Illinois Fighting Illini
Overall Rank: #63
Conference Rank: #8 Big Ten
Illinois Team Page
2010-11: 20-14, 9-9
2010-11 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Bruce Weber (193-86 at Illinois, 296-140 overall)
Illinois was just an average team last season…at least according to their 9-9 record. It was good enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament, but this group will need to overachieve to reach the big dance, not underachieve like last year’s squad. There is talent abound, yet again, but this is very young team that will have to rely on wings D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul to provide leadership and a lot of scoring. Both are certainly capable of scoring. Richardson averaged 8.4 points per game last season and knocked down 38.5 percent of his attempts from long range. Paul, who may spend some time at the point this season, is a solid slasher who can also hit the long ball. Those two can score in bunches and the Illini will go as far as they can take them.
The problem is this was nearly a bubble team last year. How can a team lose Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, Jereme Richmond and Bill Cole and get better? McCamey was a great scoring point guard and Richmond’s potential was through the roof. Cole never got the credit he deserved for being a glue guy who could play multiple positions and do a little bit of everything. Davis and Tisdale combined to average 22.5 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.4 blocks. They should have been a dominating interior force in the Big Ten. Sometimes they were, sometimes they were not and that was the problem.
Coach Weber has another great group of freshmen headed to Champaign, but the most important newcomer will likely be Bradley transfer Sam Maniscalco. The senior point guard is eligible immediately after graduating from Bradley with a year of eligibility remaining. However, he barely played last season after suffering an injury. Maniscalco is a proven point guard who can do some scoring. He could turn into a steadying leader on this young team. Tracy Abrams will not give up the point guard duties without a fight. The freshman is a tough point guard who can fight his way to the basket. He does not have great athleticism or speed, but he can certainly create opportunities for his teammates. Myke Henry, Mike Shaw and Devin Langford will add depth to the forward spots and compete for major minutes at power forward. Langford is more a wing than a power forward, but Henry and Shaw can play the four spot and both will be given the opportunity to make a big impact. The same can be said for centers Ibby Djimde and Nnanna Egwu. Djimde is a little raw, but Egwu is a very athletic 6-11, 245 pound center. He is beefing up big time and is turning into a real post player instead of a tall athlete who can just block shots and run the floor.
Who to Watch:
Tyler Griffey and Meyers Leonard have the early leg up on the starting jobs up front. Griffey, a 6-8, 230 pound junior only averaged 6.5 minutes per game last season, but he is a big guy who can step out and hit the outside shot with relative consistency and has proven that he can play. Leonard is a 7-1 sophomore who is still developing. In limited action last season, he was not particularly effective, but he is a big player who will block some shots and grab some rebounds. If those two are not ready for starter minutes, the newcomers better be or this group will be very thin in the frontcourt.
At best, the frontcourt is inexperienced. They are certainly talented, but they were talented a year ago as well. This is a team that can come together and easily make the NCAA Tournament, or this is a team that can play like youngsters and take a step or two back from last year’s squad. And a step back or two from last year does not put Illinois in the NCAA Tournament.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Sam Maniscalco, Senior, Guard, DNP last season
D.J. Richardson, Junior, Guard, 8.4 points per game
Brandon Paul, Junior, Guard, 9.0 points per game
Tyler Griffey, Junior, Forward, 1.6 points per game
Meyers Leonard, Sophomore, Center, 2.1 points per game
Madness 2012 NBA Draft Profiles:
#40 Meyers Leonard
Madness 2011 Men's Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#71 Mycheal Henry
#75 Mike Shaw
#78 Tracy Abrams
#83 Nnanna Egwu
#127 Devin Langford
Check out another story about Illinois basketball