What many people consider the Illini's biggest weakness is having a true small forward. In past years Illinois has struggled with the likes of Richard Jefferson and Lavell Blanchard, two guys that are true wing players with size and scoring ability. This year the Illini will look to Roger Powell and Brian Randle to fill that void. In order for Illinois to go from good to great, these two will have to get the job done. Lets take a closer look at these two guys:
Roger Powell- Roger is all about heart. A warrior is the first word that comes to mind. A guy that teammates want to go to battle with. When you first take a look at Roger you'd think he'd fit the mold of a small forward. He is a legitimate 6'6 with a long wing span and great jumping ability. He developed a nice outside game last year and has a decent first step. He has a good knack for scoring and gets lots of rebounds for a guy his size. There are a few concerns with Roger however. The first is his inability to defend. Roger does not have the speed to cover the really quick wings. He has the strength but he tends to get out of position sometimes. This becomes a concern for Illinois as Deron Williams has to step up and guard a guy taller than him and Roger has to guard a post player. Roger seems to do much better banging down low, especially on the offensive glass. The second concern is that he tends to have a shoot first and pass last mentality. Countless times he has taken ill advised shots or found himself dribbling towards a double team or trapped against the baseline. He must get better at seeing the floor and hitting the open man when he's being tightly guarded. Roger should benefit greatly from a coach like Bruce Weber. Coach Weber will love Roger's toughness and will teach him how to defend properly. Look for Roger to be much improved in this area heading into the Big Ten season. The prediction here is that Roger will be a starter but could lose that position if one of the guards steps up, forcing Weber to go with a 3-guard lineup. The other remote possibility would be Brian Randle taking his spot but I can assure you Roger won't let that happen without a fight.
Brian Randle- Brian comes to Illinois from Peoria Notre Dam High School. With all the talent that has come out of Peoria recently, Brian could be the most gifted of all. Brian is a 6'7 lanky forward with explosive leaping ability and long arms. He was once a top 10 recruit nationally until an injury sidelined him for part of the last couple seasons. When he's healthy he is a top 25 recruit. Offensively he is murder around the basket as he can maneuver himself for nifty layups or take it right to the hole with a thunderous dunk. He has the ability to shoot the 3 but it is not his best option. Look for him to really improve his jumper this year. His medium range game is solid when it's on. Otherwise, taking it to the rack is his best option. Defensively is where Brian could make a huge impact this year. Like I said earlier, he has extreme hops and long arms making him a very good shot blocker. He has good timing with blocking shots as it seems to come natural for him. He can guard the 3 but will need to work on his quickness and strength. Brian will also see some time at the 4 position depending on the matchups. Look for Brian to become the small forward that Illinois has desired for years. Brian is a good role model and will represent the University of Illinois very well.