Tipoff: Top-10 freshmen once on the Illini's radar

Tipoff: Top-10 freshmen once on the Illini's radar

E.J. Liddell was a miss for Illinois on the recruiting trail. The thing is, he wasn't the first and he won't be the last. Our college basketball writer takes a look at 10 freshmen, once on the Illini radar, who could be set up for success this season:

1. Keldon Johnson, Kentucky

The one area the Wildcats needed an infusion of talent to replace its latest NBA draft picks was on the wing, which makes Johnson perhaps the most important of Kentucky's five-star freshmen. He'll help at both ends as a legit two-way wing.

2. Ignas Brazdeikis, Michigan

John Beilein has to replace two starters and his sixth man from last year's NCAA runners-up. Brazdeikis is essentially the Duncan Robinson replacement — only if Robinson was a starter and was better off the bounce. Expect big things.

3. Talen Horton-Tucker, Iowa State

The former Simeon standout might end up being one of the great what ifs for Illini basketball. As in, what if he found his way to C-U? Horton-Tucker should slot in the Cyclones' starting lineup immediately as a versatile option on the wing.

4. Courtney Ramey, Texas

Ramey throwing alley-oops to Jericho Sims (a 2017 Illini target) might be hard for some Illinois fans to watch. While Shaka Smart has some guards to work with — think Matt Coleman and Kerwin Roach — there will be a spot for the St. Louis standout.

5. Luguentz Dort, Arizona State

Arizona State was at its best last season when guards Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice were leading the way. All three are gone, which means Remy Martin moves from sixth man to starter and Dort jumps in immediately alongside him.

6. Landers Nolley, Virginia Tech

Buzz Williams is set in his backcourt with both Justin Robinson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker returning. Where Virginia Tech needs reinforments — and where Nolley fits — is on the wing as a shooter and complementary scorer.

7. Francis Okoro, Oregon

The former Normal West standout is going to have to fight for playing time with in a deep Oregon frontcourt. Will he wind up as Bol Bol's backup? Probably, but there's always playing time for a big that runs the floor and rebounds.

8. Lukas Kisunas, Stanford

Reid Travis transferred to Stanford. Michael Humphrey graduated. The Cardinal's frontcourt could use some help, making the 6-foot-10 Lithuanian a vital addition. His physical nature will fit alongside returners like Oscar da Silva and KZ Okpala.

9. Jericole Hellems, N.C. State

The Wolfpack utilized what was essentially a four-guard lineup all of last season. Finding a replacement for center Omer Yurtseven (transfer to Georgetown) is the tough part. Sliding Hellems into Allerik Freeman's spot is the easier move.

10. Bryce Golden, Butler

Butler coach LaVall Jordan is basically rebuilding his frontcourt this season. Returning big men Nate Fowler and Joey Brunk played sparingly a year ago, opening the door for Golden — who has size and a nice shooting touch — to play.

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