clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Interview with a Fighting Illini: Illinois Q&A

Stephen Cohn of our SB Nation cousins The Champaign Room drops by to give us a preview of the Fighting Illini.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Well folks, we are in the thick of B1G play now. The Wisconsin Badgers (9-5 overall, 2-1 B1G) are in the middle of five straight games probable NCAA Tournament teams and up next are the Illinois Fighting Illini (10-5 overall, 2-2 B1G).

Wisconsin just had their biggest win of the season last week when they went on the road and beat No. 5 (at the time) Ohio State, while Illinois just held Purdue to their lowest point total in a game...ever. This should be a fun one!

1) Has sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu been what Illinois fans thought he’d be this year? What are his NBA Draft prospects looking like?

If you ask most Illini fans right now, they’ll tell you that by no means should Ayo be a first-round pick in the 2020 Draft. They would be wrong. Our Matt O’Neall wrote about this topic last week and how it’s not Ayo who has been the issue for Illinois this season — it’s Illinois. I think he’s still by far the team’s best player, and I don’t even want to know what this offense would look like without him, but I do understand how he has been a little underwhelming.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Arizona Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

He’s not averaging 20 and eight like we might’ve hoped, but what college player is. Instead, he runs the offense, and when Brad Underwood gives him the reigns, he goes. He’ll leave after this year (barring another surprise) and be a first-round pick, and maybe even a lottery pick if he impresses an NBA GM.

2) Beyond having Godzilla on your team, what is the best way to slow down freshman center Kofi Cockburn?

Isn’t it dope? It’s so cool to finally have our own player who just instills fear in the other team. I don’t know the last time Illinois had one of them, and it may have been Nnanna Egwu or Meyers Leonard or someone, but never like this as a freshman. He should have the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award already. Nobody else is coming close as a freshman.

To stop him though, just do your best. Force him away from the basket, I guess, because he doesn’t have much of a jump shot yet (think Joel Embiid) ((Editor’s note: HOW DARE YOU?!?)). But within five feet, he’s unstoppable. The best way to stop him? Hope Underwood plays him and Giorgi Bezhanishvili at the same time for extended periods of time. Illinois can’t function yet with two bigs on the court.

3) How has the Illini’s season gone? It seems like it has been a bit up and down, no? What is Illinois best win this year?

It’s been up and down. Better than last year when the Illini played the hardest non-conference schedule in history, but still not a perfect season this year. The loss to Miami (Fla.) stings because you were down by 30 in the first half to a middle of the pack ACC team. Should’ve beat Maryland and Missouri. And Michigan State and Arizona were tough ranked teams on the road. So it’s gone about as you expected for a young team, but still too many turnovers and too much bad offense to believe this is Underwood’s third season.

Best win? Purdue. You’d probably think Michigan since they were top-five, but the win over the Boilers was incredible and the defense finally stepped up. And Alan Griffin. That’s a sign of things to come.

4) Who is an under the radar player that will make Badgers fans sound smart at the bar when they tell their friends “watch out for this guy?”

I just mentioned him. Alan Griffin. You might know his dad, NBA assistant Adrian Griffin. As a freshman, Alan didn’t do much. As a sophomore, it’s been the same, but that’s because Underwood pulls him off the bench. He might be the best player on the court at points with his energy and hustle, as well as ability to shoot and rebound, but he’s coming off the bench. Brad needs to change this.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

5) Prediction and team MVP for Illinois please?

Illinois is gong to……end the drought! Illini win 65-45 in a blowout and Kofi goes for 20 and 10. He’s Godzilla, right?