Key Losses: G Luther Head (15.9 ppg, 3.8 apg), C Jack Ingram (4.5 ppg, 15.1 mpg), F Roger Powell (12.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg), C Nick Smith (3.3 ppg, 10.9 mpg), G Deron Williams (12.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 6.8 apg)
Postseason: NCAA: Defeated Fairleigh Dickinson 67–55, defeated Nevada 71–59, defeated Wisconsin-Milwaukee 77–63, defeated Arizona 90–89, defeated Louisville 72–57, lost to North Carolina 75–70 in the championship game
Chicago, IL/Transfer from Illinois State
Chicago, IL/Redshirt 2004-05
Baltimore, MD/Notre Dame (MA) Prep
Buena Vista, GA/Tri-County
Peoria, IL/Medical Redshirt 2004-05
Arnold sat out last season after transferring from Illinois State, and Brock elected to redshirt rather than compete for playing time in a crowded Illini backcourt. Both will compete for starting jobs. Frazier is the only true point guard on the roster to back up Dee Brown. Jackson, a highly recruited football prospect who gave up that sport to focus on hoops, has a Big Ten-ready body, and Smith is a sharpshooter who could provide much-needed 3-point accuracy.
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It happens all the time, at speaking engagements and book signings, on campus or at a restaurant. Someone walks up to Bruce Weber, thanks him for Illinois' magical 2004-05 season, then says, "Now go out there and win 37 again!"
Invariably, Weber chuckles. "I'll say, 'Great, then it'll be the fifth time in NCAA history that anybody's ever done it,'" Weber says.
Weber is no fool. The Illini's head coach knows that despite losing three starters from last season's 37-2 national runner-up squad, the bar is raised in Champaign. And though fans might not realistically expect another run like last season's -- in which Illinois spent most of the season ranked No. 1 -- there's a brand new buzz around Illini basketball.
He hopes it's infectious.
"We had a lot of guys who didn't play a lot last year, just because we had older guys," Weber says. "But I think just being there for that great year, I think that bug got 'em, so they're a little more motivated."
He'll need them to be.
Last year, Weber's team was built around three guards who became the faces of the Illinois program. But with Deron Williams and Luther Head off to the NBA, expect the ball to find its way inside more often. The frontcourt discussion begins with James Augustine, a third-team All-Big Ten selection last season and a player with the physical tools to play in the NBA. His problem has been consistency.
In last year's NCAA Tournament alone, Augustine broke out against Nevada (23 points, 10 rebounds) and broke down in the championship game against North Carolina (no points, five fouls).
Weber expects a big year in Augustine's last go-round, and he expects Augustine to get plenty of help up front. The senior has the starting power forward spot locked up. He'll likely be joined in the frontcourt by either junior transfer Marcus Arnold or sophomore Shaun Pruitt. Warren Carter, a slender athlete with a dangerous jump shot, could be a surprise.
"Shaun Pruitt and Marcus Arnold, their niche is inside scoring," Weber says. "Most big guys want to go outside and shoot 3s, but I put Marcus on the perimeter just to work on passing drills, and he's like, 'Coach, I don't want to be out here. Can I go back inside now?'"
Dee Brown, who flirted with the NBA but returned to school after breaking his foot at the NBA's Chicago pre-draft camp, averaged 13.3 points and 4.5 assists per game last season, and he'll be counted on for scoring punch. He'll also be asked to run the team. After three years of playing primarily off the ball, Brown moves to point guard to fill Williams' shoes.
"In my heart, I was always a point guard," Brown says. "But Deron was the No. 3 pick in the draft. I gave the ball to him because it was best for the team."
This year the ball is in Brown's hands. The question is who he'll run with in the backcourt.
Versatile sophomore Brian Randle, who redshirted last season after breaking his hand in an early-season practice, was named a co-captain with Brown and Augustine and likely has Head's wing spot locked up.
The shooting guard position will be a battle between a gunner (junior Rich McBride, whose 99 shot attempts last season included 87 3-pointers) and a runner (jumping-jack redshirt freshman Calvin Brock, who can play some point in a pinch). But neither Brock nor Randle is known as an outside shooter, and the 3-pointer was Illinois' most dangerous weapon last year, when the Illini set a school record with 344 3s.
There are more questions this year than last, but Weber is optimistic.
"We always talk about carrying the torch to the next group," Weber says. "That was my biggest fear with possibly losing Dee, because James isn't the strongest leader. But having Dee and James together, hopefully they'll bring that intensity to the younger guys."
Even if they do, 37 wins is a longshot.
But 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.