A big reason many fans were optimistic about the Illini coming into this season was that they were built differently than the teams of the last few years.
This team has a bunch of wing players and — on paper — has shooting talent up and down the roster.
But those preseason expectations haven’t necessarily materialized on the court. Even though Illinois is a top-3 scoring offense in the Big Ten, it feels like they go through extended stretches in games unable to score on offense.
Let’s take a look at some of the stats that point to some offensive inconsistencies.
Poor Three-Point Shooting
Like I said earlier, with all of the wings on this team Illinois should be one of the better shooting teams in the league. The numbers unfortunately tell another story: While the Illini have attempted the second most threes in the Big Ten, they are 12th in the conference in three-point percentage.
The way this team is built they need those threes to fall at a higher rate to create more spacing on offense. If teams don’t have to respect their shooting, then they can sag off the three-point line and cut off the passing lanes in and around the paint, making it harder to run any offense.
Outside of Matthew Mayer, the rest of the team has been very inconsistent from distance. Hopefully the return of Luke Goode provides Illinois with a consistent perimeter shooter.
Without improved three-point shooting, it’s hard to envision a deep postseason run for this roster.
The Illini are the only team in the Big Ten with a Assist/Turnover ratio below 1. In other words, we are turning the ball over more than we are creating scoring opportunities.
Some of that issue can be attributed to not having a true point guard on this team, after the departure of Skyy Clark. That void has forced Coleman Hawkins and TSJ to take on more playmaking responsibilities.
Both Hawkins and TSJ are talented, but they didn’t get to this level for their passing. Playmaking is a secondary aspect to their games and it shows when in many cases they are left trying to force a pass into a tight window or they aren’t on the same page when making a pass to a teammate.
Without a true point guard it’s hard to create scoring opportunities outside the structure of the offense, especially when their primary scorers are having an off night. Combine that with turning the ball over, you will find yourself always playing catch up while not getting any easy baskets to get back in the game.
Free Throw Shooting
Free throw shooting has been a perennial struggle for the Illini, and it’s no different this year. They are 5th in the Big Ten for free throw attempts (which is a good thing), but drop to 7th when looking at made FTs and 11th in FT percentage.
Considering the two stats I mentioned above, the Illini can’t afford to not take advantage of opportunities at the free throw line. Free throws become a lot more important as we enter the homestretch of the season as the games get tighter and the margins are a lot closer.