Brad Underwood has been at the helm of the Illinois basketball program for six years, and this year marked their 3rd straight NCAA Tournament appearance without making it to the Sweet 16 across Illinois sports betting.
What is the problem? Is there a problem? IllinoisBet.com tries to dissect the Fighting Illini’s issues on how to get further.
Let’s start out by saying that Illinois over the last few years has been a very good basketball team. They just haven’t been very good enough in the one-and-done NCAA Tournament, where upsets are a staple on Illinois sportsbook apps. Simply put, they’re not losing to dogs in the Big Dance. In two of the three years, they lost to higher seeds and in the other they went down to an in-state rival on a magical tournament ride who had an elderly nun cheering them on. Stuff happens.
Digging Into The Numbers
That said, this year’s team leaves a lot of room for improvement from a 20-13 campaign in Champaign, especially in the backcourt. After the transfers of guards Adam Miller in 2021 and Andre Curbelo in 2022, Underwood tapped the transfer portal to bring in Chicago native Terrence Shannon from Texas Tech. He paired Shannon with three freshmen, Jayden Epps, Ty Rodgers and Sencire Harris.
The result, as could be expected, was very inconsistent guard play: Illinois’ assist percentage was 46.8%, which ranked a very poor 295th in the country. Their assist-turnover ratio was a Big Ten-worst 0.96 and they averaged 12.9 turnovers per game during the regular season.
From beyond the arc, they shot only 30.8%, last in the Big Ten and a dismal 339th in the nation. Compounding that, they attempted the second-most threes in the Big Ten. Doing a lot of something you’re not good at is generally a problem.
Adding to their inconsistency at operators like BetMGM Illinois Sportsbook, Illinois shot horribly from the free throw line at 67.9%. That was 12th out of 14 teams in the Big Ten and 310th in the country.
Young Guards Expected To Grow
Having the three freshmen guards return should improve those numbers next season. But retention has been a problem.
The transfer portal has made it so easy for players to come and go, Illinois has seen a number of players go: Six during the past two seasons. Miller averaged nearly 12 points per game for LSU as a starter. Curbelo averaged nearly 10 points per game for St. John’s. Their experience certainly would have helped Illinois this past season, as might have freshman guard Skyy Clark, who started 12 games for the Illini before announcing he would be leaving.
Both Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn left early because they entered the NBA Draft. That’s a classic dilemma – great players want to go pro. If you recruit potential pros you may lose them, if you don’t recruit potential pros it’s hard to win in the Big Ten.
The Bottom Line
Illinois has three recruits so far committed for next year: Amani Hansberry is a 4-star 6-8 PF from Silver Spring, Maryland. Dravyn Gibbs-Lawhorn is a 6-1 4-star combo guard from Lafayette, Indiana. Zacharie Perrin is a 6-10 3-star forward from France. Illinois may also be looking to snag Minnesota transfer Jamison Battle in the portal.
The problem, however, with the transfer portal is it’s hard to judge how a player will fit in with your culture and whether a transfer is just a short-term fix that blocks a recruit who may be a longer-term solution.
Underwood has built a solid, consistent team at Illinois, but only 16 teams (out of 360+) make it to the NCAA’s second weekend. It’s hard. You need talent, luck, health, the right matchups, and to be playing well in March. There’s no easy fix. Yes, it’s a drag losing to Arkansas. On the plus side, you could be Purdue.
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