The Illinois Fighting Illini (4-5) got back on the winning track Saturday afternoon with a 80-68 victory over the Western Carolina Catamounts (3-5). Michael Finke and Kendrick Nunn put on a show, combining for 51 points points on the day (24 and 27, respectively). As a team, the Illini shot 52.8% from the field and out-rebounded the Catamounts 33-21.
Here are some observations from the game:
1. Michael Finke = so good
Finke still has a ways to go on defense (and that'll come overtime as he gets stronger and more experience), but wow has he been a pleasant surprise on the offensive end. His numbers have obviously been good to start the year (7.6 PPG, 53.7% shooting coming into this game), but he's looking the part as well. Finke is so confident with the ball in his hands, and he's comfortable playing from just about everywhere on the court.
We'll have to wait and see if his performance can continue against conference opponents, but we haven't seen anything to suggest it won't.
2. Playing Alex Austin doesn't make sense at times
This is by no means a knock on Austin because his defense -- which is the reason why he's playing -- has been serviceable. No, this deals with the team's overall identity and offensive production.
I think Illinois could be a really good offensive team, but they need to fully commit to that end of the floor in order for it to happen. And you know what? Embracing the offense (and playing freshmen in the process) is probably their best shot at winning some games. Illinois' point guards are already pretty challenged in this aspect, and the problem is only compounded when Austin checks into the game. It puts so much unneeded pressure on the other three guys to score.
So, to me, it just seems silly for Groce to be so adamant about playing one average defender when the team's defense is so horrendous no matter who the five players on the court are.
3. Next up, Yale
The Illini will be back in action on Wednesday at 7:00pm CT to face Yale in the final home game before the Orange Krush leaves for Winter break. The students will miss a total of five games at the State Farm Center, including Big Ten games against Michigan, Purdue, and Nebraska.