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Good Morning, Illini Nation: Making the transfer portal work

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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 and college basketball at large:

Illinois had a lineup on the court Wednesday night against Minnesota that featured five players that started their college basketball careers elsewhere. I only made note of it because the Orange Krush was chanting "transfer portal" at the Gophers' Dawson Garcia. Whatever their intent, it just struck me that they did it while the Illini fielded a lineup without a single homegrown player.

That's college basketball in 2024. Players come. Players go. Illinois has made the portal work the past couple offseasons, following up the addition of Terrence Shannon Jr. (and Matthew Mayer for an eventful single season) with a trifecta last spring of Marcus Domask, Quincy Guerrier and Justin Harmon.

The trio of Domask, Guerrier and Harmon all filled a specific need. Illinois pursued other transfers — even had a brief commitment from Jeremiah Williams (now at Rutgers) — but Underwood chose to keep a pair of scholarships open.

Other teams made wholesale changes in the portal. West Virginia, St. John's, Memphis and Penn State all brought in nine transfers. Only St. John's is considered an NCAA tournament (and the Johnnies are firmly on the bubble). North Carolina State added seven transfers and is 17-11. Another dozen brought in six transfers, and just Texas Tech and Florida are tourney teams.

"It's our new world now," Underwood said. "The high major teams that have more than seven people out of the portal, none of them are in the NCAA tournament — or will be. It's really unique. You still have to do it with high school kids. You still have to have your foundation. You have to still establish your culture with those young guys and then fill it in the right way.

"I don't like it. I'm not a fan. But it is what it is. Until we get something different, we'll have to live with that. You've got to mix. The right guys is important. You don't want to find guys that don't fit just because they're talented or just because they're this or that or have done something at some other place."