Eli Boettger | @boettger_eli | 07/31/20
“One down, one to go.”
That’s the message in Champaign, Illinois, on Friday night as star Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu announced he will return for Year 3 with the Illini. Dosunmu was an all-Big Ten honoree last season after averaging 16.6 points and 3.3 assists per game.
Dosunmu made his plans public on Twitter:
The attention now turns to Kofi Cockburn, the ’19-20 Big Ten rookie of the year who will announce Saturday whether he is returning to school or turning pro. Cockburn tallied 13.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game this past season. He and Dosunmu were the leading scorers on an Illinois team that improved from 10th to fourth in the Big Ten standings. Other key players back include senior guard Trent Frazier (9.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg) and forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili (6.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg).
Having missed the NCAA Tournament the past six seasons — Illinois was in position for an at-large bid in March before COVID-19 shut down the tournament — a returning duo of Cockburn and Dosunmu would position the Illini for its highest preseason aspirations in years. The program hasn’t been placed in the preseason Top 25 poll since 2010 and last finished in the final Top 25 rankings in 2006.
Top 25 recognition is nice, but advancing in the NCAA Tournament is on the mind of the Illinois program. Since reaching the national title game in 2005, the Illini haven’t won multiple games in any of their five March appearances. The drought comes after the program had notched seven consecutive years as a top-5 NCAA Tournament seed between head coaches Bill Self and Bruce Weber in the early 2000s.
Dosunmu’s decision is huge, and expectations could really kick into gear if Cockburn chooses to opt in for a sophomore season.
Eli Boettger is a college basketball writer and founder of HeatCheckCBB.com. He has previously worked for Sporting News, DAZN and USA TODAY SMG.
Boettger’s content has been featured by Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, FiveThirtyEight, Yahoo Sports, Athletic Director University, Washington Post, Illinois Law Review and Notre Dame Law Review, among other publications. Boettger is also a current USBWA member and Rockin’ 25 voter.