#73 Illinois Men's Basketball 2015-2016 Preview

Illinois Fighting Illini

2015-2016 Overall Rank: #73
Conference Rank: #9 Big Ten

Illinois Team Page#73 Illinois Men's Basketball 2015-2016 PreviewBuy Illinois Basketball Tickets

Illinois struggled through a tough 2014-2015 season. An injury to Tracy Abrams derailed the season before it even started. The Illini played well in nonconference play, but slipped in Big Ten action, going 9-9. Outside of a February win at Michigan State, there was not much to be excited about. However, the Fighting Illini did make the NIT, where they fell to Alabama in the first round. The story this year is looking the same. Abrams is again out for the year for an injury, leaving Coach John Groce to again struggle to replace their point guard.

2014-15 Record: 19-14, 9-9
2014-15 Postseason: NIT
Coach: John Groce
Coach Record: 62-42 at Illinois, 147-98 overall

Who’s Out:
Much of the backcourt needs to be replaced. Rayvonte Rice, Aaron Cosby and Ahmad Starks are all gone. Rice, a 6-4 wing, led the team with 16.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals during his senior season. He was a very consistent outside shooter and a great all-around scorer. Cosby missed some time last season, but was a decent scorer when he was on the floor. Starks came to Illinois from Buffalo and averaged 7.7 points and 2.2 assists during his one season with the Illini. Nnanna Egwu and Austin Colbert are the losses in the frontcourt. Egwu, a 6-11 center, was the only player to start all 33 games during the 2014-2015 season. He was never a big scoring threat, but Egwu averaged 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.

Who’s In:
The Illini need some experience with this class and they got it with Khalid Lewis, Alex Austin and Mike Thorne. Lewis, a transfer from La Salle, was a huge pickup for Illinois. In dire need of a point guard, Lewis will find a lot of minutes and possibly a starting job. Last year with the Explorers, he averaged 6.0 points and 2.2 assists. Austin was a part-time starter with Eastern Illinois for two years. He should be a solid scoring option off of the bench. Thorne is a big 6-11 center who is a graduate transfer from Charlotte. Last year he averaged 10.1 points and 7.3 rebounds for the 49ers and his size and experience will be hugely important for the Illini this year. Redshirt freshman Michael Finke, a 6-10, 230 pound forward, gives Coach John Groce another big option. The two incoming freshmen, Jalen Coleman-Lands and Aaron Jordan, are both big time recruits. They will both be given every opportunity to contribute major minutes, especially on a team that needs some new shooters.

Who to Watch:
Despite the losses on the perimeter, Illinois returns starters Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn and part-time starter Jaylon Tate. Hill, a 6-6 junior, averaged 14.4 points and 4.8 rebounds and knocked down 38.9 percent of his three-point attempts. Look for him to turn into the team’s leading scorer. Nunn could have something to say about that though. The 6-3 junior is a great outside shooter too and averaged 11.1 points per game as a sophomore. Tate could be the most important player this season though. Last year he was forced into action as a sophomore with Abrams out and eventually Tate played pretty well. He is not much of a scorer, but Tate averaged 2.9 assists and just 1.4 turnovers in 2014-2015. Lewis will help at the point, but Tate is a capable pure point guard and there are enough weapons around him for the Illini to be successful with a pure point guard like Tate running the show.

Final Projection:
The frontcourt will rely heavily on Leron Black. The 6-7, 220 pound forward only averaged 14.8 minutes per game as a freshman, but he was very productive during those minutes. He is a bruiser and a rebounder, but was surprisingly effective in the scoring department last year. Depending on how the newcomers perform, Black could be asked to score more than 5.0 points per game in 2015-2016. Junior center Maverick Morgan will not play too many minutes again this year, but if he can come in and play tough and hard for 10 to 15 minutes per game, the Illini frontcourt will be fine. This could have been an NCAA Tournament team if Abrams was healthy. Without him, this year will look a lot like it did without him last season; an NIT team.

Projected Postseason Tournament: NIT

Projected Starting Five:
Jaylon Tate, Junior, Guard, 3.6 points per game
Kendrick Nunn, Junior, Guard, 11.1 points per game
Malcolm Hill, Junior, Guard, 14.4 points per game
Leron Black, Sophomore, Forward, 5.0 points per game
Mike Thorne, Senior, Center, DNP last season

By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 69.1 (123rd in nation, 8th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 63.6 (92, 6)
Field-Goal Percentage: 41.3 (272, 12)
Field-Goal Defense: 42.1 (119, 9)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 7.2 (84, 6)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 35.5 (119, 9)
Free-Throw Percentage: 79.4 (1, 1)
Rebound Margin: 0.6 (166, 8)
Assists Per Game: 11.8 (233, 10)
Turnovers Per Game: 9.9 (12, 3)

Madness 2015 Men’s Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#35 Jalen Coleman-Lands
#75 D.J. Williams
#105 Aaron Jordan


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