A bit of a roller coaster week for Illini hoops. They followed up an impressive win at Madison Square Garden over Florida Atlantic with a tough loss to Tennessee.
There’s no reason to sulk about the loss. A tough environment coupled with a sub-par shooting night was bound to happen.
Last Tuesday night against Florida Atlantic, it felt like Terrence Shannon Jr. and Marcus Domask couldn’t miss. Unfortunately, that success did not carry over to Knoxville on Saturday afternoon. Both struggled to get shots to fall, due in large part to a relentless Tennessee defense. The Volunteers came into the game with the number 2 defense according to Kenpom. However, it was the shot selection against Tennessee that raised some eyebrows.
Beyond the Arc:
Data overload incoming. I won’t bury the lead. This team needs to cut down on shooting threes. Or at least a certain type of three...
Illinois took 36 threes in the game against Tennessee. Their most attempts in a game this season.
They’ve taken more than 30 threes on three occasions this year. Two of those games ended in their only two losses (the lone win being their first game of the season against Eastern Illinois).
Even though they’re an improved shooting team over last year, they still rank 201st according to Synergy Sports in three point percentage. If this team continues to hoist nearly 26 threes per game (ranking 73rd in the country), cold shooting nights will really limit the scoring punch.
The continued poor outside shooting prompted a deeper dive into which shots don’t seem to be dropping for the Illini.
Synergy Sports breaks down shooting percentages by shot types. For three point attempts, there are two categories, catch & shoot and dribble jumper. A catch & shoot attempt is typically preferred to a dribble jumper, as it tends to be a more in rhythm shot. For statistical evidence to prove this point, of the top 100 three-point shooting teams in college basketball this season, over 75% fare better off the catch.
What are the Illini better at? You guessed it, they prefer the dribble variety. Why wouldn’t they be the anomaly?
Not only that, but they prefer it at a wide margin. The Illini have the seventh-highest disparity between dribble three point percentage and catch & shoot success. They shoot nearly 13% better off the dribble. Again, statistics say you’d generally prefer to be a better catch & shoot team.
The catch & shoot variety is broken down further into two sub categories, guarded and unguarded.
The Illini rank 358th (out of 362 teams) in guarded catch & shoot three point percentage. They make 19.8% of these attempts. And they average 9 of these shot attempts per game.
That’s an alarming stat. The average team is making guarded three point attempts 31.5% of the time. The top 25 teams in this category average 42.5% on guarded threes.
Maybe it’s time to take more twos?
The Illini rank 25th in two-point shooting percentage according to Kenpom. While Dain Dainja made some mistakes in his 4 minutes of action against Tennessee, he has the highest two-point field goal percentage on the team and provides a unique low-post scoring presence. His lack of playing time has been one of the biggest head scratchers so far this season.
Don’t get me wrong, the sky is not falling. This team is still ranked 16th in both the AP poll and Kenpom and has found a lot of success this season. Even the top 5 teams in the country have areas that need improvement.
Terrence Shannon Jr. continues to look like a first team All-American. He has greatly improved his outside shot, and is nearly impossible to stop in transition. He’s also converting from the foul line, going 22 for 24 in the last two games.
Marcus Domask displayed that he can be a very effective scorer at this level. His performance at Madison Square Garden solidified that he can give defenses fits on a nightly basis. His mid-range jumper was lethal. “Give Marcus the ball and get out of the way” was the gameplan down the stretch against FAU. And it led to a 70%+ shooting night from the veteran wing.
Quincy Guerrier had his highest scoring game of the season against Tennessee. He was aggressive early and got 3 three pointers to fall. He had success attacking closeouts and finishing at the rim which is a welcome sight for a team struggling to shoot from the outside.
Even with a loss to finish off the week, you can’t help but be optimistic about where this team is heading. FAU returned nearly every player from last year’s Final Four run, and Illinois looked very impressive in that win.
The Illini finish out the non-conference slate with Colgate on Sunday, Missouri on Dec. 22, and Fairleigh Dickinson on Dec. 29. A 10-2 record heading into 2024 would be a welcome sight.