It has been a rollercoaster season for the Illinois basketball team.
They started off the 2014-15 campaign with an unblemished 8-0 record, but then dropped three of the next four to start Big Ten conference play. But once again it looked like the season was beginning to take a turn for the better when the Illini upset the 11th-best team in the country, the Maryland Terrapins, at home by eight. Led by Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill, the team also traveled up to Evanston and took care of the Northwestern Wildcats. But dropping close road games to Nebraska and Minnesota has the injury-plagued Illini sitting at 3-5 and in tenth place in the conference.
Injury-plagued is an understatement; the team has suffered numerous serious injuries, dating all the way back to the preseason, when point guard Tracy Abrams tore his ACL and was done for the year before it had even began. Then arguably the best player on Illinois’ roster, Rayvonte Rice, broke his hand in a freak accident in practice and was sidelined for nearly two months. He has still yet to make his return. And the hits just kept on coming. Shooting guard Aaron Cosby got poked in the eye against Indiana and had surgery on his retina; he is out for nearly a month as well.
Despite all the struggles, the Illini managed to survive a close game agaisnt the Purdue Boilermakers last week at the State Farm Center. The biggest shock of this match up came from the 18 year old forward, Leron Black. The 6-foot-7 freshman from Memphis, Tennessee earned standing ovations from the home crowd when he posted a double-double (15 points and 13 rebounds). The team gets a much-needed week off until February 1st, when they will play the Penn State Nittany Lions at home. In spite of all the injuries and offensive woes that have plagued this roster, John Groce’s squad is still in prime position to compete in the Big Ten. Look for Illinois and its fanbase to be sweating it out on Selection Sunday to see if they’ve made it to the NCAA Tournament.
Co-written by Trevor Vallese