Without question, this is the most talent the Illinois Fighting Illini has put on the floor since their 2004-2005 Champaign Campaign. There is a good mix of size, athleticism, and guard play; veterans and newcomers. The question will be whether or not this group can put it all together and live up to the high expectations entering this season. The first step begins tonight when Illinois tips-off their season against UC-Irvine.
The Sports Bank’s “99 in 99” ranks the 72 power conference college basketball programs and top 27 mid-majors. Click here if you missed teams #12-#99.
By: David Kay
Illinois Fighting Illini (5th, 10-8 in Big Ten, 21-15 overall)
Projected Depth Chart
C: Mike Tisdale (Sr)/Meyers Leonard (Fr)
PF: Mike Davis (Sr)/Tyler Griffey (So)
SF: Bill Cole (Sr)/Jereme Richmond (Fr)
SG: D.J. Richardson (So)/Brandon Paul (So)/Crandall Head (Fr)
PG: Demetri McCamey (Sr)/Joseph Bertrand (Fr)
Gone: PF-Dominique Keller, C-Richard Semrau, PG-Jeffery Jordan (transfer-Central Florida), G/F-Alex Legion (transfer-Florida International), C-Stan Simpson (transfer-John A. Logan)
On paper, the Illinois roster has it all. There is talent and depth at every position. Coming off a season in which the Illini underachieved and just missed out on the NCAA Tournament, Bruce Weber’s bunch has both the motivation and the potential to compete in not only the Big Ten, but on the national scene as well.
It all begins in the backcourt where Demetri McCamey returns to run the show. McCamey made strides during his junior season with his all-around offensive game. He morphed into a solid distributor finishing second in the nation in assists per game. There are still questions about his maturity and ability to be the true leader that this team needs. Plus, getting him to play defense is like trying to stop Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino from showing off his abs at a club. It is almost impossible.
D.J Richardson and Brandon Paul showed flashes during their freshman seasons but were riddled by inconsistencies throughout the year. Richardson, who Weber says is the team’s best defender, will start alongside McCamey while Paul will be a valuable asset off the bench.
Freshman Crandall Head, the younger brother of former Illini standout Luther Head, missed his senior season of high school due to a torn ACL but is healthy and should contribute along with redshirt freshman Joseph Bertrand who also missed last year with an ACL injury. Weber believes both are very explosive and seem to be progressing better than one would expect given the seriousness of those injuries. This crop of guards has good size as all five players are between 6-3 and 6-5 and can play either the one or two.
There is plenty of experience up-front as well with senior starters Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. Davis had somewhat of a disappointing junior year in terms of his scoring, but was still solid on the glass averaging 9.2 boards a game.
Weber joked at practice that Davis actually took a charge one day at practice, and that this event was nothing short of monumental. The prescription for MD is more defense and gritty “dirty work” on both ends. If he fills that order, then the NBA will take a look at him.
Tisdale has shown steady improvement during his collegiate career, adding a reliable mid-range game (and now a three point game) to his arsenal. He still lacks any real physicality down low though which often gets him into foul trouble. Hopefully, that changes this season as his weight gain total since he’s been on campus now equals 60 pounds; and he’s shaved more than a minute off his mile time since his rookie year.
Tisdale’s future replacement waits in the wings in seven-foot freshman Meyers Leonard. He is more athletic and aggressive on the glass than Tisdale but is still developing his all-around offensive game. Leonard will provide size off the bench while sophomore Tyler Griffey brings his effort and work ethic to the floor.
Bill Cole emerged as the team’s starting small forward and is the classic example of a glue guy who does not put up big numbers but does all the little things required on a winning team. He will really be pushed by the incredibly athletic Jereme Richmond who helped the U.S. U-18 team win gold this summer at the FIBA World Championships.
I am still skeptical on the Ilini making it all click this season. But if Weber can get the most of out his veterans while also bringing the freshmen into the mix, Illinois will be a dangerous team.
Player to Watch: Jereme Richmond, SF
From a raw, athletic standpoint, Richmond has all the tools to be a dynamic wing player on the college level. Throughout his high school career, he has gotten by on that athleticism, but will need to become a more fundamental player to excel at Illinois. He will no longer simply be taller than everybody at this level. As a freshman, he could very well be the Illini’s best slasher (and second best passer behind McCamey) and if he applies himself, could also be a major factor on the defensive end due to his length.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/18 vs. Texas (Coaches vs. Cancer Classic)
11/19 vs. Pitt/Maryland (Coaches vs. Cancer Classic)
11/30 vs. North Carolina (Big Ten/ACC Challenge)
12/4 vs. Gonzaga (in Seattle)
12/22 vs. Missouri (in St. Louis)
Other 99 in 99’s:
#21 Virginia Tech
#25 San Diego State
#27 West Virginia
#30 St. John’s
#31 N.C. State
#32 Florida State
#37 Murray State
#39 Notre Dame
#40 Mississippi State
#41 Utah State
#45 Seton Hall
#46 Wichita State
#47 Washington State
#48 St. Louis
#49 Old Dominion
#51 New Mexico
#55 Southern Mississippi
#56 St. Mary’s
#57 Texas A&M
#59 Arizona State
#60 Northern Iowa
#64 Texas Tech
#65 Miami, FL
#68 Ole Miss
#69 George Mason
#71 Weber State
#74 Central Florida
#75 Wake Forest
#76 Georgia Tech
#78 Oklahoma State
#82 South Carolina
#86 Penn State
#87 South Florida
#89 Boston College
#93 Oregon State
#97. Iowa State