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Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

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Shannon is back — so are Underwood and the Illini

Nowhere to go but up from here.

Happy Wednesday, Illinois Land!

February starts tomorrow. The month after is everyone’s favorite: March.

The team that is playing the best heading into the NCAA Tournament seemingly has a leg up on the competition to make a deep run. Teams need to be healthy to get wealthy.

The Illini have gotten healthy and have a full roster at their disposal for the stretch run of the regular season. Head coach Brad Underwood has been vocal of the “connectedness” of this team on and off the court.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch
BU lights up Coleman Hawkins after his technical foul early in the second half. More on this in a bit.
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

They have about a month to reconnect the dots and get the oil back in the machine.

As the end of the season begins to emerge over the horizon, Illinois basketball and Underwood have plenty to play for with 10 Big Ten games remaining in the regular season.

Here is TCR’s Noah Cowell with an accurate depiction of the events that unfolded and lead to third Quad 1 win for Illinois at Value City Arena in Columbus.

Please store your tray tables and return your seats to their upright position.

I have an announcement to make. I’ll say it loud, for the people in the back...

The Real Terrence Shannon, Jr. is back. Officially.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch
TSJ splashes a triple in the second half. These were three of his 18 second half points.
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

TSJ finished with 23 points, three rebounds, three assists and two blocks. He also had two turnovers in 32 minutes.

Detractors can point all they want to the 7-of-17 shooting. Shannon was once again hunting his shot aggressively and putting opponents in the popcorn popper, as former Flyin’ Illini Stephen Bardo pointed out with Marcus Domask’s post moves last night. We’ll get to Domask in a second.

If doubt existed before the game, TSJ quickly reminded all those people in attendance and watching on Peacock that he is the best transition guard in all of college basketball. Full stop.

In a way, Shannon is like Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss or future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski. You throw it to him even when he’s NOT open.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch
Case in point. This is your only option on Downhill Shannon. Fouling is your only recourse.
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

TSJ should force the action every possession possible and hit his head on the rim. No one can stop at this level.

Before we get to the rest of this week and conference championship implications, let’s take a look at what led to the win over free-falling Ohio State, other than the official return of TSJ.

This is the second consecutive year that Ohio State started hot and then fell off the face of the earth.

Expect a new coach in Columbus in the fall.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch
Domask finishes a sweet left-handed layup over Andre Curbelo’s high school teammate Zed Key.
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Having TSJ lead the team in scoring and aggressiveness sets not only the tone for the rest of the team on the court, but restores the proper balance both offensively and defensively.

Domask had 23 points of his own. One glaring stat is the efficiency jump of Domask with the defense having to focus on a number one option while he is on the court.

Domask got 23 points on only 12 shots. He was 8-of-8 at the line and had only one turnover. He played 35 minutes.

Point guard Ty Rodgers had arguably his most efficient game of the season. Rodgers played 26 minutes and had 13 points (5-of-6 from the floor) and 10 rebounds (4 offensive).

Something to note: Rodgers was 3-of-3 from the line. HIs season free throw percentage is now at 65.8% and has stabilized. I made this point a few weeks ago and wanted to reiterate.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Ohio State
Rodgers goes hard in the paint to the bucket for two points.
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Rodgers’ last five games:

  • 57.5% (19-33) from the floor
  • 5.8 rebounds
  • 10 assists/4 turnovers (2.5/1)
  • 20.8 minutes per game

Simply put: Rodgers needs more tick as the season progresses. His athleticism and offensive rebounding alone warrant extended minutes. I’d set the goal at 25 minutes per game, so he has ample rest to make the best use of his athletic talents.

Hawkins received a technical foul early in the second half after being whistle for his third foul. Key flopped twice on two of the calls on Hawkins.

It seemed like the Illinois point forward was baited into this call.

On the offensive end of the court, Key was banging into guys down low and exerting his physical presence. After one bucket, he even gave the “too strong” flex running down the court.

However, off the ball, Key was being tossed around like a rag doll by the slender Hawkins drawing two fouls. It looked like two obvious flops.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch
Hawkins scored five points on only three shots. He only played 25 minutes.
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

After the second one, Hawkins reacted and the calling official gave him a technical foul for an authentic reaction to a call. It was clearly a cumulative technical foul.

I get it. I really do. Hawkins is demonstrative after whistles. He’s also a senior with a savant basketball IQ. He should be given a longer leash than that. Particularly on two flops.

You can understand the reaction by Hawkins. You can understand the technical foul, somewhat.

As Underwood pointed out post-game, “it didn’t hurt us tonight.” Hawkins needs to chill a bit after the whistle and talk to the officials and not demonstrate to them. It’s harder than it looks, particularly when you’re wired the way Hawkins is.

Here’s a quick rundown of the games the top three teams - Wisconsin, Purdue and Illinois - play this week. It’s crowded at the top, and will be more so at week’s end.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch
Dain Dainja had his best game in a while, getting extra tick due to the foul-riddled Coleman Hawkins. Dainja had 7 and 5 in 11 minutes off the bench.
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Illini sit at 16-5 overall and climb to 7-3 in the Big Ten. The program sits alone in third place in the standings, 1.5 games behind first place Wisconsin (8-1) and a game behind second place Purdue (8-2).

Purdue is at Wisconsin on Sunday on CBS.

Illinois plays Nebraska at State Farm Center the same night.

If the Illini can hold serve at home against the upstart Cornhuskers and capable coach Fred Hoiberg, they will gain a game on whoever loses that contest at Kohl Center in Madison.

Nebraska hosts Wisconsin on Thursday. That’s not a layup for the Badgers.

This could be a very interesting, and advantageous week for your Fighting Illini.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch
Freshman Amani Hansberry with a beautiful and-1 late in the first half. Fellow freshman Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn played alongside the forward for a long stretch.
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Freshman Amani Hansberry and Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn both played in the first half. At the same time. No one died.

Out of necessity with two fouls on Shannon and Hawkins, Underwood’s hand was forced to play the freshman duo concurrently in meaningful minutes.

“I’m not going to lie, I was nervous.” Underwood said.

My question would have been, “Why?”

No one asked that, unfortunately.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Ohio State
DGL may be looking to fill the Energy Guy off The Bench role. BU is gaining confidence.
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

DGL and Hansberry have shown enough at this point that they should both be at least appearing in both halves of every game.

Depth is not depth if everyone stays at the shallow end of the pool.

One more thing to mention: Illinois scored 87 points and the following happened.

  • Hawkins took three shots
  • Illinois only attempted 17 threes
  • Illinois only took 60 shots total

When — or if — this team ever clicks all the way offensively, the century mark is only off the limits against maybe one team (Houston).

Please take The Scientific Poll.


Which individual will influence the Illini’s NCAA Tournament run the most?

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    Terrence Shannon, Jr.
    (384 votes)
  • 22%
    Coleman Hawkins
    (192 votes)
  • 18%
    Brad Underwood
    (160 votes)
  • 11%
    Ty Rodgers
    (98 votes)
  • 2%
    Answer in the comments for someone else
    (25 votes)
859 votes total Vote Now

This is starting to take shape. This is TSJ being back. This is one month left.

This is Illinois basketball.