By The Numbers
The redshirt junior from Memphis, Tenn. finally had the breakout season he had been waiting for. Black averaged 15.3 points per game and 5.2 rebounds pre game on 55% shooting. Black led the Illini in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage. Unfortunately, he also led the Illini in fouls with over three per game, which limited him to only 25 minutes per game.
The most impressive part of his season was his offensive efficiency. He made the most of his time on the court and became a dominant scorer at all three levels of the floor. Black shot 55% from the field, 51% from three and 80% from the line. You hear a lot about the 50/40/90 club, and while Black didn’t have the FT% to make that club, he started his own 50/50/80 club. Those are incredible raw percentages, regardless of volume.
The advanced metrics also love Leron Black. After his career high performance against Nebraska we did a deep dive on some his numbers and what they meant. You can read that here. I won’t rehash everything said in that article, but I’ll provide some of the year end stats. Black posted an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of 57.8% and a true shooting percentage (TS%) of 60.9%. Black also led the Illini with a PER of 22.3. However, if you watched Illinois all year, you don’t need the numbers to tell you what he provided Underwood was essential and impressive. To be as efficient as we was, and going up against much bigger and stronger B1G power forwards and centers was truly an amazing feat.
Impact on the Illini
Black was the most consistent scoring option for Illinois all season. When he had to go to the bench because of foul trouble, Illinois’ only reliable offensive was give the ball to Frazier and cross your fingers.
The Illini fell victim to long scoring droughts lasting up to 10 minutes almost every game. A good chunk of those scoring droughts came with Leron Black on the bench. When Black was in the game, he was the focal point of the offense. Underwood would break his typical spread offense to get Leron the ball on the post because he was so efficient, and it was simply the best chance for Illinois to score. When he would come out of the game, the entire purpose of the Illinois offense would change, and Underwood simply did not have the consistent complimentary pieces to Black to pick up the slack.
Black’s importance to the Illini can not be overstated. In addition to being the team’s offensive identity, he was also the team’s best and leading rebounder. And with Illinois’ lack of size, Underwood desperately needed his rebounding on the floor as much as possible.
It goes without saying, that it will be incredibly difficult to replace his production next season.
Black’s Best Game
The best game of the season for the Illini’s leading scorer came at home against the Nebraska Cornhuskers on February 18th. Black scored a career high 28 points on 11-18 shooting (3-4 from three, 3-3 from the line), and grabbed 7 rebounds. This was a perfect example of Black at his best. He was able to run up his scoring totals because he stayed out of foul trouble. Black only had two fouls against the Huskers and was able to play 31 minutes.
The Down and Dirty
No one knew this would be his final season, but Black played like a senior and carried the load for Illinois. His offense and his rebounding for an undersized four will always be underrated when Illinois fans look back on some of the best forwards in Illini history. It’s also undeniable that Black needed to be better defensively, and his foul trouble proved detrimental to the team throughout his career. Both of these things can be true.
Leron Black was Illinois’ best player, and this isn’t a knock on Leron, but it’s going to be hard to have the success Illinois fans expect if Black is your best player. His skill set wasn’t the best fit for the style of play that Underwood wanted to implement, but despite that, he still took an incredible leap under the first year coach.
It will be interesting to see how his production is replaced. Illinois doesn’t necessarily need to find a post scorer to fill his minutes, but the scoring will need to come from somewhere. Is that Ayo Dosunmu? Da’Monte Williams? Can Kipper Nichols make a scoring leap? Or is there another forward not yet on the roster who will be able to immediately find ways to score. This is the tough situation the coaching staff is in after the Black departure.
Leron Black was an underrated and underappreciated Big Ten star. The offensive efficiency we saw in Big Ten conference play, and the tough shot making ability against monsters like Jaren Jackson and Isaac Haas was truly remarkable. Thank you Leron, and on behalf of Illini fans everywhere, we wish you the best of luck in your professional career!