John Groce’s Illini have several new faces this season after the departures of Brandon Paul, D.J.Richardson and Tyler Griffey from last year’s NCAA Tournament squad. Over the past three seasons, Paul and Richardson were fixtures in the Illinois offense. Richardson was also pivotal on the defensive end as he picked up the toughest assignment on the wing. After three games this season, we can start discussing how the newcomers fit into the rotation and complement the existing core of returnees Joseph Bertrand, Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu. All three played significant minutes last season and are expected to be the primary scoring options for Groce this year. Let’s examine the three new players – Rayvonte Rice, Jaylon Tate and John Ekey – that could really help Illinois reach its goals this season.
- Rayvonte Rice: The Drake transfer is already known for his scoring prowess based on his career in the Missouri Valley Conference, where he averaged 16.8 PPG as a sophomore. But it will be interesting to see how Rice will fit into the Illini offense because his game is very similar to Bertrand’s. They are both athletic and prefer to cut to the basket rather than pull up for jumpers, but Rice seems to have a tendency to shoot from beyond the arc more than Bertrand – he has already averaged 3.5 three-point attempts per game. He is clearly not afraid to pull the trigger, fitting well with Groce’s philosophy of a free-flowing offense, but he will need to be a bit more selective with this shot selection going forward. That said, there is no designated long-range specialist on this squad, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Rice attempt an unhealthy amount of three-pointers. Shooting 28 percent from the perimeter is far from effective shooting, but Rice’s athletic ability to attack the basket will definitely add another dimension to help the Illini this season.