Illinois Fighting Illini guard Andre Curbelo (5) shoots the ball during the men s Big Ten tournament game against the Indiana Hoosiers, Friday, March 11, 2022, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Hoosiers won 65-63. Iuillinoisbigtentourny 031122 Am0620

The Illinois Fighting Illini have some work to do gearing up for the next NCAA season. With the top five leading scorers having departed, as well as seven of the top eight rebounders and six of the top seven players when it comes to assists per game, one would say Illinois is in for a bit of an involuntary overhaul.

Apart from the above, the program is losing 5490 minutes of the 6650 played last season, which marks an 82.6 percent loss. 

Typically, such an exodus would be very bad news for a college basketball team and you’d find that it would take them a few years to bounce back. However, Illinois doesn’t look to be headed for such trouble as they have been stacking up with the help of the transfer portal and the 2022 class. 

Fans should take encouragement from the fact that the old coaching regime is no longer and Brad Underwood is the one in charge of building the squad along with his staff. We would imagine that there will be plenty of betting action surrounding this team and, while persons can only bet on Illinois college teams in a retail betting house, BetMGM Illinois is there for any other online needs including odds on pro teams in the state.

Underwood, meanwhile, has been working to get the right players for the program with an eye on sneaking into the NCAA Tournament next year. The roster is filled with both former and current four-star recruits and, out of the 10 players on the roster, seven of them were recruited as four-star players and four of the seven were top 100 recruits too, per 247Sports.

The team isn’t short on experience as is, with four returning players having played in or experienced at least two games in the NCAA Tournament. Two such players have also been added to the group and the Fighting Illini might not be quite done just yet.

There are still two options remaining, with one of them already thought to be NBA caliber while the other has won a national title. 

So yes, a lot of the talent from last season is gone but there’s no real need to worry, at least not yet. Of course, Illinois should be expected to start the season off slowly but, as long as Underwood gets this right, they should pick up when the games really matter. The new head coach has done a great job so far and it remains to be seen how competitive this squad can be.

Losing Kofi Cockburn was a huge blow. The Jamaican center will be entering the NBA Draft following three seasons with Illinois and he will be hard to replace. But there is hope that could be done with the capture of former Northwestern Wildcats big man Pete Nance. The 22-year-old is the son of former NBA star Larry Nance and brother to current New Orleans Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr.

“Northwestern senior Pete Nance is entering the portal, per source, but his clear focus is in preparation for the NBA Draft with the intent of putting himself in position to remain in the draft,” it was reported on April 29.

While he is focused on the draft, Nance is keeping his options open and it is possible that he returns for another year of college ball. Should he opt to go that way, Illinois will stand a great chance of landing him as he is understood to share a strong connection with assistant coach Tim Anderson, who held workouts with his older brother. 

Nance is ranked at No.92 on ESPN’s Top 100 college basketball players list and led Northwestern in scoring last season with an average of 14.6 points a game. He also led the team in rebounding with 6.5 and blocks with 1.1 per contest. 

He’d be likely to be in the starting lineup for the Fighting Illini’s season opener but would also compete with the likes of Coleman Hawkins, Ty Rodgers, and Dain Dainja for the starting frontcourt spots.

Nance, though would probably be a starter for the side due to his length and versatility. Hawkins is also likely to snag a starring position.  Other starters could be freshman Skyy Clark, Sophomore R.J. Melendez, and Senior Terrence Shannon.

This lineup would boast four former four-star recruits backed up by a deep bench consisting of Dainja, Luke Goode and freshmen Rodgers, Jayden Epps, and Sincire Harris.

Nance has until the NBA Draft withdrawal deadline, June 1, to make up his mind. Should the Fighting Illini land a commitment from him, they will have a good shot at the national championship.