Illinois Fighting Illini
Overall Rank: #33
Conference Rank: #4 Big Ten
2006-07: 23-12, 9-7, 4th (t)
2006-07 postseason: NCAA
Illinois and Coach Bruce Weber had a lot to deal with last season on and off the court. The team stayed focused as much as they could and still managed to reach the NCAA Tournament. Struggling through adversity also has brought the team together and has this year’s roster ready to make a tournament run of their own. The Illini lose some quality players, but there is enough talent to hang out with the big boys of the Big Ten.
The Illini will miss Warren Carter, Rich McBride, Jamar Smith and Marcus Arnold. Carter led the team with 13.7 points and added 6.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists and nearly one block per game. He was the emotional leader on a team that had plenty of emotion to work off of. Nobody is going to take over McBride’s shooting extravaganza. During his senior year, McBride chucked up 7.5 three’s a game. That is about all he did, but McBride ended the season averaging 9.6 points per game and that is not too shabby. Smith would have taken over some of those shots, but the 6-3 junior is suspended for the season. Smith averaged 8.1 points per game and was another player who spent most of his offensive life beyond the three point arc. Without McBride and Smith, the Illini suddenly turn into a team that will not depend on the long ball. Arnold averaged less than ten minutes per game, but he was a decent forward who filled in admirably when given the opportunity.
Illinois will need some of the newcomers to make an impact right away and they have plenty of capable options. Demetri McCamey may be starting if the Illini opt for a two point guard system, or more realistically, nobody else wants to step up and earn a starting position of their own. McCamey is a smart and tough player who, at 6-2, has nice size for a point guard. McCamey is a solid defender, but will need to develop his outside shot to keep the opposing defense honest. Steve Holdren, a transfer from South Dakota State, and Jeff Jordan will add some depth to the perimeter. Richard Semrau and Rodney Alexander have the experience to make an immediate impact up front. Semrau is a tall and surprisingly athletic redshirt freshman who sat out last year with an injury. The Illini hope Alexander is the answer at small forward. However, the 6-7 bruiser can battle in the paint as well. Alexander developed his game at Redlands Community College in Oklahoma and he hopes to make just as big of an impact as his former high school teammate Wilson Chandler did at DePaul. But that will not happen. Alexander may end up starting due to a lack of options, but better choices may emerge for Coach Weber. Incoming freshmen Mike Davis, Bill Cole and Mike Tisdale will battle for minutes in the paint. Tisdale, a 7-1 center, has the most potential. He needs to add some strength like the rest of the frontcourt freshmen, but should be a quality player in a year or two.
Who to Watch:
The frontcourt has enough talent to keep the freshmen off the court and in the weight room for this year. Shaun Pruitt thought about going to the NBA, but opted to return to Champaign for his senior season. The third-team All-Big Ten honoree was the only Illini to start all 35 games and really burst onto the scene last year averaging 11.4 points and a team high 7.5 boards. At 6-10 and 245 pounds, Pruitt is a true big man and does all of his damage in the paint. He is not much of a passer, but that may be because if he passed the ball out of the paint last year, he was not going to get it back. That will not be the case this year and it would be helpful if the big man could find the open man when the defense starts collapsing on him. Brian Randle has been continuously slowed by injuries and has never really had a chance to get into the flow of a season. When healthy he is a quality player and he will be starting beside Pruitt whenever he can. Brian Carlwell will join Semrau and the newcomers to battle for minutes off the bench.
Chester Frazier made the All-Big Ten defensive team and averaged 4.5 assists and 2.5 turnovers per game. That is not too bad for his first year as a starter. His inconsistent shooting will not be a problem if he can continue to be a defensive stopper and find his teammates effectively. Trent Meacham and Calvin Brock will try and find their roles on the wing. They will have some competition from the newcomers, but there will be opportunities for both of them to find quality minutes, especially if the dual point guard system does not work as planned with Frazier and McCamey.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Chester Frazier, Junior, Guard, 7.2 points per game
Demetri McCamey, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Calvin Brock, Junior, Guard, 5.0 points per game
Brian Randle, Senior, Forward, 7.1 points per game
Shaun Pruitt, Senior, Center, 11.4 points per game