It was reported by ESPN’s Jeff Goodman on Saturday afternoon that Illinois men’s basketball hired Brad Underwood as its next head coach.
Underwood, who previously coached at Stephen F. Austin for three seasons and Oklahoma State during the 2016-2017 season is a tremendous hire by athletics director Josh Whitman. Underwood’s teams play with a ton of fire and just understand how to win.
In three seasons at Stephen F. Austin, Underwood led the Lumberjacks to an 89-14 overall record and a 53-1 conference mark. I do not care what conference it is, one loss in any conference is impressive.
To top that off, Underwood also led the Lumberjacks to three straight NCAA tournaments, including winning two games in those three appearances. Stephen F. Austin defeated the VCU Rams during the 2013-2014 season, and West Virginia in the 2015-2016 season.
His teams understand how to play on both ends of the court.
According to KenPom, Stephen F. Austin ranked 57th overall during the 2013-2014 season in adjusted offensive efficiency per 100 possessions, 32nd overall during the 2014-2015 season, and 57th during the 2015-2016 season. The primary identifier, though, is the improvement on defense from year one to year two at SFA.
Underwood’s Lumberjacks went from the 105th in adjusted defensive efficiency per 100 possessions in year one to 38th in year three. That improvement alone had him become one of the hottest names in the college coaching carousel, in which led the Oklahoma State Cowboys to hire him after firing Travis Ford.
To me, this is a great hire because not only do his teams improve each season, but his teams have an identity – especially on the offensive side of the ball.
At Oklahoma State this past season, Underwood led the Sooners to a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament, before losing to the Michigan Wolverines on Friday night. The Sooners finished the 2016-2017 season ranked No. 1 in adjusted offensive efficiency per 100 possessions.
The on-the-court success speaks for itself; the man gets the job done. It will be interesting to see what he can do at Illinois.
One question remains, however. Will Underwood retain current interim head coach Jamall Walker?
I think the answer is a simple yes. Walker holds many strings with recruiting around the state, and I feel that with Walker, Underwood can keep the current recruiting class – which ranks eighth in 2017.
Five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon has a close relationship with Walker, and I feel that no matter who the head coach is; if Walker is on the staff Tilmon will stay.
As for Florida point guard Trent Frazier, Underwood and Walker will have to convince him that he is still the guy that can lead the Illinois men’s basketball program to the next level. I feel like that is attainable.
Illinois’ new identity will be executing at an elite level on offense, improving and playing hard on defense, and never giving in – which is what happened this past season at Oklahoma State. Underwood’s Cowboys started the Big 12 season at 0-6, but managed to win nine of their next 10 conference games and ultimately rallied to make the tournament.
Underwood’s teams do not give up, which is what former head coach John Groce instilled with his teams over the course of his five seasons in Champaign. Now, Illinois will not only have a man who does that but also adds other aspects that Groce – unfortunately – did not do.