The Illinois Fighting Illini opens its season tonight hosting Southeast Missouri State.
Illinois returns six of its top seven scorers and will be strengthened by the addition of a number of key players who were limited last year with injuries.
With seven players combining to miss a total of 101 games and 14 different starting units, lineup changes existed throughout last season. One constant though for the Illini was the stellar all-around play of Malcolm Hill.
Hill led the team in practically every statistical category while becoming the first player in school history to record 600 points, 200 rebounds and 100 assists in a single season.
Following back-to-back season-ending injuries, senior Tracy Abrams has recovered from those setbacks and will take the court for his final collegiate campaign after receiving a medical hardship waiver for a sixth-year of eligibility. Abrams missed the entire 2014-15 season after tearing his ACL in September, then missed all of last season after tearing his Achilles tendon in July.
Senior Mike Thorne Jr. also received a medical hardship waiver to extend his eligibility to a sixth season.
The Illini coaching staff felt it had recruited one of the nation's top shooters in the class of 2015 in Jalen Coleman-Lands. And JCL delivered in his inaugural season, torching the nets with 87 three-pointers to break the Illinois freshman record. Coleman-Lands was fourth in the Big Ten with an average of 2.6 treys while shooting 42.2 percent behind the arc to rank eighth in the league. He was the team's third-leading scorer with an average of 10.3 points per game.
The Illini will look for strong contributions from redshirt sophomores Michael Finke and Leron Black with their contrasting frontcourt styles. After redshirting his first season on campus, Finke had a number of bright moments last year. He started 16 games and averaged 7.5 points. A stretch-four with good passing skills, Finke shot 36.7 percent from 3-point range while knocking down 40 treys. He scored in double figures 10 times, led by a 24-point outing vs. Western Carolina.
Black was slowed following October surgery for a torn meniscus. He was limited to seven games, averaging 4.4 points and 4.4 rebounds, before sitting out the rest of the season and taking a medical redshirt. The Illini missed his presence on the glass, and he will be counted on for his rebounding ability this year. Black is suspended through the first four regular season games and will return to the court on Nov. 21 vs. Winthrop.