Kipper Nichols: A+
Kipper was back to his early season form on Saturday.
Nichols led all Illini in scoring and rebounding with 17 points and seven boards in 22 minutes. Nichols got off to a hot start with six quick, easy points. He had a put-back after an offensive rebound, followed by a layup and alley-oop dunk as a product of the spread offense’s designed first and second cutter layups.
The coachspeak for Nichols’ success today was that he let the game come to him, and didn’t try to do too much. That’s exactly what the staff wants to see. On Wednesday, Nichols shot 1-7 from the field in seven minutes. That’s a lot of shots in not a lot of time. He has been in the doghouse and not playing much, so when he got an opportunity to play, he forced the issue on offense.
Yesterday, Nichols let the game come to him, shot 6-11, and had a few jumpers fall later in the game. Illinois needs his athleticism, rebounding and scoring in order to win games in the Big Ten. Let’s hope this is a turning point for the sophomore forward.
Greg Eboigbodin: A
Back-to-back stellar performances for the freshman big man.
Spicy G set career highs in just about every category. He had 10 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks in 16 minutes, all career highs. Eboigbodin made his presence felt with two early blocks. He’s the only rim protector on the roster. His presence allows the guards to play pressure defense, with the assurance they have backside help from Eboigbodin.
He also did exactly what he needs to do on offense. He set good hard screens, caught the ball, and dunked it. Spicy G was 5-5 from the field. Illinois can’t count on a 10 and five performance from Eboigbodin on a nightly basis, but if they can get 10-15 solid minutes a night from him, that would prove invaluable to the shallow Illinois front line.
Fast Start: B+
Illinois has been plagued by slow starts this year, but that was not the case on Saturday. Give credit to the players and coaches for addressing this and making sure they would not fall behind early. Mark Smith had all eight of his points early on, which helped Illinois get out to an early lead. There was a definite energy and certainty on both ends of the floor to start the game. Now if Illinois can just come out sharp to start both halves...
Frazier and Smith: D
The freshman starting backcourt poured in 8 points apiece and provided an offensive burst early in the first half. However, the duo combined for 11 of Illinois’ 17 turnovers. Smith turned it over six times and Frazier turned it over five times. To make matters worse, they combined for one assist. If your starting backcourt has an assist to turnover ratio of .091, it’s going to be very hard to win.
It’s important to remember that these are two freshmen playing on the road in the Big Ten. In addition, this was Frazier’s first start of the season, so he was likely feeling added pressure. These are the growing pains of a young team. The hope is that we will start to see them less and less as the season wears on.
Three Point Shooting: F
Illinois shot 3/14 from three on Saturday.
If you want to pull off upsets on the road, you have to make a handful of threes, especially if you’re an undersized team like Illinois. Not only is Illinois not making threes at a high volume or percentage, but they aren’t even a threat from downtown. Jordan and Finke have gone cold, and none of the newcomers have established themselves as consistent shooters. This lack of shooting allows the opponent to sag toward the paint and take away any drives or action toward the rim. Without the threat of consistent three-point shooters, the Illini cannot create the necessary court spacing to run their offense as effectively as they would like.