With the college basketball season in the books, it’s only fitting to start looking ahead to next year for Illinois’ programs.
Five predictions for the 2010-11 season
Northwestern reaches its first NCAA Tournament – whether or not the field expands. With Kevin Coble and Jeff Ryan returning from season-long injuries, four of its five starters coming back after another NIT appearance and incoming freshman Jershon Cobb adding depth, the Wildcats will possess their best squad in program history.
Illinois disappointingly finishes behind Purdue for the Big Ten title, but makes an NCAA Tournament run all the way to the Elite 8. Illinois should return to dominance with its entire starting lineup returning and three elite freshmen coming in.
Illinois point guard Demetri McCamey will be in the mix for national player of the year. McCamey had extraordinary scoring and passing numbers as a junior. While he may not have to score as much next season, he could average 10 assists a game if the players around him can finish more.
Northern Illinois guard Xavier Silas makes a run at the national scoring title. The Colorado transfer averaged 19.7 points in his first year with the Huskies. With another season under his belt, he should be capable of even more.
Five impact freshmen
Jershon Cobb, Northwestern, 6-5, Guard – Cobb won’t be asked to do as much as Drew Crawford did as a freshman, but he will add backcourt depth for the Wildcats. This season Cobb led his high school team to a Georgia state title and was named the Metro Atlanta Boys Player of the Year.
Moses Morgan, DePaul, 6-5, Forward – Morgan was a big get for the Blue Demons, and he should be able to contribute right away. He averaged 20.9 points and 8.2 rebounds this season in Las Vegas.
Meyers Leonard, Illinois, 7-0, Center – Leonard is ranked 55th in the country by ESPN Scouting. He’s coming off a big high school season in which he led his team to a Class 2A Illinois state championship. He likely won’t start, but he’ll push Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale for minutes.
Jereme Richmond, Illinois, 6-7, Forward – Richmond, a McDonald’s All-American, should be a difference-maker for the Illini next season on both ends of the court. He is the best player any in-state program has coming in.
Jordan Threloff, Illinois State, 6-10, Center – Threloff isn’t a finished product, but he’s way beyond being a project big man. He has the makings of a big-time player in the Missouri Valley.
Five players to watch next season
Jackie Carmichael, Illinois State, Forward – Carmichael is a future star. He averaged 6.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks as a freshman, and those numbers will surely rise with the graduation of the team’s three top scorers.
Sam Maniscalco, Bradley, Guard – Maniscalco showed late in the season what he is capable of when healthy – especially his 31-point game in the conference tournament. If he can stay away from injuries, he could be one of the best guards around.
Brandon Paul, Illinois, Guard – Many believe Paul is a future NBA player. He showed it at times as a freshman, but was inconsistent overall. Watch for him to take huge strides as a sophomore. He could make it difficult for coach Bruce Weber to find everyone minutes.
Shaun Pratl, Eastern Illinois, Forward – As a freshman, Pratl had games where he approached double-double numbers. He’ll likely begin reaching that every game and become a difference-maker for the Panthers.
Mike Stovall, DePaul, Forward – Stovall was one of DePaul’s top scorers late in the season. He can get to the basket, and his production will need to increase next season with the graduation of Will Walker.
Coaches on the hot seat for next season
Jim Whitesell, Loyola – Whitesell and Loyola exceeded everyone’s expectations with their hot start this season, opening the year 11-2. From there, it was downhill, and the Ramblers endured their third consecutive losing season. Whitesell’s past three teams have gone 40-53 overall and 17-37 in the Horizon League. Whitesell will return nearly his entire team.
Chris Lowery, Southern Illinois – The Salukis weren’t much different than Butler too long ago, ranking among the mid-major powerhouses. But times have changed in Carbondale. Southern Illinois hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2007, and Lowery’s past three teams have gone 24-29 in the Missouri Valley. Player departures from the program have been a problem, and there are rumors more could be leaving.
Bruce Weber, Illinois – All signs point to a strong Illini team, but Weber must win next season. His latest recruiting success helped take the spotlight off his teams’ recent failures. Illinois has missed two out of the last three NCAA Tournaments and hasn’t advanced past the first round since 2006. Weber’s past success and that of his predecessors have set the bar at a higher level.
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.