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Silver Lining: Illinois Basketball’s Future Duo

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Illinois forward Dain Dainja dunks the ball during a NCAA Big Ten Conference men's basketball game against Iowa, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa. 230204 Illinois Iowa Mbb 032 Jpg

Despite yesterday’s close loss at Iowa, Illinois Basketball’s future duo was the silver lining.

Illinois lost a closely contested battle against Iowa on Saturday, 81-79. The game was a true back and forth display of shot-making and ramped up tempo. Unfortunately, Illinois was unable to make those extra plays that allowed them to come away with a close road victory. Some of the veteran players on this team need to be a little more consistent in their production and show up when the team needs someone to step up.

Despite the painful loss, after a noisy week of back and forth, I found some silver lining in the loss. Their future played outstanding.

Dain Dainja and Jayden Epps.

Dain Dainja and Jayden Epps were outstanding yesterday. Dainja was a dominant force in the paint. He definitely warranted more touches after dominating the Iowa front court. Foul trouble held him back a bit, but Dainja has consistently been good for Illinois. Dainja went for 17 points and 9 rebounds yesterday with an efficient field goal percentage. This is Dain’s first full year of college basketball, and is expected to be the future of the front court with Matthew Mayer running out of eligibility and Coleman Hawkins creeping up on NBA mock drafts. With another full off-season to work on his passing and mid-range game, expect Dainja to be a star for Illinois next year.

Jayden Epps is the second part of that duo. Epps continues to show veteran poise and true lead-guard potential. Epps played 30 minutes, had a decent night shooting the ball, and had zero turnovers. I also want to remind everyone he is a true freshman. Epps continues to have the ball in his hands during important scenarios and has honestly locked himself in as the point guard of the future. Jayden had a smooth step-back, mid-range jumper in the second half that truly foreshadows his future as the Illinois lead guard. If Epps can improve defensively and improve an in-between game, there is no reason he cannot cement himself as a top guard in the league.

What is next?

Dainja and Epps should both be on this team next year. This year, they need the pieces around them to stay consistent and continue to contribute. But these two are no doubt next in line to be the face of this Illini program.

Illinois travels back home to take on Minnesota to hopefully get back in the winner’s circle on Tuesday.

Alex is the Owner of Armchairillini.com, your go-to source for in depth coverage of the Illinois Fighting Illini. Alex is a Resident Physician in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation for Northwestern Medicine and has had articles featured in top media publications like Bleacher Report, YardBarker, Verbal Commits, CBS sports and more.

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