Last but not least, our team preview series wraps up with Illinois. You can easily access all 12 team previews in the team previews box on the left hand side of the site.
Last season started much like the season before. Promising ranking and plenty of hype around the program. The past two seasons we have seen an Illinois letdown. This year, we aren't really sure what to expect from the Illini. The experience on the team is gone and not much hype surrounds this team.
Bruce Weber and the program will see plenty of fresh faces this season. The Illini lost five pieces to their starting rotation. That can make quite a dent on the program. Many remain optimistic about Illinois, as the pieces they did lose, never did seem to gel right at certain times of the season. It always seemed as if the team lacked chemistry as they never seemed to peak to their full potential as a whole.
This season's team will be young, but there will not be a shortage of talent. The only experience the Illini return is DJ Richardson and Brandon Paul. I can't help but to think that Richardson is due for a big breakout year. There has always been expectation surrounding him and I think he could lead the Illini in points this season, with Paul also battling for that position. Expect them to be a key part to a four guard rotation for Illinois this season. The other two in that mix are Joseph Bertrand and Crandall Head. Both of these players did not see a lot of time last season, as they were freshman, but with a lot of Weber's recruits, they are very athletic and can develop as the season progresses.
One of Weber's big recruiting achievements was the commitment of Myke Henry. He was ranked 39th in the nation with four stars and could be a key offensive weapon for Illinois.
The front court is the biggest question heading into the season for Illinois. They will be lead by Tyler Griffey and Myers Leonard. Griffey is a junior and Leonard is a sophomore. These two have big shoes to fill as Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale are gone. They never saw extensive playing time due to Davis and Tisdale's play. Mike Shaw and Nnanna Egwu are both freshman recruits that were great gets for this years class as they were both ranked in the top 100. If Illinois is going to succeed this year they are going to need their front court to come together and step up. I do see them struggling with teams who have more experienced front courts, but that is to be expected as these players learn and gain experience.
Illinois schedule in the early going is not too tough and should give them time to get a footing on where the team is. It will give the team time to get settled with the big changes from last years team. The toughest teams on the non-conference schedule for the Illini are Missouri, UNLV, Gonzaga and Maryland. Illinois also travels to Cancun this season for an early tournament. They have the potential to face a team or two that could snag them.
The Big Ten schedule doesn't do Illinois many favors this season and is probably one of the toughest if not the toughest. With the Big Ten's addition of Nebraska, there comes the one plays... Illinois' one plays this season are Indiana, Iowa, Penn State and Michigan State. Really the only favor is only having to play Michigan State once and the fact that it is at home could be a break for Illinois as far as the one plays goes. The rest of the teams I think you would want to have the advantage of playing twice.
All in all, Illinois has a chance to have a good season. Again, I really can't tell you what to expect from this Illinois team, it all depends on if they can get their guard play and front court to gel. As for where they finish in the conference standings, I could see them finish anywhere from 3 to the trenches. It all just depends. The Big Ten race is wide open this year as there is a lot of veteran players lost to graduation or the NBA. Bruce Weber has some work to do this season, let's see if he can pull it off.