Season Preview: Illinois
Last Season: 20-15, NIT Quarterfinals
Key Losses: Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan, Tracy Abrams
Key Additions: Mark Alstork, Mark Smith, Trent Frazier
It has been four straight seasons since the Illini have made the NCAA Tournament and fans are growing impatient in Champaign. However, after a hectic offseason which was highlighted by the hiring of head coach Brad Underwood, some faith has been restored.
In the offseason, Illinois picked up three freshman guards who are all capable of making big plays. Trent Frazier (West Palm Beach, FL), Mark Smith (Edwardsville, IL), and DaMonte Williams (Peoria, IL) are all expected to play large rolls in the offense for the Illini. (Side note: DaMonte Williams is the son of former Illini guard and 1998 Mr. Illinois Basketball Frank Williams) In the future, fans think this backcourt trio can be the best for Illinois since the days of Dee Brown, Deron Williams, and Luther head. Another valuable pickup this for Underwood in the offseason was graduate transfer Mark Alstork. Alstork who played in the Horizon League for Wright State previously will hopefully give Illinois the veteran leadership the team needs to get back to the big dance. During the summer, Underwood talked about how important redshirt junior forwards Michael Finke and Leron Black would be to this team. Both players have been with the team for four seasons now and are the closest thing Underwood has to true centers. This Illini roster lacks height which could hurt them in the Big Ten but Underwood’s offense follows more of a run and gun type scheme and should have a high points per game average at the end of the season.
If the Illini can buy in to Underwood’s system, the Illini are definitely talented enough to have another 20 win season. Rebounding and defense will be this teams’ achilles’ heals but Underwood has this program moving in the right direction and the excitement in Champaign is growing each day.
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: TeJon Lucas
SG: Mark Smith
SF: Mark Alstork
PF: Michael Finke
C: Leron Black