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The Optimists Guide to the (Big Ten) Galaxy: Illinois Fighting Illini

Why be negative when there is so much to look forward to?

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

By nature, I’m a preseason optimist. You can ask me just about anything about any team in the lead up to the official start of college basketball and I’m going to give you the reasons why that team can make the tournament and surprise the world. Does that eventually go away? Of course. I’m not a psychopath. But since we’re only six weeks away from the start of real life Big Ten basketball, let’s dive deep into the optimism. First up, Illinois.

The Roster Shakeup

Before we even get started, I want you to know that I know that Illinois went through astronomical changes this off season. After an unsuccessful 14-win season, Leron Black, Michael Finke, Mark Smith and Greg Eboigbodin all elected to take their talents elsewhere. I know that Underwood is only returning six players.

But I’m here to say that I really don’t think that matters at all.

Don’t get me wrong, losing Black a season early stings a little and Finke was a decent enough big man, but their departure is ultimately an opening for... (allow me to clear my throat)... winning?

That’s if you believe the word coming out of Illini practice:

“They’re winners,” Underwood said. “Winners do what you have to do to win. It doesn’t always have to be explained, and it doesn’t always have to be demanded — I’m going to demand it anyway. It’s something that’s innate. I didn’t have to get on any of those guys today about playing hard. They just know how to do it because winning is important to them...We fought through our culture last year on a daily basis,” Underwood said.”

As someone that spent the majority of their life in Illinois, this is the first time I’ve been excited for Illinois basketball in almost a decade. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve told my editor how intrigued I am by Illinois, Indiana and Nebraska the last few weeks.

I believe in what Underwood is bringing to Urbana. I think his brand of up-tempo/ultimate pressure basketball will mix well with both the veterans that decided to hang around and the new, high quality toys that are coming into the program. I think that Underwood has already started to make a difference with this roster and that the 2018-19 will be a testament to how effective he can be as a coach on and off the floor.

Will they make the NCAA Tournament? I’m not ready to go there yet. But will Illinois be a tough out for the Big Ten all season (especially with the almost all-wing lineup that I’m sure the staff is tinkering with)? Absolutely.

Look, will it be ugly at times. I assure you all that it will. But there are going to be more “ups” for this team than there has been at Illinois in a long time. That’s progression. That’s something to be optimistic about.

The Freshman

Every time I see him, I want to sing the Justin Timberlake/50-Cent song that share his forename:

Ayooooooooo, I’m tired of losing tragically

Why don’t you come and play for me

Ayooooooooo, I’m tired of losing tragically

I need you to run with me

Ayo Dosunmu could be the literal changing of the guard when it comes to high end, Chicago recruits considering Illinois as a place to play their college ball at. After all, it’s not every day a guy like Dosunmu chooses to play in front of the Orange Krush so he can “build his legacy”. The five-star guard can do everything you want a point guard to do. He can make plays off the dribble, he can navigate tricky driving lanes, he can make eye opening passes and he can score in bunches:

Along with Dosunmu, Underwood also signed four-star small forward Tevian Jones who has almost as much athleticism as he does length. Look at this dude! He’s a basketball Stretch Armstrong:

This pair, along with sophomore Trent Frazier are going to be a problem at some point in the near future. Can Underwood get them to play at a high enough level to reap the benefits this season?

Did you know?

This past season was the first time Brad Underwood has missed the NCAA Tournament as a head coach.

Could it be his last?