Illinois Basketball: Illini ready for another run to the NCAA tournament

When you have an extremely successful season, as the Illinois basketball team had in 2020-21, there are bound to be departures.

Success of the team usually means success of the players. Even with some key players leaving for greener pastures, the Illini are still set to bring back a majority of their production from last season.

Some of the players who left the program include Ayo Dosunmu (NBA), Adam Miller (Transfer), Giorgi Bezhanishvili (NBA) and Jermaine Hamlin (Transfer). The first three were key cogs in Illinois’ successful run through the Big Ten Tournament and into the postseason.

Each player had something special they brought to the team. Ayo led the Illini in points and assists. Miller was a good role player who could get hot at times. Giorgi was the energy guy who filled in for Kofi Cockburn when he needed a breather.

Even with Illinois basketball losing production from those three players, I am still comfortable with what we are bringing back.

Entering the 2021-22 campaign, 63.6-percent of the minutes played from last season are returning to the team. This takes into account that Ayo and Miller were No. 2 and No. 4 in minutes, respectively. With that behind said, Illinois is bringing back five of the top seven leaders in minutes played from the previous year.

The percentage of point production is a little lower than minutes. Illinois is bringing back 60.2-percent of their points from last season. That may seem a bit low, but we take a big hit when a player who is averaging 20.1 points per game departs the program. Despite Ayo’s departure, Illinois still returns three out of the top four point production players from 2020-21 and four out of the top six. That is still a lot of firepower returning.

Illinois does see a jump in how much of their rebounding production is coming back this season. We are bringing back 65-percent of the rebounds from the great run to the NCAA tournament. Obviously, that number increased greatly over the past week with the return of Kofi Cockburn. But, overall, the Illini have four of their top five rebounders returning this year.

Assists almost fall exactly in line with the rebounding production that is returning. Ayo led the team in assists this past season, but the Illini are still bringing back 63.4-percent of their assists from the prior year. Four out of the top five players in assists will be on the court for the Orange and Blue this season.

Kofi returning didn’t just affect the percentage of rebounds returning. He also greatly affected the percentage of blocks that are coming back to Champaign. Illinois has 79.3-percent of the blocks back, with three out of the top four shot blockers on the roster for the upcoming campaign.

Illinois’ great defense is going to be returning for the most part this season as well. 68.2-percent of the steals from last year are back on the roster again. Trent Frazier led the way for the Illini, and three out of the top four players in steals will be suiting up for the team again.

Lastly, I wanted to take a look at the turnovers that are returning. The lower the turnover percentage the better it is for the program. In fact, the turnovers returning is the lowest number at just 58.4-percent returning to the team. Ayo led the Illini in turnovers, Miller was No. 5 on the team and Giorgi was No. 6. So, Illinois lost three out of their top six players who led the team in turnovers. That is always a good thing.

Overall, while we did lose Ayo and a couple of roles players, Illinois still has a big chunk of their team returning for another successful run to the NCAA tournament. The college basketball world should be on notice. The Illini are coming back just as strong, and this time, we are coming for the chip.