Happy Monday, Illini Nation!
It’s deja vu all over again. For the second or third time since August. I think I’ve used that line once or twice this year between writing about Illinois football and basketball. Fan bases at other schools surely go through the same ups and downs as the Illini faithful. Surely.
I’m sure they all experience the pronounced roller coaster of emotions. This isn’t referencing a trend of game to game, or even half to half. This is individual three to four minute stretches of individual games.
In a continuation of a perplexing trend, the Fighting Illini and head coach Brad Underwood can’t seem to get out of their own way.
The down and up Illini proport analytic involvement, despite the lack of understanding of basic math.
It is worth repeating. Illinois shoots way too many threes and not enough twos. I could write a Victorian-era novel counting the ways that this current team having no grasp or feel of the game as it happens, and this current coach insisting on either allowing the trend to continue, or encouraging it altogether.
A quick update of the numbers is all that is needed to not only see how putrid this Illini team is shooting threes as a group, but also see how putrid this team and staff is at developing a basic strategy.
Per KenPom, here are the raw three-point numbers in Big Ten play only:
- Shoots 40.1% of their shots from three (3rd)
- Makes only 29% of their threes (14th), and only gets 28.8% of their points from beyond the arc, bad for 10th in the conference
- Expect 0.84 points per three (national average for the season is 0.93 points)
To emphasize how strategically poor this thinking is by Illinois, let’s now highlight their shooting from inside the arc in Big Ten play:
- Shoots 50% of their shots from two (1st)
- Expect 1.08 points per two taken
- Illinois is 28.6% more efficient from two than three, yet they shoot more threes than anyone else in the conference
I joked about copying and pasting my last column and changing the title after the road loss to Indiana last week. Take a look at that, and see if Underwood was right about his feelings of grandeur for his team.
Let’s break the object of basketball down to it’s most simplistic form.
The two basic fundamentals of winning and losing are point production (offense) and point prevention (defense).
The Illini are also poor at defending the three point line. Opponents shoot 35.3% from behind the arc in Big Ten play, good for 1.06 points per shot. This is good for 10th in the league.
From inside the arc, it’s a much different story. The Illini defense is second in the Big Ten in opponents 2P% at only 46.3%, or .93 points per shot.
Underwood’s squad doesn’t force many turnovers, and rarely steals the ball. They are 14% below average in steal rate and 11.1% below average on non-steal turnovers.
The reason I’m breaking this down is very simple. This team plays good to great defense by the numbers as a whole, but the other team gets a lot of shots at the hoop, due to the inability of Illinois to force turnovers with any consistency.
Illinois has set ALREADY set a program record for blocked shots in a season.
Despite the metrics, Illinois has been continually burned by the other team’s best player or second-best player,
In another example yesterday, Ohio State freshman Bruce Thornton had 20 points on 8-of-11 from the floor. Thornton averages only 9.3 points on just 44.2% from the floor. Puke.
- TJD going for 35 points (15-19 FG) in Champaign
- Tony Perkins going for a career-high 32 (12.2 ppg) at Iowa
- Jalen Pickett (18.5 ppg) going for 41 points (15-20 from the floor) on the road at Penn State and
- Boo Buie (17.2 ppg) going for a career-high 35 points in Champaign
The above five individual games demonstrate how the overall metrics can mask crippling inefficiencies on individual players. Underwood’s philosophy seems to be “no help” showcased by the robust assists numbers by the opposition.
Illinois is No. 1 in the Big Ten in assist rate on defense. This leaves your defense vulnerable to games bulleted above.
In an even more bizarre layer on this season’s story, Underwood will often go to the podium post and game and say things like “Perkins going for 32 didn’t beat us” or “Trayce’s 35 didn’t beat us.” It’s a common punchline in the The Champaign Room group chat as well as top-notch Twitter fodder.
Illinois can go to the Final Four, or lose in the first round by double digits. Nothing is off the table.
Most bracketologists have Illinois on the 7-line or 8-line in their projections. This is about what Illinois deserves, if not less.
Michigan is playing much better and Purdue is still Purdue. Illinois finishes the regular season this week at home to Michigan on Thursday at at Purdue on Sunday morning for CBS. Both could be wins, and both could be losses.
I could foresee split, which leaves Illinois in that middle-of-the-pack predicament in the Big Ten Tournament where their first game could be against a team that was ranked at some point during the year.
My gut tells me that Illinois will be an #8 or #9 in the Big Dance, and win its first game. Then, they will have to play somebody like Kansas or Houston in the second round. Illinois will play good, and ultimately lose a close game.
I’ll predict a finish of (21-12) and no Sweet 16.
I thought Bruce Weber worked at the Big Ten Network.
This is Illinois basketball.