Illinois Men's Basketball 2015 NIT Tournament Capsule

Illinois Fighting Illini
Big Ten (19-13, 9-9)


Illinois deserves a lot of credit for keeping themselves in the NCAA Tournament conversation into March. This is a team that lost three-year starting point guard Tracy Abrams right before the season began. They still got off to a good start and picked up a nice non-conference win over Baylor. Big Ten play was up and down but, with the exception of a road trip to Wisconsin, the Fighting Illini competed in every contest.

Big Wins: 11/28 vs Baylor (62-54), 1/7 Maryland (64-57), 2/7 at Michigan State (59-54)
Bad Losses: 12/30 at Michigan (65-73), 1/11 at Nebraska (43-53), 1/24 at Minnesota (71-79)
Coach: John Groce

Why They Can Surprise:
It is quite impressive that this team commits so few turnovers with Abrams on the sidelines. But the backcourt does have an amazing amount of talent and they can score as well as take care of the ball. It starts with Rayvonte Rice, one of the best pure scorers in the Big Ten. Rice has missed some action this season and has spent part of the year coming off of the bench, yet that has not stopped his productivity. A capable shooter, Rice is at his best when he is attacking the basket. Kendrick Nunn picked up right where he left off as a freshman. He is a prolific and consistent shooter. The same can be said for Ahmad Starks. Malcolm Hill is a more balanced scorer who can knock down shots and use his 6-6, 230 pound frame to attack the basket. Sophomore Jaylon Tate has been forced to play more minutes this year to help offset the loss of Abrams. He is not a scorer, or even a threat to score, but the pure point guard deserves a lot of credit for setting up his teammates and keeping the turnover numbers low.

Why They Can Disappoint:
Coach John Groce will occasionally start forward Leron Black and center Nnanna Egwu. However, Black will shortly be out of the game and Illinois will be running a four guard offense. At this point in his career, Black, a 6-7 freshman, is just a big body who can help defensively and on the glass. Egwu is not that great of a scorer either and Illinois has a very tough time scoring with their back to the basket. That does make it so much easier to defend the perimeter players. Perhaps the biggest concern in the frontcourt though is the depth. Austin Colbert is the player Coach Groce calls on when Black and Egwu are in foul trouble. For a frontcourt that is not all that productive to begin with, Illinois cannot afford to reach too far down the bench in March and expect to win.

Probable Starters:
Ahmad Starks, Senior, Guard, 7.8 ppg, 2.2 apg
Kendrick Nunn, Sophomore, Guard, 11.1 ppg, 1.9 apg
Rayvonte Rice, Senior, Guard, 16.7 ppg, 1.9 apg, 6.5 rpg
Malcolm Hill, Sophomore, Guard, 14.2 ppg, 1.2 apg, 4.9 rpg
Nnanna Egwu, Senior, Center, 6.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.8 bpg

Key Roleplayers:
Leron Black, Freshman, Forward, 5.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg
Austin Colbert, Sophomore, Forward, 1.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg
Jaylon Tate, Sophomore, Guard, 3.7 ppg, 3.0 apg

By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 69.9 (102nd in nation, 7th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 62.8 (80, 4)
Field-Goal Percentage: 41.8 (265, 12)
Field-Goal Defense: 41.4 (95, 8)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 7.4 (66, 4)  
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 36.3 (91, 6)
Free-Throw Percentage: 79.4 (1, 1)
Rebound Margin: 0.4 (183, 9)
Assists Per Game: 12.1 (217, 9)
Turnovers Per Game: 9.9 (11, 3)

Recent Postseason Appearances:
2014    NIT    First Round win over Boston University
2014    NIT    Second Round loss to Clemson
2013    NCAA    Second Round win over Colorado
2013    NCAA    Third Round loss to Miami
2011    NCAA    Round of 64 win over UNLV
2011    NCAA    Round of 32 loss to Kansas
2010    NIT    First Round win over Stony Brook
2010    NIT    Second Round win over Kent State
2010    NIT    Quarterfinal loss to Dayton
2009    NCAA    Round of 64 loss to Western Kentucky
2007    NCAA    Round of 64 loss to Virginia Tech
2006    NCAA    Round of 64 win over Air Force
2006    NCAA    Round of 32 loss to Washington

*all team stats through 3/8


See All Men’s Basketball Postseason Capsules