The 2016-’17 season was a hard one to define for Illinois basketball.
John Groce collected 20 wins in his final season as head coach prior to being fired. The Illini also made it all the way to the NIT Quarterfinals before losing to Central Florida 68-58. Illinois was in the NCAA Tournament bubble conversation until the very end of February and put forth a respectable campaign.
However, considering Illinois missed the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive season, I’m sure most Illini fans weren’t too impressed with last season’s accomplishments.
Building on the decent level of success from the 2016-’17 season will be a challenge for new head coach Brad Underwood and his squad in the near future. Illinois is losing practically all of its key pieces from last season.
In this article, we will evaluate the most significant losses for the Illini heading into the 2017-’18 season.
The graduation of Hill will undoubtedly be the biggest blow to the Illini’’s roster since the conclusion of last season. While this definitely goes beyond statistics, one can see from glancing at a statsheet how big of a loss this is for the Illini.
Hill led the way in scoring for Illinois last season with an average of 17.2 points per game. The guard also had a few NBA-esque performances, which is why there were discussions of him potentially being drafted in the 2017 NBA Draft. All told, Hill scored at least 20 points in 12 of the Illini’s 34 games last season. This included a 40-point outing against Northern Kentucky as well as a 32-point game against IUPUI in which Hill shot 11-18 from the floor.
Though it was his strong suit throughout his collegiate career, Hill did more than just score the ball. Hill actually led Illinois in assists and steals per game last season. He was a great example of an all-around, balanced guard. Hill averaged 2.9 assists per game during the 2016-’17 season and recorded multiple assists in 25 games. Hill also averaged 1.2 steals each contest and stole the ball multiple times in 12 games. This included multiple steals in three of his last four games in an Illini uniform.
I mentioned earlier that Hill’s impact goes beyond stats. This is because Hill was easily the biggest leader on his team last season. And, honestly, it’s safe to say Hill has been Illinois’ leader for at least the last two seasons. It’s going to take the Illini some time to adjust to playing without Hill. Leron Black is a likely candidate to fill Hill’s leadership position. Regardless, Illinois is going to feel like a chicken with its head cut off until they get accustomed to playing without Hill.
The loss of Hill alone puts the Illini in a hole. Unfortunately for Illinois fans, this isn’t even close to all that the Illini are losing.
With the loss of Morgan, Illinois is losing both its second leading scorer from last season and its most efficient shooter amongst its starters.
While the 6’10 center definitely never lived up to his potential from a rebounding standpoint, Morgan was a lethal scorer from the low post.
Morgan averaged a career-high 9.9 points per game last season to go along with a 54 percent mark shooting from the floor. There really wasn’t anyone on Illinois who made more of their shot attempts than Morgan. In fact, Morgan made more than half of his shots in 23 of Illinois’ 34 games during the 2016-’17 season. This also included three double-doubles and 19 double-digit scoring outings.
And even though he only averaged 4.5 rebounds per game, since Illinois was a poor rebounding team last season, this was actually the third best on the team.
Still, the loss of Morgan probably hurts Illinois more from a scoring standpoint than it does from a rebounding one. Nevertheless, Morgan was an effective player that will definitely be missed in the lineup.
The former three-star recruit had a solid career with Illinois. However, considering Leron Black seems poised to improve upon a successful sophomore campaign, the Illini definitely can compensate for the loss of Morgan, despite missing his production.
The departure of Abrams continues a pattern that you may have already noticed when reading about the losses of Hill and Morgan. It’s that Illinois is losing basically all of its scoring from last year. Hill and Morgan were the Illini’s top two scorers last season. And, yes, you guessed it, Abrams was their third.
Though it goes without question that Illinois would not have been able to win 20 games without Abrams’ 8.6 points per game and 40.2 percent shooting from three, the guard had a disappointing end to a disappointing career.
Yes, it sounds good that Abrams averaged the third most points on his team last season. But, this was actually his second worst scoring season during his elongated Illinois career. Abrams averaged 10.7 points per game during the 2013-’14 season and 10.6 points per game the season before that. He also played much more during both of those seasons than he did during the 2017-’18 season.
It’s worth mentioning that Abrams regression and never really playing to his full potential definitely had to do with the fact that he tore his ACL twice. Regardless, Abrams was a four-star recruit and ESPN Top 100 player coming out of high school in 2011. There aren’t any Illini fans out there that will tell you they were satisfied with Abrams’ last season and his entire Illinois career.
The loss of Abrams does hurt. But, considering Illinois has three incoming four-star freshman guards and high-scoring Wright State transfer Mark Alstork, Abrams won’t really be missed too much.
If you’re a fan who just looks at stats, you may not think the loss of Coleman-Lands is very significant. After all, the guys above him on this list did more on a game-to-game basis than Coleman-Lands last season. However, the transfer of Coleman-Lands to Depaul after only two seasons in Champaign hurts bad, really bad. This is because of how much potential the guard has.
Coleman-Lands had an incredible freshman season for the Illini two years ago that led many to believe he is a future superstar. Coleman-Lands averaged 10.6 points per game during the 2015-’16 season, and set an Illinois record for threes in a season by a freshman with 87. Overall, Coleman-Lands shot a scorching 42.2 percent from three two seasons ago.
While he did average less points per game as a sophomore than he did as a freshman (8.6), Coleman-Lands improved both his rebounding and assist numbers. He also scored in double figures on eight occasions during the 2016-’17 season.
Considering his main threat is shooting, Coleman-Lands regressed a little bit last season. But, there is no doubt that Coleman-Lands still has a ridiculous amount of potential. There is no way Illinois wanted to lose this guy for what will probably be the better half of his collegiate career.
This is an enormous addition for the Depaul Blue Demons and a devastating loss for an Illinois team that was already losing 60.9 percent of its scoring from last season before Coleman-Lands even decided to transfer.
Illinois is in a scary spot in which they are losing almost three quarters of their scoring from last season (72.1 percent) combined with not even being a good scoring team within the Big Ten last season to begin with. Illinois’ 71.7 points per game during the 2016-’17 season was tied for 10th among Big Ten teams.
As briefly mentioned previously, they are adding three freshman guards that are very capable of scoring. Da’Monte Williams, ESPN’s 93rd player overall in the 2017 class, headlines this trio.
However, The addition of Mark Alstork will help Illinois’ scoring struggles much quicker. The graduate transfer led Wright State in scoring last season with an average of 19 points per game.
Although moving to a much more competitive conference may provide some growing pains for Alstork, when this guy gets going, he gets going. And there is no question he will at some point for the Illini. The guard is one of the better scorers in the country. In fact, he started the 2016-’17 season by scoring 30 points followed by back-to-back 39 point games.
Alstork will be heavily involved from game one of the 2017-’18 season. The Illini will desperately need his scoring. However, even if Alstork does maximize his potential, it still will be hard for Illinois to eclipse its scoring numbers from last season after losing four of its five leading scorers.
Illinois was also the eighth best rebounding team in the Big Ten last season. They really didn’t have any dominant players on the glass. Leron Black led the team in rebounds with only 6.3 per game.
However, I expect Illinois to be an improved team on the boards next season. Black will most likely continue to improve his rebounding skills, as he did last season. Also, the addition of three-star power forward Greg Eboigbodin will give the Illini the glass-hogging big body that they need. The 6’9, 220-pound Detroit, Michigan product averaged 14 rebounds per game as a senior at University of Detroit Jesuit High School.
So, with plenty of players in new roles, it’s safe to expect a slow start offensively for Illinois, but an improved season on the glass for the team.