It’s been a roller coaster kind of offseason for Illinois with plenty of ups and downs, and Thursday offered another one of those downs.
It was announced yesterday that rising junior guard Jalen Coleman-Lands will transfer from the Illinois Fighting Illini, leaving another hole in next year’s roster for new head coach Brad Underwood to figure out.
Coleman-Lands played in all 69 of Illinois’ games during his two seasons in Champaign, averaging 10.3 points per game as a freshman and eight points per game this past year as a sophomore. He was considered a sharpshooter from outside the perimeter, knocking down a school-record 87 three-pointers as a freshman and holding a 40.2 percent mark from three point range in his career.
Coleman-Lands was a top-100 recruit out of high school and was considered one of former head coach John Groce’s biggest signings. He was expected to play a big role on next year’s squad and will be surely missed.
D.J. Williams announced earlier this month that he would be transferring from Illinois, and the Fighting Illini also lost two previous commits in Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett. Those were four guys Underwood and his staff were banking on being in an Illinois uniform next year that now won’t be. That’s not an easy thing to overcome for any coach, let alone someone who is entering his first year at the program.
The news of Coleman-Lands departure comes one day after the Fighting Illini landed coveted graduate transfer guard Mark Alstork. Even with the addition of Alstork, Illinois now has four open scholarships for Underwood to figure out.
Along with Alstork, Illinois will welcome three incoming freshman guards in Mark Smith, Trent Frazier and DaMonte Williams. Smith was a huge get for the Fighting Illini earlier this spring when the Illinois Mr. Basketball chose Illinois over a list of college basketball blue bloods. With the departure of so many key pieces, all three will be called upon to pick up minutes right away for Illinois.
Things were already looking rough for Illinois next year and the news of Coleman-Lands transfer only hurts even more. Now that Coleman-Lands is gone, Illinois will officially lose four of its top five scorers from last year with rising junior forward Leron Black being the leading returning scorer at 8.1 points per game. Alstork averaged 19 points and 3.5 assists per game last year at Wright State but don’t expect him to put up those kinds of numbers when he steps into the Big Ten next year.
The real issue for Illinois is going to be in the backcourt. There simply isn’t any experience there for Underwood and his staff to rely on.
The addition of Alstork is big, as you have at least one guy you know who can score. And the recruiting class already features three solid guards as well. So, yeah, there is talent coming in. But the pantry is bare when it comes to those returning. The top returning scoring guard is now Te’Jon Lucas, who averaged 4.8 points per game last year as a freshman. That’s not a whole lot.
Underwood had the nation’s best offense last year at Oklahoma State in large part because of strong guard play. So with what Illinois will feature in the backcourt next year I don’t see this team experiencing a ton of success.
Unless those newcomers play better than expected I don’t see this Illinois team finishing outside the bottom half of the Big Ten next year. There is young talent coming in to build around for the future, but expect this young team to take its lumps next season. That was probably going to be the case before Coleman-Lands decided to transfer and now his decision solidifies that Illinois fans should start focusing on the future instead of next season.