Illini Men’s Basketball: What have we learned at 4-0?

The Illini 2017-18 men’s basketball team is off to a hot start at the beginning of the Underwood era.

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  • Aaron Jordan is the real deal, and we don’t yet know his full potential

Aaron Jordan didn’t see considerable, and sometimes any, playing time under John Groce and the last coaching staff for the Illini. That being said, though Underwood didn’t recruit him, he is working to tap into the full potential that Groce saw when recruiting him. The Junior guard will continue to see considerable amounts of minutes going forward after dropping from 11 minutes a game, down to just 7 from his freshmen to sophomore year.

Jordan has benefited from Underwood’s quick-paced offense, and amidst refining his jumpshot in the offseason, Aaron has become a truly dynamic threat on both ends of the court, keeping up with his already solid defensive work.

The Junior sharpshooter came into Illinois as a 4-star recruit, being ranked as high as 95th overall nationally, and will look to continue to grow with a young, but very deep Illinois team.

  • This is the deepest Illini team in years, if not my whole lifetime, and that’s a good thing when it comes to Underwood-esque basketball

Watching from the stands, it is incredibly easy to tell that Brad Underwood’s system will require a lot of players seeing a lot of minutes. Underwood is known for his fast paced offense, and (probably one of the most overused quotes by everyone, including myself) is his tendency to get a shot up within the first few seconds of the shot clock. This team will rotate in players a lot, and often.

The only place this may not be the case is in the big man category. While you can look for freshmen Gregory “spicy G” Eboigbodin and Matic Vesel to be important players for the Illini in the years to come, as they grow, they won’t feature as heavily this season, assuming Michael Finke and Leron Black stay healthy, and keep up their current play. Eboigbodin and Vesel are still trying to grow into their games, with Eboigbodin seeing much more playing time than Vesel, who has thus far featured solely at the end of games, but you can look for them both to be solid players going forward, as they grow into the Underwood style of basketball.

  • The 2017-18 freshmen class will be one to remember.

While I haven’t yet mentioned Mark Smith in this article, anyone who has watched the games realizes just how good this young guy from Edwardsville is, and is going to be. At times when Illinois has lacked an offensive presence, Mark Smith hasn’t hesitated to pick up the slack. Smith has impressed heavily in his first four games as an Illini, and you’ll definitely be seeing a lot more of him as he continues to grow.

There are so many freshmen on this team, but another name alongside Mark Smith you’ll be hearing a lot about is Trent Frazier. The Wellington, Florida star could prove to be a key to the success of this year’s Illinois basketball team. A pure shooter that can also see the court and pick out his teammates for a pass at a high level, Frazier has thus far played a heavy role in coming into a game, giving his guard teammates a rest, and ensuring that the offense continues to fire at a high level. When Frazier enters the game, it allows the other Illinois guards to take a break, thus creating a cycle of high-talent guard-play that will run teams tired. (example: Marshall last night)

Other Freshmen look sure to have a large impact on this team as well. We’ve already seen stellar two-way performances from DaMonte Williams, who looks to be a multi-tool on the court. He’s averaging a high level of steals already in his first four college games, and definitely looks like he has the high Basketball IQ that he was well-known for in High School.

We’ll have a more in-depth look at all of the freshmen as the year goes on. For now, keep an eye on what could possibly be the next “Illinois Big 3” at the guard spot.

Oh, and not to mention, Illinois has a 4-star (arguably 5-star) guard who is ranked 27th nationally coming in next year, with the arrival of Ayo Dosunmu.

  • And Finally, Illinois is on the right foot going forward

The first four games on the Illini schedule, and honestly the entire Pre-Big Ten schedule, doesn’t appear the hardest on paper. However, it’s well more than worth noting that with a coach in Brad Underwood, who has been here less than a year, and a whole new system to learn, a easy-to-medium level schedule is far from the worst thing that could happen to the Illini.

The team faces Augustana (a Division III team) Wednesday night in Champaign, before they’ll take on North Carolina Central, before moving  on to Wake Forest and Northwestern. More on those games soon.

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