Illinois recently concluded a trip abroad to Italy to face some European competition to prepare for their 2019-’20 season.
Trips overseas are possible every four years and generally seen as an excellent way to build team cohesiveness and closeness. As Illinois looks to make its next step under Brad Underwood, it appears the timing could not have been better.
The travel got off to a tricky start as Kofi Cockburn and Andres Feliz could not travel with the team overseas due to visa issues. This left Illinois down to only seven scholarship players and three walk-ons to handle the four-game, 10-day trip.
Still, it ended up being a nice trip for the Illini and let’s take a look at some of the takeaways from the Illini’s time in Milan.
-Ayo Dosunmu Continues To Improve
Illinois received great news this offseason when the sophomore decided to come back to Champaign for another season and the Chicago-native was excellent in the four-game trip.
Overall he averaged 24 points per game on 56 percent shooting from the field. His three-point shooting fell off the last two games, but he still shot 43 percent from distance.
One other area of improvement seemed to show itself in the final game. Illinois dropped the game against the Netherlands B Team, but Dosunmu was 12-13 from the foul line after going only 6-12 in the previous three games. It is that type of aggressive scoring Illinois is going to need this season from its alpha scorer to make any run at an NCAA Tournament berth.
-New Players Emerging?
One of the other exciting parts of international trips and games is to see who might emerge as a promising newcomer. Illinois has a couple of nice candidates from the four games in Italy.
Sophomore guard Alan Griffin poured in 31 points in the Illini’s second game. Check out some highlights of Griffin as well as what Coach Underwood and Griffin thought about his performance.
Someone call the fire department! @alangriffin_ is 4-4 from deep (20 pts) at the break. #Illini x #EveryDayGuys pic.twitter.com/mPWjwPSmS0— Illinois Basketball (@IlliniMBB) August 7, 2019
"I feel more confident." – @alangriffin_— Illinois Basketball (@IlliniMBB) August 8, 2019
Hear from @CoachUnderwood & Alan after Wednesday's 112-63 win in Italy.
BONUS: guest appearance by @kipset7 at the end#Illini x #EveryDayGuys pic.twitter.com/5HNqyIyDJA
Griffin didn’t limit his excellent play to one game either. He scored 14 points in the first and third game as well. His floor spacing and shooting ability could be critical for opening up driving lanes for Dosunmu and allowing big man Giorgi Bezhanishvili more room to operate.
Elsewhere, sophomore Tevian Jones did some nice things in the third game of the trip with a 16-point, 10-rebound, 5-steal performance. His athleticism could be valuable this season on the offensive and defensive end of the court.
-Defense Still A Concern?
If there was one disappointment on the trip it might be the last game. The Illini fell behind the Netherlands B Team after the first quarter and could not crawl their way back to make it a game. They ended up dropping the contest 82-72. For context, this is a team that the DePaul Blue Demons defeated 74-64 a few days earlier. Iowa State, a potential top-4 Big 12 team next season, defeated them 94-77.
The caveats to that are it was the Illini’s fourth game in five days, they were missing key pieces of the team back in the United States, and the gym was 95 degrees.
Still, this is a question for the Illini this season. They seem to have some offensive promise throughout the roster, but can they guard in a disciplined manner for long stretches of play?
This appeared to be a great trip for the young Fighting Illini. It seemed to solidify Dosunmu’s grasp of the alpha scoring role for the 2019-’20 campaign, some breakout performers started to emerge, and the coaching staff has some great motivational material for Fall practices after the last game.