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95 Days to Big Ten Basketball: Johnny Hill or Khalid Lewis?

Both Illinois and Purdue are relying on senior transfers this season to shore up a lack of depth at point guard. Which senior is set to have the better season?

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Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Players transferring in and out of programs is nothing new when it comes to college basketball, even more so when players leave their former schools in attempt to find more playing time elsewhere. That being said, in recent years there's been quite an abundance of senior transfers taking advantage of the rule allowing them to be immediately eligible as long as they graduate from their original program with eligibility remaining. The end result is mid-major programs have essentially become secondary recruiting sources, with power conferences raiding the best of the best to help shore up lineup issues that flare up.

On one hand it's unfortunate for the smaller schools that lose out on some of their more productive players. On the other hand, though, it allows guys that didn't get looks from bigger schools to move on up to a more prominent playing field for one last season. And while the end result occasionally stings smaller programs, it allows numerous teams to fill holes they have heading into the season.

That is definitely the case heading into 2015-16 for both Illinois and Purdue, utilizing senior transfers to shore up their weak points at point guard. For Purdue it became apparent that they would benefit from another point guard when it was announced that backup guard Bryson Scott would transfer. Scott was a combo guard that was a better fit playing off the ball, but his ability to run the point was still essential to Purdue and left the team with sophomore P.J. Thompson as the only point guard with experience returning. Illinois didn't anticipate having a hole at the point guard position thanks to the return of Tracy Abrams and backup Jaylon Tate also still in the mix, but Abrams ended up tearing his Achilles and will miss his second season in a row. The end result was John Groce and company needed another point guard, ultimately landing La Salle transfer Khalid Lewis.

So with that being said, which senior will have the bigger impact for their team in 2015-16?

The Case for/against Johnny Hill

Purdue ended up needing another point guard due to Bryson Scott transferring and while they struck out on several targets, including highly touted Dylan Ennis, they ended up bringing in Johnny Hill from Texas-Arlington. The situation pertaining to Hill is definitely interesting as his game has some notable question marks, but Purdue fans are still remembering the colossal impact senior transfer Jon Octeus had this past season, with Octeus being one of the main reasons Purdue was able to make it back to the NCAA Tournament. This of course also sets a considerably high bar for Hill as he's going to be compared to Octeus throughout the season, something that isn't entirely fair to the Illinois native.

Unlike Lewis, who will likely end up as a backup for the Illini, the expectation for Hill is that he will end up starting for the Boilers. P.J. Thompson is only a sophomore and while he showed signs of potential in his freshman season, he still only saw about 13 minutes of action per game. Thompson also wasn't much of an offensive threat and was more of a defensive presence, something that could be problematic if he had to start as Purdue will need some shooting from their backcourt thanks to a potentially big lineup (stemming from an absolutely loaded frontcourt). With Hammons and Swanigan likely to solidify the 4 and 5 spots, the team needs shooting to keep the floor spread.

So while Thompson is a bit light on experience and hasn't shown the ability to be a key offensive weapon, Hill brings a bit more to the table. While he hasn't been a viable three point shooter (8 of 32 last season), Hill shot almost 52% from inside the arc and has shown the ability the get to the rim and score inside. His athleticism and skill set has even reminded Vince Edwards of Jon Octeus at times. If the senior can find a way to improve his shot from outside he could be in very good shape from an offensive standpoint.

Of course the elephant in the room for Hill is turnovers. Purdue has had issues in the past with turning the ball over and has benefited from eliminating said mistakes, so if Hill commits three turnovers per game like he did last season that will not go over well with Matt Painter and could force him to turn to Thompson. Especially if Hill ends up with another 11 turnover performance like he did last January against Georgia State.

That being said, Hill will benefit considerably from arriving on campus this summer and having time to gel with his new teammates and learn the system. Last year Octeus didn't arrive on campus until October, so Hill's additional months should allow the coaching staff to help work out the kinks as Hill gets adjusted to Purdue's roster.

The Case for/against Khalid Lewis

The loss of Tracy Abrams for the Illini definitely stings, with the Chicago native looking to return to the court after missing last season. His first season starting for Illinois was marred by turnovers and he wasn't a prolific shooting in 2013-14, but he brought plenty of experience to the table and was the best option Groce had. With Abrams out of the picture that means that Jaylon Tate will likely be penciled in as the starter, which could be problematic as he's likely an even bigger offensive liability. Not every point guard needs to be an impressive shooter, but Tate has hit only 2 of his 35 career three pointers. He also averaged only 3.6 points over 20.4 minutes per game last season and isn't going to score much for an Illini program that needs to replace offensive weapon Rayvonte Rice.

The problem for Lewis is he doesn't bring a drastically different game to the table than Tate. While Lewis played almost 28 minutes per game last season for La Salle, he still only averaged 6 points per game. Even more alarming is a relatively low 2.2 assists per game, an extremely problematic number for a starting point guard. He did only commit 1.6 turnovers per game and is more of a defensive specialist, but his lack of offense means the Illini are going to routinely rely on a point guard that struggles to score. While Lewis is a better shooter than Tate, hitting on 32.8% of his three pointers, he's still only a 37.4% shooter from the field and a 61.7% free throw shooter.

While Lewis does have some limitations to his game, the reality is he was most likely sought by Groce to be used as an experienced backup and will not have to spend 27.5 minutes per game on the court. If Lewis can at the very least bring some solid defense and keep his turnovers down in a back-up role, he'll likely satisfy the reason he's being brought in. On paper his upside does seem limited, but the team isn't calling on Lewis to set the world on fire and his skill set should be enough to handle what Illinois asks of him.


This question was a bit unfair from the get go as Hill and Lewis are essentially being asked to do different things. While Hill will likely be called to start from the get go at Purdue, Lewis would be just fine as a back-up and adding depth to the Illini roster. At the same time, though, Painter won't put up with turnovers if they flare up and Groce could definitely end up turning to Lewis later on because Jaylon Tate hasn't brought much to the table offensively throughout his career.

When everything is said and done there's considerably more upside for Johnny Hill, but at the same time Painter has more options to turn to if he stumbles with Thompson returning and combo guard Grant Weatherford being there if absolutely necessary. Lewis should add some stability and allow Illinois to not have a massive hole at the point guard position, but if he can't improve from the field then he's essentially going to be a Tate clone.

While both guys were critical acquisitions for their new schools, Hill is most likely set to have the more prominent season of the two.