By now, most fans have realized that next year is a crucial one for John Groce and Illinois basketball. Whether fair or not, Groce needs to find a way to get the Illini back in postseason contention and closer to the top of the conference.
Of course, to reach those goals, Illinois will have to find a way to overcome a few key offseason departures.
Generally speaking, those losses aren’t huge for Illinois this year. In fact, even though the Illini lost a handful of players, only two losses were significant. Those came in the form of Khalid Lewis and Kendrick Nunn.
Here’s a look at what each of those losses mean.
When Tracy Abrams went down with injury (again) last offseason, Groce and his staff were left scrambling to try and find a replacement option in the backcourt. Ultimately, the team moved in on La Salle transfer Khalid Lewis and brought him in to take some minutes at the point guard position.
Overall, Lewis was a pretty noticeable addition last year. He wasn’t great with just a 91.2 offensive rating, but he averaged 23.2 minutes per game and split time with Jaylon Tate at point guard. Obviously, things didn’t go as well as Illinois fans might have hoped, but without Lewis, it could have been even worse.
Losing Lewis isn’t a massive hit with Abrams returning and the addition of 2016 guard Te’Jon Lucas, but it’s still a bit of a question mark. From a fear level, this loss is somewhere between Casper the Friendly Ghost and Goosebumps. In other words, it’s going to be a bit concerning, but nothing to panic over.
On the other hand, the loss that is going to be concerning is from Kendrick Nunn. By just about any statistic, he was the second best player for Illinois last season and with his departure, he opens up a huge gap at the two and the three spots.
Undoubtedly, some are going to argue that Jalen Coleman-Lands along with some of the team’s depth options like Aaron Jordan and DJ Williams can overcome Nunn’s loss, but that’s an optimistic goal to say the least. Coleman-Lands has potential, but he’s going to need help and no other potential option has shown anything close to resembling what Nunn accomplished in Champaign.
The good news is that with some returning experience in Abrams and Coleman-Lands in the backcourt with Malcolm Hill and Mike Thorne upfront, there isn’t going to be a ton of pressure to replace Nunn. However, considering that Nunn averaged 15.5 points per game last season, there’s a lot to try and replace.
Generally speaking, Illinois got pretty lucky on offseason attrition. The loss of Nunn is going to be felt, but outside of his departure, there’s nothing too concerning. All told, if some of the young players can improve a bit and take some of Nunn’s empty minutes, things look pretty good heading into next season.