This is what Illinois fans thought they were getting.
With Ayo, Trent, and Andres Feliz, Illinois figured it was going to be easy to see points from the backcourt. Guards who could play well together and coalesce into a three-headed monster on the offensive end.
That hasn't exactly occurred as of yet. However, if there's a perfect example of how that might look, there's no better team to watch than the Michigan Wolverines.
Jordan Poole, Charles Matthews and Ignas Brazdeikis (I know, not a guard, but a scorer nonetheless) comprise one of the best scoring triumvirates in college basketball. Each averaging over 14 points per game — with Brazdeikis the leading scorer with 16 points per — is the perfect example of how it could all come together.
They run such a smooth, efficient offense. They shoot from three, they go high/low, their guards slash and get high percentage looks. The bigs are mostly facilitators, but it's such a fluid, dynamic brand of basketball. They also flash fast hands on defense, leading to a lot of breakouts and transition buckets.
Watching them play Indiana at home, you get a sense of exactly what they can do, breaking down multiple defensive looks for Indiana, 2-3 zone 1-3-1, etc. It's as impressive as it sounds.
It's not as if its reserves are slouches either. Zavier Simpson adds some depth and scoring at guard. Jon Teske adds some size at 7-foot-1, while also a nifty passer in the middle. Isaiah Livers provides some length and rebounding at forward. That's not even mentioning Colin Castleton, the former top-100 player who hasn't contributed yet, but will down the road as he fits what Jon Beilein looks for in his big men. Versatility, rebounding, scoring. Think Mo Wagner.
All that said, this offense really runs through Poole/Matthews/Brazdeikis. Poole, specifically, seems to be the go-to when Michigan really needs to spark its offense during stagnant periods.
His game has everything. He shoots really well. He's got length enough to rebound and do the little things. He drives really well. He can do whatever he wants. His running mates allow everything else to open up.
Michigan's biggest weakness is its low-post scoring output. It doesn't bode well for Illinois, though, since we struggle defending any team that works outside-in, so I don't see the Wolverines having much problem taking what they want.
The best way for Illinois to keep pace is slowing things down. Use Giorgi as much as possible. Get Samba and ADLR involved down low. Get Ayo the ball in transition. Ease the workload on Trent. Let him get comfortable with his shot. Use Da’Monte as a shutdown defender and try to limit Matthews or the reserves. Poole and Brazdeikis will get theirs. Slowing down the rest of the team might be the key.
I don't expect to win, but depress the scoring and make it a 50-60 point output for Michigan is your best chance. Easier said than done.
For vintage inspired, high quality, and well-designed University of Illinois apparel, check out Fourth and Kirby, and look for the TCR Collection while you’re at it!