The deepest unit for Illinois will be at the wing position. Both starters Rayvonte Rice and Malcolm Hill are returning this year. Joining them will be two Freshman, Michael Finke and Leron Black. The skill set for this group will range from shooting and slashing, to posting up and battling in the paint. Overall this group will be expected to fill up the stats sheet; scoring, rebounding and assisting other players for easy baskets.
Rayvonte Rice was biggest scoring threat for Illinois last season and will be again this season. He single handedly took over many games last year and at times had to be double teamed to prevent him from scoring. Rice more than anyone will benefit from Illinois' ability to spread the floor with high percentage shooters. He should see the paint open up for easy slashes to the basket, and should be able to take advantage of over matched defenders, that will have a hard time keeping track of all of the Illinois shooters. Rice will also benefit from seeing his minutes decrease. Normally that isn't a good thing, but Rice spent so much time on the floor last year, that his play slumped near the middle and end of the season. Fresher legs and opposing team's inability to double team, should allow Rice lead the Illini in the scoring column.
Malcolm Hill emerged as a go to scorer down the stretch of the Big Ten season last year. He brought a skill set that was unmatched on the Illini roster and seemed to gain confidence as the season moved forward. Hill has taken full advantage of the off season, having gained 20 pounds of muscle and honed his shooting skills, by putting up more shots during the summer than any other Illini player. From what little information that has come out of the recent Dayton closed door scrimmage and recent month of practice, Hill will battle Rice for the biggest scoring threat. He is shooting over 40% from three, and has shown an increased ability to take the ball inside for easy looks. If Hill can further develop his inside game, defenders will have an almost impossible task trying to stop him.
Leron Black might be the biggest X factor for Illinois this season. The 4 star prospect out of Memphis won the Mr Basketball award in Tennessee last season. He has been nicknamed "The Savage" by his team mates because of his constant motor and relentless pursuit of all rebounds. Black should find a quick niche on a team that has been in dire need of a rebounder the last few seasons. More than just a rebounder, Black has the ability to step out of the paint and hit jumpers. He actually has a great stroke for a player of his size, and should be able to further develop his shooting ability, which will make him a very versatile threat. Black has been a hugely underrated recruit by most services, since he set out a large portion of last summer with an injury, and should prove to be one of the best freshman in the Big Ten.
Michael Finke is a local Champaign product that should prove to be a fan favorite during his time at Illinois. While Finke is only rated at a 3 star recruit, he chose Illinois over Big Ten programs Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa and Purdue. He is also still growing, having shot up from 6'8" to 6'10" 225 pounds since he verballed to Illinois last year. If he continues to grow he me end up being a center at Illinois rather than a forward. This season Illinois will use him almost exclusively at the four position. He will play much the same as past players Tyler Griffey and Jon Ekey. He will have the ability to mix it up in the paint, but will be depended on to shoot the three at a high percentage. Look for Finke to get a few minutes this season, but won't part of the regular rotation.
Overall Grade: A
When all is said and done this season, Rice and Hill will be one of the best tandem of forwards in the Big Ten. Their ability to slash to the basket and shoot the three, will allow them to score a lot of points for Illinois. Leron Black will provide a huge boost of energy off the bench and will prove to be the type of player that opposing team's hate to play against. He has a real nasty streak when he is on the court and should provide Illinois with a type of energy that they have been missing the last couple years.