Brad Underwood and the Illinois Fighting Illini look to continue regular-season dominance with hopes of making it to the second weekend or further.
CBB Review is once again ranking the top 100 teams heading into the 2022-23 season. Each day we will reveal the next team until we reach the team slotted at number one. Coming in ranked number 31 are the Illinois Fighting Illini.
On paper, the Illini showed out with arguably their most talented roster since the 2005 runner-ups. After failing to meet expectations last season in the postseason, Illinois greats Kofi Cockburn, Trent Frazier, and Da’Monte Williams have all moved on to pro careers.
Moving outside of an offense focussed on the bigs Underwood has gathered a plethora of talent in recruiting and portalling. Brad Underwood is one of the more exciting coaches in college basketball so it should be another good year for the Fighting Illini.
Head Coach: Brad Underwood (10th season overall, 5th season at Illinois)
2021-22 Record: 23-10 (15-5)
2022 Postseason Finish: Lost in NCAA Tournament second round
Notable Departures: Alfonso Plummer (Pro), Andre Curbelo (Transfer/St. John’s), Brandon Podziemski (Transfer/Santa Clara), Da’Monte Williams (Pro), Jacob Grandison (Transfer/Duke), Kofi Cockburn (NBA/), Trent Frazier (Pro)
PG: Skyy Clark (6-3, 200, Fr.)
247Sports Composite #33 overall ranked recruit
SG: Terrance Shannon Jr. (6-6, 215, Sr.)
2021-22 stats: 10.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists (Texas Tech)
SF: RJ Melendez (6-7, 205, So.)
2021-22 stats: 3.8 points, 1.7 rebounds, 56.9 FG%, 8.5 minutes
PF: Matthew Mayer (6-9, 225, Fifth Year)
2021-22 stats: 9.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.2 steals (Baylor)
C: Coleman Hawkins (6-10, 225, Jr.)
2021-22 stats: 5.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists
6: Ty Rodgers (6-6, 200, Fr.)
247Sports Composite #53 overall ranked recruit
7: Luke Goode (6-7, 210, So.)
2021-2022 stats: 2.0 points, 1.8 rebounds, 32.7 FG%, 8.9 minutes
8: Jayden Epps (6-2, 190, Fr.)
247Sports Composite #72 overall ranked recruit
9: Dain Dainja (6-9, 270, Rs.-So.)
2021-22 stats: 2.0 points, 1.0 rebounds, 3.0 minutes, 3 games played (Baylor)
10: Sencire Harris (6-4, 160, Fr.)
247Sports Composite #109 overall ranked recruit
Team MVP: Terrance Shannon Jr
Coming in with the most experience of any player on this Illinois Fighting Illini team, Shannon brings scoring and defense, and is adaptable to any situation.
Coming into the Big Ten where the focus is more so in the paint, it seems that the former Texas Tech star should be able to flourish in his outside and mid-range shots. On defense, Shannon is flexible through numerous positions and helps move into an era of position-less basketball for coach Underwood.
Make or Break Player: Coleman Hawkins
After starting just less than half the games last season, Hawkins moves into the starting big-man role with some enormous shoes to fill. The good news for him and Illinois Fighting Illini fans is that he will not be clogging the paint and is able to move up and down the court with ease for a big man.
With Coleman as one of the top breakout candidates in the country, it’ll be interesting to see if he can land himself on an All-Big Ten team after the season.
Analytic To Know: 25% of Offensive rebounding came from one person
The Fighting Illini grabbed 379 offensive rebounds last season with 95 of those coming from Kofi Cockburn. With Illinois losing out on this much production, it could be something to take notice of.
However, Hawkins grabbed 47 total playing in five more games, but also about 232 minutes less than Cockburn in the entire season. Looking ahead to this season with there being more space in the paint, it’ll be interesting to see how much his offensive rebounds go up or down.
With a bunch of talent on paper, Illinois’ ceiling may not be a national championship, but realistically they can still contend at the top of the Big Ten. The Illini will go nine or ten deep this season as they have three freshmen who will all take turns bringing the ball up at point guard.
Illinois has a more challenging non-conference schedule than most, facing off against the likes of UCLA, Syracuse, Missouri, Baylor/Virginia, and Texas. This should give a very good look at whether or not they’ll be able to handle the Big Ten schedule
Another player to keep an eye on has got to be freshman starting point guard Skyy Clark. He’s a former five-star before injuries knocked down his potential, but with Adam Fletcher as his strength and conditioning coach, he has worked back and we could see a healthy Clark for the first time in over a year.