As most knowledgeable Illinois basketball fans could have guessed, there were clearly delineated strengths and weaknesses to begin the season. Those have been borne out pretty much as expected. Nonetheless, it's fascinating to see those areas play themselves out so far.
Let's take a look at what is and what is not working this season.
Despite its 3-7 record, Illinois has only been outscored by just five points, 763-768. Not terrible, until you break down each half.
In the first half, Illinois has actually outscored opponents, 383-347. If only they didn't have to play another. In the second, it's Illinois 380, opponents 421(!).
A large reason for that: rebounding and fouls. Illinois currently is tied with Arkansas-Pine Bluff at 297th in the country in rebounding margin at -3.7. Did Illini fans know that would be a problem? If you were paying attention, absolutely. That's still really bad though. Aaron Jordan leads the team with just 4.9 rebounds per game. For comparison, Reid Travis from Kentucky ranks 244th(!) in the country with 6.8 rpg.
Those second chance points have been crucial to the success of teams fighting the 6-foot-7 Jordan and 6-foot-10 Giorgi for putbacks and layups.
The Illini also rank only 113th in offensive rebounding, so they’re basically getting one shot per possession.
It's no surprise then that they are getting into foul trouble in virtually every game.
Out of 350 or so college basketball programs, Illinois ranks 338th (Wow!) with 231 fouls total through 10 games. That's an average of over 23 fouls per game. Yowza.
Now you can make a case against the rules, as there have been several soft calls against Illinois, ticky-tack stuff that has led to the opponents being in the double bonus a lot. It's mostly due to youth and inexperience, however, as every low-post player for the Illini is new to the system.
One encouraging statistic is three-point percentage, where Illinois ranks 49th with a .385 mark. That's thanks in large part to Aaron Jordan (.480), Trent Frazier (.400), and Ayo Dosunmu (.417). Alan Griffin (.412) has also shot well in limited minutes. That .480 percentage ranks Jordan 18th in the Big Ten in the category.
However, the Illini currently rank 221st in total shooting percentage at just around 44 percent. That's a lot of misses on high0percentage looks, which is attributed to lack of rebounding and second chance points. Again, someone like Kofi Cockburn could make a significant improvement in that regard. Just saying.
Needless to say, Illinois has many deficiencies (hence its 3-7 record), but the Illini do shoot well from three, which could be the great equalizer in games.
Post players need to be prioritized in the class of 2019, however, in order for Illinois to take the next step towards relevance.
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