The Georgetown Hoyas will be heading into the State Farm Center Tuesday night, and Illinois men’s basketball head coach Brad Underwood had praise for the team out east.
“To be one of the best you gotta beat the best,” Underwood said.
The Hoyas come into the contest following a strong 85-78 win over the Central Connecticut Blue Devils on Saturday. As for Illinois, the team will enter the game with a 1-0 record and coming off a 99-60 drubbing of Evansville last Thursday. In the group’s first regular season game of the season, the team was led by Trent Frazier, Ayo Dosunmu and Andres Feliz — or as Underwood refers to them, “the three-headed monster.”
Underwood praised the guard play at his Monday press conference, stating that the “three-headed monster” nickname comes from the fact that each player brings something different to the team.
He praised Frazier’s leadership on the court, Feliz’s consistency and Dosunmu’s ability to get hot, which according to Underwood is only the beginning of what he is capable of.
Georgetown will present a new challenge for the Illini Tuesday, something Underwood addressed directly Monday afternoon. Illinois’ calling card has been forcing the ball out of the hands of their opponents, averaging 26 forced turnovers between the exhibition game against Illinois Wesleyan and the first game of the season against Evansville.
“It’s one of those things that can be very contagious (and) very fun,” Underwood said. “They’re understanding how big a play it is in the course of a game.”
If the Illini can’t get the turnovers it wants they can focus on a stat Underwood brought up himself Monday: in the game against Evansville, the Illini scored 45 points in seven seconds or less. The team will have to continue that quick pace and run the floor if they want to pull out their third win on Tuesday night.
“We had 45 points in under seven seconds. That’s a good number. We’ll take that every single night,” Underwood said.
To do so, Illinois will also have to go against center Jessie Govan, someone Underwood mentioned on Monday.
“Their man in the middle is legit, a guy that was a double-double machine last year,” Underwood said.
The coach went on to label Govan as just as good of a big man as the Illini would play all year.
The Illini have had struggles against top-tier big men before, most notably giving up 35 points and 13 rebounds to Ohio State big man Keita Bates-Diop last year. But this is a new Illinois team, a team with someone they are confident in down low with Giorgi Bezhanishvili.
Underwood talked about the freshman center’s matchup with Georgetown’s star, saying his center is smart but “Giorgi needs help.” He expects the guards to chip in defensively in the event Bezhanishvili needs that help.
Underwood also expressed his confidence in the freshman’s ability to score, noting Bezhanishvili’s ability to step out and shoot but also said he can’t get into foul trouble again.
“Giorgi is a smart intellectual player, and he understands he needs to go hard with his touches, but he also can’t get frustrated when he doesn’t score.”
As far as the other big men on the roster go, Underwood said Samba Kane, who didn’t play against Evansville due to a violation of a team rule, will be available. Underwood also said injured transfer center Adonis De La Rosa is “full speed” in practice and improving but his status is “to be determined.”
Tipoff is at 7:30 and will be nationally televised on Fox Sports 1.
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