The Illinois Fighting Illini (13-5, 5-2 Big Ten) have been on quite the roll lately, winning four consecutive games. And that roll started with a 63-37 thrashing of Purdue on Jan. 5. From a fan’s POV there was plenty to like from that game. Alan Griffin notched his first career double-double (16 points, 12 rebounds) in only 20 minutes of play. Defensively, Illinois held the Boilermakers to 25% shooting (15-for-60).
While it’s foolish to expect that kind of performance (from both teams) again, the outcome of this game could be vitally important to the Illini considering their upcoming schedule:
Looking at KenPom (he has us at #36) and I see that the next 8 games are against teams above us:— Robert (@ALionEye) January 19, 2020
at 17 Purdue
at 20 Michigan
at 15 Iowa
7 Mich St.
at 27 Rutgers
at 28 PSU
He has us 1-7 in those (beating MN). What say you? I’m thinking 2-6, hoping 3-5.
Yikes. That’s a really tough stretch, even for an improving team in what’s been a topsy-turvy conference. Is it good or bad to play a team twice in 16 days? We’ll soon find out. Meanwhile, here’s what Illinois can do to help their cause in West Lafayette.
Share The Wealth
Ayo. Trent. Alan. Giorgi. Kofi. Andres. The most successful teams — regardless of sport — have multiple players that can beat you. If you shut down one player, here comes another one to step up. That’s what we’re seeing from the Illini during this most recent run of good play.
Ayo Dosunmu has shown a killer instinct lately, putting the ball in his hands late in games and daring the other team to do something about it. Trent Frazier scored his 1,000th point during the Northwestern game. Alan Griffin can deliver the knockout shot from three. Giorgi Bezhansihvili had one of his better offensive games against Northwestern. Kofi Cockburn is a six-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week. The Illini have depended on Andres Feliz to attack the lane and get to the free throw line.
Brad Underwood has found a rotation that he trusts, and can employ multiple combinations depending on the time, score, and circumstances.
Feast in the Frontcourt
A big reason Illinois was able to pummel Purdue was, well, the bigs. Giorgi & Kofi didn’t dominate offensively (20 points, 8 rebounds combined) but completely neutralized the duo of Trevion Williams & Matt Haarms (11 points, 10 rebounds combined). It’s amazing to me how the 7-foot-3 Haarms is a non-factor most of the time. Except for a 26-point outburst against Minnesota, he has averaged a mere FIVE points per game in conference play. Haarms has totaled an impressive 35 blocks this season (2.2/game), but was manhandled by Cockburn in the post. I don’t expect much to change in that regard.
As well as the guards have been playing lately, it’s Kofi that has been the most steady all year long. He has re-written the Illini record book and is a matchup nightmare for any opposing center. It would behoove the Boilermakers to limit his effectiveness. Speaking of which...
Neither Illinois (30.6%) nor Purdue (32.7%) have a good long range attack. However, the Boilermakers’ three-point defense is demonstrably better, holding their opposition to just 27.8% shooting. The Illini have a tendency to get “three happy” even though Frazier and Griffin are the only guys who make them with any regularity.
Illinois is at its best offensively when starting inside and working outward. We’ve all seen Brad Underwood’s dribble weave — and seen enough of it. Let Ayo facilitate and find the best shot. If that happens to be a three? You can live with that.