Last Season: The Illinois Fighting Iliini finished the 2013-14 season with a 20-15 record (7-11 Big Ten). After defeating Boston University in the First Round of the NIT, the Illini lost to the Clemson Tigers. As a team, they averaged 64.6 points per game (311th in NCAA) and pulled down 34 rebounds; the 220th best tally in the country.
Last Meeting/All-Time Series: The last time the Illini and Wildcats faced off was in the recruiting game with Villanova winning the battle and gaining the verbal commitment of Jalen Brunson, a five-star point guard out of Chicago. On the court, the two schools have split their previous six games evenly. The last matchups occurred in the 1987-88 season when the 'Cats defeated the Illini in November and then again in the NCAA tournament.
Head Coach: John Groce starts his third year at the helm of the Illini with a 127-84 record in Champaign. In his first two season, he has guided Illinois to one NCAA bid and to the NIT last season. In his four seasons at the University of Ohio, he led the Bobcats to two trips to the NCAAs including a run to the Sweet 16 in 2012 as the 13-seed. He inked a one-year contract extension over the summer and is now signed through the 2018-19 season.
Top Returners: 6'4" Rayvonte Rice is the leading return scorer. The senior small forward averaged 14.9 ppg last season and uses his bulk to make up for his positional shortness. 6'11" big man Nnanna Egwu (6.9ppg, 6.0rpg) is the other key returner.
Key Losses: The Illini lost two players to graduation; Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey. Groce is losing a combined 15.8ppg and 8.6rpg from that pair of 6'7" forwards. 6'2" point guard Tracy Abrams (10.7ppg, 3.5rpg, and 3.2apg) was expected to run the point this season but will miss the 2014-15 campaign after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee during preseason drills. Additionally, Darius Paul has been suspended by Groce for the upcoming season for "multiple transgressions" including resisting a peace officer and consumption of liquor by a minor.
Key Additions: Leron Black, a 6'7" forward from Memphis was a Top 50 recruit in the Class of 2014. Local boy Michael Finke a 3-star forward is Groce's other new freshman recruit. 5'9" guard Ahmad Starks will have one year of eligibility left for Illinois after transferring in from Oregon State where he scored 991 career points in Corvalis. Aaron Cosby a 6'3" guard who transferred in will also be available after sitting out a year. His name may be familiar, as he averaged 9.8ppg at Seton Hall while shooting 38.9% from distance (including three consecutive treys against the 'Cats in 2013).