Although a bit rocky in the early season, Illinois did recently score a big upset over Purdue and does have the potential to turn things around this year. The off season didn't go as planned for John Groce, and really set the program slightly behind. Maybe that's why the team started 1-3; however, with the winning streak, Illinois has found solid footing at the right time.
Illinois has a mix of experience and talented freshman. Groce has played a lot of people, which makes sense given the uncertainty heading into the season (youth, injuries, a dismissal etc.). Nearly every player on Illinois' roster averages double-digit minutes a night. (D.J. Williams is at 9.6 minutes per game.) Part of it may be the nature of the non-conference schedule; coaches can experiment. Who knows if that minutes distribution will continue into Big Ten play.
Let's take a look at the roster, and who Illinois has in the pipeline to determine their future recruiting track.
This group is strong, and set up for long term success. In fact, two days ago, Groce secured a huge commitment to help anchor the future of this unit. Javon Pickett, a 3-star combo guard, committed to Illinois. Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn are both juniors. The offense appears to revolve around their playmaking ability. They're both averaging around 35 minutes and 18 points per game. Those two guiding the ship this season and next should allow the younger talent to develop at a more even pace.
Jalen Coleman-Lands is a true freshman, who's already shooting the ball well (40 percent from three). In fact, Coleman-Lands hit a game-winning three against Chicago State earlier this year, so his shooting is already paying dividends. Coleman-Lands is definitely a major future piece, but given the current , he's already playing more than 20 minutes a night.
Aaron Jordan, a freshman 4-star recruit according to ESPN, hasn't played as much as Coleman-Lands, but is the future foundation for Illinois. Jordan's averaging almost 15 minutes a night, but has struggled a bit from the field (shooting 31 percent).
Khalid Lewis (RS Sr.) and Jaylon Tate (Jr.) have been handling the point guard duties, but the absence of Tracy Abrams (RS Sr.), who's rehabbing an ACL tear, negatively impacts Illinois' backcourt situation. Abrams adds depth and experience to the roster. Beyond those three, Groce perhaps lacks a true point guard of the future, but he has so many playmaking guards that it doesn't seem to matter much. He does have a commitment from 3-star recruit Te'Jon Lucas, who'll slot into a point guard role.
Mike Thorne, Jr (RS Sr.) and Maverick Morgan (Jr.) are the two big men on the roster. Thorne is averaging 13 points and eight rebounds. With Thorne potentially back for another year, and Morgan backing him up another season, the Illini should be in good shape inside.
Leron Black, a sophomore, provides depth this season, and promise. Michael Finke is a 6'10" freshman and he's redshirting this season. D.J. Williams hasn't played much this year as a freshman. At 6'7", he plays more on the wing anyway, and Illinois is pretty deep on the perimeter, but he'll have a larger role in the future.
The roster's pretty interesting because Groce has experienced talent, and the veterans are playing well. He can also turn to young talent on the roster, but there's not much in between.
Groce only has now two commitments for the 2016-17 season (Tre'Jon Lucas and Javon Pickett). With Pickett, Groce has really solidified the backcourt. Getting more size could be a big area of focus next year. Groce will also need to develop the younger perimeter talent. Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn are juniors, but beyond those two, he'll need additional offensive playmakers. The playmakers are either on the roster, or on the way, but they'll need help developing.