Illinois Preview Capsule
Last season: 15-19, first losing season since 2008.
Nickname: Fighting Illini.
Coach: John Groce.
Conference: Big Ten.
Who’s gone: G Kendrick Nunn (transfer to Oakland), G Khalid Lewis.
Who’s back: F Malcolm Hill. The senior led Illinois through a chaotic season with team-high 18.1 points a game plus 6.6 rebounds; F Leron Black. Talented, physical redshirt sophomore a big contributor two seasons ago, then played just seven games due to injury; C Mike Thorne Jr. averaged 12.9 points, then lost for the season after just eight games due to injury. G Jalen Coleman-Lands. Out with a broken finger for several weeks but as a freshman started 24 games and averaged 10.3 points; C Maverick Morgan, 6-10 senior will look to build on a strong finish that saw him start 11 of the final 12 games.
Who’s new: G Tracy Abrams. Sixth-year point guard not exactly new but has been out the past two seasons with a pair of injuries. F Kipper Nichols. The 6-6 redshirt freshman was a double-digit scorer in high school but will play first college season after transfer from Tulane. G Te’Jon Lucas, top recruit from Milwaukee averaged 20.5 points, 7.8 assists a game as a high school senior.
The Skinny: Illinois hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2013, Groce’s first season. That three-year absence is the Illini’s longest since missing back-to-back tournaments in the early 1990s. A return to the NCAAs is possible for one of Groce’s deepest teams, but they’ll need to stay healthy after two injury-prone seasons.