Volume 1 Issue 7 November 21, 2023
HAPPENINGS ON THE HARDWOOD
A NEW SEASON SAME ISSUES?
After a successful preseason campaign that saw the Illini takedown preseason #1 Kansas Jayhawks, optimism was very high for Illini fans.
They are 5-1 in the regular season the only blemish is a loss to #4 Marquette at the State Farm Center in Champaign. They are ranked just outside the top 25 in the AP(27) and 21st in the Coaches poll. However, some of the shortcomings of last year's team seemed to still be there.
Last year the team suffered from poor 3-point shooting. Illinois managed just 30.8 pct from the arc This year's team seems to be afflicted with the same problem. Currently, the team is shooting 31.6 pct from 3-Point land. Illinois is averaging 25 3-point attempts per game. Terrance Shannon Jr. 36.4% and Luke Goode 46.7%, are the two exceptions to the 3-point issue.
Another concern that has continued since the last season is a true Point Guard. After Sky Clark left after 13 games, the position was a revolving door. Midseason additions Niccoli Moretti and AJ Redd saw little action.
In the off-season, the Illini added Freshman Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn but the decision was made to make Sophomore Ty Rodgers the selection at the point. While the jury is still out on Rodgers, both Moretti and Gibbs-Lawhorn have shown some promise. Also, Justin Harmon has seen some action at the point guard slot. The Illini have only played 1 high-profile team so far in the non-BIG Ten part of the Schedule. There have been issues that are giving fans some concern.
In the first game vs EIU, they were down 15-6 at the 12:54 mark in the first and did not take the lead for good until the 5:25 mark of the first. Then they pulled away to win by 28 80-52. Freshman Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn led the Illini with 18 points, and Terrance Shannon added 16. Another Freeshman led Illinois in rebounding as Amari Hansberry led the team with 8. The Illini only shot 25% in the first half but recovered and shot 40% in the second half. Shannon Jr and Luke Goode combined for 6 of 12 from the 3-point line. The one place where Brad Underwood wanted to emphasize this year is points in the paint. The Illini scored 36 points inside vs 22 for Eastern.
In the Next game vs Oakland of Michigan, Illinois was down 8-0 in the first 1:25. and struggled to get a 1-point lead at the half. Oakland would stay close and briefly took a lead in the second half. The Illini took the lead for good at the 7:04 mark and pulled away winning by 11 64-53. In this game 3-point shooting was atrocious at 4-16 for 25% but once again points in the paint were the saving grace 44 points in the paint for Illinois vs 28 for Oakland. Four Illini scored in double figures, led by Terrance Shannon Jr with 15 Quincy Guerrier would have a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Vs #4 Marquette it was a different story, as the Illini went toe to toe early and often, and had the lead for the first 5 minutes. Marquette would take the lead but never get too far away but in the end, would best the Illini 71-64. The Illini shot 35% from three but were outscored in the paint 44-20. It was a case of too much Tyler Kolek who put up 24 points 4 assists and 2 steals and showed the value of a true Point Guard. Shannon led the Illini with 21 points Domask added 18 and Quincy Guerrier had 10 boards giving him back-to-back double-digit rebound games. One big difference was the turnovers. The Illini turned the ball over 15 times. Marquette would score 16 points off of Illini turnovers.
Former Illini Roger Powell brought his Valparaiso Beacons to The State Farm Center.
Illinois was without the services of Coleman Hawkins who had tendinitis in his knee. Valpo had a 9-point lead at the 16-minute mark. Damage was done mostly by Guard Isiah Stafford who scored 20 of his game-high 30 points in the 1st half. Valpo would go into halftime with a 7-point lead. The Illini started the second half with a modest 14-8 run in the first 10 minutes and then exploded in the last 10 minutes outscoring the Beacons 25 to 11 for an 87-64 win.
The Illini were tested on the boards, only winning the round battle 60-59 Shannon again would lead the Illini with 22 points and add 7 rebounds and 4 assists and Dian Dainja would add 16 points to go with 7 boards and 2 blocks.
Against Southern University it was Illinois' third game in 5 days. Instead of looking tired they came out with high energy and controlled the game. Coleman Hawkins was again out. Southern managed to hang around until the 5:27 mark in the first. Then the Illini started to pull away and ended the first half up 18 points. in the second like in the Vapo game, they steadily increased the lead to end up with the 28-point win 88-60. The Illini were 0-6 on 3-point attempts in the first half they would hit 5-16 in the second half but only shoot 22.7% for the game. Shannon would lead the Illini 22 points, 4 assists 1 block, and 1 Steal. The Illini would;ld get 62 of their 88 points in the paint.
The last game on Friday vs Western Illinois was much like the Southern game in that the Illini had little trouble in amassing a 17-point lead at the half. They did more of the same in the second half, outpacing the Leathernecks by 15 resulting in the 32-point win 84-52. The Illini had their best 3-point shooting night 10-25 for 40%, with Terrance Shannon Jr going 6-8 behind the arc. He would once again lead the Illini with 19 points Quincey Guerrier would get his second double-double of the year with 10 points and 15 rebounds. Over half of the Illini's points (44) came in the paint.
Up next for the Illininis an early conference game at Rutgers on Dec 2, followed by a date at the Jimmy V Classic with #19(AP) Florida Atlantic on Dec 5 and then they travel to Lexington to battle the #8(AP) Tennessee Vols Dec 9. This could be a telling stretch for Illinois who could use an early season signature win.
from top left; Terrance Shannon Jr by Sidney Malone. Quincy Guerrier by Michael Allio via AP, Luke Goode via WCIA.com, and Dain Daija by Michael Allio via AP.
So far Shannon has been the go-to guy but he is getting good support from the likes of Guerrier, Goode, and Dianja. When Hawkins comes back from injury that will be one more weapon to add. I feel this team is starting to gel. I realize it has been against mostly non-power 5 opponents but that is why you have these games to be able to gel and face tougher competition.
In terms of point guard play Nico Moretti had two games back-to-back in the Valpo and Southern games where he started to emerge as a possible solution. He had six points and two assists in 13 minutes vs Valpo and four points, three assists and 3 rebounds in 13 minutes vs Southern before he injured his ankle. Underwood had no timetable for Moretti's return but said he hoped it would not be too long and that Nicco would be evaluated day-to-day.
As always thanks for reading and don't forget to check out my podcast Talking Sports on the Bleachers.
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