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However, despite such a fantastic start, including a 4-1 Big Ten start with a win over Ohio State, Illinois lost 12 of their next 14 games and finished 10th in the Big Ten. Illinois had some great wins last season over Ohio State, MSU, and Gonzaga, but also had some horrible losses to teams such as Nebraska and Penn State. In fact, they were blown off the court against Nebraska losing by 23 points. Essentially, it was an extremely up and down year for Illinois, which was ultimately labeled by the team's epic late season collapse. Their weak performance is clearly emphasized by the stats below:
Points Allowed Rk
Now, Illinois does have some hope for next season. They return four starters from last season, including point guard Brandon Paul, who was named to the All-Big Ten coaches' team. However, they did lose Meyers Leonard, who received honorable mention. There is some experience, but replacing Leonard is going to be a major challenge. Certainly, Illinois' roster didn't accomplish a lot last season, but they have the big wins over OSU, MSU, and Gonzaga to build from for next season, so they can certainly compete with some top teams.
The team's 2012 recruiting class is essentially non-existent, which has a lot to do with the post-season coaching change and the fact that Illinois already has a ton of depth. They're returning five starters and brought in six commitments from the 2011 recruiting class, including four players in the ESPN100. However, the big question mark will be whether the new Illinois coach, John Groce from Ohio, will be able to turn around the team from its epic collapse last season and be able to recruit with other Big Ten powers.
I really believe that Groce is going to do a solid job at Illinois and they will improve next season, but I have reservations about their ability to compete with the very best teams in the Big Ten. He did a great job at Ohio and really turned them into a winning team and program, but he's going to have to change the entire mindset of a team and make them better at the same time with little to no roster change. I think this team will look very solid at times, but overall I think they are going to lack consistency and fade into the bottom of the Big Ten for the second year in a row.
Big Ten Finish: 10th
Ability To Compete With Top Teams: Moderate
Upset Status: Small
NCAA Tournament Status: NIT Bid