The two most players on this Illinois team right now are Coleman Hawkins and Marcus Domask. Hawkins is the most important defensive player on the team — and maybe even in the conference.
Domask, however, has been given the keys to the offense.
With Shannon on the team, Domask averaged 10.6 shots per game. Now with him out, he is averaging 3-4 more shots per game with 14. To go along with that, he was averaging 11.6 points per game before, and over the last five games without Shannon, he is averaging nearly double what he was before, at 22 points per game.
With the best player on the team out, of course everyone is bound to get more shots, but 11 extra points to go alone with those shots is the sign of a new emerging leader.
To go along with the improved scoring and even improved efficiency is improved leadership. To say that the culture in the locker room wouldn’t miss a beat after losing the best player on the team the way that the Illini did would sound crazy, but watching the games and seeing some of the players interact with each other would suggest that.
For example, there’s this gem from Domask (a Packers fan) to Hawkins (a big Bears fan).
Hey @colehawk23 wanna watch the packers in the playoffs together??— Marcus Domask (@marcusdomask) January 8, 2024
Passing the Rock
Scoring isn’t the only thing that has improved from Domask in the past few games. Before the last five games, Domask only had four or more assists in one of the 11 games (Missouri). The numbers in the last five?
1, 5, 5, 6, 11.
This improvement in number doesn't necessarily mean he’s improved in the ability to assist, or even that he is making better decisions with the basketball (the turnovers have also gone up a considerable amount). What it DOES mean however is that Domask is getting the ball much more than he did before.
Also, I want to throw in that I LOVE the style of play Illinois runs with Domask. Get Domask (a larger guard/forward) on a smaller defender since Illinois is a big team, and let him back the defender down to the basket.
After watching Illinois get cooked by Jalen Pickett’s version of Booty Ball last season, I can definitely get behind seeing an Illini guy do the same to other teams.
The Big Picture
It’s great that Domask has been able to pick up a good amount of the slack on offense, but if it doesn't show results in the final score, than it doesn’t matter.
Good thing, it does show in the final score. You could make the claim that the team is more susceptible to bad losses after losing the Maryland, and the worst loss before either ranked No. 17 Tennessee or No. 4 Marquette.
But this is about the offense Domask is helping to keep strong. The first two games with Domask holding the reins to the offense? 104 and 96 points. Two of the three highest scoring games of the year.
That being said, they haven’t touched 90 since, but it’s also just been three games.
That FAU game in MSG was a legendary one for the Illini, and now it seems Domask is doing a slightly lesser version of that night in and night out. The trajectory of this team and how far it can go in March relies on how Marcus Domask can control the offense, and how Hawkins can take over the defense.