The Illini men were in Maui when word came across that New Jersey’s third most respected college basketball program would be joining the B14. Maui is paradise, so that seemed fitting. Illinois would have an eternal patsy. Two guaranteed wins per year. Northwestern+.
For a while (the Eddie Jordan era), the Scarlet Knights were that bad. Illinois was that bad, too, so not all the guaranteed wins were won.
Now that Illinois has a legitimate coach; now that the Illinois roster is filled with recruits that other programs wanted; you might think that your favorite Orange wearers would dominate a team that’s showed little interest in competition since the Ford Administration.
Center Myles Johnson, who terrorized #B1G bigs for the last few years, is at UCLA now. That’s good for Illinois. Unfortunately, numerous #Illini killers are back in New Brunswick this year. Paul Mulcahy is merely the most annoying. Ron Harper Jr. is the most dangerous. Caleb McConnell combines the problems presented by Harper and Mulcahy, in that he works really hard (Mulcahy) and has demonstrated an proclivity for hot-handedness.
And then there’s Geo Baker.
Or is there? Baker has been out with a hamstring injury, and even if he returns against the Illini, he won’t have practiced in a while. Jacob Grandison would not say whether the Illini expect Baker to play Friday night. He’s so coy.
All of Autumn 2021’s Illini basketball should be regarded as its own special season, with expectations reliant on individual availability of players. You should not project NCAA Tournament seeding on this Autumn 2021 Illini team.
Maybe it’ll get another great effort from Alfonso Plummer, and maybe Cliff Omoruyi won’t give Kofi Cockburn fits in the paint. But this Scarlet Knights team has horses, whether Baker plays or not.
It should be great fun, and Illinois might win. 6pm Friday on ESPN2.