn tacked on 15 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists as well and is looking to make an immediate impact heading into the regular season.
“He’s had days in practice that we couldn’t guard him,” Underwood said. “I love his talent, he’s going to win a lot of games for us because of his ability to score.”
And of course, the familiar faces picked up right where the left off and put on great performances in front of a home crowd.
Terrence Shannon Jr. led Illinois with 18 points on 6 of 9 shooting. But his defense is what really stood out in his first action of the year.
“He’s got a chance to be one of the elite two way players in the country,” Underwood said. “He can guard the ball as well as anybody in America.”
Fourth year Illini Coleman Hawkins showed his versatility with an efficient 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting. Hawkins is looking to take his game to the next level in order to secure his spot in next year’s NBA draft.
“He’s an elite shooter when he gets his feet set and we all know what he can do defensively,” Underwood said. “I love the fact that he’s shooting it and he’s shooting it all the time.”
Despite so many positives, the Illini were just 14-of-42 from three-point range and shot 12-of-22 from the line. These are bad habits from last year that Illinois is looking to shake before the games actually start to count.
Going from an NAIA opponent to the odds on favorite to win the national title, Illinois is going to have to be on its ‘A’ game if the Illini want to even have a chance at a victory against a star-studded Kansas team.
Even though it’s just an exhibition, this game will be a good reality check to see just how complete of a basketball team the Illini will have this season.
Illinois is looking to give Bill Self a spoiled reunion as they host the Jayhawks this Sunday at 5 p.m.