Coach: Bruce Weber (152-57 at Illinois, 255-111 overall)
Illinois surprised most people by going into the NCAA Tournament with a 24-9 record. The tournament itself was a disappointment as the Illini headed home early at the hands of Western Kentucky, but overall the season was a success. And now Coach Bruce Weber brings in his most talented recruiting class to date and a trip to the big dance in 2010 will not surprise anybody.
Key Losses for the Illini: G Calvin Brock, G Chester Frazier, G Trent Meacham
Point guard Chester Frazier, shooting guard Trent Meacham and defensive specialist Calvin Brock were not always the most consistent players around, but they were experienced perimeter players. Now the torch will be passed to the youngsters. Demetri McCamey had a superb sophomore season, ranking second on the team in scoring and assists with 11.5 and 4.6, respectively. This is his team now and he has to mature quickly. Maturing could be a word that also applies to Alex Legion. A disappointment last season, Legion was pretty much a non-factor on a team that could have used a scorer off the bench. If Legion can finally live up to his potential, the Illini backcourt will be in good shape.
But it was the play of the frontcourt that led Illinois to the NCAA Tournament last year and it will be again this year. Mike Davis had a superb sophomore season, averaging 11.3 points and a team high 8.1 rebounds. He did not do much as a freshman and pretty much came out of nowhere. With another year of improvement like that, Davis will be averaging a double-double. His partner in the paint is Mike Tisdale. Tisdale lacks the strength and toughness that Davis has, but Tisdale can knock down the mid-range jumper and is the team’s best shot blocker. Barring an injury to Davis or Tisdale, those two alone will make the Fighting Illini competitive in most games.
Who’s In for Illinois:
D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul and Joseph Bertrand will all compete for major playing time on the wing. Richardson is the most polished of the bunch and could step into a starting role right away. Paul is considered to be the best pure scorer and he should be a great spark off the bench if he does not earn a starting spot. Bertrand has shown plenty of potential, but it remains to be seen if he can compete at this level right away. The newcomers in the backcourt will make the biggest impact this year, but Coach Weber also brought in versatile big man Tyler Griffey and returns redshirt freshman Stan Simpson.
But what makes this frontcourt so dangerous is the depth. Dominique Keller, a junior college transfer last season, showed plenty of promise his first year in Champaign and could turn into an explosive scorer. Bill Cole and Richard Semrau will have to compete with the newcomers for minutes, but both are big bodies and upperclassmen who can give Davis and Tisdale a break.
Final 2009-2010 Illinois Projection:
McCamey, Davis and Tisdale are all upperclassmen who made big strides between their freshman and sophomore seasons. Now the question is whether or not they can keep it up. The experience should be beneficial, but without the leadership of Frazier there is the possibility that this team can underachieve. That puts a lot of pressure on McCamey to be more than just a scorer…and it would help if Legion could live up to his potential, Davis could stay healthy and Tisdale could add a few pounds.