9. Illinois Fighting Illini
One of the biggest things to know about the Big Ten in 2015-16 is that the conference is going to go through a ton of transition. That’s a good thing for John Groce’s Illini, because they may be the team undergoing one of the biggest transformations.
Gone are going to be forward Nnanna Egwu, star guard Rayvonte Rice and a total of five seniors. Rice was the leading scorer at 16.4 points per game in 2014-15 and his perimeter play is going to be missed badly.
The good news is that the other two double-digit scorers, Malcolm Hill (14.4) and Kendrick Nunn (11.1), will return for next season. Having a nice 1-2 punch at guard is always helpful in this conference, as will having an experienced sophomore stepping up in the frontcourt. That task goes to Leron Black, who played in 33 games and averaged 14.8 points per game in his first season.
Even better is the fact that the Illini are bringing in the No. 2 recruiting class in the Big Ten. A jolt of talent is going to be really helpful to the Illini’s chances of righting the ship quickly, especially with the likes of four-star point guard Jalen Coleman-Lands and big time scoring threats like four-star shooting guard Aaron Jordan and small forward D.J. Williams.
The question for me is just how quickly that group transitions in to the college game. If it happens quickly this is a team capable of a top 4 finish. However, if the group struggles to understand Big Ten play early on, it could get buried towards the back of the pack.