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Illinois is rolling despite injuries and turnovers

The Illini won at Iowa by rebounding and making free throws.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois’ victory over Iowa on Monday was both impressive and frustrating at times. The Fighting Illini led for most of the game, but they had trouble breaking the Hawkeyes’ press, which led to 18 turnovers. Toward the end of the game, Iowa repeatedly fouled the Illini and made three-pointers to cut the lead. It felt like if the game kept going, Iowa could’ve taken the lead. But in the end, the Hawkeyes ran out of time, and the Illini got the roadkill.

The Illini won this game by dominating the glass and making foul shots. They had a 51-23 rebound advantage – including 19 offensive boards – and went 24-28 (.857) on free throws. This negated Iowa’s press, which resulted in a +14-turnover margin in favor of the Hawkeyes. According to the broadcast, teams that have a +10-turnover margin this year have won over 87% of their games. Illinois also overcame getting outscored by the Hawkeyes bench 43-21. More on that later.

What We Knew Going In

Illinois has struggled to break the press, especially without Andre Curbelo. It was apparent early that this game wouldn’t be much different without Curbelo and Austin Hutcherson. The inability to break the press led to back-to-back 10-second violations at a critical point in the game.

We knew that the Murray twins – and particularly Keegan – are really good and would be difficult matchups. Keegan came into the game leading the country with 24.6 PPG, just ahead of Kofi Cockburn. Coleman Hawkins defended Murray well for most of the game, only allowing 19 points, most of which came during the final stretch.

Kofi Cockburn has had a slow start followed by a second-half barrage in each of his last three games. He didn’t make his first field goal until after 10 minutes in against Rutgers and Notre Dame, and until after seven minutes in against Rio Grande Valley. That trend continued on Monday.

Teams have had success doubling Kofi when he’s outside of the paint, which he was for a good part of the first half on Monday. In the second half, Kofi started positioning himself better, which gets him closer to the basket and away from getting trapped on the help side. Even when Kofi gets double teamed, he’s recognizing the help defender, pivoting away from them and getting layups off the glass, or dishing to the open man. Kofi ended up with an impressive 17 points and 18 rebounds, the most boards in his college career.

What We Learned

Brad Underwood is not confident in his bench right now, and Illinois is still in desperate need of Andre Curbelo returning from injury. Illinois essentially operated with a six-man rotation on Monday, and Jacob Grandison got all of Illinois’ 21 bench points. He and Alfonso Plummer continue to make huge shots for the Illini. Plummer has also made all 28 of his free throws this year.

Remember how excited we were this offseason about Omar Payne? He played for a total of one minute, picking up fouls on back-to-back possessions and then turning the ball over. Luke Goode only got six minutes, and BBV only played when Kofi and Hawkins were in foul trouble.

We learned that Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams are better than any Bohannon, Murray, or McCaffery that Iowa can throw at them. However, Trent seemed to have a lack of urgency in some spots, bringing the ball up and in the motion offense. He often scrapped whatever motion Illinois was running in favor of isolating the defender. Regardless, he’s Illinois’ best point guard and transition player right now, and he’s critically important to this team.

The most important thing? The Illini survived Iowa’s press without one of their best players. Illinois showed that they’re a tough team capable of winning an ugly game on the road. Now they get to try for six straight against Arizona at State Farm Center.