The Illini's run in the NCAA tournament has come to an end. It has been another season of disappointment, as the expectations of this team were high.
With a core of seniors, thoughts of contending for the Big Ten title and a run to the second weekend of the dance were definite thoughts. Unfortunately, we see that there was a void of leadership and the team lacked the consistency that a solid team should possess.
Bruce Weber was on the hot seat during the season and there were doubts that the Illini would even make the dance after their poor showing down the stretch. Luckily for the Illini, they were able to get in with a nine seed.
The fact that they beat UNLV, along with the fact that the Illini have another excellent recruiting class, might help Bruce Weber stay in charge for another year. Unfortunately, to save himself, he might have to make changes in his assistant coaches.
As the games are over, it is time to close the book on the 2010-11 season and to start looking forward to next season.
Love them or hate them, the senior quartet of Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale and Bill Cole were a significant part of the Illini's effort. The quartet accounted for 59 percent of the scoring, 62.1 percent of the assists, and 44.3 percent of the rebounds.
While the loss is statistically significant for a team that did not have consistent chemistry this season, the opportunity to start anew has potential.
The Illini have the potential for several key contributors returning for the upcoming season.
While not totally a bell-weather to the Illini's success this season, D. J. Richardson struggled this year, just like the team did at points. Richardson, who was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year last year, needs to spend the offseason focusing on his ball-handling and shot selection, as both were problems at points during the season.
Sophomore Brandon Paul proved to be the most effective of the returners as he averaged nine points per game and 2.1 assists per game. However, like Richardson, Paul needs to work on his ball-handling, as he averaged 1.8 turnovers per contest.
Meyers Leonard showed in high school the ability to be an explosive player. The seven-foot freshman did not display much of that during his first season with the Illini, averaging 2.1 points per game and 1.2 rebounds per game. Time spent in the weight room and working in the offseason will help to develop the skills to go with his frame.
A wild card for the Illini will be Jereme Richmond. Richmond's freshman season was a mixed bag when he was focused; he showed the skills that can lead to him being a successful player for the Illini in the upcoming years. Unfortunately, there have been more than expected issues, as he was suspended for the NCAA tournament and missed playing time for personal issues earlier in the year.
Coach Weber needs to find out if Richmond is going to step up or if he is going to be a liability. If the former, he has the skills to lead the team in the future. If the latter is the case, coach Bruce Weber needs to decide if it's time to move on without him, despite the talent he possesses.
How will the Illini finish in the Big Ten in 2011-12?
Weber has had success on the recruiting trail, and he showed that despite recent challenges as he has signed four players in the ESPN 100. In demonstrating success in Chicago recruiting, Weber landed a recruiting class that ranks as high as ninth (Rivals.com) and as low as 14th (by ESPNU). This is the third straight season that showed the Illini being in the top 15 in recruitment.
Tracy Abrams is a 6'1" point guard (18th position, 87th overall) from Mount Carmel High School, who selected the Illini over DePaul and Kentucky. While being viewed as a streaky shooter, he has a scorer's mentality. During the offseason, he needs to work on his shooting touch to help get him ready to contribute next season.
Nnanna Egwu is a 6'10" center (11th position, 84th overall) from Saint Ignatius College Prep, who also considered Purdue and Northwestern. Egwu has become one of the state's all-time leaders in blocks, something that the Illini have had a shortage of in the past, outside of Tisdale. Like Leonard, he needs to hit the weight room to get ready for the rigors of the Big Ten.
Mycheal Henry is a 6'6" forward (18th position, 77th overall), who committed to Illinois over Wisconsin and Georgetown. He has the ability to slash to the hoop, but also step out and shoot from 3-point range. He needs to fine tune some of his shot selections, but has the skills to develop into an All-American.
Mike Shaw is a 6'8" forward (16th position, 79th overall), who chose the Illini over Marquette and West Virginia. He has a massive wing span and can be intimidating on defense. He needs to work on moving without the ball and his shot selection, but has the athleticism that will lend him well at the next level.
In addition to the four incoming freshman, the Illini will be adding Bradley transfer Sam Maniscalco. He will be able to play immediately as he is graduating from Bradley in May and enrolling in a graduation program not available at Bradley. The six-foot point guard missed all but six games last season with an injury. He was an all-MVC selection in 2009-10, averaging 13.1 points per game, 3.4 assists per game, and 1.1 steals per game.
Many changes are afoot for the Illini. It has the potential to be one of great reward with the talent that will grace the Assembly Hall. However, it can be one that is frustrating, as the lack of returning leadership could blow up in Weber's face if someone doesn't step up.
The future looks bright for the Illini, but is the future starting in 2011-12? Only time will tell.