The Illinois Fighting Illini were on track to make their first NCAA Tournament since 2013 before March Madness got wiped out by COVID-19, carrying a 21-10 record into the Big Ten Tournament. It looks as though Brad Underwood has turned a corner in Champaign, and there’s reason to be excited if you’re an Illini fan.
That said, next year’s roster could look much different. Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, Illinoi’s two best players, both declared for the NBA Draft but didn’t hire an agent. Dosunmu is considered a better NBA prospect than Cockburn – he’s popping up as a borderline first rounder on mock drafts, while Cockburn is unlikely to be drafted – so it seems that Dosunmu leaving and Cockburn returning is the most realistic scenario. We don’t know for sure, though, and they have until June 3 to decide.
We do know that Illinois will lose third-leading scorer Andres Feliz to graduation and sophomore wing Alan Griffin to transfer. The latter is a bummer and a surprise for the Illini, because Griffin seemed likely to assume more offensive responsibility in 2020-21 with Feliz and possibly Dosunmu gone. Now, Trent Frazier is the only one of Illinois’ top five scorers certain to return, though Cockburn and/or Dosunmu could follow suit.
FanDuel college basketball odds
The Illini currently sit at +5000 to win the 2021 national championship at FanDuel, which ranks 33rd among all teams. Here’s a full look at FanDuel’s Big Ten odds:
Michigan State +1800
Ohio State +2800
Penn State +8000
*Rutgers not listed. Sorry, Rutgers.
Let’s dive into who Illinois is returning and adding.
For the purposes of this article, let’s assume Cockburn stays and Dosunmu goes, since that’s the most likely outcome based on draft projections. Cockburn was outstanding as a freshman, averaging 13.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. Factoring in improvement an increased volume as a sophomore, he’s a 15 and 10 candidate who provides excellent rim protection. Cockburn could be a first team All-Big Ten guy if he returns, an excellent foundational piece for the Illini.
Then there’s Frazier, who averaged 9.1 points per game last year (good) on 32.7% shooting (good lord). Frazier could see a volume spike as a senior, and if he doesn’t become more efficient, Illinois may be in trouble. Forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili returns, too, and he was a solid rotational piece as a sophomore, averaging 6.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. That assist mark is hefty for a big man – look for Bezhanishvili to facilitate more from the high post as a junior considering the roster churn.
On to the newcomers: Illinois has a solid incoming recruiting class, welcoming 4-star shooting guard Adam Miller, 4-star point guard Andre Curbelo and 3-star power forward Coleman Hawkins. The Illini will also add Holy Cross transfer Jacob Grandison and D-III transfer Austin Hutcherson, who both sat last season and will be eligible for 2020-21. The Grandison addition is particularly exciting – he averaged 13.9 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists as a sophomore.
And Underwood had high praise for Hutcherson on the Inside Fighting Illini Athletics podcast.
“He’s known for being an elite shooter, but a guy who athletically is so gifted. He’s by far and away the most gifted athlete we’ve had here in terms of speed, his jumping,” Underwood said.
Obviously, much will hinge on the freshmen guards – if one of them becomes a reliable starter, Illinois could be cooking. This starting five looks nice:
PG: Curbelo or Frazier
SG: Frazier or Miller
That looks like a tournament team on paper, but you never know how a group will mesh on the floor. Illini fans have to be itching for 2020-21.