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Illinois Basketball Opens their Season vs Eastern Illinois



Illinois Basketball's Perfect Starting Lineup
Jan 16, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini forward Ty Rodgers (20) drives to the basket against the Minnesota Golden Gophers during the second half at Williams Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

After two impressive exhibition outings, the Illinois Basketball team starts their season on Monday night against Eastern Illinois. Last year, Illinois Basketball popped the Panthers in an 87-57 rout. The Panthers are the 338th team out of 362 in KenPom, making them the worst team they will play all year. This one will feel a lot more like the first exhibition than the second, but there are improvements that need to be made.

1. Fast and Furious

After scoring zero points on the fast break against Kansas, the Illini will surely not let that happen again. Eastern Illinois will take bad shots and have bad turnovers. They connected on a couple of nice alley oops against Ottawa and tuning that timing further will help down the road. Last year the Illini had 15 turnovers against Eastern Illinois despite scoring 87 points. The execution level against Kansas was sharp, against Eastern Illinois, the Illini should shoot for flawless. Illinois wants to play super fast, so they have to learn to play together at that speed.

2. Temp Check

There was some discourse about how short Brad Underwood’s leash was in the Kansas exhibition, with the Illini playing 6 players 20 plus minutes and no one else more than 10. Some of that is due to Kansas also playing their top six almost exclusively, even more so than Illinois. All the same, this Illini team has very good depth and needs as many pieces as possible firing in the non-conference to keep everyone fresh for the Big Ten grind. Look for Underwood to get guys like Dravyn Gibbs-Lawhorn and Dain Dainja involved more so than last time out.

3. Valuable Discretion

Last year the Illini were among the highest-volume shooting teams from deep despite one of the worst percentages in the country. Underwood has expressed the desire for the Illini to take their shot profile more inside. Underwood teams will always shoot a high volume for three. However, getting the shot profile to under 40% of all shots being threes will help keep this team from relying on outside shot-making. Against Kansas, they were at 48% of FGAs as threes, which is more understandable given Kansas’ lineup and the Illini’s stars being hot from deep. However, in a game like this where they can impose their will it could be easy to settle for threes. When the Illini run, they need to run for dunks not jumpers.

Illinois basketball created some good vibes based on their exhibitions.  If the kind of play they had continues, this should be another fun outing.

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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.