#53 Illinois Men's Basketball 2014-2015 Preview

Illinois Fighting Illini

2014-2015 Overall Rank: #53
Conference Rank: #9 Big Ten

Illinois Team Page#53 Illinois Men's Basketball 2014-2015 PreviewBuy Illinois Basketball Tickets

Illinois always seems to be hanging around the NCAA Tournament bubble, but this is a program that wants more and expects more. Coach John Groce is heading into his third year as the Fighting Illini’s head coach and the hope is they can build off of their NIT appearance last season. The potential problem for the Illini is their lack of scoring punch. The team ranked 309th in the nation in scoring offense and Rayvonte Rice is the only true scorer on the team. The 6-4 senior easily led the team with 15.9 points per game and added 6.0 rebounds. Rice’s outside shot has been inconsistent at best, but he can obviously finish around the basket.

2013-14 Record: 20-15, 7-11
2013-14 Postseason: NIT
Coach: John Groce
Coach Record: 43-28 at Illinois, 128-84 overall

Who’s Out:
Illinois will have to replace a couple of starters in Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey. Bertrand was occasionally a major scoring threat for Illinois, but the 6-6 guard virtually disappeared during Big Ten play. He failed to reach double digit scoring in the last 12 games of his senior season. Ekey stretched the defense with his shooting ability. The 6-7 forward led the squad with 59 made three-pointers on the year and averaged 7.3 points per game. Yet the biggest loss could be Tracy Abrams. The would be senior suffered an ACL injury in September and will miss the entire season. The point guard averaged 10.7 points and 3.2 assists as a junior and will be back in 2015-2016.

Who’s In:
Losing Abrams puts a lot of pressure on transfers Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby. Starks figures to step into the starting lineup after spending three seasons at Oregon State. He is a great shooter and a quality all-around scorer, but now Starks needs to fill the leadership void. Cosby was a two year starter at Seton Hall and averaged 12.6 points per game during the 2012-2013 campaign. Like Starks, Cosby is a good shooter. While a natural shooting guard, Cosby will likely spend some time as the backup point guard. The freshmen class consists of forwards Leron Black, Michael Finke and Cameron Liss. Black is the one who Coach Groce will ask to play major minutes right away. He is a very good athlete who can get up and down the floor and finish around the basket.

Who to Watch:
The frontcourt freshmen will have to make an impact because Nnanna Egwu is the only returning forward who averaged over ten minutes per game last season. The 6-11, 250 pound center is solid on the glass and a great shot blocker, but this was not a strong rebounding team last season and Egwu can only do so much. Wing Malcolm Hill has the size to play the four spot when necessary, yet he is not a proven rebounder. The 6-6 sophomore started a dozen games last season, averaging 4.4 points and 2.4 rebounds. Fellow sophomore Maverick Morgan will be asked to play more minutes. He averaged just 7.1 per game last season, but is a talented 6-10, 250 pound center who eventually will be a productive big man.

Final Projection:
While the frontcourt rebuilds, Illinois will have to rely on the backcourt to win games. Rice and the newcomers can carry this team to some victories, yet all of the sophomores will need to start living up to their potential if this team is going to make it to the NCAA Tournament. That includes sophomore guard Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate. Nunn is a very good shooter and knocked down 38.8 percent of his attempts from long range. He could turn into one of the big time scoring options this team desperately needs and that is especially true without the leadership and scoring of Abrams.

Projected Postseason Tournament: NIT

Projected Starting Five:
Ahmad Starks, Senior, Guard, DNP last season
Kendrick Nunn, Sophomore, Guard, 6.2 points per game
Rayvonte Rice, Senior, Guard, 15.9 points per game
Leron Black, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season
Nnanna Egwu, Senior, Center, 6.9 points per game

By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 64.2 (309th in nation, 11th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 62.2 (22, 2)
Field-Goal Percentage: 41.1 (309, 11)
Field-Goal Defense: 42.1 (97, 9)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 6.0 (186, 7)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 31.7 (269, 11)
Free-Throw Percentage: 73.3 (54, 6)
Rebound Margin: 0.5 (172, 8)
Assists Per Game: 10.0 (326, 11)
Turnovers Per Game: 10.4 (30, 3)

Madness 2014 Men’s Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#42 Leron Black


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