Around the Big Ten: Illinois

Dylan Burkhardt

Next up we have a preview of Illinois courtesy of Paint The Town Orange. Of course a preview of Illinois this season has to include any Michigan basketball fan’s nightmare: Alex Legion. Make sure to check out past previews: Indiana, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin.

Last year’s Illini basketball season was the worst one in recent memory. Hopefully this year can be a welcome change of pace and put some pride back in our program until Weber’s prized recruits of ’09 and ’10 arrive. twitter

Let’s start with last season. Last year’s team reminds me a lot of the ’06 football team. Sure, we had a lousy record, but we competed (and had second half leads) in almost all our games. After a year of improvement, let’s hope that this year’s team can follow a season filled with disappointing losses and turn the close losses into wins. The Big Ten Tournament told us that as long as we make our free throws (!!!!!!) we can compete with most of the Big Ten. I have every confidence that Weber has made an emphasis on free throw shooting this offseason. The graduations of Pruitt (56% shooter) and Randle (60%) should help in that area too. twitter

That brings me to my next point: the departures/newcomers. The loss of Randle and Pruitt will no doubt hurt, but not as much as we think. Pruitt will be missed inside, but not on the free throw line. Our inside play will be a weakness. We will have plenty of depth but no clear starter. I’d much rather have at least 1 or 2 dominant players than a handful of unproven players (like we do). We will miss Randle’s athleticism and defense but that is easily replaceable. We have many athletes on the court this year that can slash, like Legion, Davis and Jordan. If JJ is anything like his dad, he’ll be a monster on D. We already know Chet is All-Big-Ten defensive. Newcomers: if Legion is as advertised (college Kobe), he could be the gamebreaker that Weber has been looking for. Luckily he’ll be eligible just before Big Ten season starts and look for him to change the dynamic of this year’s team. Keller looked good in his exhibition game. He showed some good post moves and tenacity on the boards. But let’s wait until he plays against D1 competition before crowning him. I think he can be a solid contributor down low. Look for him to get some serious PT at the 4 spot. Simpson has looked solid in the exhibition too, but he looks raw. And again, it’s hard to gauge him based on D3 competition. I see him playing sporadically given our deep (but not proven) front court. There’s also been talks of redshirting, but we’ll see. Semi-newcomers: Semrau and CJ are back from their injuries/football hiatuses. CJ looked extremely raw in his first minutes but looked more comfortable each possession, scoring on a few lay ups. Semrau has had a year to recover from his hernia and hopefully he can exhibit the offensive prowess that Weber saw in high school (it was rumored that on his unofficial visit, he destroyed a Warren Carter in 1-on-1). Look for both to contribute marginally but I expect much out of either. twitter

Legion, once eligible, will change the nature of our team by finally giving us a second go-to-guy. The last few years, it seems that we have no aggressive player with a killer instinct. Opting just to pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, and then force things with the shot clock down to 5. Legion and McCamey are both guys who can get it done and both have killer instincts. Hopefully, this won’t conflict too much with Weber’s system. McCamey needs to work on his consistency and not take plays off, but I look for him to have a monster year. Our front court will be a big question mark. It looks like Tisdale is the only one close to securing a starting role. I’ve been very happy with his weight gain (30 pounds since last year, I hear). But one thing for sure is that we are very athletic up front. Also look for us to play 4 guard lineups a lot with JJ, Brock, Meachem, Legion, McCamey, and Chet all hungry for playing time. My overall assessment on the season: look for us to improve on last year’s record, but don’t expect a wild improvement. I’m confident in a NIT berth, but am not optimistic enough for an NCAA berth. twitter