College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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Finishing at the rim was a common sight this season for Kofi Cockburn. Often multiple times in the same game. The Illini big man finished off a nation-best 78 dunks this season, including this one against Wisconsin.

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Welcome to “Good Morning, Illini Nation,” your daily dose of college basketball news from Illini beat writer and AP Top 25 voter Scott Richey. He’ll offer up insights every morning on Brad Underwood’s team:

Episode 166: All recruiting, all the time

The lead up to the 2021-22 college basketball season will include plenty of preseason lists. Like preseason top 25 rankings. Rankings of individual players, too. On that front, two lists are worth checking out — CBS Sports' Matt Norlander's and what the guys at Three Man Weave put together. 

The latter came out this week. Illinois had two players in the top 20. Kofi Cockburn checked in at No. 2 just behind Gonzaga's Drew Timme, and Andre Curbelo was No. 16 as the seventh best guard in the country.

Here's what they had to say about the Illini duo ...

Cockburn: "After flirting with the transfer portal, Kofi opted to return to Illinois for another shot at the Big Ten and National title. Cockburn is an immovable object and unstoppable force on the block, a 7-foot 285-pound behemoth of basketball bulk and brawn."

Curbelo: "With Ayo Dosunmu out of the picture it’s Curbelo’s turn to shine. The electric sophomore point guard is in line for one of the biggest production leaps in the country this season. If he can ascend to 1st Team All-Big Ten level, his Illini could be destined for another top seed in March."

Here's what else caught my eye ...

— The Big Ten had five other players in the top 20 in No. 5 E.J. Liddell (Ohio State), No. 6 Hunter Dickinson (Michigan), No. 7 Trayce Jackson-Davis (Indiana), No. 9 Trevion Williams (Purdue) and No. 15 Jaden Ivey (Purdue). It's clearly a big man's league.

— Illinois will face eight other players this season that were ranked in the top 100, including six more from the Big Ten. That group is led by Arizona's Bennedict Mathurin at No. 34, and he's joined by No. 37 Caleb Houstan (Michigan), No. 67 Ron Harper Jr. (Rutgers), No. 70 Azoulas Tubelis (Arizona), No. 85 Jordan Bohannon (Iowa), No. 89 DeVante' Jones (Michigan), No. 90 Eric Ayala (Maryland) and No. 99 Tyson Walker (Michigan State).

— Beyond Cockburn and Curbelo, Brad Underwood and Co. recruited a slew of Three Man Weave's top 100 players starting with Timme in the top spot. Also on the Illini's recruiting board at one time as high schoolers? These guys (with a couple of John Groce targets that overlapped with Underwood's arrival) ...

  • No. 3 Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga
  • No. 5 E.J. Liddell, Ohio State
  • No. 6 Hunter Dickinson, Michigan
  • No. 9 Trevion Williams, Purdue
  • No. 17 Patrick Baldwin Jr., Milwaukee
  • No. 21 Armando Bacot, UNC
  • No. 25 Kennedy Chandler, Tennessee
  • No. 27 Tre Mitchell, Texas
  • No. 36 Terrance Shannon Jr., Texas Tech
  • No. 42 TyTy Washington, Kentucky
  • No. 44 Tyson Etienne, Wichita State
  • No. 45 Tyger Campbell, UCLA
  • No. 47 Grant Sherfield, Nevada
  • No. 50 Paul Scruggs, Xavier
  • No. 53 Colin Castleton, Florida
  • No. 57 Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky
  • No. 58 Caleb Love, UNC
  • No. 63 Jaime Jaquez, UCLA
  • No. 65 Darius Days, LSU
  • No. 68 Harrison Ingram, Stanford
  • No. 72 Posh Alexander, St. John's
  • No. 81 Quincy Guerrier, Oregon
  • No. 88 Walker Kessler, Auburn
  • No. 90 Eric Ayala, Maryland
  • No. 91 Kendall Brown, Baylor

Scott Richey covers college basketball for The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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