Get ready for wins and points in the Underwood era


Ryan Fang

New Illinois men’s basketball coach Brad Underwood speaks at the State Farm Center on Monday, March 20, 2017.

By Matt Gertsmeier, Columnist

While many people have had their eyes fixated on the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament, Illinois stole the college basketball spotlight momentarily with the hiring of Brad Underwood.

It was the Illini’s “One Shining Moment” of March. But, there’s a strong chance this hiring will shine well past its initial headlines.

In seven days, Whitman snagged one of the most promising coaches in college basketball. And it was one day removed from Underwood’s season finale, a one-point loss to Michigan in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It took former Director of Athletics Mike Thomas 20 days to hire Groce.

Whitman has once again proven himself as the right leader for Illinois athletics. He didn’t allow any rumors or leads to get out, which hurt Thomas in 2012. It was known to the public that Shaka Smart was Thomas’ number one choice for Bruce Weber’s replacement. When Smart decided to stay with VCU, Thomas had to go back to his list and eventually settle with Groce.

Whitman also selected a coach who got a lot of Illinois fans buzzing. Many Twitter handles were raving about the hire, including sportscaster Scott Van Pelt and basketball analyst Jay Bilas.

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    I’m confident that Underwood is the right coach for Illinois basketball and here’s why.

    Many coaching carousels, including my own, did not have Underwood’s name as a potential candidate for the Illinois job. I think a lot of that was because Underwood had just completed year one of his five-year contract at Oklahoma State.

    The hiring was under the radar, and while Underwood isn’t as big a household name as Tony Bennett, Gregg Marshall or Archie Miller, this was an absolutely great hire for the Illini.

    Whitman’s mission since his first day on the job has been implementing a winning tradition for Illinois athletics. Most of Whitman’s tweets include the hashtag #WeWillWin. Well, Underwood fits that description perfectly.

    Underwood has four years of head coaching experience. He started out in the Southland Conference with Stephen F. Austin where he accumulated a record of 89-14 and 53-1 in conference in three years. Underwood and the Lumberjacks won three-straight regular season and conference tournaments.

    He transferred that success to Oklahoma State, going 20-13 with the Cowboys and securing a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament. A year before Underwood was in charge at Oklahoma State, the Cowboys missed the Big Dance with a record of 12-20.

    His 109 wins ranks Underwood third in most victories achieved in four years. Brad Stevens and Smart have the No. 1 and 2 spots, respectively.

    Talk about a winner.

    This is absolutely exciting to see. In four years, he’s pieced together a win percentage just above 80 percent. Even after a major leap from the Southland to the Big 12, he answered the call and kept winning.

    He’s a proven winner. He can adapt to major transitions. But, one of his greatest qualities is his offense.

    Get ready for points next season. And lots of them.

    This past season, Oklahoma State was tied for fifth in the NCAA for points per game, averaging just shy of 86 per contest. According to Kenpom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating, Underwood and Oklahoma State were the top team in college basketball, averaging 126 points per 100 possessions. This is a trend Underwood has established since his days at Stephen F. Austin.

    Underwood’s offenses are extremely efficient and entertaining to watch operate. His teams have always demonstrated an up-tempo pace and like to get shots up in a hurry. I’m intrigued to see this work with players like Te’Jon Lucas, Jalen Coleman-Lands, Michael Finke and the incoming recruits.

    Still, only time will tell if Underwood’s winning ways and style of play will translate to Illinois next season. But, I like to remain optimistic.

    There are still a few questions that I’m sure will be answered this week in regards to Underwood’s coaching staff and the 2017 recruiting class. But, if this past weekend is any indication, things will go the Illini’s way.

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    Matt is a Junior in Business

    Editor’s note: Shaka Smart did not take the Texas head coaching position until 2015.