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How Illinois Basketball Can Have a Successful Return Home



How Illinois Basketball Can Have a Successful Return Home
Illinois head coach Brad Underwood watches from the sidelines during an NCAA college basketball game between Tennessee and Illinois at Thompson-Boling Arena at Food City Center, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023.

How Illinois Basketball Can Have a Successful Return Home

After a good three game road trip, Illinois Basketball will return to the State Farm Center with finals behind them. Sitting at 7-2, the Illini are in a good spot. Now they will face off against a sneaky tough Colgate team. The Raiders have made it to the NCAA Tournament in the last three years from the Patriot League.

1. Back to Business

It’s been over a week since Illinois last played. After a tough loss against Tennessee, the Illini need to get back to their winning ways. Colgate will be a good return to action, with size and toughness. The Raiders have a big lineup and played Syracuse tough in the Carrier Dome. However, this is still a Patriot League team. The Raiders play slow, in the 300s nationally in tempo on KenPom. They have a balanced attack, but as such turn the ball over a lot. The Illini don’t force a lot of turnovers, but if they can it will help speed up Colgate.

2. Junk Food

After putting up 36 threes against Tennessee, Illinois should look to get back into the paint. As I mentioned Colgate has some size, but not a lot of high-level rim protection. As such, the Raiders could opt to try a zone like Oakland did in Illinois’ joint lowest-scoring outing of the year. That day the Illini struggled to beat the zone from outside. Eventually, they pulled through it with a mega lineup of Ty Rodgers, Terrence Shannon Jr., Quincy Guerrier, Coleman Hawkins, and Dain Dainja. That was the last time we saw Hawkins and Dainja in the game.

With Dainja struggling for time in recent games, look for Underwood to try more looks with both the Illini’s centers on the floor. He brought it up in the Tennessee postgame, and against a team like Colgate it’s the perfect time to tinker.

3. Hurdles

Illinois has handled their nonconference schedule well so far. They’ve beaten every team they should’ve, and made competitive efforts against strong opponents playing well. This game is one of three very winnable games, which would get the Illini into the Big Ten grind already ahead of where they were last year. For a team with aspirations for the second weekend of March, they need to make sure they don’t trip on any easy hurdles.

If the Illini can speed the game up they should win this one going away. Their ability to execute in the half-court will let them get out and run with Colgate forcing things.

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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.