Kansas will test Illinois' depth

Oct. 24—CHAMPAIGN — Marcus Domask's 20 minutes of playing time in Friday night's exhibition win against Ottawa (Kan.) was the outlier for the Illinois men's basketball team.

Equal minutes was the game plan, and every other scholarship player was on the court between 11 and 17 minutes. Domask's extended look was purposeful given the Southern Illinois transfer missed Illinois' three games in Spain as he recovered from a hamstring injury. Brad Underwood intends to apply a similar tactic in Sunday evening's charity exhibition game against No. 1 Kansas that tips at 5 p.m. at State Farm Center. At least for the first 30 minutes of the game. The Illini coach believes he has a deep team. Facing the Jayhawks will be the first true indicator of just how deep.

"That's why the first half, the first 30 minutes, we're going to run a lot of bodies out there," Underwood said during an appearance on the WDWS radio show 'Monday Night SportsTalk,' at the Esquire. "You're going to find out against real dudes who can play. ... That's the leadership hierarchy we've got to figure out when it's hard. Who's not going to quit? Who's going to lead? Those are all the things you want to find out as a coach on Sunday. All those things we need to figure out when it's not easy."

The equal minutes approach is one Underwood also applied during his team's trip to Spain in August. Depth is a perceived advantage for the Illini heading into the season, but eventually the Illinois staff will settle on the players that put the team in the best position to win. How the Illini fare against Kansas and during the first few games of the regular season will determine that early rotation.

"If you're a team that you think you have depth, you don't want to see five guys separate themselves," Underwood said. "You want to see six, seven, eight, nine, whatever. You want to see them all keep at a pretty good level. If they don't do that, and there's a lot of mistakes being made or somebody's really struggling at one end of the court or the other, that depth becomes not so much.

"We play one of the best schedules we've had in my time here. We can't afford to put guys out there that aren't performing at a really high level. You're going to play your best players and play your best players who are playing well together. That always works itself out."

The Illini aren't making Underwood's job easy at this stage of the preseason. Monday was the team's 14th practice — 14 good ones, according to the coach — and freshmen Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn and Amani Hansberry were the best players on the court.

"I get thrown a big curveball because Dravyn and Amani were dominant," Underwood said. "Now they're starting to stack days. The other night did a world of good for them to do it in front of fans. Now they've got to go out and take the next step and do it against real dudes."

How Gibbs-Lawhorn and Hansberry have played so far is notable on a team loaded with fourth- and fifth-year players. That's also created a different dynamic in the practice gym compared to a year ago. Domask and fellow graduate transfers Quincy Guerrier and Justin Harmon have stood out because of their experience.

"They know how to practice, and they do things right," Underwood said. "They are very, very astute listeners. They pick things up. Last year, at times, it felt like you were coaching kindergartners because you had to keep repeating things over and over and over and over and working on things over and over and over to get one simple thing done. This group is very different that way."