#63 Illinois Fighting Illini: College Basketball 111 in 111

Welcome to The Sports Bank’s third annual college basketball season preview series.  Two years we looked at 99 teams in 99 days.  Last year, we were slightly more aggressive and expanded to 111 teams in 111 days and will do so again as we look ahead to the 2012-2013 season.

We will rank the 75 power conference teams and top 36 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.

After several years of underachieving, Bruce Weber was shown the door as Illinois Fighting Illini head coach and replaced by Ohio’s John Groce.  There is still decent enough talent left on the Illini roster but can Groce right the ship in his first year in Champaign?

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Illini Upset #18 Gonzaga; Illinois is Better than You Think

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Even when Illinois is having a down year, or a “rebuilding year,” they still get at least one win in over a ranked team. In 1998-99 and 2007-08 (two college basketball seasons that saw Illinois break the school record for losses) they still beat a couple ranked teams- even if it didn’t happen until the Big Ten Tournament.

It’s a hallmark of where Illinois is as a program, even in lean years they’re serviceable. Most experts expected this season to be a down year in Champaign, and that’s understandable given all the questions marks. However, as today’s solid, comfortable win over a top 20 team shows, the Illini might be a better team than you think they are.

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Illini Hoops Want More Defense Behind Leaders Richardson, Paul

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One of the biggest reasons the Illini fell well short of preseason expectations last year was their lack of defensive heart and intensity. It isn’t like a Bruce Weber coached team to not defend, and last year Illinois lost way too many games because their inability to get stops down the stetch and in crunch time.

Especially on the road, Illinois would dig deep holes for themselves right off the bat. Later, they would score enough to catch up, but their failures on the other end kept them from closing the gap.

This season Weber wont have to deal with the constant motivational issues with Demetri McCamey and Mike Davis, psychological issues with Mike Tisdale and off-the-court isseus with Jereme Richmond. In a sense there’s addition by subtraction. Illini best defender, D.J. Richardson is back, and he along with Brandon Paul, the other only juniors on a team with no seniors, will be expected be the leaders.

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2012 Illini Hoops Most Important Player? Meyers Leonard!

meyers leonard illinois

Last night’s 79-51 exhibition rout of Wayne State was expected for most Illini basketball fans. The most important number of the box score is found in the game’s leading scorer, Meyers Leonard. He had 18 points, in just 16 minutes, that’s a great sign for your Illinois Fighting Illini, because they’ll really need Leonard to be good, if they’re going to be good. [Read more…]

#36 Illinois Fighting Illini: College Basketball 111 in 111

illini cheerleaders

Welcome to The Sports Bank’s second annual college basketball season preview series.  Last year we looked at 99 teams in 99 days.  This year, we are being slightly more aggressive and expanding to 111 teams in 111 days.  We will rank the 74 power conference teams and top 37 mid-majors in reverse power ranking order.  We’ll break down rosters, non-conference schedules, and pick a player to watch for each team.

“Addition by subtraction” might be the ideal phrase to apply to the Illinois Fighting Illini this season.  With four inconsistent seniors graduating and Jereme Richmond’s idiotic decision to enter the NBA Draft, Bruce Weber loses five of his top seven players from last season.  However, the Illini may actually be better off without them.

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99 in 99: #10 Illinois Fighting Illini

Illini cheerleaders

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
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Illini Leading Scorer Demetri McCamey Exclusive

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By Paul M. Banks

When it comes to Illini junior point guard Demetri McCamey, perhaps his Coach Bruce Weber describes him best. “If you study him over the course of time, he has very good games and a tendency not to be real consistent, this goes back way to high school and AAU and that’s where he’s got to mature. He has the big one and then average, average. He needs to be more consistent if we’re going to be a very good team because he can do things that other people can’t do,” Weber said this season.

Last season McCamey was the Illini’s leading scorer and became the man the team went to when a last second game winning shot was needed. As evidenced by his buzzer beater at Northwestern, he started to become a clutch player. The third-team All-Big Ten selection led the Illini in scoring and was second on the team and fourth in the conference in assists, He also led the Big Ten in assists during conference play, and finished second to Kalin Lucas in the league in assist/turnover ratio.dwilliams_feature01

But his game still needs polish which I discussed with both him and Coach Weber extensively during the season. His shot selection is sometimes suspect: “When my little brother says it than I know everybody notices, my little brother told me I was settling for too many threes, so I got to get back to attacking the paint like I used to,” McCamey said.

His work ethic needs improvement and his defense can often be non-existent. However, he’s also the Illini player with the most athleticism and star potential. On a team that will be ranked in everyone’s top 25 next season, that’s quite a compliment. “He’s got to learn the game: how to use screens, how to play without the ball, and if he could do that he could be the guy. He passes well, shoots the three, he’s got a big body and can pull-up,” Weber said.

McCamey is often criticized, by Coach Weber and Big Ten announcers alike, for his work ethic, but Demetri says he’s dedicated to edifying and bettering himself…

“A student of the game, that’s the only way you’ll get better. It’s all about making the right decision and every possession is worth something. Coach McClain and I watch film, I like to come in and watch film. If I’m at home, my roommate Alex {Legion} and I- that’s all we do is watch college and NBA basketball.”

watch the video below to get to know him better. He mentions former Illini Deron Williams as his favorite player to look up to.


And for excelling in the role of true point guard/go-to guy-“It’s not just scoring for me, especially on the defensive end and becoming a leader, being more vocal- don’t yell at guys, pick your spots and be a true leader.” Demetri is often candid about how he has to improve his defense, but I asked him what else he needs to improve?

“Standing up a lot and watching instead of attacking, sometimes I rely on my teammates too much when I can just push the ball and make plays happen instead of just trying to wait for them to happen. It’s being aggressive all the time and take every play like it’s your last and make the right decision,” he responded.

Current Bull and NBA Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose is a friend of McCamey’s and someone that he’s talked about modeling his game on.

“He’s a wonderful player. I played against him all the way since 7th grade, he knows me, I know him and I know I’ll be in the same boat and playing with passion if I just listen to everybody, because they’re only trying to help…No matter how young you are, you can be a real good player. We used to be enemies on the court, now I’m a fan, maybe one day I’ll get to where he’s at.”

If Demetri matures into a consistent player, the Illini could make a deep tournament run in March and Derrick Rose could possibly see another Windy City friend in the NBA in 2011.

More Illini exclusives, click name for video interviews:

Mike Davis

Mike Tisdale

D.J. Richardson

Brandon Paul

Alex Legion and Dominique Keller

Meet your Illini Dominique Keller, Alex Legion

Illinois

By Paul M. Banks and Paul Schmidt

Welcome to The Sports Bank.net YouTube Channel! We just launched what will now be our primary home for the first-class interviews we conduct with the biggest names in Midwestern sports. Please subscribe to TSB’s channel by clicking here. We launch our channel with the first of our series of exclusive interviews with some of the #23 ranked Illinois Fighting Illini’s best players.

Meet forward Dominique Keller here

And wing Alex Legion. He was a highly sought after recruit who left both Michigan and Kentucky to come to Champaign-Urbana. Here him discuss the difference between the Big Ten and the SEC.

2009-2010 Big Ten Basketball Preview: Part 2 of 4

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By: David Kay

The middle of Big Ten was filled with mediocrity last season as demonstrated by the fact that eight teams finished with conference records between 11-7 and 8-10.  Some of that can be chalked up to opponents beating up on each other on a nightly basis and there being no real “gimme” (except for Indiana.)  Some of that can also be chalked up to young teams still trying to find their niche as a team.

Once again there will only be one gimme game in conference play, whoever is taking on Iowa.  But one of the reasons the Big Ten will be in the discussion as the toughest conferences in the country is because of the strength of the middle teams in the standings.  Realistically, all four of the following teams have a chance at moving into the top three if things fall in place.  I expect three of these teams to be dancing come March, with the seventh team, Wisconsin firmly on the bubble.

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4. Michigan (T-7th, 9-9, 21-14, NCAA Second Round)

2009-2010 Outlook:
Jon Beilien’s makeover of the Michigan basketball program paid dividends last season as the Wolverines made their first NCAA Tournament appearance in more than a decade.  This year, the expectations are even higher.  Michigan returns their top five scorers including All-Big Ten candidates and likely future NBA’ers Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims.  As always, Beilein’s team will live and die by the trifecta.  When they are feeling it from deep, the Wolverines will be tough to beat.

Projected Depth Chart
F/C: Zack Gibson (Sr)/Ben Cronin (Fr)/Jordan Morgan (Fr)
F: DeShawn Sims (Sr)/Anthony Wright (Jr)/Blake McLimans (Fr)
G: Zach Novak (So)/Matt Vogrich (Fr)
G: Manny Harris (Jr)/Laval Lucas-Perry (So)/Eso Akunne (Fr)
PG: Stu Douglass (So)/Darius Morris (Fr)

Gone: G-C.J. Lee, PG-Kelvin Grady (playing football), PG-David Merritt

Player to Watch: Harris- “Manny Fresh” (as many ESPN analysts so un-cleverly refer to him as) is one of the purest scorers in the country.  He can attack the basket, stroke it from deep, and rebounds the ball very well for a guard.  However, his shot selection is still very questionable, as is his leadership ability.  If he can become more of a team player, the sky is the limit for him and the Wolverines this season.

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5. Minnesota (T-7th, 9-9, 22-11, NCAA First Round)

2009-2010 Outlook:
Tubby ball is in effect in the Twin Cities.  In just his second year at Minnesota, Tubby re-gained respectability for the Gopher basketball program.  His team was very deep last season as eleven players saw at least ten minutes of court time per game.  With their full-court defensive pressure, that type of depth is needed.  Tubby also continued his recruiting abilities landing highly touted forwards Royce White and Rodney Williams.  There is some recent concern with the indefinite suspensions of White and Devron Bostick along with Marquette transfer Trevor Mbakwe yet to be cleared to play.  Still, the future continues to be bright for Minnesota.

Projected Depth Chart
C: Ralph Sampson III (So)/Colton Iverson (So)
PF: Paul Carter (Jr)/Trevor Mbakwe (Jr)/Royce White (Fr)
F: Damien Johnson (Sr)/Rodney Williams (Fr)
SG: Lawrence Westbrook (Sr)/Blake Hoffarber (Jr)/Devron Bostick (Sr)
PG: Al Nolen (Jr)/Devoe Joseph (So)/Justin Cobbs (Fr)

Gone: G/F-Jamal Abu-Shamala, G-Travis Busch (transfer-Colorado State)

Player to Watch: Johnson- With Tubby’s ferocious style of defensive play, it helps to have one of the league’s best defenders in Johnson.  He can also hold his own on the offensive end as he was second on the Gophers averaging 9.8 points per game.  He might be one of the most under the radar players in the conference.

80157105CC063_Illinois_Figh6. Illinois (T-2nd, 11-7, 24-10, NCAA First Round)

2009-2010 Outlook:
The past several years, Illinois has been a team that has relied on its solid guard play.  Having lost three perimeter players is a major loss, but highly recruited freshmen D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul should help fill the void.  Mike and Mike (Tisdale and Davis) made major jumps last season and will need to continue to improve for Illinois to compete in the vastly improved Big Ten.

Projected Depth Chart
C: Mike Tisdale (Jr)/Richard Semrau (Jr)/Stan Simpson (Fr)
PF: Mike Davis (Jr)/Dominique Keller (Sr)/Tyler Griffey (Fr)
G/F: Alex Legion (Jr)/Joseph Bertrand (Fr)
G: D.J. Richardson (Fr)/Brandon Paul (Fr)
G: Demetri McCamey (Jr)/Jeffery Jordan (Jr)

Gone: PG-Chester Frazier, SG-Trent Meacham, G/F-Calvin Brock

Player to Watch: Legion- When Legion transferred from Kentucky, it was a highly anticipated get for the Illinois program.  However, Legion never found his niche once he became eligible and often looked lost on the court.  There is no doubting his potential, but will he be able to put it all together and become a consistent contributor?

7. Wisconsin (T-4th, 10-8, 20-13, NCAA Second Round)

2009-2010 Outlook:
If Big Ten teams have learned anything, it is do not underestimate Bo Ryan’s coaching ability.  His teams will always get after it on the defensive end and be very disciplined with their swing offense.  This year may be Ryan’s biggest challenge as he lacks a go-to player and a lot of depth, especially up-front.  Still, expect the Badgers to once again make some noise.  Highly recruited freshman guard Diamond Taylor left the team after being charged with three counts of burglary in his first week on campus.  Dumb.

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Projected Depth Chart
C: Keaton Nankivil (Jr)/Jared Berggren (Fr)/Ian Markholf (So)/J.P. Gavinski (Jr)
PF: Jon Leuer (Jr)/Mike Bruesewitz (Fr)
SF: Tim Jarmusz (Jr)/Ryan Evans (Fr)
SG: Jason Bohannon (Sr)/Rob Wilson (So)
PG: Trevon Hughes (Sr)/Jordan Taylor (So)

Gone: PF-Marcus Landry, F-Joe Krabbenhoft, F/C-Kevin Gullikson

Player to Watch: Leuer- At 6-10, Leuer is loaded with talent and versatility.  He can stroke it from deep, put the ball on the floor, and has a nice skill set in the post.  Becoming more physical, especially on the defensive end, is a must if the Badgers are to get back to the tourney.

The Sports Bank Big 10 Preview Continues:
Tuesday: Teams 8-11 (Northwestern, Penn State, Indiana, Iowa)
Thursday: Teams 1-3
Friday: Big Ten Award Predictions

The Sports Bank Big 12 Previews/Power Rankings:
Teams 10-12 (Colorado, Texas Tech, Nebraska)
Teams 7-9 (Missouri, Baylor, Iowa State)
Teams 4-6 (Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M)
Teams 1-3 (Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma)

The Sports Bank ACC Previews/Power Rankings:
Teams 10-12 (Virginia Tech, Virginia, N.C. State)
Teams 7-9 (Wake Forest, Miami FL, Boston College)
Teams 4-6 (Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech)
Teams 1-3 (UNC, Duke, Maryland)

The Sports Bank SEC Previews/Power Rankings:
SEC East Teams 4-6 (Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Georgia)
SEC East Teams 1-3 (Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida)
SEC West Teams 4-6 (Arkansas, Auburn, LSU)
SEC West Teams 1-3 (Mississippi State, Mississippi, Alabama)

The Sports Bank Pac-10 Preview/Power Rankings:
Teams 8-10 (Washingon State, Arizona State, Stanford)
Teams 5-7 (Arizona, USC, Oregon)
Teams 1-4 (Oregon State, UCLA, Washington, Cal)

The Sports Bank Big East Previews/Power Rankings

Teams 13-16 (Rutgers, South Florida, Providence, DePaul)
Teams 9-12 (Notre Dame, Pitt, Marquette, St. John’s)
Teams 5-8 (Syracuse, Louisville, Cincinnati, Seton Hall)
Teams 1-4 (Villanova, West Virginia, UConn, Georgetown)
Post-Season Award Predictions

For all the latest college basketball info, you can follow David Kay on Twitter at DavidKay_TSB