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NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan
BU says, “Way to go, Coleman. Off the chart and elite. You’re the best shooting five man in the country.”
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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Will the real Illinois please stand up?

That's more like it for the Illini.

Happy Friday, Illinois Land!

Everyone can come down off the edge of cliff. The sky is not falling. Keep Chicken Little off the speed dial.

After going an abysmal 9-of-40 (22.5%) in the second half of a stunning home loss to visiting Maryland on Sunday, the real Slim Shady stood up in Ann Arbor.

I’m referring to not only the entirety of the Illinois basketball roster, but in particular the point center that spends more time at the head of the key than in the lane, Coleman Hawkins.

Here’s TCR beat writer and Illinois student Will Charlton with the recap of how the fourth straight win at Crisler Center unfolded.

Let’s take a look at some top-line stats and see what story they tell. Fans were concerned that the real version of this Illinois roster was similar to the one that didn’t show up in the second half against Maryland, and not the team that played the vast majority of the season at an extremely high level.

Here’s a quick breakdown (Offense/Defense):

  • Field Goal %: 48.4%/47.6%
  • 2P%: 54.5%/54%
  • 3P%: 33.3%/23.1%
  • Points on Frees and Threes: 40/19
  • Rebounds: Illinois +13 (13 offensive rebounds)
  • Offensive Rebound %: 40.6%/21.2%
  • Steals: Illinois with 9, Michigan with 1

Illinois won this basketball game in three specific areas: the offensive glass, both lines (free throw and three-point) and defensively with nine steals to go along with four blocks.

To quote the late-NFL coach Dennis Green, “They are we we thought they were.”

Fans and media alike certainly didn’t let this coaching staff or the players off the hook in any way, shape or form.

As the season progresses, the real version of these Illinois basketball players will continue to take shape. Hawkins won’t do this every game, but he won’t need to for the team to be successful.

The question may not have been answered in its entirety against Michigan. I do think that the real Illinois team is much closer to this second half performance and not the version of the players that performed against Maryland the last twenty minutes of that losing effort.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan
Hawkins doesn’t have “one of those fingers on each hand up,” but not because he wouldn’t prefer it. Jump on the Hawkins bandwagon. There’s plenty of room.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Illini improve to 13-4 overall and 4-2 in the Big Ten. The team is currently No. 14 in the AP Poll, No. 11 in KenPom (10th in OER and 27th in DER) and No. 16 in NET.

The Slim Shady reference is fresh in my mind after the recent success of the Detroit Lions and the deserved reemergence of Eminem into the spotlight.

After the game, HBC Brad Underwood used the word “elite” about six times to describe Hawkins’ skill set and what he brings to the table.

Of note and import, Underwood did mention that Hawkins’ good decisions on offense — including but not limited to “not forcing the issue” — is what leads directly to the success on the other end of the court, playing elite defense with SIX STEALS (mostly on switches against Michigan guards).

Here’s The One and Only Pleas with a stellar column on Hawkins and what he brings to the table, and how he sets it for the rest of his teammates.

Quincy Guerrier was a menace on the glass and slashing to the bucket. He contributed an unsubtle 16 and 14 in 37 minutes.

Guerrier was either legitimately sick the last few games, or simply didn’t expend the proper energy needed to bring his representative game. Given his performance and effort since arriving in Champaign, I’ll choose the former, and not the latter.

Guerrier is now averaging 11.4 points and 7.7 boards in 26.7 minutes. His PER is 17.3, the highest since his sophomore season at Syracuse.

Marcus Domask turned the ball over four times again, most of them unforced to make it back-to-back games leading the team in turnovers. Domask now has nine turnovers and only four assists the last two games.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan
Domask slashes to the bucket before a sparse crowd of Michigan faithful. The program is not in a good spot for Juwan Howard and staff.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

He is shooting 14-of-33 (42.4%) his last two games, averaging 20.5 points. He doesn’t “look tired,” but he is missing shots the last two games that he has made all season long. Despite this being his fifth college season, it seems like his decision making is getting worse as the season progresses.

It could be a matter of ups and downs of the seasons. Fatigue could be playing a factor. A third option is he’s just making poor decisions right now.

Ty Rodgers remained aggressive in this contest, shooting the ball 13 times and making six of those attempts. Will someone on the Illinois' staff tell him that dunking is still legal in the NCAA rules and Big Ten play?

By rule, he is allowed to use the backboard. Please communicate this to him.

Look, I’m not saying the degree of difficulty of some of his shots is not extremely high. I feel like he brings it on himself, in an effort to intentionally avoid contact and trips to the free throw line.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan
Rodgers with two points the easy way.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

For the season, Rodgers is shooting a respectable 64.5% after an abysmal freshman campaign where he shot historically bad at 38.7% from the stripe.

In his previous five games, Rodgers was 9-of-14 (64.2%) from the line. That number has stabilized at that mark. It’s much better to get an expected 1.29 points from the line on two free throw attempts than to flail around and continue to miss shots that are made unnecessarily difficult.

To be clear, this aggressive version of Rodgers is necessary for the Illini to hit their ceiling as a group. Just use the board once in a while and try to tear the rim off at every chance you get.

His production and efficiency will improve as a result. Rodgers proved he could make shots against Michigan State. It’s a process.

Rodgers has not attempted a shot past about 10 feet all year and is shooting 48.5% on the year. Given the proximity to the hoop and his sheer athleticism and size, that number needs to be pushed into the mid-50s, if not higher.

In a wildly bizarre and horrific technical foul call on Sencire Harris by Big Ten official Doug Sermons, Michigan was awarded one free throw. The replay showed Harris celebrating, but nothing that would warrant an immediate technical.

Gratuitous Illinois huddle for technical free throws. Love it.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan
After the Harris tech, the team watches Michigan PG Dug McDaniel miss the single free throw (Class B).
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s a quick look at the statistical profile of this Illinois basketball team through six Big Ten games.

  • 4th in OER (116.4) and 4th in DER (103.7)
  • 5th in 3P% (38.7) and 7th in defending threes (36.1%)
  • 10th in 2P% offense (48.6%) and 2nd in 2P% defense (44.8%)
  • 1st in Free Throw % (78.1%) and 12th in opponents Free Throw % (75.3%)

By the way, Hawkins should be the obvious candidate to win Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten. He likely won’t win, as he plays for Illinois and doesn’t block enough shots to get the necessary votes.

He is clearly the best overall defender in the league. Curious to see how this plays out.

With Rutgers coming into Champaign on Sunday, the Illini have a great chance to finish the week 2-0 and remain, at worst, one game back of first-place Wisconsin.

This is Hawkins dominating. This is another win for BU against Michigan. This is the Big Ten meat grinder.

This is Illinois basketball.