Cliff Alexander: What Landing 5-Star Stud Would Mean for Fighting Illini

Ryan Curi@rcuri1Featured ColumnistNovember 15, 2013

Cliff Alexander will announce his college choice on Friday afternoon at 3:15 p.m. CST, just 15 minutes after fellow 5-star recruits Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones announce where they will be playing their college ball next season.

Following Alexander's announcement, Stanley Johnson will make his college pick. These players account for four of the nation's top five recruits in the class of 2014, with only Emmanuel Mudiay having already committed to SMU.

Alexander has four schools still in the picture: Illinois, Kansas, DePaul and Memphis. According to the 247Sports Crystal Ball, currently 49 percent of predictors pick Kansas, while 47 percent believe Illinois will land him. DePaul accounts for four percent, while no one chose Memphis.

At DePaul, Alexander would surely be the man. He would put up the biggest numbers there, although the Blue Demons have no chance at national recognition even with him. In my estimation, he left Oliver Purnell's squad on his list as a sign of respect for the local Chicago program.

Kansas and Bill Self have been flip flopping with Illinois the last few weeks as the front-runner for Alexander. Worth noting is the fact that Kansas is also in the mix for Okafor and Jones, who have stated they will play together in college. Still, Duke seems to be the favorite to land that duo.

Alexander would play as a freshman at Kansas, although there is a question as to how much. Even if Andrew Wiggins goes pro, the Jayhawks would still boast center Joel Embiid and sophomore forwards Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor.

At Illinois, Alexander would be given the chance to win right away while still being a go-to-guy, which is a perfect combination of what Kansas and DePaul would offer him individually. He would slide into the starting power forward slot following Jon Ekey's graduation. He would be accompanied by three returning starters in Tracy Abrams, Rayvonte Rice and Nnanna Egwu while also being part of a top-five recruiting class. Quentin Snider, Leron Black and Michael Finke would join him in Champaign next year.

Without Alexander, Illinois has a top-15 recruiting class, is bringing back plenty of talent and is adding three transfers who must sit out this season. John Groce has transformed the roster in a very short time and will give the Fighting Illini a chance to be nationally recognized once again.

With Alexander, Illinois would become a Big Ten favorite and early Final Four candidate, with the NCAA tournament being conveniently located just two hours from Champaign in Indianapolis in 2015. He would be able to play either frontcourt position, showcasing his talent in what would presumably be only one season in Champaign before bolting to the NBA.

As Illinois fans are aware of, landing Alexander would cause an issue of oversigning. Currently, Illinois is oversigned by one player, so if he decide to plays for Groce, Illinois will have 15 signed players for only 13 scholarships. It's unfair to draw any conclusions as to whom those players would be, but let's take a look at a potential depth chart with Alexander, the 14 signed players and walk-on Mike LaTulip:

PG: Tracy Abrams (SR), Ahmad Starks (SR), Jaylon Tate (SO), Quentin Snider (FR)

SG: Rayvonte Rice (SR), Aaron Cosby (JR), Kendrick Nunn (SO), Mike LaTulip (JR)

SF: Malcolm Hill (SO), Leron Black (FR)

PF: Cliff Alexander (FR), Darius Paul (SO), Austin Colbert (SO), Michael Finke (FR)

C: Nnanna Egwu (SR), Maverick Morgan (SO)

Obviously, this is subject to change, as two players not named LaTulip will be excluded this time next year, unless someone plays his way onto the team as another walk-on. Hill and Black are both capable of playing the 4, while Rice could slide to the small forward position if necessary, which would lessen the logjam of backcourt players.

Without Alexander, Illinois is still loaded at guard but would face questions in the frontcourt next to Egwu. With Alexander, the roster has no weak spot, and Groce's squad would have incredible depth at each position. 

Illinois has recruited Alexander for the long run. I witnessed him and his Curie Condors play in Champaign when he was a high school sophomore. It was for the annual "Shootout at the Hall," although that year the game was played at Parkland College. He has grown physically and as a player over the past two years, but I could see the promise and potential in him back in December 2011.

On behalf of the Illini nation, I encourage Alexander to come on down to Champaign in 2014.

Not only will he have a chance to play significant minutes and put up big time numbers immediately, he will be part of the best team that Illinois has thrown onto the court since 2004-05. He'll have an opportunity to play deep into March Madness, thus raising his NBA stock even more.

In just 18 hours, the uncertainty of Alexander's decision will finally be over and done with. Until then, Illini fans can only hope and pray he'll be wearing orange and blue and shattering backboards at the State Farm Center in 2014. 


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