Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Fairleigh Dickinson Knights Pick & Prediction DECEMBER 29th 2023

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No. 11 Illinois suspended senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr. on Thursday and tries to focus on a home encounter with Fairleigh Dickinson on Friday.

Shannon is suspended indefinitely from all team activities. A warrant for his arrest was issued Wednesday. He is facing a rape charge in Lawrence, Kan., and the alleged incident took place during Shannon’s visit to the Illinois-Kansas football game on Sept. 8, the school said in a release.

Shannon traveled to Kansas and turned himself into authorities.

“The University and DIA have shown time and again that we have zero tolerance for sexual misconduct,” Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said in a university press release. “At the same time, DIA policy affords student-athletes appropriate levels of due process based on the nature and severity of the allegations. We will rely on that policy and our prior experiences to manage this situation appropriately for the University and the involved parties.”

Whitman is scheduled to meet with media on Friday.

Illinois (9-2) has little time to refocus on Fairleigh Dickinson (6-7) without Shannon, who is averaging 21.7 points and 4.5 rebounds while leading the Illini in assists, blocks and steals.

Illinois coach Brad Underwood used the transfer portal to restock his backcourt in the offseason but it was Shannon’s decision to return for a second season that helped restore the Fighting Illini as Big Ten contenders.

Marcus Domask, who has started 117 games in his career, matched Shannon’s career-high 33 points in a Dec. 5 win over Florida Atlantic with his own career-high 33 points. Quincy Guerrier, who has played 142 games in his career, buttressed Shannon’s 30 points against Missouri on Dec. 22 with a career-high 28 points. Coleman Hawkins added a season-high 15 points against Missouri as he drilled 3 of 5 3-pointers with the Tigers’ defense focused on slowing those guards.

“We’re basically pick your poison,” Underwood said after the Missouri game. “We’re not just one-dimensional. We’re not just a Terrence Shannon basketball team. You leave Quincy open, that opens up the floor. Space is what the game is about. And we’re able to space.”

According to KenPom.com, Illinois ranks 15th in the nation in Division I experience, though that number is calculated including Shannon, one of the three fifth-year players normally in Underwood’s starting lineup.

Prior to the suspension, Underwood said he was counting on the team approach to win games. He’ll need it now more than ever.

“(It’s) maturity,” Underwood said. “They’re playing to win. There’s no other agendas. They all are mature enough to know that winning helps all of them. There’s no ‘me, me, me.’ It’s all about their approach. They have fun together. They’re connected.”

This veteran bunch is in the middle of a nine-game stretch against schools that played in the NCAA Tournament last season. Fairleigh Dickinson is No. 5 in this run and ordinarily would rank last in terms of name recognition — but these are the Knights who became the second No. 16 seed in NCAA history to knock off a No. 1 seed when they beat Purdue last year.

While FDU head coach Tobin Anderson jumped to Iona shortly after stunning Purdue, the Knights elevated 39-year-old assistant Jack Castleberry to the top spot.

The Knights retain three starters and three backups from last year’s squad — including center Ansley Almonor (16.7 points, 5.8 rebounds) and Boilermakers slayer Sean Moore (11.5 points, 7.3 rebounds) — but the magic’s not quite the same this year even though they’re still playing at a dizzying tempo.

They are coming off a 92-69 loss to Fairfield before the holiday break, a game that saw the Knights outshot on field goals, three-point attempts and at the free-throw line. They also were outrebounded 40-37 and had 12 turnovers to eight for Fairfield.

“We need a lot more focus on some of the scouting report stuff and get back to who we are supposed to be,” Castleberry said after the game.

According to KenPom.com, the Knights rank 358th out of 362 Division I teams in defensive efficiency as they surrender 116.2 points per 100 possessions. Illinois, on the other hand, stands 13th nationally at 92.9 points allowed per 100 possessions.

“Everything we do (offensively) is based on the defensive side,” Underwood said.

–Field Level Media

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