On Tuesday afternoon, before Illinois’ 75-71 OT victory over Indiana, I rented a Zipcar to run some errands. While I was parking to drop the car off, I hit a curb with the front fender, and it partially detached from the car. It was a clean snap, nothing looked broken. I took pictures of the fender and reported it to Zipcar.
I walked home annoyed and dreading what Zipcar would bill me. At first, I thought that the fender bender was a bad omen for the Illinois game. The Illini would lose for sure. Less than an hour later, a colleague texted me asking if I could help him out. He had totaled his car. Ah, perspective.
Watching Tuesday’s game was akin to being in a minor car accident, but winning in OT was like realizing that the car could have been totaled.
I don’t like talking about officiating. The team on the floor needs to win, regardless of the ridiculous foul calls that even Dan Dakich disagreed with. And that’s what they did. Illinois won without its best player* when it needed him the most. The ability to rely on different playmakers is what differentiates good teams from great teams. On another note, that was Dakich’s best-called Illinois game in recent memory. Dave Flemming was great as usual.
Here’s my power ranking of the top 5 Illini after the last game.
1. Kofi Cockburn
He started out a little slow, letting Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson take over in the high-low game. Still, Kofi played Jackson-Davis well away from the basket, and he didn’t get into foul trouble. Kofi turned on the jets with 13 minutes left in the game, converting his first of two 3-point plays. His next conversion was a back-to-the-basket spin move to his right, finishing with a powerful dunk over Jackson-Davis.
Kofi’s ability to move to his weak side and shoot with his left hand, along with his sheer stature, makes him a truly dominant player. He played excellent defense down the stretch, and his dunk with twenty seconds left in OT all but sealed the win.
2. Ayo Dosunmu
I talk about this a lot with a close friend. Ayo might stand out more than Kofi on the national stage, and he had a magnificent game against Iowa. But in the Big Ten, and especially in the NCAA Tournament, you need a bruiser down low.
Ayo had a rough go on Tuesday. You can debate the charging call, but he already had four fouls, and some of them were mental miscues. He went 2-of-11 from the floor, however, Ayo showed once again that he can get to the foul line and make his shots. Dosunmu went 6-of-6 from the stripe and kept Illinois in the game for much of the first half.
3. Trent Frazier
The first two spots are tough, but this is a no-brainer. Without Frazier, the Illini don’t win either of the last two games. In those games, Frazier went 13-of-24 on FGs, 8-of-18 from deep, and 9-of-11 on at the line. He continued his excellent defensive play, locking down Jordan Bohannon on Friday and getting two steals on Tuesday. He also tied the entire Hoosiers squad with 14 points after the 7:45 mark in the second half.
4. Andre Curbelo
For a few games there, it looked like Ayo, Kofi and Curbelo were the Illini’s big three. But lately, the league has taken notice of Curbelo. Ball security has been an issue at times, but over the last five games, he’s averaging 2.3 assists to every turnover. For a freshman logging the type of minutes he is, that’s pretty good. And although he missed a couple key free throws down the stretch against Indiana, he’s shooting 77% from the line on the year, plus his bounce pass to Kofi helped win the game.
5. Jacob Grandison
The Illini are now 3-0 when Jacob Grandison starts. In the last three games, he’s 7-of-12 from the field, 2-of-5 behind the arc, and he posted a double-double of 11 points and 10 boards in the win against Iowa.
Illinois looks to make it four straight when the Badgers come to Champaign on Saturday. But for now, let’s enjoy Illinois’ first win in Bloomington since 2010.