Every week I do a local radio spot. It’s for a twice weekly show covering local high school and college sports. Every week my sole discussion focuses on the Illini. After the frustration that was the Wisconsin game, I openly stated Saturday was going to be a long day and a 30-point loss was entirely in the realm of possibilities. With an 11-point deficit in the first half, I looked to be money on my projection. Suffice it to say, I like being wrong on this one.
With a 78-67 final, the Illini took down their first ranked opponent on the road in nearly five years, a wait that will hopefully never be replicated. Nearly every aspect of the game was positive. The shooting, the defense, the free throws that actually fell. Shoot, even the bench looked like a different team than the one that has seen the court in the previous 19 games.
The Good: Literally Almost Everything
Free Throw Shooting
Season Average: 68.3%
Season Average: 14.3
Saturday: 18 points
Season Average: 2.5 points per game
Saturday: 15 points, 6 rebounds
Season Average: 6.5 points per game, 1.9 rebounds per game
Who would have thought that playing Tevian Jones would help him score more and play better? Nearly half of the points scored vs. Maryland came from the bench (34); Jones and Feliz shined; and the defense forced Maryland in to an uncharacteristic 21 turnovers. For the first time this season you saw a team that did not falter late, played a full 40 minutes and didn’t back down from a practical road game on a neutral court against a team that — at least on paper — was far superior to a young, developing team.
Kipper Nichols played only nine minutes, perhaps signaling a change in philosophy and planning as youth was the theme of the day, and Underwood rolled with the least amount of confusing lineups that he has all season. At MSG, Illinois looked like a different team.
Similar to the feel after the Minnesota win, fans are wondering if this team has turned the corner. I would venture to say if Underwood continues to use these rotations and minutes, the corner has been turned. A huge win for a young team that should build immense confidence.
The Bad: Lack of Playing Time For Griffin and Kane
It is hard to knock a team for something when they just rolled over a top-15 program, yet here we are.
Samba Kane has averaged nearly one block per game while shooting 65% from the field, yet he is only playing 6.5 minutes per game. He never hit the court Saturday.
Alan Griffin is averaging nearly three points and two rebounds per game in almost eight minutes. Griffin is a bit turnover prone (1.3 per game), which may play a factor, but he only logged six minutes. It is a bit perplexing to me why a 14-loss team is not running youth out exclusively every single game. Underwood has to start giving Kane minutes, because if he doesn’t, his development will never come to Illinois.
The Ugly: This Guy
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