Who will be more productive during their collegiate careers: Jeremiah Tilmon or the combo of Greg Ebogibodin and Matic
OK, I admit that's not really a fair way to judge it. After all, Tilmon fills just one scholarship for Missouri and Eboigbodin and Vessel cost the Illini two. But after Tilmon's defection, the Illini got creative in filling a huge hole(s) in the post with two lightly-recruited but long-term bigs born in other countries. You and I have no idea if Eboigbodin (from Nigeria) will be good, though coaches rave about his defensive and rebounding prowess. You and I have no idea if
Underwood's staff knows what it wants -- and is confident in its evaluations. Eboigbodin was a Horizon League signee before UIC released him. Thus, some fairly question whether he's a Big Ten-level big man recruit. But Pittsburgh offered after his release, and Purdue, Boston
Just remember, these additions aren't made with just 2017-18 in mind. Illinois would (still can) add a fifth-year transfer big (or forward) if that's the case, and I'm sure they'd love to do that. Eboigbodin likely will play a minor role off the bench -- just rebound and play defense, kid -- and
The pursuit of both bigs also shows the Illini's wide connections. Assistant Chin Coleman evaluated Eboigbodin as a Division-I big man at UIC. And after huge gains his senior season, Illinois moved quickly on Eboigbodin to lock him up. The relationship with Coleman helped stave off other high-major options, including Purdue, which knows a few things about Big Ten big men. Orlando Antigua's international connections -- he was
Speaking of, I've long thought John Beilein as one of college basketball's best coaches. When Illinois fired John Groce, I hoped Illinois would find its Beilein -- a highly-intelligent X's and O's man with a strong staff of recruiters who prioritized skilled players who fit his system and didn't succumb to outside pressures during a rebuild at a high-pressure job.
Let's take inventory.
Illinois still has two scholarships open for 2017-18. With just one scholarship senior (Alstork), that currently leaves three scholarships open for the Class of 2018. Lead guard,
The staff has shown that
Five-star 2018 point guard Ayo Dosunmu is a huge early litmus test for this staff -- though Mark Smith obviously was a great start. Can they sell an elite talent to stay in state? Can they sell him that he will handle the ball enough on a team that will already have ball-dominant guards Smith, Lucas and Trent Frazier? They've laid a great foundation, especially Coleman, and for some reason, the first blue blood offer (Kansas) didn't come until last week. And the Jayhawks already have two Chicago points guards slated for the next few years (transfer Charlie Moore and 2019 West Chicago point guard Markese Jacobs.
The Illini also have been aggressive with the state's other Division-I prospects. They offered tough, skilled Simeon 2018 wing Talen Horton-Tucker after John Groce's staff didn't -- for who knows what reason. They've quickly rejuvenated the Illini's efforts for athletic, skilled Tim Finke, who seemed like a long shot and a bad fit with Groce (Vanderbilt and Notre Dame have made huge impressions on Finke, though). They were the first power-five program to offer sky-rocketing 2018 Chicago Corliss center George Conditt (who draws comparisons to D.J. Wilson). They were the first power-five program to offer lanky, athletic 2019 Bloomington
Underwood has quickly reshaped the Illini roster more to his liking. He's attempting to create a versatile roster full of differing body types and skill sets. After missing four straight NCAA Tournament, Illinois certainly needed a creative problem-solver to address its issues. The initial blueprint has been drawn one who has made four straight NCAA Tournaments. The continued reconstruction of the roster -- and development over the next four years -- will be fascinating to watch.