Illini Wonk
Monday, November 14, 2005
  Illinois basketball season preview
With the season opener against South Dakota State University on Friday, it's time for the annual Illini Wonk season preview (okay, so this is the first, but I wasn't blogging at the beginning of last season).

As explained in a recent post, the Fighting Illini are ranked anywhere from 11 to 25 in the preseason polls. The Illini Wonk Preseason College Basketball Top 25 has them at #10. The AP and the Coaches have issued their first polls, both of which have the Illini listed in 17th place.

Big Ten Wonk posted a magnum opus (almost 5,000 words) for his preseason walk-around on Illinois, calling them one of the two toughest teams in the Big Ten to analyze in advance this season. The Illini gain this distinction from Big Ten Wonk due to the lack of experience enjoyed by many of the players who will receive significant minutes on the court this season. For guidance to the season, he will be watching the percentage of three-point field goals that go down, their offensive rebounding percentage and their opponents points per posession.

So. How will the Illini do this season? In their preview of Illinois' season, Sports Illustrated states the obvious: 37 wins is a longshot. The article goes on to say: Illinois fans have come to expect their team to win 20 games, compete for the Big Ten title and be a threat at NCAA tourney time. That's an expectation Weber can handle, and if Brown and Augustine are healthy, one that seems reasonable.

At CBS, senior writer Gregg Doyel picks the Illini to finish fourth in the Big Ten Conference. Frank Burlison is a spot lower, picking the Illini as the fifth best team in the conference. is even more pessimistic, predicting the Illini to finish 6th in the Conference and ranking them 34th overall. By way of explanation, Joel Welser says that Illinois has far more questions and far less talent than a year ago.

But over at, Ed Graney points out that the Illini won't face the pressure of repeating last year's performance and that might make them dangerous. He sees a Sweet 16 appearance as likely if Brown and Augustine perform to their potential.

I think Ed is more right than wrong. Several pundits have been saying that the Illini will be good if the new people step up and play well. Illini Wonk believes that, although the newcomers will be important, this season's success (or lack thereof) will depend more on the play of the two seniors who grace the cover of this year's Illini media guide. Dee Brown was last season's conference player of the year and James Augustine was the conference tournament MVP. If their numbers and performance improve on last year, the Illini will be a good team. If they don't...they won't.

What are your thoughts? How will the Fighting Illini do this season?
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