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NCAA Basketball: Eastern Illinois at Illinois
BU in CU against EIU for game 1.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

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Three decisions Brad Underwood must make right now

He only has 200 minutes. How will he use them?

Well, the long wait for meaningful basketball in Champaign has ended.

With the initial regular season contest out of the way, the Illinois coaching staff seemingly encounters the tough task using 200 minutes a night on game days.

Most of the readers of this column don’t live under rocks. Insert obvious jokes to the contrary here.

By now, the news of sophomore guard Sencire Harris independently deciding to redshirt this year is water further down the stream.

A shock to most. One person on the planet gains respite, or at least breathing room, in making the decision on how to split up minutes on game night to at least 10 capable players. He is simultaneously the one who is displeased the most with the decision.

This man is Brad Underwood.

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Illinois at Illinois
There will be so many lineups and combos throughout this season. It will be impossible to keep it all straight.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a full blown conundrum. Or, so it seems from an outsider.

After one game and blowout victory over Eastern Illinois on Monday, Underwood didn’t necessarily make light of the situation, as he acknowledged that it is no easy task. He added that if you asked the players individually how many minutes they would like or deserve, the answer would add up to more than double the 200 minutes available each game.

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Illinois at Illinois
Freshman guard Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn certainly earned his 19 minutes in the opening win. DGL was the leading scorer with 18 points (7-10 from the field) and a few highlight reel level individual plays.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Underwood’s standard for delegating minutes is summed up succinctly in a postgame quote after game 1.

“There’s 200 minutes. Perform. Play better. You wanna play? Play better. You wanna play, do what you’re supposed to do. You wanna play? Practice better. It’s funny. Because, if you look at the plus/minus, I’ve been pretty good at playing the right guys.”

In the above picture of Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn, he certainly followed his new head coach’s advice to a tee.

I’m going to go out on the tiniest limb ever and state that DGL did not like the amount of minutes that he played against Bill Self and Kansas during the Maui Strong exhibition.

Underwood will stick to his plan. How the players react to such fluidity will be a learning experience for everyone, including Illinois fans watching games and the team coverage.

If you don’t believe BU, or take him at face value, I would strongly urge you to reconsider, and not dismiss this as coach speak.

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Illinois at Illinois
Hawkins played just 14 minutes, scoring 1 point and taking only two shots. He did manage 5 rebounds. A paltry showing for the senior from Cali.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Coleman Hawkins is Exhibit A. He played with little emotion, effectiveness or effort and was swiftly benched by Underwood. Hawkins had one point, five rebounds. two assists and two turnovers in just 14 minutes against EIU.

It looked like there was a verbal disagreement between he and Underwood, with assistant coach Tim Anderson playing referee.

Underwood went and leaned on the scorer’s table until it blew over.

While there is no controversy here, it’s case and point that Underwood is going to stick to his guns early in the season.

More of the same from last year from shot selection. In fact, it’s even a little worse. It didn’t seem possible.

The five starters were 4-of-19 (21.1 %) from three, while the bench hit 6-of-13 (46.2%). This is an area to watch moving forward. Underwood commented all offseason that he thought his team took too many threes last year, especially early in the clock.

It did seem like most of the shots were of high quality.

Here’s the rub for me:

  • 2022-23: 42% of shots from three
  • Underwood states he would like that percentage in the high 30s.
  • Illinois beats Kansas (in an exhibition) driving hard to the bucket and taking threes as a matter of flow and best shooters shooting.
  • Underwood made other offseason comments that he didn’t do a good enough job keeping his team disciplined on when to shoot which shots.
  • Eastern Illinois: 55% of shots from three (12th highest percentage in the country so far)
NCAA Basketball: Eastern Illinois at Illinois
Super senior Quincy Guerrier hangs on the rim after a dunk. More of this, please.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

As much information that exists on the current roster, with statistical analysis to go along with that deluge of data, Underwood continues to learn about his team and the players on the roster.

These blowout games against directional schools aren’t altogether meaningless. Sure, the scores are never really close and the competition is far below what the team will see in Big Ten play.

Underwood made a few comments about three missed assignments on ball screen defenses early in the contest. He thought his team came out flat with no emotion.

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Illinois at Illinois
Dainja needs more tick. He’s efficient and can score down low. He finished with eight points and six rebounds. He will only help the diversity of the offense.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe he learned something about his team. Maybe he learned something about the way he needs to coach them. Maybe, it’s a game against Eastern Illinois.

In any regard, whatever Underwood and his staff need to learn, they better do it quick, fast and in a hurry. Shaka Smart is bringing his No. 5 Marquette squad to the State Farm Center next week, and they will be loaded for bear.

NCAA Basketball: Northern Illinois at Marquette
Shaka Smart looking thin in this defensive stance. One thing that is not thin - his roster.
Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Here are the three things that Underwood still either needs to learn and/or make a decision on what he is going to do with some key players in these high-profile, early season matchups like the one next week against Marquette.

  1. How BU handles freshman point guard Gibbs-Lawhorn from not only a minutes standpoint, but from an offensive role standpoint. After one game, it would be more than easy to ascertain that Gibbs-Lawhorn should be the starting point guard. Underwood likely keeps him on the bench, much like he did with freshman phenom Andre Curbelo. I’m not making a direct comparison. I’m also not not making a direct comparison.
  2. Luke Goode and Marcus Domask should play together as much as possible to determine what that looks like in reality, and not just theory. I picture each of these players in a corner as All-American candidate Terrence Shannon, Jr. drives hard to the bucket. Add Hawkins at the top of the key or on a wing, and the floor spacing enters ideal territory.
  3. These early season rotations are sometimes in the 10-11 player range. In all likelihood, by the time B1G play rolls around, it will be down to seven or eight. This rotation can change based on matchups for each game, but the variance will tighten over time.
NCAA Basketball: Eastern Illinois at Illinois
DGL and TSJ seemed to coexist just fine. While floor spacing needs to be considered, so should the reality of having one basketball at a time.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Underwood and his squad travel to Madison Square Garden to take on No. 10 Florida Atlantic in the Jimmy V Classic. This is the second consecutive trip to NYC for this event.

Illinois also plays at No. 9 Tennessee on Dec. 9.

Please take The Scientific Poll.

Poll

How many points will Hawkins score in Game 2?

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    1
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    2-9
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  • 63%
    10-15
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  • 8%
    16+
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469 votes total Vote Now

This is first week of the season. This is time to get excited. This is time to be cautious.

This is Illinois baksetball.

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