Originally posted on The Sports Bank  |  Last updated 10/3/12

Welcome to The Sports Bank’s third annual college basketball season preview series.  Two years we looked at 99 teams in 99 days.  Last year, we were slightly more aggressive and expanded to 111 teams in 111 days and will do so again as we look ahead to the 2012-2013 season.

We will rank the 75 power conference teams and top 36 mid-majors in reverse power ranking order.  We’ll break down rosters, transfers, incoming freshmen, non-conference schedules, and pick a player to watch for each team.

After several years of underachieving, Bruce Weber was shown the door as Illinois Fighting Illini head coach and replaced by Ohio’s John Groce.  There is still decent enough talent left on the Illini roster but can Groce right the ship in his first year in Champaign?

ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI
Last Season: T-10th, 6-12 in Big Ten, 17-15 overall
Predicted Big Ten Finish: 9th

Projected Depth Chart
F/C: Nnanna Egwu (So)/Ibby Djimde (So)
PF: Tyler Griffey (Sr)/Sam McLaurin (Sr)/Mike Shaw (So)
G/F: Brandon Paul (Sr)/Myke Henry (So)/Devin Langford (Fr)
SG: D.J. Richardson (Sr)/Joseph Bertrand (Jr)
PG: Tracy Abrams (So)

Gone: C-Meyers Leonard, PG-Sam Maniscalco, G-Crandall Head (transfer-SMU)

2012-2013 Outlook:
Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson will hope to turn things around in their senior seasons.  Both players have shown flashes of brilliance including Paul’s 43 point outburst in Illinois’ upset of Ohio State but have been unable to string together consistently productive performances.  Neither player has fully grasped a leadership role quite yet and they must each play at a high level this season if the Illini plans on returning to the dance.

While Paul and Richardson are each capable of running the offense, Tracy Abrams should resume his role as starting point guard.  He failed to wow in his freshman campaign but is the only true floor general on the roster.  Long, athletic wing Joseph Bertrand could start as well if Groce decides to use a four-guard line-up and even if he does come off the bench, Bertrand will play a major role.  Myke Henry was seldom used last year while Devin Langford redshirted.  Each player will compete to earn minutes on the wing.

Up-front Illinois has to replace big man Meyers Leonard who in my opinion, was misused by Weber a year ago since he spent half his time on the court setting screens on the perimeter.  (Plus, I just don’t think he is that good.)  Minutes are pretty much up for grabs in the frontcourt even with Tyler Griffey back in the fold.

Griffey has been a solid role player the past couple of seasons but hasn’t done anything to show that he deserves a starting role.  Sophomores Nnanna Egwu, Mike Shaw, and Ibby Djimde struggled to acclimate themselves to the college game but will be in the running for starter minutes.  So too will transfer Sam McLaurin who becomes immediately eligible since he already received his undergrad from Coastal Carolina.  McLaurin brings some energy to the floor but doesn’t help this Illinois team with what will be their biggest weakness; low post scoring.

Groce did pick up a commitment from Drake transfer shooting guard Rayvonte Rice who will have two years of eligibility left.  He must sit out this season but should help fill the void left behind by Paul and Richardson for the 2013-2014 season along with highly-touted freshman Kendrick Nunn.

I think this season will come to the difference between Groce’s coaching ability compared to Weber’s.  The Big Ten is stacked with quality talent at the top so they will face an uphill climb to move into the upper half of the standings.  Paul and Richardson will have to be phenomenal while the bigs must develop and provide some sort of inside scoring for that to happen.

Player to Watch: Brandon Paul
Paul possesses all the ability; a smooth stroke, swift handles, and the athleticism to rise at the rim.  The mystery remains why he hasn’t been able to put it all together during his three years at Illinois.  A lot of it has to do with his mental game so improving his shot selection and decision-making will also help him mature as a senior.

Key Non-Conference Games:
11/16 at Hawaii
11/19 vs. USC (Maui Invitational)
11/20 vs. Texas/Chaminade (Maui Invitational)
11/21 vs. North Carolina/Mississippi State/Marquette/Butler (Maui Invitational)
11/28 vs. Georgia Tech (Big Ten/ACC Challenge)
12/8 at Gonzaga
12/22 vs. Missouri (in St. Louis)
12/29 vs. Auburn

OTHER 111 IN 111’S:
#64 Arkansas Razorbacks
#65 Wichita State Shockers
#66 George Mason Patriots
#67 Virginia Cavaliers
#68 Villanova Wildcats
#69 Maryland Terrapins
#70 Marshall Thundering Herd
#71 Iona Gaels
#72 Northwestern Wildcats
#73 Oklahoms State Cowboys
#74 Rutgers Scarlet Knights
#75 USC Trojans
#76 UConn Huskies
#77 Harvard Crimson
#78 Xavier Musketeers
#79 Ole Miss Rebels
#80 Clemson Tigers
#81 Oregon State Beavers
#82 Texas A&M Aggies
#83 Providence Friars
#84 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#85 Oklahoma Sooners
#86 Lehigh Mountain Hawks
#87 Washington State Cougars
#88 Long Beach State 49ers
#89 Belmont Bruins
#90 Vanderbilt Commodores
#91 Dayton Flyers
#92 Houston Cougars
#93 UCF Knights
#94 Old Dominion Monarchs
#95 Oregon Ducks
#96 LSU Tigers
#97 South Carolina Gamecocks
#98 Seton Hall Pirates
#99 Georgia Bulldogs
#100 DePaul Blue Demons
#101 Boston College Eagles
#102 Penn State Nittany Lions
#103 Arizona State Sun Devils
#104 Virginia Tech Hokies
#105 Texas Tech Red Raiders
#106 Auburn Tigers
#107 Wake Forest Demon Deacons
#108 TCU Horned Frogs
#109 Mississippi State Bulldogs
#110 Utah Utes
#111 Nebraska Cornhuskers

David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank.  He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities.  David has appeared on numerous national radio programs spanning from Cleveland to New Orleans to Honolulu.  He also had the most accurate 2011 NBA Mock Draft and the most accurate 2012 NBA Mock Draft on the internet (Yup, repeat champ… #humblebrag.)

You can follow him on Twitter at David_Kmiecik.

OTHER 111 IN 111’S:
#64 Arkansas Razorbacks

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