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Illinois Basketball: Addition by Subtraction?



Jan 16, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard RJ Melendez (15), forward Dain Dainja (42), forward Matthew Mayer (24), and guard Jayden Epps (3) looks on during the second half against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Williams Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois Basketball: Addition by Subtraction?

Recently on Twitter, Illinois Basketball’s offseason was in question. Greg Waddell of The Sleeper’s Media and Field of 68 was on a podcast with Rob Dauster regarding whether Illinois Basketball has improved or not. Dauster was excited about seeing Coleman Hawkins step into an even bigger role, however Waddell was not as convinced. Waddell voiced that Illinois Basketball fans are actually underplaying the amount of production they lost this past season. He makes some solid points. Jayden Epps would be primed for a pretty solid sophomore year as a point guard.

Epps would have been a solid pure-ball handler at the guard spot and actually played pretty well as a floor general in certain instances. Despite this, I wanted to dig deeper into the numbers on whether Illinois Basketball truly had a productive offseason.

The Losses

Losses: Matthew Mayer, Jayden Epps, RJ Melendez, (Not counted: Skyy Clark and Brandon Lieb)

The main losses are Mayer, Epps and RJ Melendez. Skyy Clark is not included in this because he left halfway through the season. Clark left while the Illini were 9-5 (0-3). Afterward, Illinois Basketball won a chunk of their games and was a different team schematically. Combining the three, they averaged 28ppg, 10.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists on 40.3 fg% and 30.7 3pt %.

Numbers aside, the obvious is the team chemistry. Though I have zero idea what went on in the locker room, it is safe to say that Mayer and Epps brought up some issues. Mayer visibly lacked focus throughout the entire season. He was a gifted scorer in spurts, however, clashed with Brad Underwood publicly and unnecessarily called him out after it was reported that he wanted to fast before games. He also spent the most important end-of-the-season stretch trying to get a sponsorship from Monster and paraded around citing a “caffeine poisoning”

Epps hit road bumps late in the season and clearly clashed with Brad Underwood about the way he was coached. Just watch the game at home against Northwestern for further evidence.

Additionally, his circle was notably bashing Brad Underwood on Twitter for a myriad of reasons. If more evidence was needed, Ty Rodgers had comments about the locker room on the Tay and Piper show recently. Not saying that absolves Brad Underwood from anything. However, removing too pretty notable personalities from the Locker room seems to be a benefit for the team.

The Gains

Additions: Marcus Domask, Justin Harmon, Quincy Guerrier, (Not counting the freshmen: Amani Hansberry and Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn)

The reason I did not count the freshmen here is because I wanted to line up 3 additions vs the 3 players who lost.  I understand that Domask and Harmon may have elevated numbers given that they were at mid-major schools with an increased role. Due to this, I nerfed their stats by multiplying by 0.75. For context, Sam Griesel averaged 12.0 ppg at Nebraska last year while averaging 14.3 ppg at North Dakota State in the same amount of minutes played. That is about a 15 percent decrease. Given that Domask and Harmon will play fewer minutes, I think a 25 percent decrease in their stats is accurate enough. Quincy Guerrier is coming from the Pac-12, hence it is sufficient to leave him be.

With this nerf, the trio of transfers averaged 31ppg 11.8 rebounds, 6.02 assists on 44.3% fg on 34.6 3pt %. Even if you feel that my nerf is not strong enough, the two freshmen will certainly have roles that bring the averages up to what the aforementioned stat-line is.

The Verdict.

From a numbers standpoint, Illinois Basketball certainly got better. The chemistry cannot be assessed at this point. However, it seems likely that all three seem more down to earth and willing to adapt to Brad Underwood’s ways. They are missing a true point guard, however, Illinois Basketball can surprise a lot of people if they can figure themselves out.

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