clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Clap for Brad’s birthday.
TCR // Staff

Filed under:

Brad Underwood turns 60 today. He’s a gift to Illinois.

Happy BUrthday to you!

For two days, Illinois Head Basketball Coach Brad Underwood will be exactly 20 years older than me.

BU turns 60 today.

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you.

Happy birthday, Coach Brad (from Terrence Shannon, Jr.). Happy birthday to you!

Underwood’s trip to become the lead man at my state school was not only long, but strange, indeed.

His tenure in Champaign has not only been strange, but exhilarating, frustrating, transformative, controversial, and anything in between.

Never a dull moment at State Farm Center or Ubben, it seems. This is meant to be more literal, and less figurative. You really never know what the hell is going to happen.

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?

Underwood is in the throes of Year 7. Here’s where his current squad stands. More context on this in a bit.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Tennessee
TSJ is about to make it three Consensus All-Americans for BU in CU.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
  • Ranked No. 16 in the latest AP Poll
  • Ranked No. 16 in the most recent KenPom Rankings (metric rankings based on efficiency).
  • Illinois is widely regarded as the second-best team in the Big Ten, behind regular season juggernaut Purdue and 7-foot-4 Zack Edey.
  • No. 4 seed in the most recent ESPN Bracketology (Joe Lunardi)

This all seems well and good now. Underwood took over a dumpster fire inside of a burning building inside a war zone. It was the lowest point for Illinois basketball in decades, arguably.

Underwood has not made the Sweet 16. That is factual. I get it.

The only thing left for Underwood to accomplish at the university, other than consistency over time, is NCAA Tournament success.

BU in the NCAAT last year against Arkansas.
TCR // Staff

A Sweet 16 would be great. An Elite 8...even better. The Final Four, now we’re talking.

To get the proverbial monkey off his back, and the elephant out of the room, Underwood needs to be able to extend his team’s hotel reservations for more than three nights in March.

Here are Underwood’s last four years:

  • Overall record of 88-40 (.688)
  • Big Ten record of 55-25 (.688)
  • Four NCAA Tournaments (counting the COVID cancellation)
  • Two Consensus All-Americans (Kofi and Ayo)

Prettay, prettay, prettay good.

Factor in the 7-2 start to this year and things seem great, other than March.

Here are the formative years of Illinois basketball under the direction of Brad Underwood.

Year 1: A spry 54-year-old Underwood arrives in Champaign. Illinois went 14-18, playing up the line. The record was one of the worst in the history of the program. Not off to a great start. For context from earlier in the column, here’s context on where Illinois was ranked after that first year.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Illinois
Brad Underwood having a polite conversation with Aaron Jordan in 2018.
Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports
  • Never ranked in the AP Poll, or even considered for one second.
  • Ranked No. 102 in KenPom (86th in Offense, 129th in Defense)
  • Finished 4-14 in the Big Ten, losing on the first day of the Big Ten Tournament to Iowa.

Year 2: Not much better, if at all. With a record of 12-21, Illinois had its worst two consecutive seasons by record in its history. The good news? Ayo Donsunmu arrived on campus. Help was on the way. Buoyed by a four-game wining streak, Illinois ended 7-13 in the Big Ten and won a game in the Big Ten Tournament.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Illinois
BU having a polite conversation with Allen Griffin.
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Finished Year 2 ranked No. 84 in KenPom (83rd offense and 108th on defense).

Changes were necessary. Up the line was not working. Despite being 24th in turnover percentage on defense, Illinois was torched on backdoor cuts and over gambling for steals. Opponents shot 53.6% from two (308th in two-point percentage).

Year 3: Ayo, Kofi, Andres Feliz, Giorgi Bezhanishvilli, Trent Frazier and others propelled Underwood forward in a huge way in Year 3. The discontinuation of up the line provided mega results. Kofi in the middle didn’t hurt.

Illinois’ defense was 304th in turnover percentage, but now 47th in two-point percentage. Fewer layups backdoor, and Kofi swatting several a game into the band was a recipe for success.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Wisconsin
BU having a polite conversation with Big Ten official Larry Scirotto.
Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The Illini improved to 13-7 in the Big Ten, and finished 21-10 overall. They were projected in the No. 4 or No. 5 seed line in most bracketology projections.

Final KenPom ranking: 30th (38th in offense and 35th in defense).

The NCAA Tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Year 4: With Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn in tow, Illinois went 16-4 in the Big Ten and was robbed of a conference title because Michigan ran away and hid, literally. Michigan won on a technicality with winning percentage. Underwood and his staff — mostly Orlando Antigua — lured freshman phenom Andre Curbelo to Champaign to add to Ayo and Kofi.

Underwood and Curbelo. Two of the most controversial figures in Illinois basketball history.
TCR // Staff

Here are the 2021 Highlights.

  • No. 2 in final AP Poll
  • No. 1 Seed in NCAA Tournament
  • Big Ten Tournament Champions
  • Ranked No. 4 in final KenPom Ranking (8th on offense and 7th on defense)

The top-seeded Fighting Illini lost in Round 2 to Loyola-Chicago. Illinois ended its season in disappointment and unfulfilled expectations.

Year 5: Illinois and Underwood captured the first Big Ten Title since Bruce Weber was coaching Bill Self’s players in the mid-2000s, snapping a 17-year conference title drought. Not too shabby.

The Covid Year helped Illinois stay old.

Cutting down the nets after winning a Big Ten Championship in 2022.
TCR // Staff

Here are the highlights from 2022:

  • No. 19 in final AP Poll (season high was No. 12)
  • Ranked No. 20 in final KenPom Ranking (30th on offense and 29th on defense)
  • No. 4 seed in the NCAAT
  • Lost to Houston in round of 32
  • Finished 23-10, 16-4

For the second consecutive year, the Illini were favored to go to the Sweet 16 and didn’t make it. This is a pattern.

Year 6: The transfer portal era is now official, not only for college basketball, but specifically for Underwood and Illinois. With his history as a JuCo head coach, Underwood is more than comfortable with a bevy of new players on a yearly basis.

In a tumultuously up and down year, Illinois finished Big Ten play at 11-9, with an overall record of 20-11 in the regular season.

Skinny BU takes it all in.
TCR // Staff

After losing to Penn State in its opening Big Ten Tournament game, Underwood made it back-to-back post season losses, falling to Arkansas in the 8/9 game, 73-63.

So. Many. Threes.

Illinois shot 41.9% of their shots from behind the arc, despite being ranked 335th in teh country in three point percentage at a paltry 30.8%.

  • Unranked in final AP Poll
  • Ranked No. 35 in KenPom (68th on offense and 26th on defense)
  • No. 8 seed in NCAA Tournament

That brings us to the present moment. Here is The Scientific Poll.

Poll

Grade Underwood’s term at Illinois, after 6.5 years.

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    A: He’s done as well as he could have
    (31 votes)
  • 56%
    B: He’s been great, but could be better.
    (113 votes)
  • 19%
    C: Good job, but not spectacular.
    (39 votes)
  • 8%
    D: Win some games in March.
    (16 votes)
  • 0%
    F is for Fire him
    (1 vote)
200 votes total Vote Now

This is BU turning 60. This is Year 7. This is a recap of Underwood at Illinois.

This is Illinois basketball.