Long, long ago on November 9, 2012 I made six predictions about the upcoming Illinois basketball season. It was a much different world then because we had yet to ever see this Illini team under John Groce and couldn't be sure how this team would react.
None of us knew that the Illini would win the Maui Invitational or start the season 12-0. We sure as shit didn't know they'd reach as high as #10 in both major polls in mid-December.
But there were some things we had a good idea of, so let's take a look back at the six preseason predictions I made and how close I came.
Prediction #1 - D.J. Richardson will be our best player
I was wrong, but not entirely. Now, as I stressed when I originally made the prediction, Brandon Paul was going to be our most important player, but D.J. would be the best. And while that's not totally accurate, I feel compelled to mention that it was D.J. leading the Illini in scoring in Big Ten play, not Brandon Paul.
It was also D.J. leading the way when we bounced back from our 2-7 start in the Big Ten.
So while he wasn't a level above Brandon Paul by any means, Richardson was huge for the Illini this season.
Prediction #2 - Tracy Abrams will struggle early, but figure things out.
I guess this depends on how you want to look at it. In non-conference play Tracy averaged 12.1 points, 3.2 assists and 2.8 turnovers per game. In the Big Ten he averaged 9.4 points, 3.5 assists and 2.5 turnovers per game. So while his scoring dropped off in conference play, he distributed the ball better and took better care of it. Though the truth is that Tracy was pretty much the same player all season.
What's worrisome is that he is playing his worst basketball of the season in recent weeks, and this really isn't the best time for your point guard to be struggling.
Prediction #3 - Turnovers will be a problem all season long.
I'm just going to say I was wrong here. Before the season began John Groce said that with the system this team would be playing on offense he was willing to accept about 12 turnovers per game. Well, the Illini finished the season averaging 11.5, so they exceeded Groce's demands.
They also finished well in comparison to the rest of the country, as their turnover rate of 17.5% ranked 42nd in the country.
Now, while the turnovers themselves aren't a huge problem, the fact that the Illini ranked eleventh in the Big Ten with a 0.89 assist to turnover ratio is something I"d like to see improve. Our assist rate on the season was 42.4% and that ranks 340th in the country, though part of that is a byproduct of this offense.
Prediction #4 - Post play will be a problem.
Okay, so it didn't take a genius to see this coming. While I'm optimistic about the growth Nnanna Egwu has shown this season, the fact is that the frontcourt of Egwu, Sam McLaurin and Tyler Griffey all combined to average 17.5 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. Those aren't terrible numbers, but this offense is still far too reliable on its guards and while McLaurin was a big boost on the offensive glass, we still finished 257th in the country in defensive rebounding rate.
So if you're wondering why I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for Cliff Alexander, now you know.
Prediction #5 - The Illini will beat Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State or Indiana this year.
Two out of four isn't bad!
Now while I know that saying the Illini will pull off an upset isn't really going out on a limb, but check out a bit of what I wrote in November.
My guess is [the upset] will be either Michigan on January 27 or Indiana on February 7.
That's right. I called the Indiana upset three months before it happened. Who wants to touch me?
Prediction #6 - The Illini will make the tournament.
Well I certainly got that one right, and I almost nailed our conference record too, as I predicted that the Illini would finish 9-9 in Big Ten play. Instead they finished 8-10, but in my defense nobody thought the Illini would lost at home to Northwestern. So they should have been 9-9.
Of course, as Iowa showed us, 8-10 in the B1G will get you to the dance while 9-9 will get you the NIT. So, thanks Northwestern?
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