After losing six frontcourt players from the 2012-13 Fighting Illini, Groce's first season as head coach, Nnanna Egwu was instantly a focal point as a junior. Tyler Griffey and Sam McLaurin had graduated, while Myke Henry, Mike Shaw, Ibby Djimde and Devin Langford all transferred from the program.
This left Egwu, Illinois State transfer Jon Ekey and a trio of freshmen in Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan and Austin Colbert as players who stood 6'6" or taller on last year's roster. Egwu is always a defensive force, but he lacked toughness in the paint at times and couldn't be counted on to score.
The slender 6'6" Hill was forced to play out of position at power forward, but he grew up quickly. Hill has since bulked up and gained muscle and has the sweet stroke that makes him an ideal stretch 4. Morgan showed a soft touch around the hoop, while Colbert was the lone scholarship player to miss games because of a coach's decision.
Darius Paul, a Western Michigan transfer and brother of former Illini Brandon Paul, could see time at both frontcourt positions. However, Paul was recently suspended indefinitely following an on-campus arrest. Freshman Leron Black, a McDonald's All-American snub, should add toughness at the power forward position that Illinois has lacked since Roger Powell Jr.
While Illinois' guards are more of a strength than their bigs, it should be an improved unit from a year ago. Look for Paul to back up Egwu upon his return to the team and for Hill and Black to see similar minutes at the 4 spot.