Mike Cagley, IlliniGuy
November 10, 2021
The season is here and the Illini are 1-0 after a 24 point victory over Jackson State. There aren't many conclusions that one can reach when playing a SWAC team like Tigers - as the talent gap was massive. It was rewarding to see the Fighting Illini players hitting the deck to scramble for loose balls and playing defense that crushed Jackson State early in the first half. The Illini fired out to a 21-2 lead with 9:40 left in the first half. That's the way to start a season.
Coach Underwood will have plenty to coach thanks to some of the challenges presented by Andre Curbelo, Trent Frazier, and even Austin Hutcherson (all three including Hutcherson have been at the point guard position in the past) all being injured. There were a number of turnovers that began with the point guard position picking up the dribble or attempting to pass from too far out on the floor. I feel certain that Coach Underwood will have a lot of material coming from this one facet of the game alone.
Sure, he had four turnovers - we all realize he plays at the four or five most of the time - so, he's entitled to a few turnovers the first time out as a one. At the same time, he had a heck of a game. Hawkins managed to hit his teammates for 3 assists, grabbed 8 rebounds, scored 13 points in 29 minutes with 2 three-pointers. If he's able to consistently hit three-pointers this season, the Illini will force teams into guarding the whole court. Moving an opposing four out to guard Hawkins would allow Kofi Cockburn to run alone in the lane without help for his defender. There is no one in the nation who will fare very well in that situation. Tonight bodes well for the prospects of this Illini team late in the season.
One thing that Coleman Hawkins does that reminds me of Ayo Dosunmu is he works hard in the off season. Already we can see he is bigger and stronger - so he spends time working out effectively in the weight room, but that's not all. His three point shot and his ballhandling have improved as well. You don't put up stats and get cheered by the fans during the season if you don't put in the time in the offseason. It's clear that Ayo set a great example for the Illini basketball program and the staff is excellent at developing their players.
Building off of his success on the Finland National Basketball Team, Jacob Grandison told the B1G and the rest of collegiate basketball that he will be a threat on both ends of the court. His defensive effort is consistent and intense. Tonight, he showed a soft touch on his shot that opponents fear. When he gets hot, he can carry a team. Grandison scored 20 points in 23 minutes. He was 2-4 from the 3-point line, 5-6 from inside the arc, and 4-4 from the free throw line. Add in his 5 rebounds and an assist for good measure and it was an excellent outing for Grandison.
The prospects of a starting lineup with Curbelo, Frazier, Grandison, Hawkins, and Cockburn when they're playing well - with Plummer, Williams, Hutcherson, Payne and the rest of the gang fighting for minutes is very uplifting for the spirits of Illini fans.
No, I'm not talking the old WWE wrestler the Big Boss Man (rest his soul), I'm talking about Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk, he's the new 2020s version of the Big Boss Man.
It was fun to see Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk play when he it appears to feel good physically. He was moving well on the court today and his footspeed seemed improved. In 21 minutes, he snared 10 rebounds, (5 of them offensive which means 5 additional possessions for the Illini), and he had 3 assists. His assists were impressive as they were in the lane with a lot of defensive traffic and he hit guys that would be hard to see unless your last name is Curbelo. His precision passing even allowed for his teammates to go to the line after being fouled.
With Omar Payne playing better tonight - and running an offense that he's had minimal experience in, the two centers backing up Kofi Cockburn showed signs of being able to hold their own while the All American is out of the lineup. In 17 minutes, Payne had 4 points, 3 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Not a bad start of the season for the Florida transfer.
There was a lot to be encouraged by and optimism is high as the Illini move towards their clash with Arkansas State on Friday night.
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