This time a year ago, Illinois basketball seemed like it was back. With a future lottery pick center and experienced backcourt, the Illini were finally going to get over the hump. Instead, following an upset win over Ohio State behind Brandon Paul's 43 points, Illinois sputtered and missed any postseason tournament.
The team had trouble winning at home, a place they rarely lost just years before, and were getting blown out on the road, as evidenced by a late season loss at Nebraska, in which Meyers Leonard started crying from the bench.
All in all, it was a cumulative effort between the players giving up and the lack of head coaching competence that led to Bruce Weber's firing following a loss to Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament. This year, Illinois needs to avoid that late season meltdown.
After a 13-1 nonconference record for the team picked to finish ninth in the Big Ten in preseason polls, I do not foresee John Groce allowing a collapse to occur, nor do I see this year's group of seniors cashing it in. Though still a long shot, a Big Ten title is not yet totally out of the mix in the nation's deepest and best conference. The following will emphasize the five things that could hold Illinois back from reaching college basketball's elite this season.