By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Separated by 140 miles, four counties and countless cornfields, State Farm Center down in Champaign and Wrigley Field up in Chicago wouldn’t seem to have a whole lot in common.
But here in 2014, you can expect to hear, “Wait ’til Next Year” at both venues. In fact, at State Farm Center, where the Illini basketball team is currently caught up in an overall eight-game losing streak, many fans are saying it right now.
Earlier this week on Twitter, @Frustrated_Fan – a fitting handle for any Illini supporter these days – wrote to me about Illinois, saying that, “The rest of this season, they’re the Cubs. The guys who aren’t on the team yet are more intriguing than the ones who are.”
That interesting observation arose during a discussion about the transfers currently sitting out this season for John Groce’s Illini and just how much the trio of Aaron Cosby, Ahmad Starks and Darius Paul might help the offensively challenged squad in 2014-15.
So, how much will those three help?
In hopes of getting an idea, I crunched a few numbers Friday. Right now, as Illinois (13-10, 2-8 Big Ten) prepares to play at Penn State on Sunday (3:15 p.m., BTN), the Misfiring Illini are averaging 67.6 points per game on .413 shooting from the field and .310 from 3-point range. In each of those crucial categories, they’re second-to-last in the conference.
Now, it’s expected that Illinois’ transfers will help greatly on the offensive end next season. Last year at Seton Hall, the 6-foot-3 Cosby averaged 12.6 points per game on .426 field-goal shooting and .400 shooting from beyond the arc, while the 5-foot-9 Starks (10.4, .392, .395) and 6-foot-8 Paul (10.4, .466, .227) also averaged in double figures.
After this season, the current Illini squad will lose two players to graduation in Joseph Bertrand (11.0, .508, .444) and Jon Ekey (7.9, .395, .356). If we were to subtract their numbers from this year’s roster and replace them with the most recent ones of Cosby, Starks and Paul along with rest of the team’s current stats, Illinois’ 3-point percentage would jump from .310 to .332, although its overall field goal percentage would actually dip from .413 to .412. However, overall scoring per game would leap from 67.6 to 82.1 – behind only Iowa’s current 83.7 points-per-game average in the Big Ten.
Now, of course, when it comes to basketball, things don’t work just like that. You can’t simply plug players in for one another, and surely some returning Illini will score more next season, while others may transfer or score less. There’s also no guarantee that Cosby, Starks and Paul will each pick up where they left off in 2012-’13, although it’s also possible that they could improve their scoring next season, too.
Beyond that, we also don’t know how much of an impact incoming prep recruits Leron Black and Michael Finke will have on the 2014-15 Illini, but one would imagine they’ll have some — and perhaps a lot in the case of the highly regarded Black.
We’ll have to wait and see how things turn out, but while it appears Illinois’ overall shooting may not spike next season, it’s much more certain that its points-per-game production should. And, as a result, the Illini ought to look considerably better in the fall.
I’m not sure we can say the same thing about the Cubs.