The Illinois Fighting Illini were bounced from the NIT postseason tournament after losing to #3 Clemson on Sunday by a final score of 50-49. Rod Hall and the Tigers move on the quarterfinals of the NIT where they will face #5 Belmont.
This means that the 2013-14 season is officially over, while the 2014-15 season of Fighting Illini Basketball officially starts now! The 14-15 Illini squad will add three transfers who had to sit out this past season due to NCAA rules as well as two incoming freshman. With that being said, Rayvonte Rice, Tracy Abrams, Kendrick Nunn, Malcolm Hill, and Nnanna Egwu should all be returning to the Fighting Illini next year!
It’s never too early to take a stab at what the 2014-2015 starting lineup will look like, so lets give it our best shot! Of course, there is a lot that will change between now and October, but we will assume that nobody leaves for the NBA this summer and that everyone enters next season healthy and ready to go.
Point Guard: Ahmad Starks
One of the biggest questions that Coach Groce will need to answer this offseason will be: who will be the starting point guard for Illinois? Tracy Abrams held that role during the 2013-14 season, but the only PG behind him was freshman Jaylon Tate. At Oregon State, Ahmad Starks was the fifth leading scorer on the team with 10.4 points per game. Yes, he was the fifth leading scorer but Illinois hasn’t had five starters average double-digit points since the 04-05 team that went to the National Championship. By the numbers, Starks and Abrams are very similar. However, the biggest difference is that Ahmad Starks has the better shooting percentages.
Shooting Guard: Kendrick Nunn
Kendrick Nunn showed his development during his freshman season in Champaign. After starting the season as a bench player, he was inserted into the starting lineup late in the year and really made the most of it. He was a multiple recipient of the B1G Freshman of the Week, and averaged 10.3 points per game after being inserted into the starting lineup. There could be cases made to start both Abrams/Starks at the 1 and 2 next year, but I personally feel that Kendrick Nunn is a definite starter for the Orange & Blue.
Small Forward: Rayvonte Rice
Rayvonte Rice will enter 2014-15 will sky-high expectations for his senior season. This year, he developed into one of the top players in the B1G and the leader of the Fighting Illini squad. Whenever Illinois needed a basket in any game this season, Rice would be the first player that people would look to for an answer. He averaged a team-high 15.9 points per game and 6.0 rebounds per game. There’s no doubt that Rice will be starting for the Illini next season.
Power Forward: Darius Paul
For the ladder half of the 2013-14, Coach Groce went with a four guard starting rotation, but that could change in 2014-15 with the addition of Darius Paul. Darius is not only the younger brother of former Illini guard Brandon Paul, but he is also the 2013 Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year. During his freshman season at Western Michigan, he averaged 10.4 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game in 33 starts while scoring in double figures 21 times and recording five double-doubles on the season. At 6’8″, Paul should provide the Illini with size down in the post on defense without losing anything on the offensive end.
Center: Nnanna Egwu
There’s no question that Nnanna Egwu proves to be one of the most improved players in the B1G. He only averaged around six points per contest this past season, but shot the ball over 40% from the field. Egwu also brings a lot to the table as a rebounder and defender. He averaged 6.0 rebounds per game this season (tied with Rice) and 2.1 blocks per game. It seems as though Nnanna gets better each year. It will be nice to see how he’ll improve in 2014-15.
What do you think Illini Nation? Who do you think will be in the starting lineup for the Illini next season?
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