This is the Illinois feature in which we address the three most important questions that each team must answer heading into the 2019-20 season.
1. Just how good is Ayo Dosunmu?
Dosunmu came to Illinois as a consensus top 50 recruit last by way of Chicago powerhouse Morgan Park. While he came in with high expectations, Dosunmu lived up to those expectations by leading the team in points (13.8 ppg). The 6-foot-5 guard opened up his Illini career with a bang. In his first two games, he scored 18 points and 25 points against Evansville and Georgetown, respectively. While Dosunmu still has to work on his consistency and decision-making, his quickness is undeniable. Dosunmu is able to suffocate his opponents on the defensive end with his foot speed and length and coaches will not have to worry about his defensive effort, either.
While shooting can always be improved, Dosunmu has shown that he can stretch the defense. He shot 35% from three while taking 4.4 threes per game. Another area that Dosunmu can work on this coming season is his free throw shooting as he made only 69% from the line.
The Illini faithful were ecstatic when Dosunmu announced his return, instead of opting towards the NBA Draft. Dosunmu is a legitimate threat to be selected in the top-20 of the 2020 NBA Draft if he has a strong season this year. Illini fans are hoping for that step to happen as Illinois’ offense will run through Dosunmu, as well as Trent Frazier, so it will be important for the sophomore guard to take that next step for the Illini to get back to the Big Dance.
2. Will the defense improve enough to keep their offense in games?
Illinois has an offense that can score with anybody, led by Dosunmu, Frazier, and Giorgi Bezhanishvili. They also bring in another top-50 freshman, Kofi Cockburn, from Oak Hill Academy. With this kind of talent, it is no wonder that the Illini ranked 4th in the Big Ten in points per game during conference play. Despite this explosive offense, Illinois still finished 12-21 on the year and finished 10th in the Big Ten. The disappointing record is due to their lackluster defense.
During the Big Ten season, Illinois allowed their opponents to score 75.4 ppg, which ranked 13th out of the 14 teams. Brad Underwood’s defense is predicated on being aggressive and taking chances. While this results in a lot of steals and fast break points, it also leaves the interior defense susceptible to easy baskets. The Illini have the means of forming a good defense with length (Dosunmu and Kipper Nichols) and strength inside (Bezhanishvili and Cockburn). It will just be a question of whether this talent can put it all together to be successful.
3. Which Illinois team is going to show up in 2019-20?
The Illini enter the upcoming season as a polarizing team in terms of expectations. Some bracketologists have predicted them as a five-seed for the NCAA Tournament while others expect them to miss the tournament altogether. While this is somewhat unusual, it’s not all that surprising given what we know about Illinois. They have talent that can hang with almost anyone in the conference. However, they have struggled to put it all together on both ends of the floor. It helps having two top-50 recruits on the roster, thanks to Underwood doing a good job of recruiting. The Illini also return almost all of their contributors from last season, excluding Aaron Jordan and Adonis de la Rosa. We will see if Underwood can get his players to buy in to their roles this season to be successful.