In Terrence Shannon Jr.’s Absence, Is the Illinois Still a Force To Reckon With?
The Illinois have surprised all. With their recent win, they have performed when it mattered the most. The Illinois Fighting Illini faced one of their most humbling losses this year when their star player Terrence Shannon Jr. was sidelined for the year. Shannon Jr. was averaging a whopping 21.7 points per game with 4.5 rebounds per match. It looked as if the Illinois wouldn’t be able to recover from this loss considering it was unexpected and the season was already approaching halfway.
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However, the Illinois have gone from loss to loss undeterred in their spirits. And they have already started their recovery which has shown unexpected results.
How have the Illinois performed?
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Things have turned out to be different for the team. The Illinois trumped the Northwestern Wildcats and came fairly close to the Purdue Boilermakers. In their most recent match they upended the Michigan State Spartans. The team that had been written over by the critics came to the forefront to decimate their opponents. The Illinois hammered the Wildcats by a blowout margin of 96-66.
Their forward Marcus Domask stood out with a mind-blowing 32 points whereas another forward Coleman Hawkins blasted 13 points. It was more or less of a similar performance as they would have expected when Shannon was there. Except for the fifth player, their four players gave their best relying on the alpha for that particular game which was Domask.
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The Illinois followed a similar strategy against the Purdue Boilermakers. They came as close as smashing 78 points in response to the Purdue’s 83. Domask was once again the alpha for his team, besotting 26 points whereas Hawkins did support the squad with 11 points. Hawkins also nabbed 4 rebounds and provided 6 assists.
And now in their most recent game against the Michigan State Spartans, Hawkins dropped a team-high 15 points tying with Domask and guard Ty Rodgers. The Illinois thus edged past the Spartans by a 71-68 margin.
This definitely had a lot to say about Hawkins and the Illinois team without Shannon Jr. And Hawkins contribution can not be gauged just by his stats, it brings a change in the dynamics of the team.
How has Hawkins contributed?
Hawkins give them a high ceiling and went for an astounding 15 points against the Michigan State Spartans. He nabbed 7 rebounds with 2 assists and 4 blocks. He has proven his caliber both in defense and offense. And especially during the absence of Shannon Jr. has been playing a key role for the Fighting Illini. He also seized 2 steals and shot an exceptional 60% three-pointers and a 4-for-4 free throws.
The senior baller is talented enough to make a mark in the basketball circuit, He has size and length and is quite underrated as a defender. He is brilliant with the pick-and-roll guards and is able to stay down. The commendable quality about him is that while he makes it tougher for his opponents to score and can rebound well, Hawkins is also a sharpshooter.
He has the same finesse in his shooting skills as he has in his defensive abilities. He gave his team a really high ceiling when playing with Shannon. However, things have changed for the team now and Hawkins needs to be consistent if he wants his team to fare well in the tournament. Credit must also be given to their head coach Brad Underwood who has kept the team going even after losing a player as vital as Shannon.
Their style of play also seems to be working for them as Domask is great at isolating players around mid-post and creating space to take a shot or make a play. Coupled with Hawkins, it provides the Underwood team with a point guard on the floor. Though at times Hawkins can throw the ball in the third row, usually he can make way for the offense and execute their strategies. They might not be the Big Ten good or potent for the Final Four but they deserve equal credit for adjusting to the situations. In some ways, Shannon’s exclusion is a blessing in disguise.
Can the Illinois stand tall?
The opponents will find it difficult to defeat the Illinois. It will be interesting to see how this team will make their presence felt during their on-road games. Hawkins has displayed tremendous potential with his balling skills. The main question looming over them is if he can be consistent with his performance. Now that the alpha of the team is no more, it requires Hawkins to amp up his game and serve the occasion with his brilliant balling capabilities. Already there was no doubt in Hawkins skills, the only thing that needs to be taken care of is if he can deliver it every other night.
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Losing Shannon has also come with a backhanded advantage for the Illinois who only need to give their best. It has taken the pressure off them. While in the beginning, the main expectation of the fans was for the Illinois to win the tournament it has now changed to surviving against all odds. This can benefit the team in a way if they only look to performing their best and don’t have to ponder much over their journey in the tournament.
The team can also now experiment a lot with their game since Underwood wouldn’t be looking to monitor the squad in a strict regimen. He might give them the space to try their game and just perform to their fullest potential. Since the Illinois have lesser rotating options this means that the players will have to adjust according to their teammate’s gameplay and provide freedom to everyone just to be themselves.
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If the Illinois see the positive side of it and Hawkins performs consistently then are definitely a force to reckon with.