No. 15: Illinois Illini


2009-10 record: 21-15 (10-8), fifth in Big Ten
Lost to Dayton in NIT
Coach: Bruce Weber, 173-72, 7 years (276-126 overall)
Last NCAA appearance: 2009
2010-11 roster [click here]
2010-11 schedule [click here]

The good: This is Illinois’ most talented team since the 2004-05 squad won 37 games and reached the NCAA championship game.

Guards Demetri McCamey, Brandon Paul and D. J. Richardson are all NBA-caliber talents, each of whom can fill different roles. McCamey runs the show, Richardson plays defense and Paul and Richmond are the scorers. The frontcourt of Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis have been a steady presence the last two seasons, while freshmen forward Jereme Richmond and center Meyers Leonard will push for ample playing time.

The bad: McCamey and coach Bruce Weber were at odds throughout the Illini’s February swoon when they dropped five of their final six regular-season games. And when McCamey struggled, so did the Illinois offense. Weber shouldn’t have to rely on McCamey’s mercurial nature this season, but that’s easy to say, hard to do given the 6-3 senior led Illinois in scoring and assists last season.

For all of the Illini’s talent, why let McCamey dictate the season?

The unknown: The Illini are so loaded, someone’s likely to be on the bench for extended stretches. Coach Bruce Weber favors a short bench, so it’ll be interesting to see who gets left out. And someone will.

Illinois’ once-nasty defense sagged in 2009-10, mostly because it couldn’t force turnovers. Indifference on defense won’t fly this season, whether it’s in the frontcourt or backcourt. Who will it be? That’s up to Weber.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.