Rebuilding Illinois' frontcourt is as impressive as any offseason endeavor

There has been no shortage of intrigue surrounding the Illini basketball program since its breakthrough run in the 2024 NCAA Tournament, which ended with a loss to UConn in the Elite 8.

Since that day, Brad Underwood & Co. have lost four players to graduation, six players to the transfer portal and one new high school signee. That left just two returning fellows, two freshmen, and nine positions to fill.

As the offseason draws to a close, Illinois has six of those spots filled and is in a good position to compete again next season with a squad capable of competing at the top of the conference.

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Perhaps the most impressive accomplishment among the Illini's tireless efforts to build the roster has been the complete overhaul of the frontcourt, which will produce a slew of names not yet clad in orange and blue.

With Quincy Guerrier ineligible and Coleman Hawkins, Dain Dainja and Amani Hansberry entering the transfer portal, the Illini coaching staff was tasked with putting together an entirely new frontcourt that could fit together as seamlessly and effectively as last season's 29-strong squad Win.

They are joined by Croatian star Tomislav Ivisic, Evansville transfer Ben Humrichous, Notre Dame transfer Carey Booth and four-star freshman Morez Johnson.

Syndicated: Evansville Courier and Press

MaCabe Brown / Courier & Press / USA TODAY NETWORK

Time will tell if this comes to fruition on the court, but on paper at least the mix of talent that Brad Underwood has produced is full of exciting possibilities.

The Illini's frontcourt is extremely flexible and can adapt to almost any matchup.

The most exciting thing about this particular mix of frontcourt pieces is how each brings something different to the table.

Ivisic gives the Illini legitimate size in the middle with his 7-foot frame. His ground-spacing ability will also allow Illinois to continue to sport the five-out look that it had so much success with with Coleman Hawkins during the 2023-24 season.

Humrichous represents a versatile offensive weapon that will allow Illinois to be comfortable in the outfield as well as in Marcus Domask-like booty-ball matchups when he's cracking down on offense. His shooting ability and offensive firepower will draw plenty of defensive attention.

Booth is a plus athlete who, as he develops, has the skills to be the ideal stretch four to play alongside any major player. He is a plus athlete who should continue to improve his smooth jumping over time.

And Johnson is the supremely talented junkyard dog, giving the Illini a physical, high-motor presence ready to bounce back and protect himself from anyone.

If the Illini are looking for a versatile offensive group with high dynamism and the ability to make rim shots from long range, a Humrichous-Ivisic pairing may be just the ticket. Are you looking for a sportier combination with a defensive top and rim protection? A Booth-Johnson pairing is bursting with potential. Hell, let's go crazy and throw Louisville transfer Tre White at the four with any choice of big and bring the booty ball to the top.

That combination of pieces should make for an intriguing chess match between Underwood and his host of Big Ten opponents — many of whom have also made high-profile additions to their front lines.

By landing two ready-to-play front-line figures, the younger figures have enough time to develop.

Another compelling aspect of this frontcourt setup is the two different timelines it creates.

Humrichous and Ivisic were seemingly brought in as the guys who will handle the lion's share of minutes in the 2024-25 season due to their experience (at different levels). This allows the Illini to put together a duo that will help them be competitive in the short term while also helping younger players Carey Booth, Morez Johnson and Jason Jakstys take the reins in the years to come.

Illinois has created the conditions to give its young players plenty of opportunities to gain experience, but at the same time offer them the protection of not having to be finished products right away.

And among other things, this Illini frontcourt is chock-full of talent.

Court fit and schematic options aside, the bottom line is that Illinois has filled its frontcourt with top-notch talent.

Ivisic has spent the last three years as a professional, playing in the crowded ABA league against former NBA players and European stars. Johnson comes in as a widely recognized top-30 prospect, while Booth was in the top 60 just a year ago. Humrichous is by far the least known, but also the most proven player with arguably the most enticing skill set.

That Underwood and his team have assembled a group with so much talent from nothing is a testament to where the Illini program is and how attractive it has become.

Prep prospects, a high transfer, a mid-level transfer, an international pro – Illinois' 2024-25 frontcourt will have it all.

It will be fascinating to watch it all come together.

Anna Harden

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