No. 23 Illinois men’s basketball prepares for official 2022-23 season opener against Eastern Illinois

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Sydney Laput

Senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr. walks on the court during introductions before the start of the exhibition game against Quincy on Oct. 28.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

Kicking off the 2022-23 regular season, No. 23 Illinois begins its season with a home non-conference match against the Eastern Illinois Panthers.

The Panthers, hailing out of Charleston, Ill., enter Champaign with a completely different roster from last season. Returning just five players, the Panthers will be a complete wildcard for head coach Brad Underwood.

Led by Marty Simmons in his second season, Eastern Illinois is coming off a last-place finish in the Ohio Valley Conference, going just 3-15 on the season. Despite this, Underwood remains wary of the Panthers’ squad, even considering Simmons among the best in the country.

“(EIU has) one of the best coaches in the country in my opinion,” Underwood said. “Marty is an unbelievable tactician, an unbelievable teacher. He’s turned (EIU) around pretty quick.”

Similar to the Panthers, the Illini return just five players, with only two in the projected starting lineup. In Illinois’ exhibition win against Quincy last week, Underwood started just two returners in sophomore guard RJ Melendez and junior forward Coleman Hawkins. Rounding out the starters were freshman guard Skyy Clark, senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr. and grad transfer forward Matthew Mayer.

Among the returners, Hawkins has the most minutes and points under his belt, averaging 5.9 points per game. He played the most minutes of any forward against Quincy and dropped a joint-high 15 points and 12 rebounds. 

Some of the newcomers to Illinois that showed out in the team’s exhibition match included Clark and Shannon Jr. who had double-digit points, as well as freshman guard Ty Rodgers, who boasted seven points with nine rebounds.

While the Illini’s performance against a Division II side in Quincy doesn’t display the full potential of this Illinois roster, Underwood is more than satisfied with the preseason. Despite some players not reaching the peaks that some fans expected against Quincy, Underwood remains very optimistic about the team’s capabilities.

“I think it’s just everybody becoming comfortable, relaxing and slowing down,” Underwood said. “We’re going to play really hard, we’re going to try to play a certain way, but there’s gotta be a deep breath in there to relax. 

Illinois’ season begins officially at 8 p.m. Monday night in State Farm Center. Being one of just two Big Ten teams ranked in the top-25, huge expectations rest on this new lineup’s shoulders.

 

@DrewFriberg9

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