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Finding the player to round out Illinois’ Big Three

Shannon Jr., Hawkins, who will step up and be the third option for the Illini?

TCR // David Pollak

Every Illini team of the Brad Underwood era has had some sort of “Big Three” in one way or another. It’s not just an Illinois thing either; having a Big Three is something that occurs on pretty much every basketball team no matter of level.

For the Illini’s past five years, it has been:

  • 18-19: Dosunmu, Frazier, Bezhanishvili
  • 19-20: Dosunmu, Cockburn, Feliz
  • 20-21: Dosunmu, Cockburn, Frazier
  • 21-22: Cockburn, Plummer, Frazier
  • 22-23: Shannon Jr., Mayer, Hawkins

It is pretty clear who the top two will be this year with Terrence Shannon Jr. and Coleman Hawkins returning, but the battle for number three is one that might take some time.

The potential options

Marcus Domask

Senior transfer from SIU with the potential to score a lot. He scored at least 30 points three times last season, albeit in the Missouri Valley Conference, but he is also 6-foot-6 at forward and athletic, with presumably the ability to play the “positionless basketball” we saw last season.

This point is also shown through his nearly six rebounds and four assists a game last season. He was also an extremely high-volume shooter at times, with a season high of 25 shots against Illinois State. His scoring ability along with how he is built to play the Illini’s game makes him a strong contender to join the Big Three. He could also end up being a good facilitator wherever he plays, having the most assists on the team in at least the first half of the EIU game.

Justin Harmon

Like Domask, Harmon averaged mid-teen points at a mid-major. However, he did average fewer PPG, RPG, and APG than Domask did. He plays more like a true guard, which can play better to his Big Three chances when looking at past players of the trio like Alfonso Plummer and Trent Frazier.

Those were guys who often stayed along the perimeter and shot, and Harmon shot three pointers at a 34% mark last season. With improved volume, like the nine three-pointers he shot in the Kansas game, he could have a very strong case for the third spot in the big three.

Ty Rodgers

Although the last two years featured transfers in Plummer and Mayer in the top three options, the three years before that featured only home-grown Illini talent, aka players who did not transfer in. A point guard who does not often shoot, but excels in driving and scoring at the hoop.

He is still very young and inexperienced, but since he is in the point guard role, banking on a big breakout puts him in the big three conversation. He's not a favorite, but you can’t count him out just yet.

Dain Dainja

A pure center who weighs high 200s with a fun name? Sounds like someone we’ve seen in three of the big threes listed above. He is a strong contender for making the Big Three jump.

He was almost there last year averaging nearly 10 and 6, and shooting at an incredibly efficient 63.6%. It doesn't feel like it but he was just a sophomore last season, and could take a pretty big leap this year going into his junior year. With Shannon and Hawkins back, the transfers making a good impact, and Rodgers making strides into becoming a point guard, it could clear out the paint for the Dancing Bear to climb his way up to a Big Three player.

Quincy Gurrier

Gurrier, even though a senior, could be something special. He had flashes of greatness against high level teams like 26 against Nevada and 21 against Villanova, and is the most proven transfer in this season. He is a 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward, and had the third-most points in the Kansas game to go along with nine rebounds.

Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn

He was not originally on this list considering he is just a freshman and wouldn’t get the playing time the others did, but after leading the team in points on very efficient scoring in the EIU game, he has put himself into the conversation. As I will talk about below, usually the top three reveal themselves very early in the season, and if this is what is to come, he could be in the big three early on as a freshman.

We’ll find out very soon

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In the past few years, we have found out the top three extremely early in the season. It’s not something that develops over the course of a season, unless of course a suspension or injury prevents someone from playing.

For example, in 2019-20, the Big Three were Andres Feliz, Ayo, and Kofi. Each of the three led the team in points once in the first three games. Another example is last season. Shannon led in points early on in the season, Hawkins led in rebounds in just the second game, and Mayer had a stretch of leading the game in points early on in three straight games before consistent conference play started.

We will know very early on who rounds out the Big Three for the Illini this year. Will it be someone with experience and big scoring threats like Domask and Gurrier? Or will it be someone like Rodgers or Dainja with big breakout potential?

Who do you think the third option for the Illini will be?