Against Brad Underwood’s alma mater, Illinois will face former player and head coach

Sports

Illinois will also tip-off against former Illini Mark Smith

KANSAS CITY, MO. (WCIA) — It’s the matchup Illini Nation wanted to see, but in the game they didn’t want to be in. Illinois will take on Kansas State in the third place game of the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City. The Wildcats are led by former Illini coach Bruce Weber.

“They’re going to be a Top 20 team I would think all year,” says Weber. “I anticipate that at least so it’s a great opportunity to play a quality opponent and see where we’re at.”

It’s been nine years since Illinois fired Weber, he’s spent just as long in Manhattan as he did in Champaign. Brad Underwood knows all about the Wildcats after graduating in 1986, and serving as an assistant there from 2006-2012. Underwood told us last week Weber actually reached out to him back in 2012 when he got the job to see if Underwood wanted to join his staff. That ultimately didn’t happen, but as fate would have it they’ll play against each other on Tuesday night.

“I’ve been extremely proud of my alma mater since Bruce has been there and I think everybody has a certain love in a place they have sweat equity and played and you know I was fortunate enough to work there as an assistant,” says Underwood. “Bruce [Weber] was loved by the Illini Nation, he did great things when he was here and it’s a unique set of circumstances where he was here and I was there. We’re both to a point and an age where it’s all about the game and the players in the game.”

The connections run deep for both programs which makes the match-up fun, although the Illini were hoping to be in the championship game. The Orange and Blue are coming off their worst offensive performance since 2018, losing to Cincinatti on Monday night in a 20-point blowout loss. With Kofi Cockburn back in the starting lineup, the Illini were on a roll early, with 14 points from Cockburn in the first eight minutes. But the Bearcats blasted the Illini for the rest of the first half going on a 26-8 run and it only got worse in the second half.

“When you get knocked down you better get up and that’s life, not just basketball and we’re going to see what our character is,” says Underwood. “We haven’t been pretty at all on the offensive end, our offensive numbers have not been very good. I don’t worry about, in our process in the way we do things, we should guard and rebound well enough that we can overcome tough shooting nights.”

And one of those players in Purple and White tonight is Mark Smith. The former Illini is on his third team, after leaving Illinois he went to Missouri and is now with K-State. The Illini tip-off at 6:00 p.m. on ESPN News.

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