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Illinois finally got its ‘culture’ win, but that’s not enough

But it’s not all sunshines and rainbows.

Twitter: @IlliniMBB

When it was all said and done, Tuesday night was a Quad 1 win.

Illinois tied it up early at 7 apiece and didn't turn back (well, kinda). State Farm Center was rocking and No. 24 Illinois got a statement win at home against No. 10 Michigan State.

After losing its last three to Tom Izzo’s Spartans, Illinois corrected its path and stopped the current season skid at two games.

And Illinois got that “culture win” at home, at least according to head coach Brad Underwood.

So What Happened

I’m going to come out and say Illinois did not deserve to win this game. After creating a commanding 52-39 lead, Illinois just stopped scoring midway through the second half, except for a lone layup by BBV and a pair of free throws by Trent Frazier. The Spartans ended the game on a 16-4 run, missing a last-second free throw to send it to OT. Had the game gone to extra time, it would have been another Quad 1 home loss to a top-10 team — and the second in just over a week.

This might be a culture win, but in coachspeak, it’s liners and 17s until you puke the next practice. Unless the culture is stalling out, turning the ball over, and relying on Trent’s grittiness to sneak by, this win was by no means a positive direction.

We got lucky.

The Good

In the second half, Frazier was responsible for half of all points and all points scored by Illinois in the final 10 minutes. This is Frazier’s team and without him, this team has no heart. That might sound harsh, but you and I both know it's true.

Luke Goode had himself a day. Playing a season-high 28 minutes, Goode connected on 3 of his 4 three-point attempts and grabbed a team-high 4 rebounds. With the Illini short-handed, Goode stepped up and played his role well on both sides of the ball.

This might come as a surprise, but please tweet me. I’m perfectly fine with Andre Curbelo sitting if he’s not 100%*. I did a bit of statistical analysis. With Curbelo, Illinois scores 12% fewer points, allows 12% more points, assists 11% less, turns the ball over 16% more, and allows the opponent 33% more free throw attempts than without Curbelo. I know Curbelo is dealing with injuries and adjusting to his star role, but he needs to grow as a leader before he can even be considered to be an All-Big Ten caliber player. While he was a key reason Illinois had a chance last week against Purdue, an All-Conference player doesn't have a Win Share per 40 minutes of .096 — that's just highly inefficient.

*Curbelo was in COVID-19 health and safety protocols, so there’s nothing to say he may have not been 100% for Tuesday.

I honestly believe that with Curbelo out there Illinois would have lost Tuesday night. It may have been a good thing Curbelo didn't play.

The Bad

The Illini had an uncharacteristically bad game. Statistically, over this last stretch of three games Illinois is scoring less, shooting poorer, attempting fewer free throws, missing more free throws, and assisting less while turning the ball over more.

On Tuesday, Michigan State just had a statistically terrible shooting game.

Also this:

Bottom Line

The Big Ten is a gauntlet and playing on the road is tough any given day. Am I happy that Illinois won? Yes. But in order to win the conference title, Illinois needs to correct a lot.

Illinois cannot rely on Trent, Kofi Cockburn, or even Curbelo by themselves to win games, and the team needs to be consistent on the court and not fall into 10-minute dry spells. The Illini can’t get comfortable.

The schedule only gets tougher from here. Illinois plays Wisconsin at home and at Indiana, Purdue and Rutgers before a rematch in East Lansing. Even the games against Northwestern will be difficult (the Wildcats beat MSU earlier this month).

Illinois is hanging on to first place in the Big Ten by a fine thread.

Now the team needs to play better to ensure we stay there.