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

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