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The point guard is the most important position on the floor in college basketball. If the head coach does not have complete confidence in his floor general, then the team will not be successful.
Tracy Abrams certainly will be missed this year by the Illini -- and the last reason might be for the production in the box score. The stats would be nice, and they most likely would have looked something like 11 ppg, 3.5 apg, 4.5 rpg -- to go along with a lock-down defender on the perimeter. However, it is the leadership, heart, toughness and -- maybe most importantly -- the trust that John Groce would have had in Tracy running the show that will be missed the most.
How does Illinois make up for the loss of Tracy Abrams? It will have to be done by committee. Not one guy on the current roster can make up for all that Tracy brings to the team.
Let’s start with leadership. This is the area that might have been missing the most last season. Junior wing Malcolm Hill has to take over this team from a leadership standpoint. He has to be vocal and get the team to buy in and compete everyday in practice and in games. Tracy would take it personal in practice if his team did not win a drill or segment. He would will his team to a win or make the other team earn the victory. It will be up to Malcolm to make sure that every drill is competitive. If the team competes everyday and in every drill then it will have a chance come game day.
And then you can take a look at who replaces him on the floor. The first obvious choice is Jaylon Tate. Jaylon will be entering his third season for the Illini and all of those are in John Groce’s system. Tate has shown that he is a smart player and understands the system. Jaylon Tate is a pass-first point guard that is always looking to set up his teammates. That is a fun point guard to play with.
Now comes the big questions for Jaylon: can he do it for 30 minutes and can he do it in the Big Ten? For this to happen Jaylon needs to continue to have a good assist-to-turnover ratio. An A/T ratio of 3-to-1 would be good, and 4-to-1 would be fantastic (Tate had a 2.04 A/T ratio last season). Tate also gives the team the best option to play at a fast pace. The Illini are at their best when they play quick.
Other options at the point would include Hill. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound junior who averaged 15.1 points per game last season, is a guy that John Groce would trust with the ball in his hands. However, the pace of play would have to slow down and Hill could not be asked to do this over long stretches during the game. It would also take away from Hill’s ability to score.
A few other options would ask freshmen to grow up in a hurry. D.J. Williams and Jalen Coleman-Lands could find some time at the point. Neither one of these guys is a true point guard and being a freshmen makes it that much harder. Coleman-Lands would most likely be the better option of these two.
The trip to Europe for the Illini will be important for the team to find some chemistry on the floor without Abrams. But most importantly who will run the show on the court and give John Groce some of the confidence he would have had in Tracy? We will find out when the team returns to Champaign in late August.
Sean Harrington is the basketball analyst for IlliniInquirer.com and also serves as a color analyst for ESPN. played for four NCAA Tournament teams at Illinois, from 1999-2002. He also served on coaching staffs for Rick Majerus, Bill Self, Rob Judson and Bruce Weber. Follow him on Twitter @smharrington24.