Early ’14-’15 Illini basketball season preview part 2: BACKCOURT



When previewing the Illini basketball team for next season, (Yes, it’s not even April and we’re on to part two of our series (here’s part one Illini basketball recruiting) you’ll see there’s an excess of wing players and swingmen. You have a lot of 2s and 3s, but not a whole lot of traditional 1s and 5s. It’s difficult to designate a bunch of guys as “guards” and “forwards.”

Even more difficult, constructing the potential depth chart that John Groce will use. But we’ll dive right in.


So we’ll label backcourt players: Tracy Abrams, Ahmad Starks, Rayvonte Rice, Aaron Cosby, Jaylon Tate, Kendrick Nunn, Malcolm Hill. Mike LaTulip will probably not play at all next year, and may even transfer who knows?

frontcourt players: Nnanna Egwu, Michael Finke, Darius Paul, Leron Black, Austin Colbert, Maverick Morgan

In this edition, to quote the Tim Robbins and Charlie Sheen puppets in “Team America World Police”…”we’re guards. GUARDS. GUARDS.”

Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn: main reason Illini basketball rebounded from a disastrous mid-season and moved the ’13-14 narrative to  respectability and competitiveness with a strong finish. Since Groce started the freshmen, the Illini finished 7-5 down the stretch. It pulled them out of the depths of a mid-season 8 game losing streak.

The Abrams question: the consensus top 100 recruit has not loved up to the hype. He’s won so many games for the Illini basketball team, but you can’t really say he’s made a ton of progress; on either end of the court. Yes, John Groce loves him. And that’s understandable considering Abrams’ leadership, effort, grit and grindiness. He’s someone you definitely want on your team. You just don’t want me to be your secondary or tertiary scoring option. And as we saw in the Big Tournament quarter-final and the NIT round of 16, he’s not someone you want taking the last shot.


Not his fault that he was the second or third best player on this Illini basketball team, but that’s a bad sign. Next year he won’t be. And he should take a diminished role.

Rayvonte: his game is driving to the hole. That’s where he lives, eats, sleeps and breathes. He has to mix it up by shooting some threes and slashing to the tin off the wing, but he’ll have a much better season with some shooters around him to the keep the defense honest. He desperately needed. It is rather alarming though how much his production dropped off once he stopped facing mid-major and low-major competition. Much of it could be from the adductor strain injury.


The Cosby Show: Aaron is one of the shooters I was talking about, and they will complement each other well. Cosby proved he could score in the Big East, back when the Big East was still relevant and that was considered a thing.

The One: the Quentin Snider defection really hurt, and it hurt bad. The main reason this team drew so many comparisons to ’98-’99 was the lack of offense; a situation created by having no point guard. Tracy and Kendrick are not point guards. Ahmad Starks is but he’s 5’8″. Jaylon Tate is, but he’s not a scoring threat at all. His shot is ugly. What to do? What to do?


At this point, I’d say the only Illini who really have a starting spot solidified for next year are Kendrick Nunn and Rayvonte Rice. Nnanna Egwu will be there too, but only because the program is lacking so much in the big man department. So with three spots penciled in, and only two spots left, it will be interesting to see how things shape up with two new recruits Leron Black, Michael Finke coming in and three transfers.

And those three transfers are going to be key cogs, as Coach John Groce raves about how they perform in practice. Supposedly, the scout team, with Ahmad Starks, Aaron Cosby and Darius Paul is beating the first team. We’ll do potential Illini basketball line-ups in part three

OUTLOOK: basketball are 1 of 5 non-NCAA Tournament teams likely to dance next year according to our own David Kmiecik

Illini basketball season preview part 1 RECRUITING

Illini basketball season preview part 2 BACKCOURT

Illini basketball season preview part 3 FRONTCOURT

Paul M. Banks owns The Sports Bank.net, an affiliate of Fox Sports. An MBA and Fulbright scholar, he’s also a frequent commentator on national talk radio. The former NBC Chicago and Washington Times contributor has also been featured on the History Channel. President Obama follows him on Twitter (@paulmbanks)

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