The Illinois starting frontcourt is comprised of opposites.
To put it in broad terms, Tyler Griffey played great basketball for the first half of the season but, lately, has played poorly. Nnanna Egwu has the opposite story: played poorly to begin the season and is just now coming into his own at the center position.
The relation between these two players is almost perfectly inverse. One is regressing while the other is progressing, and they rarely play well on the same day. So the question then is this: Was the Fighting Illini frontcourt better with Tyler Griffey drilling 3-pointers and Nnanna Egwu struggling, or is it better with Griffey missing every shot he takes and Nnanna playing well?
From a wins and losses standpoint, the answer seems obvious that the Illini frontcourt was better when Griffey was the man. Griffey was an offensive stud for the first eight games of the season, averaging 11.3 points per game and shooting 55 percent from the field, 60 percent from behind the arc. Egwu was not as valuable, averaging 6.1 points and four rebounds per game. And in those eight games, the Illini were 8-0.
In games 9 through 11, the tides began to change. Griffey's offensive production fell off, He averaged only four points in the three games. His rebounding, however, stood out as a bright spot as he recorded his two best statistical days rebounding-wise with six boards against both Western Carolina and Norfolk State. Egwu's poor statistical season continued in those games, as his numbers stayed close to their average, but his play on the court noticeably improved. After 11 games, the Ilini were 11-0.
Then came the Mizzou game--the one outlier to this inverse pattern. Both Griffey and Egwu played well. Griffey hit 4-of-7 3-point attempts and scored 14 points in all, while Egwu played a fantastic brand of basketball, recording then season highs of 12 points and nine rebounds. Yet, the Fighting Illini suffered their first loss of the season.
Following Missouri, the script completely flipped. A one-time 60 percent 3-point shooter, Griffey has managed only two threes in the five games since Mizzou and a 13 percent shooting percentage from behind the arc. Egwu on the other hand has stood out as a bright spot. Twice Egwu has grabbed eight or more rebounds, against Purdue he recorded five blocks and against Ohio State he made 7-of-10 shots for a season high 16 points. And in those five games, the Illini are 2-3.
If the question simply came down to win percentage, Griffey would get the edge since Illinois is undefeated when he plays well. But taking into account that Griffey's top performances came against weak competition, the question is not that simple.
In a perfect world, Griffey hits four 3-pointers a game, Nnanna grabs 10 rebounds and the Illini compete in the B1G every night. But in reality, it seems as though Illini fans can only choose one. So, which one would you rather have? A good Tyler Griffey or a good Nnanna Egwu?