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3 Takeaways From Illinois Basketball’s International Trip



How Illinois Basketball Finished off the Kansas Jayhawks

The Illinois Men’s Basketball team completed their summer Spanish trip with a 103-69 win against the Catalonia All Stars. Unlike their second outing, there was no video from this matchup. This leaves Illini fans once again box score scanning to get an idea of what might be in store this fall and winter.

In general, there shouldn’t be any major takeaways. Neither team gameplans for one another, rotations are free flowing and players are still learning how to play with one another. That being said, basketball is not a super complicated sport. There is some carry over in any setting.

1. Inside Out

Going into the season there has been much speculation about the Illini’s point guard situation. After missing on their primary portal targets, it will be another season of learning and experimentation there. The other big issue with last year’s squad was the lack of shooting. It was three games in a foreign country, but the 2023 edition of the Illini didn’t do much to assuage those worries.

Over the three games Illinois shot 16-79 from deep, just over 20%. On its face it’s a number that is somehow much worse than their 31% that placed them 340th in the country last year. I don’t think this means that they will be shooting 20% all year, but this team will not be able to rely on elite level shooting to cover up other areas.

The eventual return of Marcus Domask will help things on that front. However, Terrence Shannon Jr., Coleman Hawkins, Luke Goode and Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn, the projected best shooters on the team, all had games where they missed four threes or more. That quartet shot 4-18 in the finale. Last year shot selection was a major part of the shooting issues, and from what I could tell in the streamed game the mass majority of the shots seemed to be ‘good’, but the ball has to go in the net.

2. Young Bucks

Illinois last year was one of the younger teams in the country, relying on freshman and sophomores in multiple spots. This year the Illini are one of the oldest squads in the country. Despite this, it was freshman Amani Hansberry who probably had the best statistical trip. After just 11 minutes in the first game, the freshman from the DMV posted 13 points and nine rebounds, followed by 19 points and 11 rebounds in the finale.

While it’s not a flawless squad, it will be another year with a wealth of options, allowing the Illini to withstand an injury. As noted in our breakdown, despite his lack of elite athleticism Hansberry seems to have glue on his hands. Any rebound he touches seems to stay with him. It’s likely no coincidence that he played the least in the Illini’s only competitive contest, as Illinois has a bevy of experienced and proven frontcourt players. With that being said, when called upon Hansberry will provide a lot more than most team’s fourth frontcourt options.

Gibbs-Lawhorn has been the object of many fans’ curiosity. With the point guard situation as is, the explosive freshman provides a tantalizing if a little wild option. Overall, he probably didn’t play as well as he wished on the trip. There were still very many flashes of what he can provide and what he can become. Of their young guards – Sencire Harris, Ty Rodgers, Nico Morretti, and him – Gibbs Lawhorn is the most talented scorer. That may be less needed alongside Shannon Jr., Coleman Hawkins and the rest of the older Illini starters. However, the combo of him and Dain Dainja can give the Illini some serious offensive punch off the bench. The biggest thing for the wiry young guard will be his ability to play defense. Between the lack of an elite ballhandler and questionable shooting, Illinois best offense will come off their defense.

3. Off To The Races

As mentioned, turning defense into offense quickly will greatly help their issues. In the streamed game, the Illini found a lot of joy in transition. They have great athletes at basically every position and can switch almost completely across the lineup. They also have very skilled frontcourt players, led by Hawkins, who can spring the break themselves off the glass. The Big Ten is a notoriously slow conference, perhaps even to its detriment. Illinois will need to really be locked in on defense to speed teams up to their pace.

Head Coach Brad Underwood wanted last year’s team to be defense-first. Due to factors mostly now departed, they were never able to consistently lock down that end. They finished 26th in the country last year in KenPom’s defensive efficiency, this year’s squad should look to crack into the top 15, even top 10. If they line up as I believe they will: Rodgers-Shannon Jr.-Domask-Guerrier-Hawkins they will have elite length and switchability. Leveraging this can be the difference between an encore of last year or a much better sequel.

Brian is a former sports writer for the Daily Illini who has been covering Illinois Basketball for over 5 years. Brian is now the lead basketball reporter for Armchair Illini, the go-to source for Illinois athletics news. He has had work published on Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, USA Today and more.