5 massive questions for the Illinois basketball team against UConn

The Elite 8 is here, and the Illinois basketball team is taking on what most people think is the best team in college basketball in the UConn Huskies.
Mar 28, 2024; Boston, MA, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Luke Goode (10) reacts after a basket
Mar 28, 2024; Boston, MA, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Luke Goode (10) reacts after a basket / Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
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2. What does Illinois do with Donovon Clingan?

Illinois basketball hasn’t done well against traditional big men since the Kofi Cockburn days. They are becoming scarcer by the day, but when we run into one, the Illini tend to struggle.

On Saturday, the Illini will be going up against another traditional big man with great size. UConn trots out 7-foof-2, 280-pound center, Donovon Clingan.

This is going to be a tough test for the Illinois frontcourt. What does Illinois do with Clingan in the Elite 8?

The main example of Illinois struggling against a more traditional big man is the matchups we have had with Purdue center, Zach Edey. Edey is only two inches taller than Clingan, so that is a good comparison.

Since Edey has started for Purdue, Illinois has failed to beat the big man. He has averaged 17.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks in five contests.

Illinois was able to beat Florida Atlantic this season, but they had Vladislav Goldin in the paint. Goldin is 7-foot-1, 240 pounds. Despite the win, Goldin still went off for 23 points and four rebounds.

This season, Clingan is averaging 12.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, and 1.6 assists per game. Honestly, I am not terribly worried about the rebounding department, as we have a good rebounding team. But can we stop Clingan in the paint? Illinois struggles with defense around the bucket, and if Clingan goes off, it could be a long evening.

The solution to containing Clingan should be a heavy rotation at the No. 5 spot. I wouldn’t mind seeing a little bit of Amani Hansberry in the game roughing Clingan up a bit. Hansberry can take the fouls. Even if Clingan gets to the free throw line, he only shoots 57.8%. Let’s make the big man know we are here to play.