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Illinois Basketball: Illini's Best Situational Lineups for 2014-15

Ryan CuriFeatured ColumnistJuly 27, 2014

Illinois Basketball: Illini's Best Situational Lineups for 2014-15

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    USA TODAY Sports

    John Groce's Fighting Illini will have a much deeper roster in 2014-15 than they did a season ago. The Fighting Illini return all five starters, while adding transfers Aaron Cosby (Seton Hall) and Ahmad Starks (Oregon State), as well as 4-star stud freshman Leron Black.

    With Darius Paul leaving the program for the upcoming season, Illinois has 12 scholarship players and two walk-ons for the upcoming campaign. For the purposes of this article, all 12 scholarship players are listed in at least one of the five lineups: starting, three-point, defensive, big-man and small-ball.

    Expectations are back where they should be for the Illinois program, and it shouldn't be long before the Illini are not only contending, but also winning Big Ten titles. This will certainly be the deepest amount of talent Groce has ever had at his disposal since becoming head coach.

Starting Lineup

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    USA TODAY Sports
    • PG: Tracy Abrams
    • SG: Kendrick Nunn
    • SF: Rayvonte Rice
    • PF: Malcolm Hill
    • C: Nnanna Egwu

    A year ago, Illinois rolled out an experienced starting lineup with juniors Abrams, Rice and Egwu, alongside redshirt seniors Jon Ekey and Joseph Bertrand. After a midseason slump, Groce plugged freshmen Nunn and Hill into the starting lineup, replacing Ekey and Bertrand.

    The Fighting Illini went on a late-season tear, falling just short of the NCAA tournament. Nunn was on the All-Freshman team, while Rice was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection. While Starks, Cosby and Black could all easily be starters, I believe Groce will go with the same starting five that beat Michigan State, Nebraska and Iowa to end last season.

3-Point Lineup

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    Heather Coit/Associated Press
    • PG: Ahmad Starks
    • SG: Kendrick Nunn
    • SF: Aaron Cosby
    • PF: Malcolm Hill
    • C: Michael Finke

    Only two players returning from last year's squad converted on at least 30 percent of their long-distance bombs. Nunn was successful on 39 percent of his three-point attempts, while Hill made 34 percent of his treys.

    Starks and Cosby are proven shooters from power-conference squads. While Abrams and Rice may start the ballgame, look for Starks and Cosby to come into the game and extend the floor. Finke, a local product from Champaign, is a stretch 4 who stands 6'9" and chose Illinois over Wisconsin.

Defensive Lineup

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    Kirk Irwin/Getty Images
    • PG: Jaylon Tate
    • SG: Tracy Abrams
    • SF: Kendrick Nunn
    • PF: Leron Black
    • C: Nnanna Egwu

    Though his minutes dwindled toward the end of his freshman season, there is no denying Tate's effort on the court. While limited as a scorer, Tate is unselfish both as a passer and by giving up his body on the defensive end of the court. Abrams is one of the league's top on-ball defenders.

    Nunn may have been Illinois' best all-around player during the final two months of his freshman season, mostly because of his ability to perform at a high level on both ends. Black is a scrappy 4, something Illinois has lacked since Roger Powell Jr. Egwu will contend for the league's shot-blocking leader and needs to stay out of foul trouble once again.

Big-Man Lineup

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    USA TODAY Sports
    • PG: Aaron Cosby
    • SG: Malcolm Hill
    • SF: Leron Black
    • PF: Nnanna Egwu
    • C: Maverick Morgan

    Cosby stands 6'3" and weighs in at 200 pounds. While he is a natural shooting guard/wing, he is an above-average passer and could see spot minutes at the point. Despite playing power forward a year ago, most of Hill's offensive production comes from the perimeter.

    Black is a combo forward, and while he has yet to play a collegiate game, expectations are high for this Mr. Tennessee Basketball. Moving Egwu from center to power forward would allow him to step out and hit the mid-range jumper, while Morgan also has a soft shooting touch for a big man at the center slot.

Small-Ball Lineup

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    USA TODAY Sports
    • PG: Ahmad Starks
    • SG: Tracy Abrams
    • SF: Kendrick Nunn
    • PF: Rayvonte Rice
    • C: Austin Colbert

    It can be argued that anytime Starks enters the game, Illinois' lineup will be small-ball. Starks checks in at a generous 5'9" and 170 pounds. His presence on the court will allow Abrams to slide over to the off-guard position, as many think he is a natural shooting guard anyway.

    While Nunn only weighs 180 pounds, he won't get pushed around by bigger opponents, just ask Penn State's D.J. Newbill. Rice is also undersized at power forward, standing 6'4", but is the true definition of a bulldog. Colbert was passed over by fellow sophomore Morgan a year ago as the team's backup center. Colbert needs to develop an offensive game other than the dunk to see minutes this coming year.


    All recruiting information and rankings courtesy of ESPN.

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