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It’s Ayo’s world, and we’re just living in it

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Dosunmu’s late-game heroics have been the catalyst for the Illini’s six-game win streak

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Imagine the world as it was on Jan. 17. Illinois had just lost two in a row to Maryland and Ohio State to drop to 9-5 (5-3). Unfortunately, I can’t remember anything else important that’s happened since then. Let me think about it. Nope! Still nothin’.

What if I told you on Jan. 17 that over Illinois’ next six games, four would be decided by seven points or less, and two would be head to overtime? Would you take it, or would you roll the dice again?

I would’ve rolled again. In this hypothetical, in which I can control the outcome of basketball games by shooting dice, I would’ve assumed that the OT games were against Iowa and Wisconsin, and that the other two close games would’ve been against Indiana and Penn State. Wrong, wrong, right, wrong.

Yet, here we are. The Illini are winners of six in a row. And while the W is the only stat that matters, let’s see if the stats behind this week’s Illini Power Rankings show why they’re on a tear.

1. Ayo Dosunmu

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

If there was ever any doubt, it’s been settled: Ayo is this team’s No. 1. After this six-game winning streak, the question is was there ever any doubt here?

Well, yeah. Ayo’s performance at Indiana was his worst game this year, and perhaps the worst since his freshman year. And in the first 35:46 against an inferior opponent in Northwestern, Ayo had an anemic five points, two rebounds, five assists, and five turnovers.

But as we all know, the end of the game is Ayo Time. This year, in the final 10 minutes of games and OT, Ayo is taking a whopping 32.2% of Illinois’s shots — more than 5% more than any other player in the Big Ten — and in that time of the game, he’s averaging 7.6 points. Over the last three games during this time, Ayo has scored 11 points per game, with a 3P/FG/eFG/FT slash line of .667/.762/.857/.818.

The man is scoring 11 points per game, in the last TEN MINUTES AND OVERTIME. And he’s making more than 75% of his shots in crunch time. While this is a small sample size, it’s probably the best three-game run I’ve ever seen. He had the third triple-double in the history of the Illini. He’s Herculean. And he made this shot.

2. Kofi Cockburn

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The man that Ayo Dosunmu unseated over the past month is your favorite double-double machine. Kofi Cockburn has the second most dubs in the country — and the most in any power conference — with 14 in 19 games. The next closest power conference player is Derek Culver from West Virginia, with 10 in 20 games.

Kofi’s gotten a double-double in each of the last four games, and 10 of the last 11 games. He’s also one of only three power conference players (including Culver and Justin Champagnie from Pitt) to average a double-double per game.

During the Illini’s current win streak, Kofi’s getting 17.8 PPG, 11.5 RPG, and 2 BPG, with a FG% of 60.9%. He’s only shooting 63% from the line over the last six (sidenote: you okay, Andre Curbelo?), but that clearly hasn’t hurt the team as they’ve rattled off six straight.

3. Trent Frazier

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The senior guard has been instrumental to the Illini in their win streak, hitting 44.6% of his shots, while holding opponents to a 38.8 FG%. And Trent’s not guarding scrubs. In the last six games, Frazier’s primary defensive assignments have included Chase Audige, D’Mitrik Trice, and Myreon Jones, who all lead their teams in PPG. He’s also guarded Trey McGowens and Jordan Bohannon, who are third on their respective teams.

Trent’s committing 1.7 TOs per game while nabbing 1.5 SPG. He doesn’t just get your best player; he outplays them. Frazier has been a reliable shooter during this stretch hitting 37.2% of his threes, and while the Illini have only shot 68.3% from the line, he’s keeping them above water at 73.9% from the stripe.

For the statheads out there, Trent’s ORtg this year (115.6) far exceeds his DRtg (98.6), which means that he’s scoring 17 more points per 100 possessions than the players he’s guarding. Finally, he’s third on the team in win shares with 2.3, right where he belongs behind Ayo (4.0) and Kofi (3.7).

4. Jacob Grandison

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Although Da’Monte Williams has been extremely important for the Illini this year, this winning streak all started when Brad Underwood replaced him in the starting lineup with Jacob Grandison. Grandy’s made the most out of his meager 11.3 minutes per game with a slash line of .440/.538/.598/1.000 (he’s made all five of his FTs so far). He’s already compiled a full win share, and he’s third behind Ayo and Kofi in win shares/40 minutes.

Grandison is so important in the starting lineup because he comes out running the weave extremely effectively. In four of the last six games, he’s had either a field goal or an assist in the first minute. In three of those games, he’s made a three-pointer in the opening minutes of the game. In Tuesday’s game against Northwestern, he got five points on 2-of-2 shooting, with two boards and two assists in the first 2:45 of the game.

5. Da’Monte Williams

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The Captain has been the perfect compliment to Grandison. After Grandy runs the weave and puts points on the board, Da’Monte subs in and dominates on defense. During the winning streak, he’s grabbed 5 RPG and 1.7 APG, with five blocks and five steals. In limited time, he’s gone 4-7 on FG, 1-4 on 3P, and 8-13 (61.5%) from the line.

While Da’Monte’s offensive numbers haven’t been great lately, he still leads the team in three-point percentage among qualified players at 57.5%. He’s also fourth in win shares with 2.0, and he’s leading the team with an ORtg of 134.4. Further, the differential between his ORtg and DRtg is 39.2, which means he scores nearly 40 points more than the players he guards per 100 possessions.

Welcome to the Power Rankings, Captain.