When a team loses several key seniors and nearly two thirds of its scoring it’s very easy to write off said team the following year. Most publications have the University of Illinois men’s basketball team finishing no higher than eighth in the Big Ten Conference. But I feel there will be more of addition by subtraction when it comes to this year’s squad. In this article I will explain why I feel this year will not be a step back for the Fighting Illini, but a step forward that will help the basketball program assert themselves on the national scene for years to come.
Most Illini fans know how frustratingly inconsistent Brandon Paul (16.3ppg) and D.J. Richardson (12.8ppg) were. I liked them, but man did they take a lot of bad shots and have a lot of turnovers. Combined, they were 4.5 out of 13.5 from behind the arc every game. That’s 33%. And that is too many three’s by people that aren’t knocking them down consistently. The duo also turned the ball over nearly five times a game.
That being said, I think this year’s Illinois Men’s Basketball Team will be better than last year’s if…
- Joseph Bertrand plays more selfishly. I know, I don’t normally say people need to play more selfishly but this kid can score pretty much any time he wants to. Now that Paul and Richardson are out of the way I expect Bertrand to get 30+ minutes a game and score at least 14pts a game. If his confidence sores I would not be shocked if he averages 16 or 17 a game. The sky’s the limit with him. He just needs to be more assertive.
- Nnanna Egwu can stay out of foul trouble and play more consistently. This guy would have a monster game: 16 points and 8 rebounds against #8 Ohio State (1/5/13) and a week later against Wisconsin he was held scoreless and tallied only one rebound. Foul trouble had a lot to do with his inconsistency as he fouled out six times and had four fouls six other times. If he can cut down on the unnecessary fouls his production should improve. Getting a year older also should help him improve. I think 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks a game from this guy isn’t too far fetched in his Junior season. I expect this guy to be a beast his Senior season, but that’s a year away.
- Tracy Abrams plays more under control. I love this guy’s energy and toughness, but he is too careless with the ball and sometimes takes some wildly inappropriate shots. If he can play a little more under control and tries to be more like a PG, value each possession, I think he can be good for 12 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds a game. While those numbers aren’t too much better than last year’s, the main thing with him is to keep the turnovers and bad shots to a minimum.
- Rayvonte Rice can pick up where he left off at Drake two years ago. This guy was good for nearly 17 points and 6 rebounds as a sophomore. Now I realize that the Missouri Valley Conference is not the Big Ten, but they’re not exactly chump change either. Creighton and Wichita State have been nationally ranked the past couple years with Wichita State making a remarkable run to the Final Four last April. If Rice can go for 12 points and 5 rebounds a game that would be a huge addition from the junior. He’s a big strong guard and I expect him to be right at home in the Big Ten.
- The Incoming Freshmen are as advertised. I don’t know much about the incoming Freshmen other than their names, position, and rankings. By all accounts this five man group was a Top-15 recruiting class. One of the best coming into Champaign in years. I am especially excited about 6’6″ shooting guard Malcolm Hill and 6’9″ forward Austin Colbert. At the very least the freshman class should provide quality depth.
I know that may seem like a lot has to go right for the team to improve on last year’s success, but I really do feel that the addition by subtraction will make this team better. I think this team will be more balanced and make less mistakes thereby making it a better team.
The non conference schedule isn’t that difficult so this team should have plenty of time to gel by the time Big Ten Conference play starts. The Big Ten is always brutal, but I think this team could finish sixth and sneak into the tournament as a 10th or 11th seed and give someone a scare come March.