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Underwood and the Illini look to the Transfer Portal for answers to tough questions.

The Transfer Portal has been referred to by many as the wild wild west of college basketball. It is a wide-open free-for-all, and becoming the new norm in college basketball. While players transferring to another school is not really new. In April 2021 they dropped the restriction of having to wait a year after transferring before playing. In 2021 there were 462 players entered the transfer portal. In 2022 that number almost doubled reaching 874 players that entered the portal. Now this year 913 players are looking for greener pastures.

Illini Coach Brad Underwood. photo via University of Illinois athletics

Brad Underwood is no stranger to the transfer portal bringing in players like Alphonzo Plummer in 2021, Dain Dainjia, Terrance Shannon Jr., and Matthew Meyer. this past season. (Dainja transferred mid-season in 2021 but was not eligible until this season).

Now he has also lost players to the portal as well. Adam Miller in 2021, Brandin Podziemzki, Andre Curbello, and Jacon Grandison last year. This year; Sky Clark, Jayden Epps, RJ Melendez, Bradon Lieb, and Conner Serven have decided to enter the portal.

So what does Illinois have?

At the point

The Illini are thin at Point Guard in terms of experience.

With only 6-4 Sophomore Guard Sincere Harris, who filled in at the point, and Redshirt Freshmen Niccolo Moretti and Manager turned Guard AJ Redd. Harris is more of a Combo Guard. only averaging 3.7 Points 2.1 Rebounds, and .9 Assists per game, and only 31.7% from the 3-point line. He will have to make big improvements to fill take over at the point. Incoming Freshman Combo Guard Dravyn Gibbs-Lawhorn was an 18 PPG scorer in High school while averaging 3.6 Rebounds, 2.3 Assists, and 2.1 Steals per game. could provide some help but he still lacks the experience needed.

In the paint

Dain Dainja by Rebecca S. Gratz via AP

While he is no Kofi Cockburn Dain Dainja. The redshirt freshman averaged 9.5 points, 5.5 rebounds per game, and 1.2 blocks per game. But he was not the entirety of the inside game. He had help from Hawkins, as well as guys like Meyer, Melendez, and reserve Center Brandon Lieb. With the possibility of all of those guys being gone and only 6-8, 225-pound, Freshman Power Forward Amari Hansberry coming in. Illinois will be very thin inside.

On the wings

Terrance Shannon JR by Sidney Malone via the Daily Illini Ty Rodgers by Michael Allio via AP Luke Goode via WICA TV

Illinois does have some returning talent at the wing If Shannon stays would have him, Ty Rodgers a 6-6 Guard/Forward, who is a tough-as-nails rebounder, and 6-7 Luke Goode. By far the best 3-point shooter currently on the roster at 42.1%

So what does it mean?

So quite literally Illinois is looking at every position.

* I think first and foremost it should be a veteran Point-Guard who is used to being in a high-level offense. It is widely known that Illinois Struggled from 3 point range this past season. While shot selection played a big role in the Illini's poor performance 30.8%. I think the lack of floor leadership played a role in that as well.

* Along with a Point Guard the Illini will need to find help from long-range. With Goode as the only threat from beyond the arc. the need for 3-point shooting is highly evident. Now whether that comes from the Guard slot or even another Wing-type. Another 3-point shooter will be needed.

* A post player; as Much as Dainja has shown his potential and the Illini need more in the post. Whether it is a true Big Man in the middle or more of a stretch four or both.

So who are the Illini targeting? The answer is multiple players with many different skill sets But according to As of April 4th, no one has been linked to the Illini, but that does not mean no rumors are flying or the Illini have made any overtures.

In fact, the Illini are said to have been in contact with numerous top-talent players.

There is a report that Southern Illinois Forward Marcus Domask 6-6, 215-pounds. Domask could help with the 3-point shot, as he is a career 35.9% shooter beyond the arc. He averaged 16.7 Points and 5.8 Rebounds. He also averages 3.8 assists per game so he does handle the ball well.

Then there is LJ Cryer 6-1, 190 pounds from Baylor who 1 hour after he entered the transfer portal had 13 D! schools contact him including Illinois and considering that Illinois had raided Bayor two years in a row (Dainja and Meyer) and Also Former Big 12 (Texas Tech)Terrance Shannon Jr. I think Illinois might have an upper hand. Maybe not but where there is smoke........ The only drawback is that Cryer is more of a combo guard but he has said he wants to go to a school where he can get some time at the point. With Walk-on Redd and redshirt Freshman Moretti this might be appealing to Underwood Cryer averaged 15 points and shot 41% from the arc last season which would be big for Illinois.

A third Guard that the rumor mill has Illinois looking at is Justin Harmon 6-4, 180-pound Sophomore from Utah Valley. Harmon put up 14 points 3.8 Rebounds and 2.9 Assists per game. he shoots 45% from the floor and 34% from three.

The Illini are also rumored to be looking at a couple of big men as well.

7-0, 210-pound Freshman Kel'el Ware from Oregon this past season averaged 6.6 PPG, 4.1 RPG, and 1.3 BPG. Once Fletch (strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher) puts some pounds and Muscle on him he could be a very good complement to Dainja in the middle. And with three years of eligibility definitely room to grow. It is rumored that Arkansas and Memphis could be the frontrunners for Ware's services.

The Illini are also to have been in contact with, 7-0, 227-pound Freshman star Micha Handlogten from Marshall. 7.6 PPB, 9.8 RPG, 2.3 BPG. He like Ware will need some help from Fletch but would offer a contrasting presence in the post and have three years to grow into the job.

The Illini are also looking at wing scorers like Senior Dalton Knecht a 6-8, 200-pound Forward from Northern Colorado who averaged 20.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, and shot 38.1% from three-point land. Paired with Goode Illinois could have a solid deep threat from the sides.

There are other names that have been floated around, and while the Illini are looking at another potential rebuild for the second year in a row There is talent on this team that Underwood can build around, with Goode, Dainja, Rodgers, and Harris. If they somehow are lucky enough, for Hawkins and Shannon to stick around with the Hansberry and Gibbs-Lawhorn next season could be very good for Illinois.

Thank you for reading and check out my podcasts;

Talking Sports on the Bleachers and the NCAA Report

Hit me up on Twitter @TSotBgcs

See ya soon!

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