Illinois basketball reloaded this offseason due to the fact we lost so much talent from the NCAA tournament run last year.
Over the past few years, the Illini have been a relevant program again. It had been since the 2005-06 season that I have felt the Orange and Blue were an elite-level team. That feeling is finally back after the program has qualified for three-straight NCAA tournaments.
But the team is only as successful as the players. When players see success, they have a chance to move on to bigger and better things. Most Illinois fans aren’t used to players leaving early for the NBA.
Back in the 2000s, this happened quite often. Frank Williams left a year early. Deron Williams left a year early. I believe Dee Brown would have left a year early if it wasn’t for an injury he sustained in an NBA draft practice.
Illinois is dealing with early departures again, and that is a sign of a top program. Ayo Dosunmu was the first player to head to the NBA early since, I believe, Meyers Leonard. Kofi Cockburn followed suit and departed a year later. These departures, as well as graduates and transfers, have dealt Brad Underwood an interesting hand.
Illinois basketball has reloaded for the 2022-23 season.
With so many players departing the program for one reason or another, Underwood had to react fast. He couldn’t just sit back and hope for players to commit or transfer in. He had to hit the ground running over the past year to make sure Illinois is still going to be a top team.
Underwood had to put in all of this work because the turnover Illinois had as a program was the most I have ever seen, maybe from any team in the history of college basketball. The Illini lost all but four of their players from the team we saw just four months ago.
The four returning players are Coleman Hawkins, RJ Melendez, Luke Goode, and Brandon Lieb. Hawkins was by far the biggest contributor of the four, giving Illinois 627 minutes on the year. But it is astonishing how little production the Illini are returning for the 2022-23 campaign.
When you break it down, the four returning players played a combined 1,087 minutes out of the 6,650 minutes Illinois played this past season. That means only 16.3% of the minutes played during the 2021-22 season are back for another year. Think about that for a second. 83.7% of the minutes played are gone.
That isn’t even the lowest percentage either. Illinois is only returning 14.6% of their points from last season. To round out the returning numbers, the Illini are returning 19.5% of their rebounds, 17% of their assists, 26.9% of their blocks, and 20.6% of their steals.
There is some good with these numbers. Returning 26.9% of the blocks from the previous year is solid. That comes on the heels of losing Kofi to the NBA. Hawkins is pretty good at blocking the ball, as he had 17 out of the 93 blocks for Illinois last season. He was also a steals machine with 26 out of the 160 steals for the Illini, which is why 20.6% of steals are returning.
Another number that is good is the turnovers that are returning. Illinois is only bringing back 17.2% of the turnovers from last season. If that number was going to be north of 20%, it would have worried me. But having it sub-20% is a great thing for the program.
Obviously, the percentages of what is returning to the Illinois basketball program have been supplemented by the fact Underwood has brought in a top 10 recruiting class from 2022, and he has landed some of the biggest transfers in the portal.
Some of the additions include Terrence Shannon Jr., Ty Rodgers, Matthew Mayer, and Skyy Clark, to name a few. All of these players, and the other additions, will be crucial to the success of Illinois basketball in 2022-23.
There is a solid chance four out of the five starters for the Illini this season will be newcomers to the program. But that doesn’t mean Illinois is going to take a dip in results. The roster we have now is one of the best in the past decade. I have complete confidence this team can not only get back to the NCAA tournament, but I think they can at least get to the Sweet 16 this time around.