The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

All eyes on March: Illini men’s basketball strives for it all in 2023-24

Olivia McAfoos
Sophomore guard Ty Rodgers scoops the ball down low to remain possession against Maryland on Jan 14.

Every year, the college basketball season comes down to the same goal. It’s all about winning the last game of the season.

The Illini have not been strangers to winning titles. With a Big Ten tournament title in 2021 and a Big Ten regular season title in 2022, Illinois has asserted itself as one of the elite programs in the conference. However, after enduring early exits from the NCAA tournament in recent years, the 2023-24 Illini are looking to get over the hump in March that has plagued the program’s postseason success.

“I think we should all be setting an expectation,” said head coach Brad Underwood in October. “And that is a standard. I say this all the time, our standard is winning — trying to win — the national championship.”

Coming into the season, Illinois boasted a plethora of experience and depth, highlighted by the return of fifth-year guard Terrence Shannon Jr. and senior forward Coleman Hawkins from the 2022-23 squad.

“We knew we had to get older,” Underwood said in October. “That was one of the things that … was very loud to us in terms of our team. Last year, we were the second youngest team in Power Five and we had a great year. We had some very talented guys, Matthew being one who had a tremendous season for us. But we had to get older, and we did that with the addition of three grad transfers.”

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

With the additions of transfer graduate student forwards Marcus Domask and Quincy Guerrier as well as guard Justin Harmon, Champaign was bubbling with excitement as the time came for the team to take the floor at the State Farm Center.

The Illini wasted no time in showing they meant business with a 51-point exhibition win over Ottawa followed by a statement victory over No. 1 Kansas in the Maui Strong Relief Matchup.

The official start to the 2023-24 season saw Eastern Illinois and Oakland fall to Illinois in front of the rowdy Orange Krush in Champaign before the Illini stumbled on the road against No. 4 Marquette. The loss appeared to spark something within Underwood’s squad, however, as Illinois hit a hot streak, going on to win its next five games.

The remarkable run was topped off with a trip to the illustrious Madison Square Garden, where Illinois found itself lining up against No. 11 Florida Atlantic. With all eyes on the Jimmy V Classic, the team turned in a 98-89 upset win to make one thing very clear: This Illini squad is no joke.

Illinois has continued rolling with Big Ten play now underway, leading to high hopes for a significant postseason run in the coming months. Despite the suspension of Shannon from the program in late December, the Illini have not faltered. Domask, Hawkins and Guerrier have stepped up as of late and are continuing to prove they are capable of taking this team far.

Naturally, there are still question marks when it comes to how Illinois will fare once the regular season comes to a close. With the way the regular season has gone up to this point, there are certainly reasons for excitement. The Illini have consistently earned a place in the AP Top 25 poll, with the program making it up to the No. 9 spot to start the new year.

Still, nothing is guaranteed, especially in the NCAA tournament.

“March is unique,” Underwood said. “You can’t play bad — you can’t have a bad day. You can’t have an off day.”

The Illini have a competitive conference schedule awaiting them for the remainder of the regular season. As fans gear up for an action-packed ride to the rest of 2023-24 in Champaign, the Illini continue to strive to reach their full potential as the postseason looms on the horizon.



[email protected]

More to Discover
About the Contributor
James Kim
James Kim, Sports Editor
My name is James Kim and I’m a senior studying English with a minor in business. This is my third year with The Daily Illini and it’s been an amazing ride so far. When I joined in fall 2021, I began as a staff writer for the sports section where I covered women’s tennis. In spring 2022, I became an assistant sports editor and started covering soccer and Illinois men’s basketball. From spring 2023 onwards I’ve been working as the sports editor! In addition to being an Illini and Real Madrid fanatic, I also love watching movies and TV shows. If you have any questions about writing for The DI, you can reach me at my email below. I-L-L!
ILLordle: Play now