Welcome to the home stretch, Illini fans.
This is the part of the season where every gripe is magnified in importance and amplified on social media.
Wait, what? We’ve been doing that all season?
Okay, well then welcome to the home stretch, Illini fans.
This is the part of the season where we continue to magnify gripes, amplify complaints, and do so with the undergirding fear of missing the tournament.
Wait, that’s just me? Okay, cool.
(No, I don’t really think the Illini will miss the tournament. But Illini fans of a certain age see bubble watch columns and automatically have flashbacks to pre-Underwood seasons).
Luke Goode has been cleared to return to action, which could be a huge moment for the Illini in their pursuit of March (and April) glory. The 6-foot-7 wing has missed the entire season with an injury suffered in a preseason scrimmage.
Since he’s cleared to return, let’s take a deeper dive into the possibilities his return brings a 16-7 Illini team.
Will Goode take a redshirt?
I mean, he hasn’t played yet. So technically, he can.
That’s the toughest question to answer. If he is ready to play and wants to contribute this year, then I’m happy to see him added to the Illini rotation.
Also, it’s not a tough question to answer at all because he doesn’t want to. However, there are some long-term considerations that I’m sure the coaching staff is considering.
Goode is one of the easiest players to root for in the entire program. Listening to his radio appearances, you can hear the passion, poise, and unselfishness that endear him to fans, coaches, and teammates.
But think about what the Illini have experienced in terms of current and future roster upheaval in the past few months. A five-star point guard left the program. Said five-star point guard’s younger brother decommitted from Illinois. The Illini whiffed on Chicago St. Rita forward James Brown and didn’t push the gas on Brown’s teammate Nojus Indrusaitis.
Illinois has a commitment from Morez Johnson in the class of 2024, along with 2023 signees Amani Hansberry and Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn. 2025 Chicago St. Ignatius guard Phoenix Gill is a legacy recruit with an Illini offer, and he is shining in his first varsity season. None of those players are known for their perimeter shooting prowess.
Based on class need, if Goode took a redshirt this year, he would be set up as the unquestioned, experienced leader of the ‘25-26 Illini squad that, based on current recruiting needs and activity, may need his shooting.
Illinois has recently turned up the recruiting heat on Bloomington Catholic guard Cole Certa, widely considered one of the best perimeter shooters in the state of Illinois’ class of 2024. Perhaps his presence would mitigate the situation should Goode decide to play this season.
The rest of this column is about the overwhelmingly likely possibility that the fan favorite from northern Indiana does return to the Illini lineup this season.
What does his return mean for RJ Melendez?
The Illinois coaching staff continues to praise RJ Melendez despite a harsh fan backlash. Melendez has struggled shooting the basketball this season, and it sticks out even more when he shares the floor with other “non-scorers” like Ty Rodgers and Sencire Harris. As an experienced, returning player, Malendez is clearly looked upon to provide leadership and be a vocal and physical manifestation of Underwood’s style of play. And to his credit, Melendez has been a solid rebounder and defender even in the midst of his shooting woes.
Goode is physically similar to Melendez. Though their styles of play differ, they provide similar impact in terms of matchups. Goode and Melendez can play together. And they probably should play together, especially when Shannon and Rodgers are both on the bench. But Melendez could see a dip in playing time of Goode is productive on both ends.
What does his return mean for Ty Rodgers?
From a selfish perspective, I hope the answer is absolutely nothing. Watching Ty Rodgers enter a game is like watching a beautiful woman enter a room. Everything changes. Everyone notices. Nothing is the same. There is a whirlwind of internal activity, be it excitement, fear, or anticipation.
(Yes, we have entered the part of the season where I just made that comparison)
But back to Goode. Rodgers and Goode could be seen as complementary pieces. Rodgers is mostly a non-shooter. His ability to score on put-backs and occasional slashes to the basket is improving. He actually can create space for Goode and others to get more open looks. He also provides the dogged toughness on the offensive glass to maintain possessions.
But, this ability for Ty to provide opportunities for floor-spacers with his passing, slashing, and drive-and-kick ability, brings to mind the elephant in the room question.
Will Goode really be a great shooter?
As a prep player in Indiana, Goode shot 36% from three-point range. He wasn’t exactly known as a perimeter sharpshooter.
In a small sample size, last season Goode shot 37% on 43 attempts from three. That is a solid return, and enough to encourage him to continue to shoot.
He will definitely add an element of floor spacing to an offense that sometimes craters from large chunks of games. But with game rust and conditioning being significant challenges, is it fair to expect Goode to snipe his way into an elite stretch?
But will it really matter if he’s not the best shooter in the world?
Well, not as much as you may think.
Will Luke Goode impact the bottom line on both ends?
He absolutely will.
Like Melendez, even when Goode’s shot doesn’t fall, he provides so much value.
The ex-quarterback embodies quiet, steady leadership. That’s been lacking at times for Brad Underwood’s squad.
His defensive effort and prowess have been lauded by his coaches in both high school and college. It was obvious what former Illini assistant Stephen Gentry saw in Gentry. He got to learn from Da’Monte F. Williams for a year, which is massive. Goode could have that kind of program impact over the long haul. But in the short term?
He slots in as a 3-and-D difference maker with potential to be a key postseason weapon on both sides of the ball. His size and physicality present a versatile, switchable weapon for Underwood to employ.
It’s wonderful that he’s able to come back from his injury just in time to become an Illini clutch Swiss Army Knife. But that leaves one important bonus question.
Since this happened in a scrimmage against Kansas, can I blame this injury on Bill Self, too?