The Illini went into East Lansing on Saturday to take on the Spartans in a top-20 matchup, and Illinois eked out a close victory. This was a huge bounce back win for the Illini after the Rutgers loss, but there are still some things they need to improve upon.
Let’s a take a look at both the good and the bad from this game,
#Illini Underwood said Jacob Grandison and Alfonso Plummer were back in the gym working at 2 a.m. after the team got back from Rutgers— Bret Beherns (@WCIA3Bret) February 18, 2022
Simply put, looks like that 2 a.m. gym session paid off for Grandison. He was on fire against Sparty on an off-shooting day for the rest of the team. Grandison went 6-of-10 from 3, and the rest of the team went an abysmal 2-of-17. He was ready to shoot the instant he caught the ball Saturday and made the Spartans pay for the lax defensive coverage on him.
Hopefully Grandison can maintain this potency from deep as we come down the home stretch of the regular season, as Alfonso Plummer and Da’Monte Williams work through recent shooting slumps. Without at least one viable perimeter threat in a given game, Illinois won’t be able to prevent teams from packing the paint against Kofi.
Since his amazing performance in the Purdue double-OT loss last month, Curbelo hasn’t been the same. He’s had inopportune turnovers and has been unable to provide that scoring boost that Brad Underwood and Co. need from him off the bench. In the MSU game, he got himself into foul trouble and was unable to produce any significant impact for the team.
For this team to reach its true ceiling I think everyone can agree that Curbelo is the X-factor. When he is at his best he’s a dynamic playmaker and electric finisher that can quickly take the game away from opposing teams. A productive Curbelo also eases the pressure off of Trent Frazier from being the sole ball-handler.
Playing with the Lead
While the game had a thrilling finish and Illinois came up on the right side of the result, we can’t forget that the Illini had a 16-point lead at one point in the second half. The same thing happened last week when Illinois let Northwestern back into the game, despite owning an 18-point advantage.
A potentially worrisome trend is emerging for the Illini here where they are wasting good starts and letting teams hang around. Come tournament time they can’t afford to be caught in games that end up being close at the end and always expect to come out victorious. We have a deep, veteran roster and Illinois needs to lean on the vets to keep the foot on the gas and shut the door as early in the game as possible.