I wrote a piece a few weeks ago examining Illinois’ recent history with inexperienced point guards. The seasons that I discussed — 2011-12 and 2014-15 — didn’t end up going very well for the Illini. In that piece, I tried to hedge my hesitations about what the past could mean for Illinois’ current season:
I have no doubt Ty Rodgers will have a successful college basketball career by the time he graduates, but as for this year, I hope Brad has thought through his backup plans in case [Rodgers] isn’t quite ready yet. We simply cannot afford to waste the extra year that Terrence Shannon Jr. and Coleman Hawkins have decided to spend in Champaign rather than playing professionally.
And to be honest, I was impressed with those backup plans that Brad showed in this latest exhibition game vs. Kansas. Ty Rodgers did have the opportunity to get experience as the lead guard against top-tier competition, and the results were mixed. Rodgers finished the night with 7 points, 3 assists, 3 turnovers, and 3 personal fouls. Compare that with Kansas’ primary point guard, Dajuan Harris Jr., who posted 6 points, 8 assists, and 1 personal foul.
There were plenty of positives to take from Rodgers’ performance on Sunday night, including these possessions where Ty gets credited for an assist:
But comparing Rodgers’ stats with the numbers that Harris put up shows that Ty simply hasn’t yet reached an elite level of play in the lead guard role.
At least on Sunday, Illinois was able to win anyways.
Brad Underwood moved different players around like chess pieces, and the Illini offense also found success when Terrence Shannon Jr., Marcus Domask, Niccolo Moretti, and others brought the ball up the court.
"When he gets hot . . . he becomes mode on fire." ️ ️— Big Ten Men's Basketball (@B1GMBBall) October 29, 2023
Terrence Shannon Jr. finishes a strong first half vs. No. 1 Kansas with a 3 in the final seconds. @Sn1per_T x @IlliniMBB pic.twitter.com/YWRLyAgboL
Without getting too carried away by the results of one exhibition game, I think it’s safe to say that the Illini demonstrated enough alternatives at the lead guard role to alleviate my concerns about the position for the moment. Rodgers can have a year to develop and grow into his role as Illinois’ point guard of the future without the fate of this entire season hanging in the balance.
The experience that Rodgers will gain this year will undoubtedly pay dividends next year, and when his career in Champaign is over, I’m confident that he’ll earn All-Big Ten honors at least once.