EJSIC College Basketball Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini

NOTE: We will be previewing select college basketball teams for the upcoming season. The following Illinois preview was submitted by EJSIC poster aaeismacgychel. If you would like to preview a team for the EJSIC, send us an email or post it here on our message board.

Illinois Fighting Illini
Champaign, IL, Big 10 Conference

Last Season - 17-15(6-12), 0-1 BTT, No postseason

Notable Players Gone: Meyers Leonard, Sam Maniscalco, Crandall Head

Returning starters: Brandon Paul, DJ Richardson, Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand

Extended roles: Nnanna Egwu, Mycheal Henry, Sam McLaurin, Tyler Griffey, Mike Shaw, Devin Langford, Ibrahim Djimde

Notable Newcomers:
John Groce- Coach
Sam McLaurin- Coastal Carolina Transfer

Preseason Ranking: NR

Preseason Bracket Projections :N.otI.nT.ourney

Early Season Tournament: Maui Invitational, USC and Texas/UNC/Butler/Marquette possible

Projected Starting 5:
PG: Brandon Paul/Tracy Abrams
SG: Brandon Paul/DJ Richardson
SW: Joseph Bertrand
F: Myke Henry
C: Nnanna Egwu

Preview:

It’s NIT or bust for the Fighting Illini

The Illini have fallen on some hard times of late and are no longer the perennial contender for conference champion they once were. After starting last season 15-3, including big wins over Gonzaga and Ohio State they were considered one of the B10′s surprise teams and appeared destined for not only a spot in the dance but a high seed. Unfortunately, the bottom fell out as they went 2-12 the rest of the way losing their ticket to the dance, losing their N.I.T. congratulatory call, and ultimately losing longtime coach Bruce Weber along with the rest of his coaching staff.

So after a half bungled if not fully bungled coaching search, in comes John Groce to try and give what has been a manically bipolar and underachieving team some stability. Groce certainly has some talent on his roster with several high 4* starters and bench players including the dynamic Brandon Paul who should be near the top of the B10 in scoring this year, but with no true point guard on the roster and the giant void left in the frontcourt by lottery pick Meyers Leonard’s early exit, this appears to be a rebuilding year for Illinois in a tough B10.

In fact, this team is projected to finish 10th at best in conference this year, above only Penn State and Nebraska. But that might be just what Illinois needs to get some stability- a year where they start far under the radar with little to no expectations. And if teams overlook this team, the Illini can certainly stun them, as the only thing Illinois did better than losing in stunning and brain hemorrhaging fashion the last fwe years was knocking off elite teams in electrifying fashion.

For Illinois to be successful this year they need Brandon Paul to duplicate his play from last year where at times he was almost unstoppable on offense and extremely pesky on defense. The problem is he didn’t do this consistently. But to truly have success, Illinois is going to need DJ Richardson to start making open threes and playing the defense he’s capable of. He has not been anywhere near the player who won the B10 Freshman of the year award three years ago. And that’s not even going into how much Nnanna Egwu and Sam McLaurin will have to step up this year as Illinois does not have any significant interior presence returning form last year or the fact that Illinois was one of the worst ball-handling teams in the NCAAs last year… So can Illinois be successful this year? Yes, but it’s unlikely and the success will be muted.

My Predictions:
2012-2013 Regular Season Record:
17-15 (7-11 B1G Record, 8th place finish)

Postseason:
#8 seed in BTT: 1-1 Record
NIT Berth- Loss in quarterfinals

UNC Men’s College Basketball Preview (sent to me by Dan Kane)

Despite my best efforts, UNC will be playing basketball this season. I have done everything I can, scouring PackPride for the latest rumors and gossip and seeking out classes where students wrote papers instead of taking exams for their final grade, to link the AFAM scandal and football player plagiarism directly to Roy Williams but so far I have not been successful. I remain hopeful, however, and refuse to let the matter die.

Don’t worry, folks, I’m taking the UNC basketball ship down!

So, unfortunately, UNC will take the court in the first game of the season with Roy still at the helm and no academic suspensions caused by my investigations this summer. The pressure will be on Reggie Bullock, Leslie McDonald and Dexter Stickland to be strong leaders on a very young team with players that will be question marks (and I don’t just mean about their eligibility). James Michael McAdoo, who by virtue of his last name stinks to high heaven of cheating, will have to step up and deliver on the promise he showed while filling in for John Henson after he was injured in the tournament.

P.J. Hairston continues not to dazzle, so it won’t be so bad for him when the season is vacated after I uncover that one of the classes he took last year did not have a text book, which is just another example of UNC’s long history of academic fraud. Whoever heard of a class without a textbook?

UNC is expecting big things from Marcus Paige, who I’m sure was paid $200,000 by UNC to attend because of some designer clothing I think I’ve seen him wear, but I just can’t prove it yet. UNC fans are also excited about J.P. Tokoto, who is being compared to that cheater Vince Carter, but I doubt he’ll get much playing time because he’s from Wisconsin, which is Big 10 country, a conference that features known cheaters Ohio State. I’m sure there’s a connection somewhere that will lead to his suspension midway through the season.

Final predictions: 0-28 (season will be vacated)
Vacated ACC tournament runner-up
Vacated 2nd round of NCAA tournament appearance

2011-2012 College Basketball Series Preview: UNC

Yes, yes, I know the season has already started. But since I haven’t watched Carolina play any games yet, I think I can still slip this in on the eve of the big game on the carrier against Tom “Roy’s my Daddy” Izzo’s team.

So, to get started, I would like to indulge my inner homer. UNC: All starters return. Giraffes will be slapped. 40-0.

USS Carl Vinson all decked out and ready for the Heels and Spartans

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get down to business. Analysts and fans alike are very excited about this UNC team and, for that reason, UNC is ranked No. 1 in the pre-season polls, the eighth time they have earned that preseason ranking since its inception. My inner hater is happy to report that that is one more time than Duke (another thing we now dominate them in), and ties us with UCLA, which is also very nice. It cements that blueblood label that bluebloods are proud of and that any team that isn’t one denigrates.

Last season’s results
29-8
14-2 ACC
ACC Regular Season Champions – the real ACC championship
Lost 56-55 to Kentucky in the Elite Eight

Returning players that will make an impact/slap giraffes
Does anyone really not know? Okay, just in case:
Tyler Zeller
Harrison Barnes
Kendall Marshall
John Henson
Dexter Strickland
Reggie Bullock

Freshmen to watch
James McAdoo
P.J. Hairston

I have now muzzled my inner homer so that I can write with the slight pessimism that many long-time Tar Heel fans exhibit, especially alumni. I really shouldn’t be a pessimist because I’ve been alive for and watched 4 of UNC’s national championships (and my father was at UNC for their first).

Strengths
This team really does have what it takes to win it all. Harrison Barnes has the kind of work ethic that makes him keep trying to improve his game even when others might feel he’s on top of it already. Reggie Bullock is back and he’s the team’s dark horse, but I’ve had a good feeling about the guy since I saw some youtube clips of his performance when he was still in high school in Kinston. I also hear he played well in games over the summer. Kendall Marshall has adapted to the intense pressure that Roy Williams puts on his point guards faster than I think I’ve ever seen one adapt. So, he might not have the speed of Ty Lawson, but he got the savvy faster than Ty or even Raymond Felton.

Look for some awesome long-armed antics from John Henson, who has put on a few pounds in the weight room, but still has the wingspan of an aircraft carrier (what an amazing coincidence) and the amazing ability to know just when to block a shot. There’s been some questions about Tyler Zeller and some analysts feel that he has not lived up his recruitment hype, but people tend to forget that he’s been seriously injured two times and those injuries have not been ones that it is easy to come back from. He really stepped up at the end of 2010-2011 and, if he doesn’t get hurt again, I think he is the key to the possibility that the Tar Heels could win it all.

James McAdoo and PJ Hairston also have the talent and promise to contribute off the bench. I don’t really like to make predictions about freshmen based on their recruitment because college ball is different from high school ball and kids that look great in high school don’t always transition well to college and kids that were maybe 2 or 3 star recruits out of high school often end up thriving in the college environment and upping their talent and play antes.

Then there’s the 2011 ACC Coach of the Year, Roy Williams. He’s won two National Championships in a span of four years and has demonstrated what many other excellent coaches (especially the young ones) have been unable to: he knows how to coach a team to a championship—and we’re not talking conference tournaments here—we’re talking the real deal.

Weaknesses
Losing Leslie McDonald to injury is a blow. That makes UNC very thin at the point guard position, so I know that a lot of Tar Heels are hoping, praying, rubbing lucky stones or whatever that Kendall Marshall doesn’t get hurt. Also, except for Justin Watts, our bench is kind of an unknown. The freshmen could be great or they could make a lot of mistakes. However, as I see it, our biggest weakness is also our strength: Roy Williams and his substitutions. The guy substitutes like he’s the coach of an NHL hockey team instead of a basketball team. His crazy substitution patterns were why we lost games that we shouldn’t have in the 2006-2007 season. He just doesn’t always seem to understand that although a team should be the sum of interchangeable parts to a certain extent, a rhythm is often established on the court during the game and incessant substituting breaks the rhythm and causes mistakes.

Predictions
I hate this. I really do. I’m afraid to predict that we’ll win it all in case we don’t. I’m afraid to say we won’t win because that doesn’t show support for my team. What is also hard is that everyone knows that a UNC National Championship is difficult to come by without a loss to Wake Forest (the only time we haven’t lost to them before winning it all was in 1957 and that’s probably because we went undefeated that season) and possibly Georgia Tech (we lost to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech in 1993, 2005 and 2009). As you can see, we Tar Heels take our superstitions seriously. However, with Paul Hewitt out at Georgia Tech and Wake Forest slated to be at the bottom of the conference and with a new coach, losing to either team won’t be easy. However, I can guarantee a loss to Seth “Cry Me a River” Greenberg’s team at Blacksburg, because he has to have some kind of argument for getting them into the tournament even though a win over us is their only decent win in their whole schedule.

I guess the best I can do is to say, once again, that there is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t win it all, barring an injury to Kendall Marshall or Tyler Zeller. The ACC is down this year, with only Duke being a threat (and mostly because of the rivalry and not because K has assembled a set of formidable opponents—except maybe mouthy Austin Rivers and Seth “I Flop Like an Italian Soccer Player” Curry). The rest of basketball is down, too, but we have a tough game against Kentucky at Kentucky, which I don’t see us winning.

Final record: 36-4
ACC Regular Season Champs
ACC Tournament: Who cares? That’s for also-rans
National Champions, I think. GAH!