According to Bovada Sportsbook, the Illinois Fighting Illini are listed at 100/1 NCAA Basketball odds to win the NCAA title. At this point, with some solid incoming freshman, Illinois is looking to improve in the Big Ten inter-conference showdowns and possibly receive an invitation to the Big Dance. Let's take a look.
Teams don't get inspired to play in the NIT, therefore we'll give Illinois a pass as they bowed out to Alabama in the 1st round as the 3rd rated team. Illinois finished the season at 19-14 and .500 in the Big Ten and are not too far from making it to back to the NCAA Tournament next season. With a blend of returning players and recruits, this team should have what it takes to make it back to the Big Dance.
Illinois will need to fill a couple of holes as Rayvonte Rice completed a great career at U of I and Aaron Cosby has been suspended and has left the team for good.
Guard Malcolm Hill, enters his junior season with a much improved game, has massive size for an off guard, and will be one of the go to guys with Rice graduating.
Even though last season finished on a sour note. Hill finished the season strong with a 22 point, 6 rebound effort against Alabama in the NIT loss. He's a fundamentally sound player that will give Illinois a little bit of everything. Last season, he averaged 14.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and shot 78 percent from the charity stripe. That's a good base to start your team with.
Guard Kendrick Nunn will need to improve upon his outside shooting as he'll hoist up a ton of shots. Like Hill, he can knock down the free throws and that's very important in tight ball games. This is also a player that won't beat himself with needless turnovers. Last season, Nunn averaged 11.1 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. We'll expect a slight improvement in his game as his college career has 2 years remaining.
Forward Leron Black will definitely see more minutes in his sophomore season as there's a great need for size on this team. Black averaged 5 point and 4.3 rebounds in 14.3 minutes per game. Expect these numbers to increase without Nnanna Egwu in the mix.
This is not going to be a team of size, but Illinois managed to pick up two of ESPN's top 100 recruits in #34 Jalen Coleman and #62 in small forward D.J. Williams. Williams went to the famed Simeon Academy which has produced some major stars that went on to the NBA Draft such as Derrick Rose and Nick Anderson. Williams has a great mid-range game and is stronger than his 6 foot 7, 202 pound wiry frames reflects. I hear Simeon and I expect big things. Let's not forget about Jalen Coleman as he's going to provide points with his ability to shoot the basketball. These recruits will see a lot of minutes.
Although he's not rated in the top 100, Aaron Jordan is a shooting guard that's expected to shoot the lights out. Along with junior college transfer Darius Paul, who gives the Illini some much needed size, Illinois did very well where recruiting is concerned and these players aren't going to sit like your typical freshman.
The size on this team is a major concern, but odds makers at most sportsbooks know that this is a team that can surprise some people and surpass the 20 win mark and possibly make the NCAA Tournament if the freshman make an immediate impression. We shall see.