#8 Fighting Illini Basketball: 2020-21 Season Preview


Said Illinois Fighting Illini freshman Brandon Lieb: “Being in a top ten program, no matter what happens this season, I don’t think it will be one that I’ll ever forget.”

“Seeing the talent we have, we’re able to compete with any team in the country,” Lieb continued, “and with that awe factor, it’s kind of surreal, but every team has work to be done.”

Last we left them 

Illini basketball had cemented their place in the NCAA Tournament, at long last, as the Big Ten Tournament commenced. Poised to be a #6 or #7 seed in the big dance, Illinois fans will have to wait at least one more season to end the drought which began back in 2014.

Mid-march was when the world first started to go to hell in a handbasket, and everything got cancelled, everywhere. However, the program finally turned the corner in year three of Brad Underwood.

brad underwood

He’s left us

Andres Feliz, Kipper Nichols, Alan Griffin and Tevian Jones

He’s returned 

Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn both tested the NBA waters, and neither was ready to jump to the league yet. Ayo is a first team preseason All-American and if Iowa’s Luka Garza played in any other conference, he would be a strong favorite for conference player of the year.

Cockburn should be one of the league’s best big men, and they’re set to be one of the nation’s best inside-outside combinations. You also should read this Kofi interview he did this summer, the only real major media availability that he’s had. It’s really about stuff that’s a lot more interesting, important and relevant and basketball. He’s a very interesting, thoughtful guy.

Elsewhere, Giorgi Bezhanishvili, the most….interesting…man in the world, from a college basketball standpoint is back, as is Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams.

He’s arrived 

IThe incoming class, led by Andre Curbelo and Adam Miller, is beyond stellar. The future is bright, with Curbelo poised to step into the role that will be vacated by Dosunmu once he leaves. With Miller, well, he gets more love than anyone on the current Illini basketball roster in 2021 mock drafts.

Not that those are gospel by any means, but you get the idea about NBA Draft stock, and vis a via talent, from those.

Then you have Coleman Hawkins, who could play the three, or the five, or well, anywhere. He’ll be a tremendous asset on the defensive end of the floor, because he can guard multiple positions. Asked who he models his game on, he says there isn’t a specific player, but there are some guys he admires.

“Kevin Durant, in my opinion, is the best player in the league.” Of Aaron Gordon he said, “a lot of people see him for his athleticism, but if you break down his game. he can do it all.”

The 2021 class is stellar too, led by Luke Goode, a 6-foot-7 wing from Fort Wayne who is the No. 96 player in the Class of 2021 (via 247 Sports), and the No. 16 small forward in the country.



Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports IllustratedChicago Tribune and SB NationFollow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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