For the first time this season the Illini faced a truly formidable, power-five conference opponent in the Baylor Bears, and we certainly learned a lot from what transpired in the team's run to a championship victory in Las Vegas.
Three Things We Learned
1. The 3's Won't Always Fall...
The numbers from behind the arc tonight were nothing to write home about. In fact, they were downright ugly. The Illini finished the first half going 1-11 from deep, and the one they did make was an Ahmad Starks shot that looked an awful lot like a deep two instead of a three. But things picked up slightly in the second half and the Illinois finished the game 6-for-23 from three-point land.
2. ...And That's Okay
When guys like Malcolm Hill and Ahmad Starks are there to bail you out from the deep shots you're missing. Hill is emerging as one of the best sophomores in the Big Ten, and showed it with his variety of shots tonight. He has the ability to make the three and the mid-range jumper, but can also drive to the hoop and has incredible strength when he finishes. Bill Raftery said he "has fallen in love with him, easily." High praise from ONIONS! The Illini showed their ability to grind out a win despite missing 17 shots from behind the arc and were able to crack Baylor's zone defense with a good mid-range and post game.
3. Ahmad Starks Can Step Up
Coming into this game we hadn't seen the point guard transfer from Oregon State reach his full potential, but in the second half against Baylor he really stepped up his game. Besides the fact that he can hit three's from incredible distances, he can also dish out the ball and is an excellent passer:
Starks has a 20-to-4 assist to turnover ratio so far this season. He takes care of the ball at an elite level.— Jeremy Werner (@WernerESPNCU) November 29, 2014
Starks will be a key guy for the rest of the season, especially since the depth chart at PG consists of him and Jaylon Tate. He showed that he has another gear he can kick it into tonight against the Bears, it's just a question of how consistently he can deliver more performances like this one over the course of the season.