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Illinois Basketball 2018-19 Player Review: Kipper Nichols

The Kipper Enigma: Ya never know whatcha gon’ get.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Missouri Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

By The Numbers

A 6-foot-6 junior from Cleveland, Ohio, playing in his third year with the Illinois Fighting Illini, Kipper Nichols had himself another head-scratching season under head coach Brad Underwood. Starting 14 out of Illinois’ 33 games (most of those starts at the beginning of the season), Kipper’s playing time and any expectation of how he’d play at the start of a given game was anybody’s guess.

Overall from his sophomore to junior seasons, Kipper saw his points per game cut in half. His rebounding, three-point percentage and his rebounds-per game also decreased. His 2018-19 season saw averages below his career numbers in just about every statistical category. His two-point field goal percentage was the only stat to improve this season, and that likely has more to do with the fact he had less shot opportunities than in his sophomore season.

Impact on the Illini

Kipper was one of seven Illini players to average more than 10 minutes per game this past season. The other six were Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier, Aaron Jordan, Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Andres Feliz and Da’Monte Williams. Of those seven, Kipper was unquestionably the most unreliable, inconsistent contributor.

To summarize his impact on the 2018-19 season is a challenge because in so many games he was a complete non-factor. It was also clear he was in the coach’s dog house for stretches of the season. In Illinois’ ugly home loss to Penn State, Kipper played just seven minutes. In Illinois’ road loss to Wisconsin the week prior, Kipper played in a season-low three minutes. Against Minnesota back in January, Kipper was on the court for only four minutes. Kipper did not start in any of Illinois’ final 15 games, including the two games at the Big Ten Tournament.

Bottom line: Aside for a game or two, Kipper Nichols’ impact on the Illini was disappointingly minimal or absent.

Kipper’s Best Game

Kipper Nichols’ best game this season came the opening weekend of February when Illinois beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers 71-64 in Champaign. Kipper scored 18 points (tying his season high), shot 7-for-8 from the field and made two of his three three-point shots in 29 minutes of game action. He added six rebounds and two assists in a game where the Illini led for the entirety of the second half.

In the postgame press conference, Kipper expressed confidence in what he was able to do: “I got some open looks,” Nichols said. “I was fortunate enough to knock them down. It felt good.”

*This game would end up being the last time Kipper scored in double figures the rest of the season. Post-Nebraska victory, the Illini played 11 games. Nichols averaged three points per game in the remaining 11 contests.

The Quick and Dirty

It’s not that expectations were too high for Kipper Nichols, it’s just that he never emerged as a leader on this team despite being one of the the more experienced, veteran players on the roster. Kipper is older than Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams — the three more vocal leaders out there on this young team, but Kipper never showed himself to be the guy to calm emotions or to ignite his teammates with energy and passion in a huddle or during a timeout.

Brad Underwood demands a lot, and rather than rise to the occasion, Kipper withered. The talent is there. The athleticism is there. He has the size, strength and jumping ability to play either forward position. He’s not a horrible three-point shooter. Kipper’s issues seems to lie between his ears because he’s the most inconsistent player on the Illinois roster when it comes to seemingly not bringing 100 percent focus needed to play at a high level.

Kipper’s future as an Illini is tough to predict because of his inconsistent play as an upperclassman combined with the fact that younger players are emerging. Two freshmen in particular — Alan Griffin and Tevian Jones — are better shooters than Kipper Nichols is, and both of those guys showed tremendous improvement on the defensive side of the ball with each passing minute. Griffin and Jones will see significant increases in playing time in 2019-20, assuming they are both on the roster.

Kipper Nichols.... well as we’ve learned during his time in Champaign, we don’t really know how or even if he’ll improve enough to warrant more playing time.

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