Harrington: Nunn decision changes Illini off and on the court

Illini Inquirer basketball analyst Sean Harrington breaks down the impact of the Kendrick Nunn dismissal on the Illini off and on the court and re-ranks his Big Ten predictions following all the NBA Draft decisions

Illinois has had more off the court issues during the past year (four arrests and three guilty pleas) than any in memory. Hopefully after Kendrick Nunn's dismissal from the team, the Illini legal issues are behind them and they can focus on -- you know -- basketball.   

First, Nunn deserves a second chance if he is remorseful and learns from this experience. But the second chance simply could not be at Illinois. Credit is due to Josh Whitman, John Groce or both for making the right (and only) decision in this case. Any kind of physical abuse to women always should have serious consequences, especially when you represent a state and university and wear that name across your chest.  

A few years ago, we witnessed what happened at Penn State University. We now see it at Baylor. Winning should never take priority over doing the right thing. Success on the playing surface will create a lifetime of memories for the student-athletes, but the lessons learned along the way will shape them for the rest of their lives. Wearing a team uniform is a privilege, not a right. With that privilege comes a little more responsibility than the average student. Some Illini basketball players recently seemed to forget that.

Along the same lines, those working for an athletic department -- especially coaches and athletic directors -- should be held to high standards as well. Making decisions should always center what is right and not always on what will help increase wins in the short term. Strong decisions set the culture for not only a team, but for the entire school and, in some cases, the state.  

One has to wonder if the athletic department and staff caught some heat for the four-game regular-season suspension for Leron Black (he also is suspended for two preseason games). The Illini sophomore, who plead guilty to aggravated assault, admitted guilt to a very serious offense. Four games does not seem like a very strong message for a serious offense. Hopefully the Nunn decision shows that the program and the university are going to handle serious situations with serious consequences.

New-look Illini

The impact of these decisions on the court seems of less significance, but there is of course an impact. Nunn's dismissal leaves a big hole to fill.

With point guards Tracy Abrams and Te'Jon Lucas coming off injuries, it is unclear how much they will be able to contribute. The Illini need big improvements from sophomores D.J. Williams and Aaron Jordan. There will be plenty of opportunities at the 1-3 spots for these guys to supplement the team's top two returning scorers, senior Malcolm Hill and sophomore Jalen Coleman-Lands.  

This team could look totally different from this past season because the Illini might actually be stronger inside than outside.

With Mike Thorne Jr receiving a sixth year, Black back in the mix and last season's emergence of Maverick Morgan, the Illini should be able to win games from inside the paint. When's the last time we could say that?

With those three guys in the rotation, Michael Finke is now allowed to play his natural position at the 4 spot. This is suddenly a very tall and long team with Hill playing the 3.

I would not be surprised if the Illini's three-point attempts take a decent drop. This is a good thing for the Illini because last season a higher number of three-point attempts usually correlated with losing.

Way-too-early B1G predictions, Part II

Two months ago, I shared my way-too-early Big Ten rankings for the 2016-17 season. But with all the NBA Draft decisions made, let's reassess.

1. Wisconsin 

The Badgers return everyone including Nigel Hayes. This is not going to be a team that beats you by 30, but they will have an entire offseason to work with Greg Gard and are the favorite heading into the season.  

2. Michigan State 

They do lose Mr. Everything in Denzel Valentine, but there is a very good core of players coming back and not to mention maybe one of Tom Izzo’s best freshmen classes as head coach. If a few of these uber-talented freshmen -- Miles BridgesJosh LangfordCassius Winston and Nick Ward -- come along quickly this will be a very good Spartan team.  

3. Indiana 

Troy Williams leaving early is going to hurt a bit, but this team still brings back a lot of talent including Thomas Bryant and James Blackmon Jr. With one of the best home courts in the country, the Hoosiers will be right in the Big Ten title race.  

4. Michigan 

A backcourt that includes Derrick Watson Jr., Zak Irvin and Duncan Robinson has the chance to be as good as any backcourt in the Big Ten. The question for Michigan is what will they get inside? If someone emerges inside, this could be a very good team.  

5. Purdue 

The Boilers get Caleb Swanigan and Vince Edwards back. Put them with Isaac Haas and you have a great core to build around. Purdue enters the season again with some big questions at the guard positions, but Matt Painter seems to have these guys playing hard and buying in.  

6. Ohio State 

Everyone talked about who left the program in the offseason, but all the top players -- including JaQuan LyleKeita Bates-DiopKeita Bates Diop and Jae'sean Tate -- return from a team that won 11 Big Ten games last year. Look for the Buckeyes to be a solid team and a very tough beat.  

7. Illinois 

The Illini lost Kendrick Nunn, but the Illini got big news when big man Mike Thorne Jr. received a sixth year. Malcolm Hill could be a potential Big Ten Player of the Year. If that happens, the Illini will surprise most people this year.  



8. Northwestern 

Chris Collins continues to build this program. Vic Law was a huge missing piece last year as he missed the season with a shoulder injury. Add him to Bryant McIntosh and you have a very good backcourt. Not sure if they have quite enough just yet to make the tournament.  

9. Maryland 

Melo Trimble is back and that is huge for Maryland, which also adds three top-65 recruits. However, this team lost a ton, and will need a special season from Trimble. It is hard to imagine this team being able to replace all the production they lost from a season ago.  

10. Penn State 

It is taking some time, but this Penn State team is making progress. With a top-25 recruiting class coming in, this team is staring to put back-to-back quality Big Ten classes together. The Nittany Lions might be able to jump up the ladder a few more spots next year.  

11. Nebraska 

Andrew White III is coming back and that is big news for the Cornhuskers. White has the ability to carry the team to a win. The big question mark will be how much have the freshmen, including Glynn Watson, and sophomores improved.  

12. Iowa 

Peter Jok will be the show next year in Iowa City. Jok is good enough to be the Big Ten Player of the Year, but if his team can’t win games he is not going to get the award. The Hawkeyes lost a great senior class.  

13. Minnesota 

The culture at Minnesota is about as bad as it can get right now. This team is coming off of a really bad season that saw players suspended, kicked off and lost of losing. It is hard to see this completely changing in one off season, but it can’t get much worse.  

14. Rutgers 

The backcourt at Rutgers will look like a Big Ten backcourt. It's always interesting to see how players respond to a coaching change, but it's hard to imagine this team winning a lot of games. But they will not be an automatic win like last year.  

Sean Harrington is the basketball analyst for IlliniInquirer.com and also serves as a color analyst for ESPN. He 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.


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