With a new head coach and picked to finish ninth in the Big Ten preseason coaches poll, Illinois likely would have signed up for a season that ended just five points short of a Sweet 16 appearance back in October.
But that does nothing soothe the pain of the Fighting Illini (23-13) in the aftermath of their 63-59 loss to 2-seed Miami, a game that was there for the taking thanks to Illinois’ perimeter defense and work on the offensive glass.
A team that lacked interior muscle all season long managed to grab 16 offensive rebounds, outscoring the Hurricanes 21-8 in second-chance points and finishing the game with a 38-35 rebounding advantage. However Miami guard Rion Brown scored 21 points off the bench, and key free throws down the stretch sealed the deal for the Hurricanes (29-6).
Brandon Paul scored 18 points (8-of-20 FG) to lead Illinois, but fellow senior D.J. Richardson had one of the roughest nights in his four-year career. Richardson, averaging 12.5 points per game entering Sunday, scored five points on 1-of-11 shooting. Even with Larkin (17 points, 5-of-12 FG) and Scott (six points, 2-of-8 FG) struggling for Miami, Illinois needed both of their senior guards to perform well if they were to win.
That didn’t happen, leaving the door open not only for an “unsung” hero such as Brown but also a dubious out-of-bounds call in the game’s final minute.
But even with the loss and the pending loss of four seniors from the rotation (Paul, Richardson, Tyler Griffey and Sam McLaurin) there are positives to be taken from Illinois’ performance with an eye towards the future. One positive was the play of Nnanna Egwu, who tallied the first double-double of his career with 12 points and 12 rebounds and will figure prominently in Illinois’ plans going forward.
The first season of the John Groce era is one Illinois can build upon, but the immediate thoughts will be about what could have been.
Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.
The transformation is complete.
On Friday afternoon, Precious Achiuwa, a top 15 prospect in the Class of 2019, announced that he has committed to play his college basketball at Memphis, joining one of the best recruiting classes in the country and affirming that Penny Hardaway will enter the 2019-20 season with a preseason top 10 team.
Achiuwa, one of the top combo-forwards in the class and the kind of athlete that will make him an attractive player to NBA GMs, joins No. 1 player James Wiseman and fellow four-star prospects D.J. Jeffries, Lester Quinones, Boogie Ellis, Damion Baugh and Malcolm Dandridge in Penny’s first real recruiting class as Memphis head coach.
The Tigers also add Rayjon Tucker, arguably the nation’s top grad transfer and a potential NBA player in his own right.
As we wrote earlier this week, Penny is building an absolute monster in Memphis.
Grant Williams announced on Friday morning that he will be staying in the NBA draft after an All-American junior season with Tennessee.
Williams averaged 18.8 points, 7.5 boards, 3.2 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.1 steals this past season, helping lead Tennessee to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament and on a run to the Sweet 16, where they lost in overtime to Purdue.
This is probably the right decision for him to make. While he is somewhat undersized and limited athletically, Williams is such a smart and savvy players. He really understands how to pass, he can defend multiple positions and, most importantly, he has a skill-set that should allow him to be able to contribute as a role player at the next level, particularly if his three-point stroke is as good as it has looked in postseason workouts.
Williams is slotted in at No. 19 to San Antonio in the most recent NBC Sports mock draft.
Tennessee will now have to play the waiting game with Jordan Bone, who is still undecided on his status. The Vols currently sit 22nd in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.
Clemson is adding a former top-50 recruit to its roster.
Texas Tech transfer Khavon Moore has pledged to coach Brad Brownell and the Tigers, he announced Thursday.
The 6-foot-7 Moore, a former four-star recruit, played just 2 minutes last season for the Red Raiders and saw his season shutdown amid medical concerns due to lingering issues from a broken leg he suffered in high school. The plan was for him to seek a medical hardship redshirt for last season, which could allow him to still have four years of eligibility remaining at Clemson after sitting out the upcoming season as a transfer.
The Tigers went 20-14 last season and missed the NCAA tournament for the seventh time in nine seasons under Brownell.
Texas Tech, meanwhile, continues to build a monster even with departures like former high-profile recruit.
John Beilein isn’t the only loss Michigan sustained this week.
Jalen Wilson, a top-50 guard in 2019, has requested out of his National Letter of Intent with the Wolverines, he announced Thursday.
“Due to the sudden head coaching change, I have requested my release from The University of Michigan, and will re-open my recruitment,” he wrote on social media.
Beilein’s decision to leave Michigan for the NBA and the Cleveland Cavaliers shocked the college basketball world earlier this week, and there’s little surprise to see it shake the Wolverines’ recruiting class as the head coaching position remains vacant and Michigan conducting a search of its next coach.
Wilson, a 6-foot-8 forward, is now considering Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma State and Florida along with the Wolverines, according to 247Sports. The Texas native suddenly becomes one of the most desirable players left available ahead of the upcoming season.
Cole Bajema, a top-150 wing from Washington, is the lone remaining signee in Michigan’s 2019 class.
LINCOLN, Neb. — Former Tennessee forward Derrick Walker is transferring to Nebraska.
Nebraska announced Wednesday it has added Walker to its roster. Nebraska officials said Walker will sit out the 2019-20 season before playing for the Cornhuskers. He has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Walker entered the NCAA transfer portal after averaging 0.8 points, 1.1 rebounds and 5.3 minutes for Tennessee this past season. The 6-foot-8 Walker averaged 1.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 8.8 minutes as a freshman in the 2017-18 season.
Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg said in a statement, “Derrick is a physical player who gives us skill and versatility in the post.”