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Illinois tops local college basketball preview

Charlie Morrissey, Sports Manager

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Before March Madness can begin and people begin predicting the champion, the college teams have to play through the regular season to get to play in March. This year, several area teams look poised to make a run to make the tournament (even Northwestern) and other teams (Illinois) look to reach the Sweet Sixteen and beyond. Here is a preview of the local Division One basketball teams.

Illinois:

The Illini did an excellent job in recruiting this past year. They landed McDonalds All-American Jereme Richmond, as well as freshmen Meyers Leonard and Crandall Head. All three of these players look to make an impact right away, though Richmond (6-8 forward) is a projected starter as a freshman. He will join a frontcourt that also features seniors Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. Both Tisdale and Davis improved immensely during their junior campaigns. The backcourt also has a lot of talent beginning with point guard Demetri McCamey. McCamey is predicted to be a first-team all-Big Ten player after averaging fifteen points and seven assists as a junior.

Prediction: The Illini finish third in the Big Ten and lose in the sweet sixteen.

Northwestern:

 Northwestern is still searching for that elusive first NCAA Tournament appearance. Last year was supposed to be the year that the Wildcats would break through and make the team, but their inability to win on the road in the Big Ten caused them to fall just short. This year the Wildcats return point guard Michael Thompson, sophomore guard Drew Crawford, and star junior John Shurna. Shurna appears ready to have a breakout season after averaging 18 points as a sophomore. Many predict Shurna to join McCamey on the first-team All-Big Ten team.

Prediction: Northwestern finishes sixth in the Big Ten and ends its tournament drought, but loses in the second round of the tournament.

Notre Dame:

Though Notre Dame loses top point scorer and double-double machine Luke Harengody, they have four productive seniors ready to avenge their defeat in the first round to Old Dominion. The aforementioned seniors, Ben Hansbrough, Carleton Scott, Tyrone Nash, and Tim Ambromaitis, provide the scoring and leadership necessary to compete in the Big East. In addition to playing in arguably the toughest conference in the Nation, the Irish face tough nonconference opponents in tenth ranked Kentucky and twelfth ranked Gonzaga.

Prediction: The Irish will finish eighth in the 16 team Big East and will lose in the second round of the NCAA tournament. 

Big Ten Outlook:

Michigan State will be the class of the Big Ten with star Kalin Lucas returning. A solid supporting cast that includes Draymond Green and Durrell Summers will give Michigan State the power to make another Final Four run. A strong Ohio State team will finish second, followed by Illinois, Wisconsin and Purdue. Purdue went from a possible Final Four team to fifth in the Big Ten with the loss of star forward Robbie Hummel. Northwestern will finish sixth, Minnesota seventh, and Penn State finishes eighth with star guard Talor Battle. Indiana, Michigan, and Iowa round out the Big Ten Conference.

Others:

Depaul will once again finish in the cellar of the Big East and it will probably be another couple years before they can actually compete in this difficult conference. One reason to be optimistic is new head coach Oliver Purnell, who came over from Clemson… Illinois State needs to have a new group of players to step up as they lose their three best players from a year ago. Their top returner (Jackie Carmichael) averaged 7 points and 5 rebounds per game. Illinois State is traditionally near the top of their conference, but will most likely be at the middle of the pack in the Missouri Valley Conference when it is all said and down…Southern Illinois is another former Illinois power in the Missouri Valley conference on the descent. Like Illinois State they don’t appear to have as much talent as in years past and will likely finish in the middle of the MVC. Leading scorer Carlton Fay is back from a year ago which brings reason for hope, but the transfer of Kevin Dillard (second leading scorer) to Dayton is troubling for the Salukis.

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Free of Bull, Full of Bulldogs
Illinois tops local college basketball preview