Welcome to “Good Morning, Illini Nation,” your daily dose of college basketball news from Illini beat writer and AP Top 25 voter Scott Richey. He’ll offer up insights every morning on Brad Underwood’s team:
The 2020-21 Illinois basketball season is finished. Sooner than expected. Before tackling what’s next, we take a look back at the season that was for the Illini. Up next?
Season averages: 5.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg
Shooting slash: 54.5/50/62.9
Notable advanced stat: Bezhanishvili’s rebounding percentages essentially flipped, as the junior forward had a better offensive rebounding percentage (11.9 percent) than defensive rebounding percentage (9.5 percent). The numbers last year were 8.8 percent and 14.3 percent, respectively.
Best game: Illinois’ early December loss to Baylor was sort of vintage Bezhanishvili, as the backup big man scored what would be a season-high 15 points. It was his performance in the Big Ten tournament championship — 12 points against Ohio State, including 10 straight with Kofi Cockburn on the bench in foul trouble — that helped the Illini claim the title in Indianapolis.
Lasting impact: Bezhanishvili has always been Illinois’ energy guy. That role was even more important in 2020-21 with so much about the season so different. The Illini needed to provide their own energy in mostly empty arenas, and Bezhanishvili helped fill that particular void.
What’s next: It’s a future defined in part by what Cockburn chooses to do. Should Illinois’ starting center return, Bezhanishvili will most likely reprise his role as backup center and first big man off the bench. If Cockburn decamps for the NBA, Bezhanishvili might have to tap back into the level of play he flashed as a freshman in a more significant role.