Freshman Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill turned in fine seasons for the Illini. Inserted into the starting lineup for the 24th game of the season against Penn State, Nunn and Hill helped Illinois put an end to a disastrous eight game losing streak that completely destroyed the Illini's chances of making it to the Big Dance.
With Nunn and Hill starting Illinois closed the season 7-5, making it into the second round of the NIT. Nunn was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team for his efforts. It is clear that the insertion of Hill and Nunn into the starting lineup injected some much needed life into Illinois. The continued development of these two is going to be crucial to Illinois' success next season.
Illinois finished the season ranked 11th in Ken Pomeroy's defensive rankings. The ten teams they finished behind were all in the NCAA tournament, with the lowest seed being No. 7 UConn (you know, the national champions). The Illini gave up only 62.2 points per game, good for 22nd in the nation.
The defense was the main reason Illinois closed the season out particularly strong. Bringing back the same personnel next year means the defense should remain consistently stifling. Now if only the offense can get it going, the Illini might find themselves invited back to the only postseason tournament that really matters.
Twenty-six games into the season the Illini sat at 14-12, and 3-10 in Big Ten play. A once promising season had turned into an unmitigated disaster. It would have been easy for these kids to give up and ride out the year on cruise control. They did just the opposite.
The Illini ratcheted up their effort levels, nearly defeating Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament and losing a spirited game to Clemson in the NIT second-round to close the season. These kids proved that, even with little to play for, they will still give the effort and determination required of champions. A spirited run to end the season gives the Illini faithful hope moving forward.
The Illini started 15-2. They were a top 25 team. Good times were had by all.
Illinois then proceeded to lose 11 of their next 10 games, with an eight game losing streak being particularly devastating. Bob Dylan once sang, "Times, they are a changin'." John Groce had never heard that song.
The Illini closed the regular season by winning four of their final five games, including victories over NCAA Tournament-bound Nebraska, Michigan State and Iowa, and a one-point loss to Michigan in the second round of the B1G Tournament.
It was a nice bounce back, but severely frustrating for fans who saw what Illinois was capable of early in the season. Inconsistencies on offense plagued the Illini all year long, and likely cost them a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Groce knows he has a team that can beat good squads, he just needs to get them to show up every game.
Rayvonte's Big Ten Struggles
Rayvonte Rice led the Illini in scoring this season with 15.5 points per game. The problem is he shot only 41 percent from the field and 30 percent from three. He had a particularly difficult time throughout the Big Ten schedule (which began December 31 against Indiana).
Rice scored 20 or more points four times in B1G play; he scored 10 or less on six occasions. Oddly enough, when Rice went for 20 or more the Illini were only 1-3. When Rice was held to 10 or less Illinois was 4-2. Regardless of that anomaly, Rice needs to be a more consistent scoring threat for Illinois next year if they are going to rebound in B1G play.
Illinois' offense was ranked 177th in Ken Pomeroy's rating system, behind buckets-getting juggernauts such as Army, Hofstra, Grand Canyon University and Idaho. They scored under 60 points 11 times this season.
The offense looked lost at times, and they don't have a true point guard that can run sets and create looks for the team. There was often little offensive cohesion, leading to stagnancy and 30-plus second possessions spent looking for a decent shot. Too many times did a horrific offensive effort betray a fantastic defensive performance. If that can't be corrected, next year is going to be just as frustrating for Illinois and their fans.
Brand spankin' new jerseys for next season! Regardless of the record, at least the Illini will be looking look out there on the court.
Alternate silver. Fire flames. Proper attire for a night out on the town.
A dark, classy blue. The Illini are here for business, but they'll certainly stay to party.
Very chic. Ultramodern design. Other fashion words.