Roster Overhaul

Apr 20, 2022

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Kofi is hiring an agent and declaring for the NBA Draft. And this one is final - after pulling his name out the last few years, one more declaration means he has to stay in the draft. So Kofi has now officially played his last game in an Illini uniform. Long live the king.

This morning, in the 75 minutes I have before taking the dog to the vet, I'd just like to acknowledge the roster overhaul ahead of us. This is a complete and total overhaul, and I feel like some people still aren't aware of it, so let's just rip off the band-aid.

First off, we don't know what Jacob Grandison and Austin Hutcherson will do. Both could return for a "bonus" season (Hutcherson, having missed two seasons due to injury, could technically get a Covid bonus year plus a medical redshirt year and play two seasons). But Grandison walked on Senior Night, and Hutcherson has only played in four games over three seasons on the roster, so as of now, I'm just going to assume that both are leaving.

With that, here's the departures (and the stats put up by the players departing).

Maybe the best way to put that: There were 6,650 minutes of Illini basketball this past season. Only 1,287 of those 6,650 minutes return (19.3%). And Coleman Hawkins is basically half of those minutes.

Or maybe we should just list the points. We scored 2,456 points last season. 2,075 of those points are headed out the door. 381 points return. That's 15.5% of our scoring returning. Another way to say that: we lost 84.5% of our scoring. If Grandison and Hutcherson both return, then we return 679 of our 2,456 points, so we'd return 27.6% of our scoring. But that's the best case scenario. The best case scenario still has 72.4% of our scoring headed out the door.

Which means that this is our returning roster:

  • Coleman Hawkins (JR) 5.9 ppg
  • Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk (JR) 1.6 ppg
  • Brandon Lieb (JR) 0.8 ppg
  • RJ Melendez (SO) 3.8 ppg
  • Luke Goode (SO) 2.0 ppg

To that we add Baylor transfer Dain Dainja (who will be a redshirt sophomore) and the four freshmen (Skyy Clark, Ty Rodgers, Jayden Epps, and Sencire Harris). Three spots are available (two could be taken by Grandison and Hutcherson if they were to return), so transfers will be added, but that's where the roster stands as of today.

To me, that feels a lot like 2018/19. After the 2017/18 season, Mark Alstork graduated, Leron Black left school after his junior year, Michael Finke transferred to Grand Canyon, Te'Jon Lucas transferred to UW-Milwaukee, Mark Smith transferred to Missouri, Greg Eboigbodin transferred to Northeastern, and Matic Vesel went back to Slovenia. That left four scholarship players returning for the 2018/19 season:

  • Trent Frazier (SO) 12.5 ppg
  • Kipper Nichols (JR) 10.0 ppg
  • Aaron Jordan (SR) 7.9 ppg
  • Da'Monte Williams (SO) 3.5 ppg

I guess that's not really all that comparable. Only Grandison returning would make it close. The 2018/19 team had 33.9 ppg returning; the 2022/23 team, as of right now, only has 14.1 ppg returning (!!!). Add in Grandison's 9.6 ppg and we could get to 23.7 ppg returning. But that's still not close to the 33.9 ppg coming back in 2018/19 (which was the lowest number in a long time).

Let's compare that to previous teams. Those four players listed there were joined in 2018/19 by Ayo, Giorgi, Feliz, Griffin, and company and went 12-22. After that season only Aaron Jordan and fifth-year transfer Adonis De La Rosa departed so only 10.3 ppg went out the door. Combine that 62.4 ppg returning with Kofi Cockburn and we flipped from 12-21 to 21-10. Then we lost Feliz, Kipper, Griffin, and Tevian Jones (a total of 24.2 ppg) but returned everyone else (48.0 ppg), added Adam Miller, Andre Curbelo, and Coleman Hawkins, and climbed all the way to #2 in the country.

Maybe I should just list those:

2018/19 - 33.9 ppg returning from a 14-18 team, finished 12-21
2019/20 - 62.4 ppg returning from a 12-21 team, finished 21-10
2020/21 - 48.0 ppg returning from a 21-10 team, finished 24-7
2021/22 - 49.9 ppg returning from a 24-7 team, finished 23-10
2022/23 - 14.4 ppg returning from a 23-10 team, ??

Obviously everything is a lot different now with the transfer portal. We might add two players in the next month who averaged 16 ppg at their old stops and suddenly we don't have to rely on the freshmen to be ready. When the top five scorers all left after the 1998 season (and when Frank Williams only partially qualified and had to sit out under the Prop 48 rules), we knew we were sunk. Lon Kruger added a juco (Cleotis Brown), and sophomore big-man Fess Hawkins became academically eligible, but when you lost your top five scorers back then, it was mostly written in stone: bumpy road ahead.

It's easier now to add transfers and maintain a high level of play. Or just completely rebuild the entire team in a year (Iowa State last year). But as of right now, with Dain Dainja being the only transfer so far (and he has a total of six points in his college career), it looks more like a 1998/99 or 2018/19 rebuild. There's hope for the future (the 2000 season and the 2020 seasons were both really good), but probably a really rough year in between.

This is all perfectly fine, of course. Purdue just missed the Final Four in 2019, losing in overtime to Virginia in the Elite Eight. The next season, having lost Carsen Edwards, Ryan Cline, and Grady Eifert (their Da'Monte Williams), Purdue fell back to 16-15. Which was fine. They developed the Ivey/Edey class, got back to 18-10 in 2021, and then 29-8 this season.

Right now, without any transfers, I'd say that's our future. With the roster as currently constructed, I think something around .500 is the likely result. Add some transfers, get Grandison back, and maybe we can push higher than that. Lose more players to the portal and maybe it drops even further.

Actually, no, I don't think it would drop much further. We already lost 9 of our 13 scholarship players.

Caution: bumpy road ahead.


illinizeeman on April 20, 2022 @ 01:04 PM

Skyy's the limit, literally.

IlliniJoe81 on April 20, 2022 @ 02:14 PM

I had assumed Kofi would be back. Totally different team without him.

Quality transfers should get us back in the NCAA Tournament but let's get some commitments before we project.

RedbirdIlliniFan on April 20, 2022 @ 03:22 PM

I think the big differences between the 98-99 roster, the 2018-19 roster, and the 2022 roster is the raw talent. Whether than turns into wins is a mystery right now, but there are 6 RSCI top 100 guys on next years team, all underclassmen. (I guess Dain is technically an upperclassman in the classroom, but I digress) The 18-19 team had 1, (supreme savior of Illinois basketball, and three time winner of best hair on the team Ayo Dosunmu) and the team looked hapless until he found his footing. The 98-99 team (by virtue of being the first year RSCI existed), and this is an estimate since RSCI didn't exist yet, had maybe 2. (Sergio McClain, was Mr BBall 97, all of those winners are top 100 guys. And maybe Bradford? 72nd ranked player in his class per his wikipedia page, however this is unsourced, and he was class of 97 despite being a freshman in 98 (RS))

While its unlikely that talent puts it together right away I don't think its crazy to think they could be record-wise similar to the 2009 team. (also a team powered by sophomores making a huge leap, and finished 24-9 with a top 60 SOS)

PS: A fun fact from digging up articles to see if Fess Hawkins might've been nationally ranked as a recruit. The 99 recruiting class ranked 6th nationally, with as many spots as there seem to be open next year do we like Illinois Over/Under 6th best class in the country? Normally this would be an absurd question, but since JJ Taylor still has Illinois on the short list the top end talent is there. Factor in potential reclasses from 24 to 23 (who knows who is in what class anymore), and it might not be as unlikely as it appears on its face.

PS to the PS: Heres a fun throwback, the season preview for 2000 from ESPN:

Giovantischixstripz on April 20, 2022 @ 04:07 PM

Redbird makes a good point on the talent level difference from this rebuild and previous ones, and why it might look better because of it, but I wanted to point out a few other comps.

That 16-15 Purdue team is a good comp, but I'd like to point out they were only 16-15 because the big 10 was stacked that year and they lost a lot of close ones. They were 24th in kenpom, one of 9 big ten teams in the top 30. They were probably 1 quad one loss flipped to a win away from being right on the bubble at 17-14. The big ten isn't as strong now, so a similar team to that purdue one likely could get 18 or 19 wins.

The reason I'm also more bullish than I should be for a team returning 14 ppg is I believe in a massive sophomore leap from RJ. Maybe not quite as big as Keegan Murray or Johnny Davis, but something in that realm. Both of those teams lost a ton but had good seasons on the back of a budding star. I don't think we'll win the big 10 like Wisconsin (mainly because I think we could replay the season 10 times and Wisconsin wouldn't win it again, they had everything break right until they're finale with Nebraska), but a similar season to Iowa is possible. Hopefully grandison comes back to be our less obnoxious version of bohannon/Davison.

Jason_M on April 20, 2022 @ 04:34 PM

I’m just not sure I get the value of returning scoring percentage as a metric of success. I view it as similar to saying a few years ago we have the most returning starts in the Big Ten on the Football field. Turns out most of those returning players just weren’t that good compared to the rest of the league. Are we going to take a step back? Almost assuredly but it’s not really going to be because of number of returning points in my opinion.

RonSwanson on April 20, 2022 @ 06:15 PM

I look forward to a more free-flowing style of basketball that emphasizes ball movement, athleticism, skills and teamwork. Record be darned next season! (though my gut tells me we finish top 5 in the BIG and make the tourney)

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