Remember when Illinois was a 1-seed in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, just two short years ago?
What in the world has happened since then? Particularly, what has happened since #4 seeded Illinois lost in spectacular fashion to #5 seeded Houston in the 2022 NCAA Tournament?
Here’s a not-so-brief look at all of the wild events that have happened in the Illinois Basketball program since March 20, 2022.
March 21, 2022: Illinois bids farewell to fifth-year Senior Guards Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Williams, and Alfonso Plummer.
March 28, 2022: Polarizing sophomore PG Andre Curbelo enters his name into the transfer portal after sitting out roughly half of the 2021-22 season with a concussion. Curbelo would later commit to St. John’s.
March 30, 2022: Head coach Brad Underwood receives a contract extension to keep him in Champaign through the 2027-28 season.
April 2, 2022: Center Omar Payne enters his name into the transfer portal. Payne would later commit to Jacksonville.
April 7, 2022: Kentucky de-commit and 5-star point guard Skyy Clark commits to Illinois
April 12, 2022: Guard Brandin Podziemski enters his name into the transfer portal. Podziemski would later commit to Santa Clara and be named Co-WCC Player of the Year.
April 18, 2022: Skyy Clark’s younger brother, ZZ Clark, also commits to Illinois.
April 20, 2022: Center Kofi Cockburn, an Illini all-time great, foregoes his final year of eligibility and enters his name in the 2022 NBA Draft.
April 27, 2022: Forward Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk enters his name into the transfer portal. Bosmans-Verdonk would later commit to South Carolina.
April 29, 2022: Texas Tech transfer guard Terrence Shannon, Jr. commits to Illinois. Shannon was assumed to be a Michigan Wolverine, even going out to dinner with Hunter Dickinson & Co.
May 27, 2022: Baylor transfer forward Matthew Mayer commits to the Illini. Mayer’s commitment had Illinois fans dreaming of a Final Four run with this 2022-23 team.
May 29, 2022: Illinois Forward Jacob Grandison withdraws his name from the 2022 NBA Draft. Grandison would later enter the transfer portal and commit to Duke.
June 3, 2022: Illini signee forward Ty Rodgers was announced as a member of the USA U18 National Team. Rodgers is one of two Illini ever to play for the USA U18 team, the other being Illini legend Ayo Dosunmu.
June 24, 2022: Kofi Cockburn goes undrafted in the 2022 NBA Draft, but signs an undrafted free agent contract with the Utah Jazz.
June 27, 2022: French forward Zacharie Perrin commits to Illinois with intent to join the team in the fall of 2022.
June 30, 2022: The Big Ten adds USC and UCLA to the conference, beginning in the 2024-25 season.
August 7, 2022: Skyy Clark and Toby Maguire are somehow friends?
August 28, 2022: 4-star 2023 forward Amani Hansberry commits to Illinois.
September 11, 2022: Illini commit Zacharie Perrin announces he will play the 2022-23 season at Sunrise Christian Academy and enroll at Illinois in the fall of 2023.
September 30, 2022: 4-star combo guard and Purdue de-commit Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn commits to Illinois.
October 13, 2022: Media members get a first look at the newly-renovated Ubben Basketball Complex.
October 17, 2022: Illinois is ranked 23rd in the opening AP Poll for the 2022-23 season.
October 28, 2022: Potential Starting Guard Luke Goode has surgery to repair his broken foot, which he sustained in a secret scrimmage vs. Kansas.
October 28, 2022: Illinois hosts Quincy in an exhibition game, winning 87-52.
That’s probably enough drama for an off-season, right? Since we went through all of that in the off-season, that means the season will go off without a hitch, right?
Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen. This is where it gets real.
November 7, 2022: The regular season begins, simultaneously beginning the Sophomore Slump of forward RJ Melendez. Illinois opens the season 3-0, defeating Eastern Illinois, UMKC, and Monmouth.
November 18, 2022: #19 Illinois defeats #8 UCLA in Las Vegas 79-70 behind Terrence Shannon, Jr.’s 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 8/9 from three. After this game, I put this tweet out:
i don’t care if we’re only 4 games in, TSJ played like a NPOTY candidate tonight vs. UCLA.— Jack Jungmann (@jack_jungmann) November 19, 2022
29 points on 8/9 from deep against a top 10 team is just insanity.
#19 Illinois vs #16 Virginia on Sunday
I may have jumped the gun a bit early.
November 20, 2022: #19 Illinois loses to #16 Virginia 70-61. This loss caused no concern among the fanbase. Virginia was viewed as one of the best teams in the country at the time and Illinois went toe-to-toe with them.
November 25 & 29, 2022: #16 Illinois returned home and took care of business against Lindenwood and Syracuse, beating them by 33 and 29, respectively.
December 2, 2022: #16 Illinois travels to #22 Maryland and returns with a 71-66 loss. Again, the fanbase was not shaken by this loss. Any road game in the Big Ten is a hard one to get, especially against a ranked Maryland squad.
December 6, 2022: #17 Illinois defeats #2 Texas 85-78 in overtime, an instant classic. Matthew Mayer had 21 points and shot a perfect 5-5 from beyond the three point line.
The Illinois résumé is one of the best in the nation in early December, sitting at 7-2 with two wins over top ten teams and two quality losses. At this point in the season, morale is high. Fans are still dreaming of a Final Four appearance. As of December 7, 2022, it looked like we could be in for quite a ride with this team. As it turns out, we were! It just wasn’t the ride we thought it was gonna be.
December 10, 2022: #17 Illinois loses to Penn State 74-59 in Champaign. After riding the high of beating Texas, Illinois came home and laid an egg. When asked about his team’s leadership in the post-game press conference, Brad Underwood opened his statement with a fart noise. This is Underwood’s press conference after the Penn State game, and it’s worth the watch:
December 17, 2022: #18 Illinois hosted Alabama A&M after finals week. The Illini won by a score of 68-47, but not before the Bulldogs made it interesting with a 16-0 run that spanned 7:57 of game time in the second half.
December 20, 2022: Zacharie Perrin announces that he will be joining the team at the beginning of the spring 2023 semester.
December 22, 2022: #16 Illinois loses the annual Braggin’ Rights game to Missouri by 22 points. Normally, Brad Underwood teams get up for big rivalry games like this, but as you will see as this article progresses, the 2022-23 squad does not. The scoreboard says a 22-point loss, but Illinois was down 35 points at one time in this game.
a 7-0 run by Illinois cuts the lead to 28 pic.twitter.com/7nnjI8ghPB— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) December 23, 2022
December 29, 2022: Illinois defeats Bethune-Cookman 85-52 in the first drama-free game in a while.
January 4, 2023: Illinois falls at Northwestern 73-60. This was another loss where it felt like the sky was falling because no one thought Northwestern was any good at this point.
January 6, 2023: Illinois point guard Skyy Clark announces he will be ““stepping away from basketball” indefinitely.
January 7-16, 2023: Illinois goes on a four game winning streak, beating #14 Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan State, and Minnesota. Also in this time, Illinois picked up Italian mid-season transfer point guard Niccoló Moretti.
January 19, 2023: Another huge game where Illinois doesn’t come to play. Indiana comes to Champaign and beats Illinois 80-65, behind Trayce Jackson-Davis’ 35 points.
January 24-31, 2023: Illinois rattles off a three game winning streak, defeating Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Nebraska.
Illinois sat at 16-6 (7-4 Big Ten) heading into February.
February 4, 2023: Iowa defeats Illinois 81-79 in Iowa City.
February 11, 2023: Illinois hosts and defeats #24 Rutgers 69-60 in a must-have game for Big Ten Tournament seeding.
February 14, 2023: Illinois lost at Penn State 93-81 behind Jalen Pickett’s 41-point outing. Also on this day, Zacharie Perrin announced that he would be stepping away from the team and return to France.
February 17, 2023: Terrence Shannon, Jr. suffers a concussion.
February 18, 2023: Illinois chokes away the game in Bloomington, losing to #14 Indiana 71-68. Illinois was up 67-65 with 1:25 left in the second half. Early in the first half, Coleman Hawkins posterized Trayce Jackson-Davis and was rewarded a technical foul for his celebration, something that did not sit well with the fanbase. I’ll let you be the judge on if you think it was deserved or not:
Coleman Hawkins was called for a technical foul following his reaction to this dunk. pic.twitter.com/8xSk90tFa1— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 18, 2023
February 20, 2023: Illinois defeats Minnesota 78-69.
February 23, 2023: Facing an 18-point halftime deficit, Illinois came back to defeat #21 Northwestern 66-62 inside an electric State Farm Center.
February 26, 2023: Similar to the Texas & Penn State games, Illinois came into Columbus riding the high of a huge win. The Illini then laid and egg and lost to Ohio State 72-60, snapping a 9-game losing streak for the Buckeyes.
March 1, 2023: This is an interesting day. In media availability, Brad Underwood announced that Freshman Guard Jayden Epps “went down” in practice on February 28 with a concussion. Epps stayed the night in Carle hospital, but was home the next day, per Terrence Shannon, Jr. Also on this wild day, Matthew Mayer told the media that March 1 was his first day at practice for the week due to “caffeine poisoning.” Mayer said he had 5 energy drinks following the Ohio State game to produce a “caffeine-induced euphoria” while playing video games.
These events bring me to the writing of this article. Illinois sits at 19-10 (10-8 Big Ten) and currently sits 7th in the Big Ten standings. The Illini are projected anywhere from a 6 to a 9 seed in bracketologies as of March 1. Illinois hosts Michigan on Thursday night. As for the rest of this year, who knows what is in store for this Illini team. Sometimes, the play like a Final Four team, while other times, they play like a team who could lose in the Round of 64.
Welcome to the most important month of the season, Illini.
This is March.
This is March.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 1, 2023