Illinois Fighting Illini
2012-2013 Overall Rank: #93
Conference Rank: #10 Big Ten
Illinois Team Page
Illinois got off to a fast start during the 2011-2012 campaign, but pretty much fell apart at the end of the year and ended up with a disappointing 6-12 record in Big Ten play. That cost Bruce Weber his job. The Fighting Illini went out to Ohio to pluck Coach John Groce away from the Bobcats following a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Coach Groce led Ohio to two NCAA Tournament appearances during his four years in Athens and will attempt to quickly turn around the Fighting Illini program just like he did at Ohio.
2011-12 Record: 17-15, 6-12
2011-12 Postseason: None
Coach: John Groce
Coach Record: First year at Illinois, 85-56 overall
Of course the big loss for Illinois is Meyers Leonard. The big man left for the NBA after his sophomore season. Leonard certainly had some flaws in his game, but he could dominate games when he wanted to do so. On the year he averaged 13.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. The absence of Leonard would be manageable if the Illini had any returning post players. The only other departure is Sam Maniscalco. Coach Weber brought him in for one year to run the point, which he did for a while as a starter and mostly as a backup.
The big get for Coach Groce is Sam McLaurin. The graduate transfer from Coastal Carolina is a bruiser in the paint and averaged 10.0 points and 7.5 rebounds for the Chanticleers last season. He has the toughness to compete in the Big Ten, but at 6-8 and 230 pounds, he is ideally a power forward at this level. However, he will have to spend some time at center due to lack of other options. Redshirt freshman Devin Langford, a 6-7 wing, and incoming freshman guard Mike LaTulip should have the luxury of learning the ropes for a while before being asked to contribute too much. However, if LaTulip can emerge as a decent backup point guard it would allow the scorers to stay off the ball.
Who to Watch:
And the Illini have a couple fine scorers on the wing. Brandon Paul led the team with 14.7 points, 2.9 assists and 1.4 steals during his junior campaign and will have to turn into the leader on the floor. It is Paul who may have to spend some time with the ball in his hands if the point guard spot becomes a major issue. D.J. Richardson will be a senior leader too after tallying 11.6 points per game. Richardson is mostly a shooter and he could be in for a big season if he uses his size and quickness to get to the basket more often. Joseph Bertrand is not a shooter, but he is a decent scorer who started 14 games as a sophomore. With sophomore Myke Henry in the mix as well, Illinois has plenty of options on the wing. Tyler Griffey plays like a wing, but at 6-8 and 230 pounds, he will spend his time at the four spot. Griffey is a good shooter, but that has never really materialized when it matters the most. Griffey is at least a threat to stretch out the defense with his shooting ability, but he needs to be much more consistent.
The big concerns are at the point and in the post. Tracy Abrams gained a lot of experience as a freshman, averaging 4.3 points and 1.9 assists, but it remains to be seen if he is ready to take over the starting job on a full-time basis. At least Paul can help him handle the ball, but both are turnover prone. In the post, Coach Groce hopes Nnanna Egwu is the answer. He averaged less than ten minutes per game last year, but he played pretty well as Leonard’s backup. At 6-11 and 245 pounds, the Illini really need his size on the floor. Egwu could be in for a big year, especially on the defensive end of the floor, but he does need to stay out of foul trouble. Mike Shaw, a 6-8 sophomore, will be in the mix for playing time as well. This is a talented team, but probably not as talented as they were last year with Leonard hanging around in the paint. And that talented team went 6-12 in Big Ten play and barely ended up with a winning record. Like last year when Illinois knocked off Michigan State and Ohio State, this group will have the talent to beat anybody on any given day, but they could just as easily lose to a team like Penn State or Nebraska. Coach Groce’s ability to develop players may turn Illinois into a true team that can play together and win some games, but that will likely take a couple more years to come to fruition.
Projected Postseason Tournament: CBI/CIT
Projected Starting Five:
Tracy Abrams, Sophomore, Guard, 4.3 points per game
D.J. Richardson, Senior, Guard, 11.6 points per game
Brandon Paul, Senior, Guard, 14.7 points per game
Tyler Griffey, Senior, Forward, 4.9 points per game
Nnanna Egwu, Sophomore, Center, 1.9 points per game
Madness 2013 NBA Draft Rankings:
#113 Brandon Paul