By Max Feldman
Brad Underwood enters his 3rd season in Champaign looking to break through the wall and compete in the Big 10. The Illini are recruiting at an elite level, better than any point this decade. Year one finished at 14-18, year two was 12-21, what may 2019-2020 hold? With more depth and high level, NBA caliber talent at multiple spots… FOG sees the Illini making a push in the top 4 of the Big Ten.
Ayo Dosunmu (Sophomore, 6-5 185 pounds)
Dosunmu stands at 13th overall on the FOG 2020 NBA Draft Big Board. He had the chance to leave after his freshman year, but chose to return because of “unfinished business.” Ayo can do a little bit of everything, and when he is pushing the pace, slithering through the lane finishing through contact and finding teammates in open spots, the Illini are at their best. A stronger frame and an offseason working on his shooting stroke should increase productivity. If Dosunmu makes that additional jump this year, the Illini will as well. 21 points, 7 boards and 73% from the field is a good start in game one.
Trent Frazier (Junior, 6-1 170 pounds)
Frazier has had an up and down tenure in Champaign. Never lacking any confidence, Trent is an offensive threat even on an off night because of his stroke from all around the arc and beyond. He’s in a tricky situation with more players who are offensively skilled also hunting for their shot, but Frazier is the kind of guy that certainly will win some games for the Illini on his hot nights. Consistency on offense and steal production on the defensive side will go a long way in 19-20 for his own stock and Illinois as a B10 competitor.
Andres Feliz (Senior, 6-2 185 pounds)
The glue guy. The Dominican-born guard came in last season in his first D1 season and provided plenty of burst off the bench. Rolling out a three guard lineup is a risky move in terms of defensive matchup issues, but Feliz is ruthless defending on ball and cutting passing lanes. Feliz is the fastest player on the court at all times, pushing the pace off of rebounds and getting to the rim. Andres Feliz is a perfect fit in the Illini scheme and should be the most consistent source of offense hovering around 10-12 points. A 23 point outburst in the Illini opening game is promising.
Giorgi Bezhanishvili (Sophomore, 6-9 235 pounds)
Big G finished his Freshman campaign with 12 points and 5 boards per game, becoming the biggest recruiting steal in the Underwood era. The Georgian big man had few D1 opportunities, but BA and Orlando Antigua saw high ceiling as a rebounding, and offensively skilled high post threat. That shot has paid off. Look for G to capitalize with more spacing, speed guards and an elite big man by his side.
Kofi Cockburn (Freshman, 7-0 285 pounds)
The massive big man out of Oak Hill is certainly one of the biggest recruiting gets of the Underwood era. Even further so, Kofi is going to bring a massive presence to how the Illini will play this season. With nearly a 7-5 wingspan, with Kofi and G on the floor the Illini should not lose a rebounding battle. Shot blocking and easy dunks on the other end are the name of the game for the Jamaican-born center. 10 points, 11 boards and 2 blocks in 32 minutes is a fantastic start.
Kipper Nichols (Senior, 6-6 220 pounds)
Nichols debated seeking a grad transfer option, but opted to stay in Champaign and finish his collegiate career where he started. The senior can play any wing position or the stretch four spot, but the issue has been consistency. Nichols fits the bill as a 6th man with experience and should provide scoring spark and toughness, especially in conference play.
Alan Griffin (Sophomore, 6-5 180 pounds)
Griffin has potentially the highest ceiling floor of anyone of the Illini roster. The wiry guard can shoot the lights out and brings incredible energy on the defensive end of off the bench. With a Duke bound brother, a sister at UCONN and his father coaching the reigning NBA champions, the Toronto Raptors, it is in Griffin’s blood. Look for Griffin to make a huge leap on both ends as his youth showed at times last season. Underwood and Co love the former Stepinac’s guards skillset and toughness. Our prediction of the Illini’s most improved player this season.
Tevian Jones (Sophomore, 6-7 205 pounds)
Jones has the intangibles of an NBA wing, but in his freshman year it did not all come together. The flashes were impressive, and the opportunity was rather limited, but matching up against bigger teams especially with a tough out of conference schedule, the Arizona native should get his chance. He can do a bit of everything, and an extra boost in year two may take the Illini to the next level.
- Top 5 seed in the B10 Tournament
- First March Madness appearance since 2013
- One notable Non-Con Win (Arizona, Miami, Missouri)