Illinois is the only team in the state with a truly good chance at making the 2015 NCAA Tournament. The Illini return shooting guards Rayvonte Rice and Kendrick Nunn as well as big man Nnanna Egwu.
In transfers Ahmad Starks (Oregon State) and Aaron Cosby (Seton Hall), the Illini also add a pair of guards who will be effective at the Big Ten level.
Northwestern has the pieces to make the postseason, although that first NCAA Tournament bid is still probably out of the program’s grasp for now. But the Wildcats also have a lot of unknowns.
They are relying heavily on a five-man freshman class. Although this group is extremely talented, there will still be a learning curve as these kids make the jump from high school to college basketball. The Wildcats also have some good returning pieces in guards JerShon Cobb and Tre Demps and center Alex Olah.
3. Illinois State
Illinois State loses some key players in Zach Lofton, Nick Zeisloft and Kaza Keane. Even with these losses, the backcourt remains strong with Daishon Knight, Bobby Hunter and Paris Lee returning.
Up front, the Redbirds receive an upgrade with freshmen MiKyle McIntosh and Deontae Hawkins joining Reggie Lynch, who is coming off an impressive freshman season.
4. Southern Illinois
Southern Illinois is very young, but it has one of the MVC’s best players in junior guard Anthony Beane. With a solid supporting cast returning and the addition of freshman Jordan Caroline, the Salukis could make some noise in the Valley.
DePaul no longer has Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young, leaving Oliver Purnell with few quality players returning. Sophomores Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV were solid as freshmen but not spectacular, and they will be the team’s best players.
Junior college transfer Aaron Simpson is a major addition offensively. He averaged 23.0 points at Lincoln College.
The Geno Ford era at Bradley has not produced many wins, but that could start to change this season. The Braves return three starters and bring in a good group of newcomers.
Junior college transfer Tramique Sutherland was a dominant point guard at Hill College, and freshman Josh Cunningham was a top-100 recruit in high school.
7. Northern Illinois
Northern Illinois brings back the top six scorers from a team that won a respectable 15 games last season. Considering the Huskies won just five games the year before, it was a big improvement.
Toledo is the heavy favorite in the MAC West, but the Huskies could compete for second place in the division.
8. Loyola Chicago
Loyola returns its top five scorers and adds some quality newcomers. But the Ramblers could be in trouble if star guard Milton Doyle, who tore his labrum, needs to have season-ending surgery.
Howard Moore has a talented group of newcomers that could pull UIC out of the Horizon League’s cellar. Point guard D’Juan Miller is very athletic, graduate student Jay Harris is a veteran with outside shooting ability and freshman Tai Odiase is a defensive stalwart.
SIU-Edwardsville’s program took a step forward, finishing third in its division last season. With its top six scorers returning, the Cougars’ improvement should continue.
11. Chicago State
Chicago State returns only two players, but they’re good ones. Clarke Rosenberg averaged 14.0 points last season, and Rahjan Muhammad showed promise after making his debut in February. Add junior college transfer Trayvon Palmer to the frontcourt and the Cougars have a solid core.
12. Western Illinois
Western Illinois limped to a 10-20 finish last year. With six of their top eight players returning, there’s room for a little bit of optimism in Macomb.
13. Eastern Illinois
Eastern Illinois won only 11 games last season, and it loses leading scorer and rebounder Sherman Blanford.
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