One Two Three Four Five

May 6, 2022

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I do this thing - it's really annoying, I know - where I still use numbers when referencing basketball players. "He's a true 4" or "he's more of a 2/3 kind of wing." Basketball has changed from the days of every team having a point guard, a shooting guard, a small forward, a power forward, and a center, but there I am using one-two-three-four-five. Perhaps it's my football depth chart ways ("is he the 3-tech defensive tackle or the nose guard?"), but I feel comfortable when everyone goes into a category.

It's also how I project future rosters. Nearly every year for the last 12 years I write a summer article where I put players into one of nine categories - the five "numbers" and the four spaces between the numbers. I had DJ Richardson as a "2" and Brandon Paul as a "2/3" even though each and every one of you could make an argument that BP3 should be a 3 and DJ should be a 2/3. It's not really about "he's not really that kind of player". It's more about finding out what we need for the future.

As of right now, there are only four returning players: Luke Goode, RJ Melendez, Brandon Lieb, and Coleman Hawkins. Approximately 64% of you just said "wait, he's missing someone" but I am not. Those are the only four returnees. 6,650 player-minutes of Illini basketball last season, 1,101 returning. That's 16.6%. As I wrote a few weeks ago (and now I've added BBV's minutes to the total), when you lose 83.4% of your minutes, it is a complete and total roster overhaul. Next season is more or less a Year One for Brad Underwood.

To make things even crazier, it's now May 5th and there are three open scholarships. The 2022/23 Illini, as of this moment: Four returnees, four incoming freshmen, and two transfers - one who arrived in January (Dain Dainja) and one who just committed last week (Terrence Shannon Jr). It's possible one or two of those scholarships are left open going into the fall (in case another Dain Dainja comes along and they need an open scholarship to use second semester), but it's also possible we add three transfers in the next few months (weeks?).

What are we looking for with those transfers? What holes are we trying to fill? That's where my brain immediately goes to the one-two-three-four-five chart. I shall assemble it now.

One more reminder before I do: I'm fully aware that basketball is often four-out, one-in. We all thought that Underwood would play Giorgi at the 4 and Kofi at the 5 and then we realized it was mostly just "one big at a time". So you're going to want to say things like "IS COLEMAN HAWKINS REALLY A FOUR??" and I'm going to say over and over again "that's not really the point." The point is that filling out a chart like this, placing each player near his "pure" position, can tell you where the gaps might be (both in experience and in "someone on the roster could fill that role if need be").

The one-two-three-four-five chart:

1: Skyy Clark (FR)
1/2: Jayden Epps (FR)
2: Sencire Harris (FR)
2/3: Terrence Shannon Jr. (SR)
3: Luke Goode (SO)
3/4: RJ Melendez (SO), Ty Rodgers (FR)
4: Coleman Hawkins (JR)
4/5: Dain Dainja (SO)
5: Brandon Lieb (JR)

I really thought I'd end up with some blank spots when going through this exercise. But recent arguments I've had with people pushed me towards these answers. The things I've argued:

  • Goode can play anywhere between 2 and 4 and that makes him a 3.
  • Clark, Epps, and Harris fit together well in a Deron, Dee, Luther sense. I'm not saying they're Deron, Dee, and Luther, just that they complement each other on the "1-1/2-2" end of the chart.
  • Hawkins is a pure 4. We might not use him as a pure 4, but Hawkins is a pure 4.
  • Goode and Melendez trend towards the frontcourt and the three guards I listed (Clark, Epps, and Harris) tend towards the backcourt so the big portal need is an athletic 2/3 guy. Hi there, Terrence.

Let's say we add two more players from the portal and leave the 13th scholarship open. Where should those two scholarships go? I think that's fairly simple:

Experienced Lead Guard

It's maybe the first thing I see when I look at that list there: FR, FR, FR. The first three names are all true freshmen. And true freshmen are almost never ready. Everyone always thinks they'll be ready - Michigan was picked to win the Big Ten because everyone thought Houstan and Diabate would be ready - but true freshmen are almost never ready. Ayo's freshman year? 4-12 in our first 16 games.

So I'd love to add a scoring guard. Go find a scorer in the portal (hi there, Malachi Smith) and show him the Mark Alstork chart of how he's going to score 20 ppg. Landing Terrence Shannon does take a fair bit of my "wait, who is going to, like, score points?" fears away, but I'd still love to have one more scoring guard who can bridge the gap between Jayden Epps, freshman who shows promise and Jayden Epps, sophomore who is ready to break out.

Two players in the portal who would fit here: Malachi Smith (Chattanooga), Courtney Ramey (Texas)

Dainja/Lieb Insurance

Call Dainja/Lieb Insurance for all your home and auto insurance needs.

I think we need an insurance policy in the frontcourt in case A) Dain Dainja isn't ready for big time basketball and B) Brandon Lieb isn't ready to provide BBV-like or Payne-like big man minutes off the bench. I don't think we want Coleman Hawkins as the main big next season (I want him freed-up to do way more than that), so we're going to need Dainja and Lieb to hold down the fort inside. And if they aren't ready, well, we need an insurance policy we can cash in.

We're not going to replace Kofi (we're never going to replace Kofi), so I'm not saying we need a rim-rocking paint-eater in this spot. But the only "5" listed above is Brandon Lieb (7-foot tall, weighs the same as Da'Monte Williams), so with BBV and Payne leaving, I think we need another big man. Preferably one who can protect the rim.

Two players in the portal who would fit here: Pete Nance (Northwestern), Osun Osunniyi (St. Bonaventure)

I actually feel pretty good about the players in the "middle" of my 1-2-3-4-5 list. Shannon is a huge pick-up, Goode and Melendez are both ready to make The Leap, Ty Rodgers is my favorite recruit in this class (the old point-forward you dream about), and Coleman Hawkins showed in the last month that he can be everything Brad Underwood has been telling us for two years that he could be.

But we're really young at the guard spots and really untested down low. For me, adding Osunniyi to protect the rim and adding Smith (from Belleville) as the lead guard scorer would really help us bridge this "only 16.6% of our minutes return" gap. Actually, I think I read somewhere that the guard from St. Bonaventure (Kyle Lofton) wanted to transfer somewhere with his teammate (Osunniyi). So maybe a Bonnies daily double? I need to check if they've listed Illinois...

Nope. In fact, as I type this, they're on a visit to Florida together. Damn. My Bonnies lie over (by) the ocean.

Actually, that's the perfect name for my campaign here. I've done the 1-2-3-4-5 thing. It has revealed that we could use a scoring guard and a rim-protecting big for next season. There are two St. Bonaventure players currently in the portal who would be perfect, so...

Bring Back My Bonnies To Me


SactownIllini on May 6, 2022 @ 09:10 AM

Haha love the Bonnie reference!!

neale stoner on May 6, 2022 @ 02:33 PM

Going with freshmen as primary ball handlers? No thanks. Get a veteran point guard.

cmi2phx on May 6, 2022 @ 03:06 PM

The most challenging aspect of that is that there is a very real possibility promises have been made to Skyy. So you have to find a lead guard who’s good enough to help the team, but is also willing to take a backseat to a Frosh.

Illiniboat on May 6, 2022 @ 04:09 PM

It just seems impossible to me Underwood is going to turn the keys over to freshmen PGs. This is the same guy who was running DMW out there at PG instead of Podz when Belo went down last year. This is the same guy who delayed putting the ball in Ayo's hands his freshman year until they lost to Florida Atlantic at home. Now he's just going to let Clark cook from day one?

IlliniJoe81 on May 6, 2022 @ 06:26 PM

Love this analysis. I've tried stuff like this every year and failed more this offseason than ever before.

I hear we're in on Mayer from Baylor and Nance from NW. Nance is my preference because he's more of a 5. In theory we could get both.

I think some promises were made to get the two Clarks. They are going to be starting.

I think starting roles were also promised to Shannon, RJ, and Hawkins to get them on board or keep them. So we can add one more starter at the 5 spot.

(I contend that Underwood makes these promises but never really admits it. If he's stuck starting a guy that's struggling he'll start talking about how starting roles don't really matter. Then the guy transfers at the end of the season when he loses the guarantee going forward.)

Anyone good enough to crack the rotation at the 1/2 spot is going to want a larger role. You don't want to upset the Clarks when you have a pipeline of like 6 (?) brothers and 2 already on board. That's a gold mine. So we're going to live and die with the 5* there.

I'm kind of rooting for Hutch to come back for emergency depth at the 2 spot.

You can really only play 10 players (and the 10th guy doesn't get much time). Here's the 10 in rank order: RJ, Shannon, Clark, Hawkins, Dainja, Epps, Rodgers, Goode, Harris, Lieb.

Lieb is going to get bumped and Harris is perfect for the 10th man spot. Beyond that is just depth. Our 12th and 13th men could be developing on some other team. on May 6, 2022 @ 07:27 PM

Coleman will play a fair of 5.

lucasmeducas on May 7, 2022 @ 01:37 PM

We'll get either Nance or Matthew Mayer from Baylor and maaaaaaybe a PG from a lower level conference who is willing to play 10-12 minutes a game or none at all because like it or not, we're handing the keys to Clark & Epps. on May 10, 2022 @ 09:46 PM

So are we assuming that Grandy and Hutch are definitely not back? Has BU said anything about them recently?

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