Illinois entered the season unranked, worked their way into the rankings with nine straight wins, and worked their way back out after losing two of their last three games. Their 1-1 against ranked teams (defeating #18 Gonzaga and being defeated by #8 Missouri), and, though they are not ranked in the top 100 nationally for points, field goal percentage, rebounds, or assists according to ESPN.com, Ken Pomeroy has them making the NCAA tournament. Part of the reason they are projected to make the tournament is Sam Maniscalco.
Maniscalco played point guard for the Braves of Bradley University for three years and six games of his senior season, before a persistent ankle injury forced him to have surgery and miss the remainder of his final season at Bradley. After Bradley head coach Jim Les was fired, Maniscalco asked to be released to play elsewhere. Despite interest in both Iowa State and Indiana as well, Maniscalco decided to play as a graduate student for Illinois. The timing could not have been better for the Fighting Illini.
Illinois lost seniors Dimitri McCamey, Mike Tisdale, and Mike Davis, which meant losing 31.7 points out of the average 71.8 the Illini scored a game. The seniors were the leading scorers; the highest returning scorer was then-sophomore Brandon Paul, who averaged 9.2 ppg (which he has increased to 11.3 ppg so far this season). Before gaining Maniscalco, the Illini would have had one senior on the roster, walk-on Jean Selus, who, after joining the team in the 2010-2011 season, had played a grand total of five minutes. What's more, with the graduation of McCamey, the Illini lost their starting point guard. Their other option was true-freshman Tracy Abrams, who is playing 15.2 mpg and scoring 2.4 ppg. While Abrams is a 4-star recruit who's expected to lead the Illini in the future, for the time being he's a freshman who, like any other player, will benefit from playing time and some upperclassmen guidance. At the start of this season, Illinois desperately needed some senior leadership and an experience scorer on the team.
They found this player in Sam Maniscalco. At first glance, Sam Maniscalco appears to be a steady player on the Illinois Fighting Illini basketball team: he's 6'0'' and generously listed as 230 lbs, averages 10.6 ppg, 2.9 apg, and 27.8 minutes a game, and is an 89% free throw shooter. Steady, but not spectacular. But sometimes statistics don't tell the entire story. Maniscalco is the "glue-guy" that the Illini needed. He's not the leading scorer or rebounder, he doesn't play 39 minutes a game, but he fits in with fellow starters D.J. Richardson, Meyers Leonard, and Brandon Paul to create a balanced, well-rounder group of leaders for the Illini and provides the experience and guidance that this team, especially freshman point guard Tracy Abrams, will benefit and learn from.
#22 Miles Asafo-Adjei is a junior guard for the Cornell Big Red. He's averaging a career high 17.9 minutes this season as well as 3.8 ppg. He's from Antioch, TN, and is enrolled in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Cornell is 4-6, but ranked in the top 50 for assists per game. They played both Illinois and Penn State this season and lost to both, by 4 and 7 respectively.
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The Sports Nerd