Everyone is counting out my Illini this season after we lost Kofi Cockburn and some other big players from the previous year, but what they have done with this team is very intriguing. They have lost stars like Cockburn and Ayo Donsumu, and Andre Curbelo transferred to St. John's. It will certainly be a different-looking team, but Brad Underwood has put together a squad that I think can be seriously competitive in the Big Ten, and even make a run in the NCAA Tournament when it kicks off next March. Replacing the production of Cockburn and many others that have left will be very tough, but they have the pieces to do it.
Baylor forward and former National Champion Matthew Mayer enters the fold along with Texas Tech guard and former Top 100 recruit Terrence Shannon Jr. These are some very good players that have experience winning in the past and have made impacts in the tournament. Both of these guys were highly sought after in the transfer portal, and Underwood was able to nab them both. Illinois also has a top-10 recruiting class headlined by new starting point guard Skyy Clark. Clark was a former Kentucky commit before he reconsidered and went to Illinois.
If these players can live up to their potential, and with all of that experience, they are a team that should not be slept on.
Wyoming made the NCAA Tournament last year for the first time in 20, years so you can say they are a program that is on the rise. Jeff Linder has his team playing at a high level. The Mountain West Conference was extremely competitive last season, and despite that, they went 25-9 overall and 13-5 in the conference. What was most important for them is securing their stars from last year and making sure they will be back this season. Guard Hunter Maldonado and forward Graham Ike will do just that, which is a big boost for their chances in 2023.
Maldonado is returning for his sixth season thanks to the extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19. He is a 6’7” point guard who averaged 18.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 6.3 APG last year. Ike had a breakout campaign in year two, averaging 19.5 PPG and 9.6 RPG. He had 14 double-doubles last season and scored 25 points or higher nine times.
They were also active in the transfer portal, nabbing guard Ethan Anderson and wing Max Agbonkpolo from USC and forward Jake Kyman from UCLA. Those players will be key contributors to a roster that is bringing back four rotational players of their own, as guards Brendon Wenzel and Xavier DuSell and forwards Jeremiah Oden and Hunter Thompson all return from last year’s NCAA Tournament team.