5 key questions for the Illinois basketball team against Nebraska

Illinois basketball gets the job of trying to defend against a powerful Nebraska offense on Saturday afternoon in the Big Ten Tournament.
Feb 4, 2024; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Illinois Fighting Illini guard Justin Harmon (4) holds head
Feb 4, 2024; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Justin Harmon (4) holds head / Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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3. Will Coleman Hawkins look more engaged?

Sometimes it takes a player a few minutes to get warmed up. I have seen games when Terrence Shannon Jr. looked disengaged for the first five or 10 minutes before eventually turning on the thrusters and taking over.

On Friday night, Coleman Hawkins did not look engaged in the game. He looked completely out of it, and this affected the Illinois basketball team. We needed him throughout the game, but he was nowhere in sight.

So, can Illinois manage to get Hawkins more involved in the game against Nebraska? Can Hawkins get engaged in the game?

I honestly believed Hawkins was just going to pack it in and call it a bad game. I thought he was done. 35 minutes into the Nebraska game, the Illinois big man had three points, three rebounds, and one assist. He had also turned the ball over two times.

Coming down the stretch, he was crucial to the program, though. Hawkins flipped a switch and was immediately more engaged in the game. In the final five minutes, he had four points, four rebounds, two blocks, and one assist.

Illinois managed to sneak by Ohio State with Hawkins being off for 35 out of 40 minutes. We can’t have that against Nebraska, though. They are a different animal.

Hawkins had one of his best games as a member of the Illini in the lone game against Nebraska this season. He finished with 20 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and two steals on 7-of-13 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 from three-point range in that game back on February 4.

Illinois has a size advantage over Nebraska. That is what I want to take advantage of on Saturday. If Hawkins is more engaged, he should be able to pull Reink Mast out to the three-point arc, and this should open up driving lanes for the Illinois guards. When Mast collapses, look for Hawkins to get some open looks. I expect a big game out of Hawkins on Saturday.