Following Illinois’ 77-74 win last night over UT-Martin, we got a better look as to what we can expect from Underwood’s team this year. After all, it’s hard to gauge what the team is going to look like this year from a blowout win like last Friday night. The Illini ended the half with a 44-29 lead sparked by a 19-5 run and a beautiful behind-the-back move by Leron Black. It looked like Illinois was going to take that momentum and roll the Skyhawks. The trio of Butler, Bogan, and Williams had other plans though as they nearly completed the come-from-behind victory.
Regardless of the final score, there were a few bright spots in the win.
Redshirt junior and former Tennessee Mr. Basketball has had quite the tenure with the Illini, but it looks as if he may finally have it all figured out in Brad Underwood’s system. He scored 14 points and six rebounds in just 15 minutes against Southern last Friday night, and he followed that performance up with 23 points and eight rebounds last night. His mid-range jumper is looking as good as ever, and he’s been a stud for Illinois through the first two games.
Finke has been a nice complement to Leron Black so far this season. He’s averaging 5.5 rebounds and 12 points per game. If the duo of Black and Finke can continue to combine for over 30 points each night, Head Coach Brad Underwood and Illinois fans should be pleased with the frontcourt.
BONUS: These guys logged some hefty minutes against UT-Martin, and the Illini will rely on them to carry this workload with inexperienced freshmen underneath them. The two also combined for only three turnovers and five assists.
Who would have expected Aaron Jordan to have the hot start he’s had? Certainly not John Groce. After seeing a drastic cut to his minutes his sophomore year, Jordan has rebounded quite nicely. He’s already surpassed his point total from last year through just two games. Underwood said he deserves more minutes in his presser following the game last night.
#Illini Underwood on Jordan: He's been incredible. I've got to find a way to get him more minutes.— Derek Piper (@DPiper247) November 13, 2017
Yesterday’s game wasn’t all great, however, and it had its shortcomings.
The guards combined for 13 turnovers and just 10 assists. Anytime the assist to turnover ratio is less than one, it is cause for concern. UT-Martin showed full-court pressure at times and the Illini didn’t look entirely comfortable bringing it up. I’m sure you all remember the nightmare that was the West Virginia game last season. The starting backcourt has yet to find a real rhythm. Lucas, Smith, and Alstork combined for just 1-8 shooting from behind the arc and 6-20 shooting from the field. The Illini won’t win any conference games when their starting guards combine for 30 percent.
Inability to Finish
With a 15-point lead and just under five minutes left in the game, the Illini let the Skyhawks back into the game and gave them multiple opportunities to tie the contest. This is going to happen - especially early on - with a young team. Inconsistency will be an issue for every inexperienced group. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Eventually, coach Underwood and the team will get this solved; the sooner this happens, the better for the NCAA Championship hopes