Welcome to The Sports Bank’s fourth annual college basketball season preview series where we break 111 teams in the 111 days leading up to the opening tip-off of the 2013-2014 season. We will rank the 84 power conference teams (including the new Big East and American Athletic Conferences) and top 27 mid-majors in reverse power ranking order. We’ll break down rosters, transfers, incoming freshmen, non-conference schedules, and pick a player to watch for each team.
Entering just his second year as Illinois Fighting Illini head coach, John Groce has hit the recruiting trail and transfer wire hard, already landing two top 50 recruits in the 2014 class and adding a few key transfers. However, this year will be filled with transition as the Illini lose eight players from last year’s team and bring in seven new faces.
ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI
Last Season: T-7th, 8-10 in Big Ten, 23-13 overall
Predicted Big Ten Finish: 8th
Projected Depth Chart
F/C: Nnanna Egwu (Jr)/Maverick Morgan (Fr)
PF: Austin Colbert (Fr) or John Ekey (Sr)
G/F:Joseph Bertrand (Sr)/Malcolm Hill (Fr)
SG: Rayvonte Rice (Jr)/Kendrick Nunn (Fr)
PG: Tracy Abrams (Jr)/Jaylon Tate (Fr)
Gone: G-Brandon Paul, SG-D.J. Richardson, PF-Sam McLaurin, PF-Tyler Griffey, PF-Mike Shaw (transfer-Bradley), C-Ibby Djimde (transfer-Longwood), G/F-Devin Langford (transfer-Kentucky Weslyan), SF-Myke Henry (transfer-DePaul)
Only three players return last year but all three played significant roles. Tracy Abrams ran the point even though he often deferred to Brandon Paul. Starting center Nnanna Egwu showed improvement on the offensive end with a more reliable mid-range game while athletic wing Joseph Bertrand served as the team’s sixth man as Groce used his versatility in a number of different ways as he can slide to the power forward spot when Illinois utilizes a smaller line-up. That trio will shoulder the load for the young Illini this season.
The team also welcomes two, possibly three valuable transfers. Rayvonte Rice was a two-year starter at Drake and is a physically imposing off-guard who will help replace the losses of Paul and D.J. Richardson since Rice averaged nearly 17 points per game during his sophomore year. Former Illinois State forward Jon Ekey takes over the Tyler Griffey/Bill Cole roles of late as a stretch four.
The rest of the team is made up of five freshman with power forward Austin Colbert perhaps being the most important piece. He could end up starting right away at power forward. Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill figure to be valuable pieces off the bench as both guys are capable scorers . Nunn is a lefty combo guard while Hill brings more length to the floor. Jaylen Tate will back up Abrams at the point if Starks isn’t eligible this season while Maverick Morgan brings some physicality to the paint.
Groce also added Seton Hall transfer Aaron Cosby, Oregon State transfer Ahmad Starks, and former Western Michigan forward Darius Paul during the summer. Cosby is a combo guard who can stroke it from deep while the 6-8 Paul was the MAC Freshman of the Year and Brandon’s baby brother. Starks was denied a waiver by the NCAA to play right away and will add even more experience to the backcourt. All three guys must sit out this season but will join what should be a very talented roster once they become eligible.
Anytime you have as much turnover on a roster as Illinois, a grace period of sorts will be needed to figure things out. I wouldn’t rule out a trip to the NCAA Tournament but it seems unlikely. I will say this though; I’ve already got my eyes on the potential for the Fighting Illini in 2014-15.
Player to Watch: Tracy Abrams
The past two seasons, Abrams had the luxury of Paul and Richardson taking some of the pressure off him. That won’t be the case this year. Even with Rice joining the squad, Abrams will be the primary ball-handler and offense initiator and it will be interesting to see how he handles that responsibility.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/26 at UNLV
12/3 at Georgia Tech (Big Ten/ACC Challenge)
12/8 vs. Auburn
12/14 vs. Oregon (in Portland)
12/21 vs. Missouri (in St. Louis)
OTHER 111 IN 111’S:
#56 Saint Mary’s
#60 Florida Gulf Coast
#64 Florida State
#66 N.C. State
#67 Kansas State
#70 Miami FL
#72 Texas A&M
#73 Long Beach State
#76 Indiana State
#77 Georgia Tech
#84 Washington State
#86 Oregon State
#87 Louisiana Tech
#89 Wake Forest
#90 Central Florida
#95 Seton Hall
#97 George Mason
#99 Penn State
#101 West Virginia
#102 South Florida
#103 Mississippi State
#105 South Carolina
#106 Texas Tech
#108 Virginia Tech
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities. David has appeared on numerous national radio programs spanning from Cleveland to New Orleans to Honolulu to Milwaukee. He also had the most accurate 2011 NBA Mock Draft and the most accurate 2012 NBA Mock Draft on the internet , AND the second most accurate 2013 NBA Mock Draft. (Yup, nearly 3peat champ… #humblebrag.)
You can follow him on Twitter at David_Kmiecik.Powered by Sidelines Follow paulmbanks