#71 Illinois Men's Basketball 2013-2014 Preview

Eduardo Martinez

Illinois Fighting Illini

2013-2014 Overall Rank: #71
Conference Rank: #8 Big Ten

Illinois Team Page#71 Illinois Men's Basketball 2013-2014 PreviewBuy Illinois Basketball Tickets

Illinois responded well to first year coach John Groce last year, posting a 23-13 record and a victory in the NCAA Tournament. The Illini were a senior-led team a year ago, and will need their current players to assume greater roles this year. Juniors Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu are the only returning starters from a year ago, and they'll be counted on for leadership and production. Redshirt senior Joe Bertrand will also have to adapt to his new role as a starter and leader.

2012-13 Record: 23-13, 8-10
2012-13 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: John Groce
Coach Record: 23-13 at Illinois, 108-69 overall

Who’s Out:
The Illini lost numerous, key contributor's from last year’s NCAA Tournament team. Tyler Griffey, Sam McLaurin, Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson all graduated and produced at a high level. The offense ran through Paul and Richardson. Paul was the team's leading scorer with 16.6 points per game, followed by Richardson at 12.3 points per game. Griffey was a forward who was capable of hitting the long ball and he even made a couple of game-winners over Gardner Webb and Indiana. Last year, the Illini relied heavily on their three-point shooting. Paul, Richardson and Griffey combined to make 73 percent of the Illini's 280 three's. That's irreplaceable. McLaurin was a solid post player for Illinois, particularly with his defense and rebounding as a starter/reserve. Not only did Illinois lose four seniors to graduation, they also had four players transfer out of the program. Juniors-to-be Ibby Djimde (Southern Illinois), Myke Henry (DePaul), Devin Langford (Kentucky Wesleyan) and Mike Shaw (Bradley) all opted to transfer.

Who’s In:
Illinois brings in a highly-touted 2013 recruiting class, which consists of five players: power forward Austin Colbert, shooting guard Malcolm Hill, center Maverick Morgan, shooting guard Kendrick Nunn and point guard Jaylon Tate. Colbert, Hill and Nunn figure to receive the most playing time out of the five freshmen. In addition, transfers Rayvonte Rice and Jon Ekey are eligible this year. Rice, a redshirt junior guard from Drake, figures to be one of the Illini's main offensive weapons this year. The Champaign native averaged 16.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game for Drake during the 2011-2012 season. Ekey, a redshirt senior, transferred to Illinois from Illinois State. Ekey applied and was granted a waiver to play immediately at Illinois, since he graduated from ISU and enrolled in a graduate program at Illinois that isn't available at ISU. He will be penciled in as a starter at power forward, where he'll be expected to play a similar role as Tyler Griffey a year ago. Ekey is a 6'7 forward that can stretch defenses with his three-point shooting. The wildcard for Illinois will be Ahmad Starks, a transfer from Oregon State. Starks has applied for a hardship waiver, which could potentially allow the senior guard to be eligible immediately for Illinois. As of today, the NCAA had yet to make a decision on his waiver. The Beavers all-time leading three point shooter (in just three seasons) would fill a significant weakness for Illinois.

Who to Watch:
The continued progression of Abrams and Egwu is vital for Illinois, considering how different the roster looks this year. Abrams will once again handle the point guard duties. If he can improve upon his 10.6 points and 3.4 assist per game numbers, the Illini will be in good shape. Egwu played a minimal role offensively, but his rebounding and interior defense will be counted on heavily. He showed flashes in the NCAA Tournament. He averaged 9.5 points and 10 rebounds in two postseason games against Colorado and Miami. Redshirt senior Joe Bertrand will finally get his chance as a full-time starter on the wing for Illinois. The elder statesman on the roster, Bertrand has proven to be able to score in bunches and wow crowds with his athleticism, but he'll need to be consistent in his new role. Expect the offense to run through Rice, which should come natural to him since he was Drake's focal point in his two years in Ames.

Final Projection:
The Illini's identity last year was rooted in their reliance on the three point shot. Looking at this year's team, none of the projected starters excel at making three's. Illinois will have to change its approach, attack the basket more frequently in hopes of getting to the free throw line more often. Getting to the lane will play to the strengths of Abrams, Bertrand and Rice. But Illinois will still need to be somewhat of a threat from the three point line for their penetrating guards to be effective. With so many new faces on the roster, Illinois projects to finish 8th in the Big Ten and earn a spot in the NIT.

Projected Postseason Tournament: NIT

Projected Starting Five:
Tracy Abrams, Junior, Guard, 10.6 points per game
Rayvonte Rice, Redshirt Junior, Guard, 16.8 points per game (at Drake, 2011-2012)
Joseph Bertrand, Redshirt Senior, Guard, 7.3 points per game
Jon Ekey, Redshirt Senior, Forward, 6.4 points per game (at Illinois State)
Nnanna Egwu, Junior, Center, 6.5 points per game

By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 68.5 (146th in nation, 6th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 64.8 (123, 10)
Field-Goal Percentage: 41.2 (273, 9)
Field-Goal Defense: 42.4 (157, 9)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 7.8 (39, 1)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 32.1 (238, 8)
Free-Throw Percentage: 72.6 (68, 3)
Rebound Margin: -1.1 (219, 10)
Assists Per Game: 10.1 (320, 10)
Turnovers Per Game: 11.4 (40, 5)

Madness 2013 Men's Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#56 Kendrick Nunn
#77 Malcolm Hill
#109 Austin Colbert


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