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2017-18 Player Review: Mark Smith

The freshman guard couldn’t quite live up to the hype.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Iowa vs Illinois Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

By the numbers

In his 31 games played, Mark Smith played 19 minutes averaging 5.8 points, 1.4 boards, 1.4 assists, 1.3 turnovers, 0.6 steals and 0.1 blocks per game.

Despite a fast start in non-conference games for Smith, he had a tough time on the offensive end once Illinois hit Big Ten play. After nine points in the season-opening win against Southern, Smith had four straight double-digit scoring efforts and was averaging 13.8 points per contest after the blowout win against Augustana on Nov. 22. After that, it was a quick regression on his scoring average. He only had two other games in double figures, with 17 against UNLV on Dec. 10 and 11 against Mizzou on Dec. 23.

Smith’s shooting percentage also dropped following the bulk of non-conference games. After the Augustana game, he was hitting 43.1 percent of his field goal attempts. By the time Illinois played Minnesota on Jan. 3, he was shooting 36.5 percent. By the season’s end, the number dwindled to 33.7 percent and just 23.2 percent from three.

On the bright side, he was consistent from the charity stripe all year. He shot nearly 80 percent (43-of-54) for the season.

Impact on the Illini

Early on in the season, it looked like Smith could be a great addition to this team. As I mentioned, his numbers were pretty solid against the lower-level competition. The most intriguing thing about Smith’s game was his build. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, he was built more like a football player than a basketball player. Based on his highlight tape, I thought he might be a more athletic Rayvonte Rice.

It didn’t exactly work like that.

Smith got into a slump, with a few exceptions down the stretch, and could not find his rhythm in the offense. By the end of January, it seemed like he had lost confidence in himself and many fans were already showing their disappointment in his game.

A couple of advanced stats: Smith was fourth-worst on the team in offensive rating (92.9 points per 100 possessions) and second-worst in defensive rating (108.8 points per 100 possessions). For comparison, Aaron Jordan was first on the team in offensive rating (127.6) and Kipper Nichols was best among guys with significant minutes in defensive rating (102.1).

Ignoring the numbers, his impact on the season as a whole was pretty minimal. His minutes floundered as the conference season progressed, and people quickly became vocal about him not living up to expectations.

Mark’s Best Game

This one is pretty easy to see. Sure, Smith had some good games early on in the year, but those were all against lower-level teams like Southern or Augustana. The first big game of the year for this team was against UNLV in Las Vegas, and Smith had an outstanding game. Leron Black went out during the first half with an apparent shoulder injury, and Smith really stepped up to the plate.

He finished the game with a team-high 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting, which included 4-of-5 from distance. And when I say distance, I mean Smith was pulling up from out here:

He showed off other aspects of his game, too. Notice his vision and accurate pass running this back door play to fellow freshman Spicy G:

Can we get a pull up as well? Gotta make sure he doesn’t just hit the wide-open jumpers.

I truly thought this was going to be the turning point in the season for Smith. He struggled a bit in between those early non-conference games, but nearly led the Illini to a furious comeback against the Runnin’ Rebels.

Alas, it was one of Smith’s final good games. He simply could not find a rhythm down the stretch, and we all know what happened as of late.

Well, I guess nothing matters now.

Think whatever you want of Mark Smith’s impending transfer; I’m disappointed, but I understand this is just how it goes sometimes. He was used to having the ball in his hands all the time during his senior year at Edwardsville, and, unfortunately, he could not make the most of the opportunities Underwood gave him in conference games early on. The jump to the Big Ten might’ve been just a little much, and Trent Frazier’s emergence as lead guard certainly didn’t help the cause.

For those of you calling him ‘soft’ or ‘a quitter,’ you’re simply wrong. Sometimes things aren’t what you think they’re going to be. I wish he was sticking around because I think he could develop into a really great player. But he doesn’t want to, so let’s leave it at that. For better or for worse, he is moving on.

In the end, I don’t feel much worse about our guard play for next season. (We’re getting some guy named Ayo, ever heard of him?)