Illinois Fighting Illini
2019-20 record: 21-10, 13-7 in Big Ten
Head coach: Brad Underwood
Tenure at Illinois: 4th season at Illinois
Career coaching record: 157-75
Home court: State Farm Center
Starters: G Ayo Dosunmu, G Trent Frazier, G Adam Miller, G Da’Monte Williams, C Kofi Cockburn
Bench: G Andre Curbelo, G Jacob Grandison, G Austin Hutcherson, F Giorgi Bezhanishvili
Overview: Starting the season ranked one spot ahead of the Blue Devils, Illinois has one of its best teams ever coming into this season. Led by guard Ayo Dosunmu and sophomore big man Kofi Cockburn, who both declared for the NBA draft only to return to school, this Illinois team looks to improve on an impressive 2019-20 season that had it primed for a run at a Big Ten championship before the season was cut short due to COVID-19. Easily handling many of its conference foes, Illinois’ biggest issue from last season was its failure to beat top teams like Michigan State and Maryland. Having Dosunmu and Cockburn back with the addition of top-40 recruit Adam Miller, the Fighting Illini hope to stay at the top of a stacked Big Ten.
Illinois tends to favor a guard-heavy lineup, especially after discovering midway through last season that going small with Cockburn down low created more space. Dosunmu, who averaged nearly 17 points, four rebounds and three assists per game last year, is a preseason All-American and projects to be a top point guard in the nation. But he will need to improve his shooting from deep—the team overall was one of the worst in the nation from beyond the arc last year. Illinois will either have to step up their shooting or retain last year’s efficiency around the rim to compete for a championship. The bench will be led by Giorgi Bezhanishvili, a junior forward from Georgia. He had a down year in 2019-20, but with several new arrivals—Jacob Grandison, Austin Hutcherson, and another top-50 recruit in Andre Curbelo—Illinois has a deeper team that it hopes can propel the team to tough wins.
Team ceiling: Surprise returnees Dosunmu and Cockburn click for the second installment of the dynamic duo’s Illinois career, and the role players play their way to a Final Four and beyond.
Team floor: Shooting remains an issue and the new players don’t find their place in the Fighting Illini’s deep roster. Illinois struggles in its Big Ten season and finds itself as an underdog in the early stages of the NCAA Tournament.
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